swing and big band

swing band

The big band developed in the late 1920s as a cut-down version of the larger New York dance bands of bandleaders such as Paul Whiteman. Early big band pioneers, notably Fletcher Henderson, helped establish a standard instrumentation that eventually grew to three or four trumpets, three trombones, four saxophones and four rhythm-section instruments. In contrast to the small-scale jazz of the 1920s, the music, orchestrated by skilled arrangers and conducted or led by the bandleader, was written down, but still left opportunities for soloists to improvise over repeated melodic fragments, or 'riffs'.


The clarinettist and bandleader Benny Goodman did much to bring swing bands to a mass audience in the mid-to-late 1930s, together with bandleaders such as Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Count Bassie. The Swing Era lasted from around 1928 to 1945. The word 'swing' referred to the light, infectious type of rhythmic drive that is typical of the music. Many soloists of the bop era learnt their trade by performing in big bands, and vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday gained their early solo experience with them.