The popular sound in the 1930s was called big band swing music. It was a
combination of a large musical group that played a genre of jazz that
was later known as swing. Big bands were composed of about 25 members,
each having their own instrument. Instruments can range from trumpets,
saxophones, and trombones. There was also a rhythm section made of a
piano, drums, and guitar. Big bands would also have a singer on occasion.|
Sticking to the Charts
The most important difference of big bands from a smaller combo was the use of arranged music called charts. Jazz bands at that time would perform using a technique called improvisation. This means that the music was unprepared and was very spontaneous in nature. This required big bands to have rehearsals to play the music on the sheets properly.
The Emergence of Swing Music
In the 1920s, the popular form of music was jazz. Jazz dance then had a lot of strings in the arrangements and was often deemed as very romantic. What happened was that the string section was completely removed from the formula, and instead, the emphasis was placed on the wind instruments. This distinct sound was often anchored by a strong rhythm section.
Swing started to get mainstream attention by 1935. Prior to that year, sales of recorded music were actually struggling but were revived by the new sound. Music was also more available then due to the jukebox, where you just have to insert a coin and you get to select the music you want to play. When swing became very popular, a lot of the companies started to create big bands to play the unique sound.
Having a Big Band
Big bands that played swing music started to become very successful during that time. Since there a lot of instruments, it would have caused chaos if all had improvised, hence, the need to have a strict structure. Since the music was very fast, it wasn't as inviting at first, yet the teens picked it up, and business started to soar.
Being the band leader of a big band would often mean national exposure and gigs at the most known clubs. Popular band leaders of the day included Paul Whiteman, Beny Goodman, and Glenn Miller. It was also normal for bands to hire a popular front act, such as Louis Armstrong.
Swing and Pop
By the forties, swing was still popular than ever though pop acts started to get more attention. It is interesting to note that singers in the late forties and fifties were the soloists of big bands. Frank Sinatra is a good example as he was introduced to the public by the Dorsey Brothers.
Unfortunately, due to their size, it became harder to manage such a large group. Touring was logistical nightmare, so it became more sensible to only have a fewer instruments. The war also made a great impact since many members were enlisted. There were also recording bans because musicians started to hold strikes in favor of better rights.