The big bands are not coming back, as I’ve been pointing out for years… and it’s a bloody shame! The sheer power of a 12- to 16-piece band, playing tight arrangements with fire ad drive hasn’t been matched in the history of popular music.
Here, to start your day, is a link to the 1941 Count Basie band motoring its way through two tunes (in a little over three minutes). Basie was the most economical of pianists, but his playing took the band to new levels of excitement. Props here to trumpeter Buck Clayton and drummer Jo Jones, whose powerhouse playing — with no “show” at all — puts the band into overdrive.
The second World War, changing musical tastes, and the rise of rock and roll all helped kill the big bands, but one — led by Lionel Hampton — lasted the longest. I saw Hampton’s band in York in the early ’50s, on their first tour in Europe, and was flabbergasted by the sheer volume (turn this one up loud!), Hampton’s prowess on vibes, drums and piano, and his astonishing showmanship. A revelation to a young teenager who’d not heard anything like this before, and rally hasn’t since….
Here’s the band I saw, filmed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. The young trumpet player, second from left, was the 16-year-old Quincy Jones…. Six saxes, four trombones, five trumpets, and drums, bass, piano, guitar and Hampton. Phew!!
PS: When I started this, last June, I gave a link to a staggeringly impressive drum solo by Hampton. As a recap, here’s the showmanship I just spoke of!… If you’ve not seen this before, watch it through to the end!