Big Band

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The Big Band genre at JMA is for large ensembles (generally ten or more musicians) who play in what best can be called a "big band style". The big band style involves breaking the large ensemble into separate sections, usually grouped by instrument, that then engage in call and response type figures with each other. These motifs can be arranged or improvised. The big band arranging style can also use repeating interlocking riffs by the various sections that provide a rhythmic groove for soloists. Early innovators in big band music include Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman. Modern big band leaders include Quincy Jones and Maynard Ferguson.

The Big Band genre at JMA also includes jazz influenced pop orchetra leaders such as Paul Whiteman, Glen Miller and the Dorsey Brothers. Modern big bands that are influenced by avant-garde music, 3rd stream music or other types of modern elements can be found in the Progressive Big Band genre.

big band top albums

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STAN KENTON Adventures in Jazz Album Cover Adventures in Jazz
STAN KENTON
4.99 | 3 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Big Swing Face Album Cover Big Swing Face
BUDDY RICH
4.95 | 3 ratings
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CAB CALLOWAY Hi De Hi De Ho Album Cover Hi De Hi De Ho
CAB CALLOWAY
5.00 | 2 ratings
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STAN KENTON Standards in Silhouette Album Cover Standards in Silhouette
STAN KENTON
5.00 | 2 ratings
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STAN KENTON Stan Kenton Conducts the Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton Album Cover Stan Kenton Conducts the Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton
STAN KENTON
4.95 | 2 ratings
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BUDDY RICH The Greatest Drummer That Ever Lived With... The Best Band I Ever Had Album Cover The Greatest Drummer That Ever Lived With... The Best Band I Ever Had
BUDDY RICH
4.95 | 2 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Time Out Album Cover Time Out
BUDDY RICH
4.95 | 2 ratings
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DUKE PEARSON Introducing Duke Pearson's Big Band Album Cover Introducing Duke Pearson's Big Band
DUKE PEARSON
4.90 | 2 ratings
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STAN KENTON Kenton in HI-FI Album Cover Kenton in HI-FI
STAN KENTON
4.66 | 4 ratings
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QUINCY JONES This Is How I Feel About Jazz Album Cover This Is How I Feel About Jazz
QUINCY JONES
4.75 | 2 ratings
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DIZZY GILLESPIE A Portrait of Duke Ellington Album Cover A Portrait of Duke Ellington
DIZZY GILLESPIE
4.50 | 2 ratings
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DUKE ELLINGTON Festival Session Album Cover Festival Session
DUKE ELLINGTON
4.45 | 2 ratings
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This list is in progress since the site is new. We invite all logged in members to use the "quick rating" widget (stars bellow album covers) or post full reviews to increase the weight of your rating in the global average value (see FAQ for more details). Enjoy JMA!

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It's All in the GAME
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All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings At The Village Vanguard
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big band Music Reviews

CANNONBALL ADDERLEY African Waltz

Album · 1961 · Big Band
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siLLy puPPy
After releasing his critically acclaimed and most popular albums of his career with such classics as “Something Else” on the Blue Note label, CANNONBALL ADDERLEY spent many years after pumping out album after album with totally new lineups with many of them including AFRICAN WALTZ ending up on the Riverside label. This album is completely different than ADDERLEY’s other albums which fall on the hard bop side of jazz. For AFRICAN WALTZ he has no less than 22 musicians on board including five trumpet players, four on trombone as well as other lesser used musical timbres such as bass trombone, tuba and of course ADDERLEY’s signature alto sax sound. This big band sound comes across as brash and bold with every track being carefully crafted for a full-on larger than life experience.

The album was built around the title track which was actually a surprise hit single in the UK for Johnny Dankworth. The huge big band experience was orchestrated by Ernie Wilkins, best known for his work with Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Dizzy Gillespie and the well seasoned approach to taming the large musical beast shines through as everything is perfectly executed. Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer also contributed the arrangements of two tracks. While this is a big band album through and through, this was the early 60s and there is plenty of evidence of the milestones in jazz that had recently come into play. The hard bop still finds its way into the musical compositions with several bass lines lifted right out of the 50s bop scene. The modal jazz set forth by Miles Davis shines through as well.

Since the eleven tracks on board are short with none venturing over the five minute mark, they hit hard and offer a quick and to-the-point approach that focuses most of all on the melodic development and like much in the big band world of jazz don’t rely on improvisation as much as other types of the genre. The only rip roaring solos found on this one are by ADDERLEY, his brother Nat Adderley on cornet with some lesser roles by pianist Wynton Kelly. The album has a hardcore exotica feel to it as well. It sounds like a 60s movie soundtrack of some sort and despite the title really evokes nothing AFRICAN at all in mood or musical texture.

While this album delivers some extremely strong well played pieces with a unique albeit bloated lineup, to my ears it sounds extremely powerful and confident and as far as early 60s jazz goes, quite catchy without ever entering syrupy ballad territory. It captures all the best aspects of big band jazz but offers the wild swinging tapestry of instruments so common in hard bop and more improvisational types of jazz. While AFRICAN WALTZ failed to inspire the fans at the time and has since been relegated to the bottom of the pile of ADDERLEY releases, i find this to be an exciting and exhilarating big band jazz experience with every track delivering high quality performances. Woefully underrated in most jazz circles.

STAN KENTON Kenton in HI-FI

Album · 1956 · Big Band
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js
One of the more polarizing artists in the history of jazz, there seems to be no middle ground with Stan Kenton, people either love him or hate him. Kenton kicked off his band leading career in the 1940s and quickly established himself as a bit of a radical as his bands often dealt with rather complicated charts and concert hall type concepts that some saw as at odds with the essence of jazz. His bands could be huge and often emphasized sheer power and volume over more subtle qualities. Critics often pointed out that Kenton’s music was clumsy and it didn’t ‘swing’. As is often the case with polarizing figures, the truth about Kenton’s music lays somewhere in the middle of popular opinion. His music may be a bit heavy-handed at times, and his charts may lack the grace and charm of other classic big bands, but there is still a lot of interesting music within the Kenton catalog, and saying his bands couldn’t swing is overstepping a bit.

In the mid-50s it became very popular for big band leaders to re-record their more famous hits in the new ‘hi-fidelity’ stereo format. So it is in 1955 that Kenton joins this growing trend by recording “Stan Kenton in Hi-Fi”, a collection of past hits re-recorded with a massive modern (50s) stereo sound. Listening to these tracks is exciting, this is a very dynamic band and they play plenty of high energy swing numbers with a few more reflective numbers scattered throughout. Kenton’s often reliance on sheer power is in evidence with plenty of screaming trumpets, but overall these are fun tracks with an upbeat positive vibe. There are plenty of good solos, but honorable mention should go to tenor player Vido Musso who has a very original voice and is one sax player who deserves wider recognition.

Kenton’s sound was heavily influenced by Jimmie Lunceford, and you can also hear some Ellington too. Comparing Kenton to the other big band greats, you could say that he does not have the irresistible groove of Count Basie, nor the slinky subtle tone colors of Ellington, but Kenton’s band has good youthful energy and then there is always that sock-to-the-jaw sheer power. That youthful energy is always a part of the Kenton appeal, and this album reveals just a hint of mid 50s rock-n-roll as it seems that Kenton was often aiming for that frat boy party vibe.

There are plenty of good cuts on here and no duds. Some standouts include the up-tempo rush of “Artistry Jumps”, the Latin groove of “Peanut Vendor” and the third stream ambitions of “Concerto to End All Concertos”. Sure Kenton may not be as cool as Duke or the the Count, but people should not write him off, despite his reputation for stiffness, this is decadently fun and dynamic music.

FLETCHER HENDERSON Quadromania: Wrappin' It Up

Boxset / Compilation · 2005 · Big Band
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These Quadromania CD compilations are extremely inexpensive, which makes them suspect at first, but this four CD collection of Fletcher Henderson tracks called “Wrappin It Up” is surprisingly good, especially when you consider the bottom barrel price. Fletcher Henderson is probably the most under appreciated figure in popular jazz history. A contemporary and early band mate of Louie Armstrong, and a precedent for Ellington’s orchestra, Henderson’s importance in the development of jazz is topped only by Armstrong, Ellington and Charlie Parker. If Henderson remains a mystery to you, then this compilation will make for an excellent introduction.

Jazz music was at a peak in the late 20s and early 30s, when most of these tracks were recorded. The music had become far more sophisticated and arranged after leaving New Orleans for New York, but at the same time, this period of jazz was often more experimental and devilishly intense than much of the swing music that followed in the late 30s. Listening to these tracks reveals complex and difficult arrangements topped with crazy hot solos, all played with mind boggling ease and confidence by artists who often went on to more fame with the Ellington Orchestra and others. Coleman Hawkins is all over this collection, but you will also hear the early careers of Russell Proscope, Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladner, Buster Bailey, Don Redmond and many other greats. The recorded sound and flow from track to track is quite good. Some CD collections of older music feature jarring differences between tracks, fortunately there is none of that on “Wrappin It Up”.

Sometimes modern (especially Western) ears have a hard time hearing details in music like this. The big sound of rock and RnB that originated in the 70s becomes a barrier to understanding music from other time periods and cultures where ‘production’ is non-existent. Whether its Indonesian Gamelan, Bach harpsichord inventions, early blues or 20s jazz, the difference from post 70s music is remarkable, and sometimes preferred by some. The other barrier to understanding 20s jazz is its tonality. This was a time when the brightness of major scales was the dominate sound. Since the 50s, the minor blues scale has come to dominate Western music including hard bop, modern blues, hard rock, metal, modern RnB and hip-hop. Some may interpret the bright sound of late 20s jazz as ‘happy’, but a giddy cocaine fueled exuberance would probably be a more fitting description. This was, after all, music for gangsters and illegal partiers, and it was outlawed in many parts of the US.

The big difference in this music compared to jazz today is in the ensemble work. The guys in Henderson’s band traveled together and played long strings of one night gigs while playing the same tunes night after night. The way this band can move together while playing high speed complex syncopated arrangements is something you will not hear today because today’s musician has to play in four or five different ensembles just to keep busy and pay the bills. Unfortunately, the sort of commitment needed to play in an ensemble like this is not usually available anymore.

JIMMIE LUNCEFORD Lunceford Special

Boxset / Compilation · 1967 · Big Band
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About half of the Jimmie Lunceford compilations out there are titled “Lunceford Special”, named after his most popular song, so to specify which “Lunceford Special” this review is covering, it should be pointed out that this is from the Columbia Hall of Fame series released in the late 60s. Even non-jazz fans will recognize the names of Count Basie and Duke Ellington as being two of the greatest big band leaders of all time, but only the hardcore jazz fans know that in his heyday, Lunceford’s band was often more popular and more musically formidable than either of those two giants. Why Lunceford’s popularity has waned over time is easily explained by the fact that he passed away a couple decades before the other two, and did not get a chance to further improve his legacy and fame in the more promotion savvy 1950s-70s. More than likely, more passing of time will work to Lunceford’s advantage and hopefully he will eventually return to his place as big band leader supreme. To understand why Lunceford was so popular, you only have to give this record a spin and you will hear how hot and dynamic his band was.

While Ellington’s band was known for their smooth sound and classical ambitions, and Basie’s band was known for its hard rockin dance beat, Lunceford’s band fell in between the two. Lunceford’s band had a driving rhythm section which made them a favorite amongst the dancers, but their arrangements are deceptively complex, full of interesting change-ups, counter melodies and rhythmic juxtapositions. Their set material often featured popular sing along melodies for the dancers, cloaked in crazy jazz arrangements for the more serious listener.

Of the two sides of this LP, side two is the better. On this side we get less of the ‘jokey’ double entendre dirty lyrics of side one, and more arrangements that feature hot solos and complex ensemble work, and no vocals. Most of the tunes on here are from 1939, when the band was at a peak, but “Flaming Reeds and Screaming Brass” from 1933 is a real eye-opener with its fierce energy and bizarre arrangement that foreshadows Charles Mingus. Another top cut is title tune “Lunceford Special”, with its simple but effective repeating riff that conjures up instant images of dance floor mayhem. The sound on this album is not too bad, it sounds like a lot of high end was cut off of the eq to get rid of surface noise, there is always a trade off in dynamics when you do that. Also, the copy I have was ‘re-channeled’ for stereo, always a bad idea and an unfortunate practice that faded with the end of the 70s.

GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC ENSEMBLE It's All in the GAME

Album · 2016 · Big Band
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When you first listen to “Its All in the Game”, the premier recording by The Great American Music Ensemble led by Doug Richards, you are liable to think that here is a big band that can rival the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, especially when it comes to an ability to span the decades. Then, upon reading a little background, it turns out that although this CD was not released until 2016, it was actually recorded in 2001! It is really hard to believe that a recording this strong was delayed for fifteen years, but such is the music business. On the positive side, its nice “Its All in the Game” finally saw the light of day because it still sounds fresh, and will probably be one of the best big band recordings released this year.

Doug Richard’s ensemble excels in three main areas,: radical reconstructions of well known tunes, inspired productions of older big band sounds that are hard to re-produce, and vocal numbers based around the stellar voice of Rene Marie. Looking at the first, many of the tracks on “Game” are well known standards such as “April in Paris and “In the Mood”, but these charts are chopped up with odd-metered rhythms, sudden tempo changes and all the other tools of the modern composer. Despite the difficult arrangements, the end result sounds energetic and fun in a manner that recalls Don Ellis in the late 60s. The second area involves an ability to re-create sounds of the past (especially Ellington) without sounding contrived. On “Stardust”, Jon Faddis’ screaming trumpet recalls Ellington Orchestra trumpeter Bubber Miley, a sound that is hard for many modern players to reach. On “When its Sleepy Time Down South”, violinist Joe Kennedy Jr recalls Ellington violinist Ray Nance, once again, it’s a violin style that you just don’t hear anymore. Unfortunately, in the time that this recording sat on the shelves, Kennedy passed away. Finally we get to the best, and that is the tracks that feature vocalist Rene Marie. Rene has a strong rhythmic approach, but her vocal attack is deceptively soft, the juxtaposition of the two is fascinating to listen to as she has to be one of the top vocalists in jazz today, and a perfect choice to lead a big band. Sometimes her soft but strong approach can sound like the great Betty Roche, who sang Ellington’s first version of “Take the A Train’.

The final plus about this recording is the production, everything on here sounds full and vibrant. So here we have excellent charts that seamlessly combine the classic with the modern, played by a virtuoso ensemble that is having a blast, there is nothing to complain about here, all the pieces fit, just hope that Doug Richards will now be encouraged to do more recordings like this.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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