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 experimentation can be found in the Progressive Big Band genre.

big band top albums

Showing only albums and live's | Based on members ratings & JMA custom algorithm

STAN KENTON Adventures in Jazz Album Cover Adventures in Jazz
STAN KENTON
4.99 | 3 ratings
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STAN KENTON Kenton in HI-FI Album Cover Kenton in HI-FI
STAN KENTON
4.98 | 3 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 Time Out Album Cover Time Out
BUDDY RICH
4.95 | 2 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Big Swing Face Album Cover Big Swing Face
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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DUKE PEARSON Sweet Honey Bee Album Cover Sweet Honey Bee
DUKE PEARSON
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Blues Caravan Album Cover Blues Caravan
BUDDY RICH
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Big Band Machine Album Cover Big Band Machine
BUDDY RICH
5.00 | 1 ratings
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BUDDY RICH Plays and Plays and Plays Album Cover Plays and Plays and Plays
BUDDY RICH
5.00 | 1 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
5.00 | 1 ratings
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big band Music Reviews

QUINCY JONES This Is How I Feel About Jazz

Album · 1957 · Big Band
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“This is How I Feel About Jazz” was Quicy Jones’ debut LP way back in 1957. It may be hard for some to believe that this eventual king of pop was once totally immersed in the world of jazz, but listening to any of his modern pop albums will reveal the techniques he learned while he was one of the top jazz arrangers. This is an excellent album, especially for being someone’s initial effort. Choosing to open with Miles’ “Walkin” sets the tone for the LP, east coast sophisticated urban blues meets west coast laid back cool. Jones’ big band sound is rooted in the soul of Ellington and Basie, but modernized with a smart economical approach that favors light and slightly odd instrumental mixtures. It was, and in many ways still is, the essence of sophisticated hip. This sound that Jones will develop alongside fellow arrangers, such as Henry Mancicni and Lalo Schifrin, will become the sound of better TV and movie soundtracks for several decades to come. Its interesting to note that at this time in history, the role of the jazz big band had changed from dancing and entertainment to being a sort of colorful orchestra for the arranger‘s creativity, which led to the big band’s new career as a supplier for many a Hollywood soundtrack, especially in the brand new world of TV.

One of the big pluses on “How I Feel About Jazz” is the all-star cast of musicians, Mingus or Paul Chambers on bass, Art Farmer on trumpet, Zoot Sims and Phil Woods on sax and Herbie Mann on flute, plus many more. There are plenty of great solos on here, plus its interesting to listen to Herbie Mann and Mingus duet on the opening of “A Sleeping Bee”. Overall this is a fairly laid back album with no particular stand out tracks, later Jones albums will sometimes work up more of a sweat. If there is one drawback, it is the brevity of this LP. Still, this is recommended for fans of late 50s-60s jazz big bands, as well as fans of soundtrack work from that same era.

DIZZY GILLESPIE At Newport (50th anniversary edition)

Boxset / Compilation · 2007 · Big Band
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The 50th Anniversary edition of “Dizzy Gillespie at Newport” is another one of those CD re-issues that adds enough new material to make it a significant improvement over the original. The original version of “At Newport” did not include the songs that Gillespie’s band performed with Mary Lou Williams that day, those songs instead showed up on a split EP with Count Basie. This 50th Anniversary edition brings all the songs together and you can now hear the entire show, although the songs are not in the right order as they happened that day.

This CD opens up with the six tunes that comprised the original LP and contain some of the hottest playing you will ever hear from Dizzy and his band, or anyone else for that matter. Unlike the swing based bands of Ellington, Basie and others, Dizzy’s band was the be-bop big band; their tempos were fast, their unison lines a blur of speed and their solos displayed a new formidable modern technique. The opening tune “Dizzy’s Blues” busts out of the gate with Dizzy leading the charge with an incredible fiery hot solo relentlessly pushing the beat forward. Wynton Kelly’s jagged piano backup adds to the beautiful chaos. Dizzy tended to gear his shows towards the general public, not just die hard jazz fans, so there is always an upbeat easy going crowd pleasing nature to his shows, along with a good dose of humor. Whether or not Gillespie’s humor gets to be too silly or over done sometimes is a matter of taste.

The rest of the five tunes from the original LP are all good with “School Days” being a sure crowd pleaser with Dizzy doing silly school boy raps over a jump blues/rock-n-roll beat. “Manteca” is intense Latin jazz and “Cool Breeze” brings back the fast energy of the opener. The following tunes on this CD feature the cuts with Mary Lou Williams that were originally released as a separate EP back in the 50s. Apparently these were actually the opening tunes at the concert and present a totally different side of the band. William’s set opens with her ambitious three part “Zodiac Suite” which has the band digging into difficult and exotic 3rd stream type arrangements. This era of early big band experimentation produced some very interesting, almost naïve at times, creations and William’s odd “Suite” is no exception. The rest of this CD is made up of two more well known Latin flavored numbers.

What a great idea to bring the two original separate records of this concert together onto one CD. You get some excellent variety on here with the high brow and ambitious “Zodiac Suite” contrasting with the good times rockin energy of the other cuts. Besides Dizzy, some other great soloists on here include Al Grey on trombone, Pee Wee Moore and Benny Golson on sax, and Lee Morgan on trumpet.

On an interesting side note, Gillespie's 57 appearance at Newport came one year after Ellington’s big band smash success at the festival in 1956. No doubt Ellington’s success was an influence on Gillespie’s presentation as there are some interesting similarities including a three part suite followed by some crowd pleasing bluesy early rock-n-roll back beat.

DUKE ELLINGTON Ellington At Newport Complete

Live album · 1999 · Big Band
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If there is one album where you definitely want to get the complete CD re-issue, “Ellington at Newport” is the one. The difference between this 1999 CD and the original LP from the late 50s is all the difference in the world. The story about this famous 1956 concert and its original recording mishaps has been told many times, so I will make this brief. Ellington’s performance at Newport in 56 was a smash success that turned around his lagging career and inspired so much enthusiasm that the concert almost ended in a riot of sorts. Eager to get a recording of this concert out to the public, Ellington discovered that the concert recording was marred by sloppy playing, and even worse, key solos had been played into the wrong microphones and barely recorded at all. Quickly Ellington pulled together another rehearsal and had the entire concert re-recorded fresh in the studio, except for the one piece that had gotten the crowd to its feet, “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”. That one piece had featured a lengthy solo by Paul Gonsalves that Ellington wanted to preserve as is, even though you could barely hear Gonsalves at times because he was pointed towards the wrong mic.

When “Ellington at Newport” hit the shelves in 57, everyone assumed that was an actual recording of the Duke’s big comeback and the story could have ended there, but many decades later, someone miraculously discovered the tapes picked up by the “wrong microphone” (it was for a taping to be played over seas), all of a sudden the original concert was back again. To say this was one of the biggest musicological finds of the 20th century is practically an understatement. Next came the painstaking task of matching the various tapes together, but new developments in digital technology finally allowed the entire concert to be released in fairly good sounding stereo.

So in 1999 the complete “Ellington at Newport” was released with the entire 56 concert intact, as well as Ellington’s studio remake of the concert that had been the original album. Its fun to compare the two versions, the studio recording is tighter and more polished, but the live recording has so much energy and raw enthusiasm. Some sloppiness in the live recording is pretty bad, such as Johnny Hodges mangled opening note glide on “I Got it Bad”, but overall, I find the live recordings to have more life than the studio ones.

A special brand new three part Newport Suite was supposed to be Ellington’s show stopper at this performance, but despite some great music, it didn’t really grab the audience. Desperate to connect with the crowd and sensing he might not get another shot at a comeback, the Duke started pulling out some old favorites and when the band hit a lengthy blues groove that was the interlude between “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue”, the audience went crazy. During this lengthy workout, saxophonist Paul Gonsalves laid down an old-school bluesy solo that became one of the most famous solos in jazz history. Its not a particularly flashy solo, in fact Gonsalves solos during the Newport Suite are much better, but the band hit a groove that really grabbed the crowd. Much of the credit for this should go to new drummer Sam Woodyard and his feel for the new rock-n-roll back beat, and therein lay the key to Duke’s success that evening. It wasn’t about flashy music or powerhouse solos, it was about an irresistible beat and a band that fell into a communal groove with the audience with everyone slapping that backbeat together, shouting out encouragement and dancing in the aisle.

At the end of “Blue” you can hear the pandemonium, the audience is yelling at the stage while Ellington and the promoter are arguing about how to handle the crowd. The Duke wants to keep the encores coming, but the promoter wants to wrap things up. Four encores are eventually played and in between each one you can hear some very heated exchanges, its all very fascinating. Its hard to be objective when rating this album, sure there is some great music on here, particularly the three part suite, but more importantly, this is one of the most famous concerts in jazz history and the fact that it was considered lost for so long makes it no less than a miracle.

DUKE ELLINGTON Three Mid-Fifties Classic Albums and More: Historically Speaking - The Duke / Duke Ellington Presents / Ellington 55

Boxset / Compilation · 2008 · Big Band
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“Duke Ellington - Three Mid-Fifties Classic Albums” is a title that makes it quite clear what you get on this CD compilation. The albums “Duke Ellington 55”, “Historically Speaking, the Duke” and “Duke Ellington Presents” are all presented along with ten more bonus tracks recorded about the same time as the “Ellington 55” cuts. “55” consists of material recorded in 53 and was the Duke’s last album for Capitol before they let him go, the other two albums are with the smaller Bethlehem label and were recorded a few years later in early 56. The mid 50s are considered a down time for Ellington and his band as their popularity waned and Ellington was producing very little new material and mostly re-recording past favorites. Still, the band is in fine form and there is some excellent material to be found on here.

“55” is probably the weakest of the three albums with its older style production and preponderance of over played dance tunes made popular by the likes of Glen Miller etc. The two Bethlehem albums feature a much stronger rhythm section production which is driven by the modern back-beat influenced drummer Sam Woodyard. Sam was an important new addition to the band and his strong rhythms propelled the band’s big comeback at Newport soon after these Bethlehem albums were released. The Bethlehem sides are also helped by the return of Johnny Hodges to the band, whose virtuoso saxophone playing always lifts the band to another level.

Some of the standout tracks on here include rip snorting versions of “The Jeep is Jumpin”, “Rockin in Rhythm”, “Cotton Tail” and “Stomp Look and Listen”. Ellington gets into his more modern and abstract sounds on “Lonesome Lullaby” and “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”. The weakest cuts are the bonus tracks from the 53 sessions, they aren’t terrible, buts its easy to see why they weren’t included on an album the first time around, I think lackluster is the term.

Since much of these three albums were made up of past hits, owning all three gives you quite an overview of some of Ellington’s more popular material, all played with energy, enthusiasm and much creativity. The critics were down on these albums at the time of their release for their lack of new material, but the passing of time has made that less relevant today.

DUKE ELLINGTON Duke Ellington Presents... (aka Duke Ellington Moods)

Album · 1956 · Big Band
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“Duke Ellington Presents” was one of Duke’s last mid-50s recordings to be put out before his big comeback at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956. The mid-50s are considered a bit of a down time for Ellington as he was no longer writing new material and was being encouraged by labels to record his older hits in the new hi-fidelity LP format. Although critics are not particularly fond of these records, Ellington’s fans are often happy to hear different versions of popular favorites. The premise behind “Presents” was that each of these songs was to be a showcase for a particular soloist, hence the title. What made this album unique was that most of these tunes were not part of the usual Ellington repertoire, but were instead songs made popular by others, thus the attraction to Ellington fans who wanted to hear Duke’s take on well known classics such as “My Funny Valentine”, “Laura”, “Summertime” and others.

Another unique aspect of this album is that most of these cuts are ballads, making it must have for fans of Duke’s more mellow side. Each tune gives plenty of room for the appointed soloist to show off their lyrical abilities and personality. Most of these are good, but top honors for the ballad numbers goes to Russell Procope’s almost classical sounding alto sax on a beautifully subtle “Indian Summer”, also nice are Harry Carney on “Frustration” and Johnny Hodges on “Daydream”.

Despite the preponderance of ballad numbers, not everything is laid back on here. “Blues” is a great groove number that allows almost everyone a chance to solo, but possibly one of the most intense numbers I’ve ever heard from Ellington is the high speed take on “Cottontail”. The band fires off rapid riffs with lightning precision while Paul Gonsalves delivers a funky rhythmic solo. Put this one in the car and turn it up loud next time you need to make some good time. Overall this may not be one of Ellington’s most original LPs, but his fans don’t seem to mind, particularly fans of his ballad style. Most of these performances are excellent.

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JMA TOP 5 Jazz ALBUMS

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