What big band swing LPs, 45s, or artists would you recommend for a newb?
December 9, 2012 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I would like to explore the world of (classic) big band swing music. What LPs, 45s, or artists would you recommend for a newb?

I just picked up Benny Goodman's "The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (Vol. 1)," which is pretty awesome. My interest/preference is also along the lines of non-vocal.

My normal music preference is new wave, alternative, indie and garage music, so this is, save a track here and there, a completely new area of music that I would like to explore.
posted by missed to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Glen Miller is a big favorite!
posted by Attackpanda at 7:11 AM on December 9, 2012

One thing you can do is to go to Pandora and start a station off of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, or any big band leader of your choice. I actually stumbled across this because I have a station for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (who are worthy of the great swing musicians IMHO - they have a respect for the genre that shows in their work). The Pandora thing will expose you to a wide range of big band groups and styles quickly. Occasionally you'll run across a good quality recording that allows you to hear the different instruments a lot more clearly; many of the older recordings consisted of just putting microphones in front of the band, which gives the distant, flat sound you often hear on old recordings.

Another modern group you might look up is the Brian Setzer Orchestra. He tours solo as well but his best work is with the Orchestra. The album "Songs From Lonely Avenue" is a fantastic piece of work.

It's definitely different than the music you're used to. There's a lot more demand for technical perfection in a big band. But it's great stuff.
posted by azpenguin at 7:22 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your local public library probably has a good selection of jazz, bigband, and swing music, and a great place to sample stuff before you buy it.

In my itunes i've got Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Glen Miller (who I'm not as big a fan of as the others. I like all the swing music on the SwingKids soundtrack as well.
posted by garlic at 7:23 AM on December 9, 2012

"Sing sing sing"
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:25 AM on December 9, 2012

Duke Ellington! He's the king. BEnny Goodman is especially great if you like swing dancing. So's Artie Shaw. Count Basie. Don't overlook the Dorsey Brothers. These guys are all canonical.

One of the great things about swing is that you can pick up just about any $2.99 compilation and find something great that helps educate you. Often there are several really great tracks and then some lesser material. You may care a lot eventually about audio quality and finding live recordings and rare tracks and stuff, but while in the education phase, just listen to a lot of it and start writing down the names and titles you find you start to recognize and that stand out to you.

I'd say that's how I got into it - got into swing dance and wanted to know more about the music. At first, to someone trained on 60s pop and onward, there is a little challenge in listening to the music. The song structures are often more complex and, without lyrics, it is a little challenging to remember what tune is what title and artist. But over time, your ear gets a lot more fine-tuned and you can start to recognize the style of each major bandleader. And once you get "the greats" down, you can start to explore some of the hundreds of lesser-known bands that still made incredible music.

I got into this before there was Pandora - the way I started was listening to this online station, Rat Patrol Radio, while working at my desk and just making the occasional note along the way when the music got my attention - if i thought "oh yay! I like this one" I looked to see the artist and title. Also, once I knew that, I trolled around websites for bio and discography information, which helped be get a little better differentiation between the bands.

Of the moderns, the Brian Setzer Orchestra is definitely the best. Some of the Squirrel Nut Zipper's material is very classic swing-y.

Benny and the Duke are my favorites.
posted by Miko at 7:32 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

This cd box set. Your library might have it - mine did when I went through my Big Band kick in high school.
posted by emmling at 7:56 AM on December 9, 2012

Don't forget about Ella! I'd skip neo-swing like Big Bad Voodoo Daddies or Brian Setzer Orchestra to focus on the real stuff: Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, Cab Calloway, Count Basie.

If you're interested, the swing dance and lindy hop communities have some serious music aficionados who would be more than happy to chat about music with you - and nothing gives you a better appreciation for big band music like lindy hopping to it. I'm not sure where you're located, but if you're either in a decent sized city or in a place with a university, there's almost certainly an active swing dance community or club.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:25 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for mostly non-vocal tracks, concentrate on the earlier years (1930s-early 1940s) before vocalists starting dominating. The obvious ones besides Goodman are Ellington, Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb. Consider possibly also Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France.

Many of the big band leaders also recorded in small groups, notably Basie with his Kansas City Six and Goodman with his various groups. These sides tend to be a little faster in tempo and more improvisation-oriented than their work with the full bands and is somewhat less suited for dancing. It was still riff-based and more accessible than the bop style which would follow.

Once you get into the war years vocalists start to be featured more. This was due to economics and the Recording Ban (which made an exception for vocal tracks). By the 1950s, instrumentals were more the exception than the rule.
posted by tommasz at 8:53 AM on December 9, 2012

Cab Calloway's a hell of a lot of fun. All vocal, but all fun.
posted by COBRA! at 9:15 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Echoing what others said, your local public library system is a good place to start exploring. Also, you might want to check out Hot Jazz Saturday Night, and note what songs you like. Each week, the past week's episode is available for streaming.
posted by fings at 9:19 AM on December 9, 2012

Hot Jazz Saturday Night is like a Master Class in swing jazz. I recommend it highly even though it isn't all big band.
posted by OmieWise at 10:36 AM on December 9, 2012

> The obvious ones besides Goodman are Ellington, Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb.

Very true, but don't forget Woody Herman; also, there's Horace Henderson, Fletcher's kid brother, whom Gunther Schuller called "one of the most talented yet most neglected and enigmatic figures in all of jazz" (I recommend the Classics collection Horace Henderson 1940).
posted by languagehat at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2012

Another Big Band radio show, also has playlists!
posted by BungaDunga at 5:32 PM on December 9, 2012

Expanding a bit on tommasz's comment and giving a little context, one thing to do is explore the connections between the bands. Performers moved between bands, started new one, etc.

For instance, you mention liking Benny Goodman. Benny got many of his popular arrangements from Fletcher Henderson, who had his own big band, but due to financial difficulties, had to disband, which is how he wound up selling a number of his arrangements to Goodman.

Artie Shaw was a rival to Goodman -- Benny was billed as "The King of Swing" and Artie as "Kind of the Clarinet", though Artie Shaw claimed that was backwards, that Benny was crazy about playing clarinet, and but that he himself was a better musician.

After Goodman's band got popular, trumpeter Harry James and drummer Gene Krupa both left to form their own Big Bands.

The Savoy Ballroom in NY used to host bands at either end of their dance floor, and have band battles. In one famous incident, Chick Webb and his orchestra beat Benny Goodman and his band.

And despite flaws, you probably want to check out Ken Burn's Jazz documentary, especially episodes 2-6. It's available streaming on both Netflix and Amazon Prime.
posted by fings at 7:39 PM on December 9, 2012

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