By Jennifer Gillespie
The early days of the Big Band Era began in North America during the 1930s, and by the early 1940s, the new music genre had flourished. During World War I (1914 - 1918), a couple years before the era's beginning days, "ragtime" music was very popular among American citizens. This style of music is commonly referenced as one of the largest Big Band Era influences as many ragtime bands used swing beats with brass instruments and ensemble arrangements (as seen in big bands). The ragtime artists markedly realized as Big Band Era influencers in both North America and Europe are James Reese Europe and Irving Berlin, and the European countries notably influenced by these artists were France, England and Russia. Historians have debated which artist was actually the first to reach and impact these countries, although as several Big Bands formed in France, England and Russia as a result of Europe and Berlin's arrival, it is clear both of these men left grand impressions in music history.
In North America during the 1910s, James Reese Europe was renown for composing popular songs, dance tunes, marches and ragtime beats, and he led the prolific 369th Infrantry Band of the American Expeditionary Force (Badger 48-67). His 369th Infantry Band was a famous dance and brass ensemble band - two factors also seen in nearly all big bands. Europe's band left its mark in the history of North America's Big Band Era, and was also the first band to introduce this music style to France and England during a European tour made in 1918. After 369th Infantry Band's tour, ragtime music picked up notable momentum in France and England which granted James Reese Europe credit for the first American artist to introduce ragtime music across seas (Levin).
Irving Berlin was one of the greatest composers and songwriters in American history, known especially for his first hit song, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." This song was hit worldwide, and its ragtime style grew particulary popular among swing dance enthusiasts in Russia. This song started what has been called a ragtime "dance craze" which paved the way for Russians to also join the transition from ragtime to the Big Band Era with swing/jazz music in the years following ("Encyclopædia Britannica").
The Big Band Era evolved in America from ragtime music a few years later in the early 1930s, and because France, England and Russia were previously exposed to the similar ragtime music style, these countries also enjoyed the Big Band Era ("Swing Music"). The first English Big Band formed in 1928 and was named the BBC Dance Orchestra. Soon after, additional Big Band artists came on the music scene in England including Billy Cotton, Geraldo, Joe Loss and Oscar Rabin ("BBC Radio"). In France, one of the most important jazz groups to form as a result of American influencers was Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934 ("BBC Music"). As for Russia, the first jazz orchestra was founded in 1922 by Valentin Parnakh and was named "The RSFSR First Eccentric Orchestra Jazz Band of Valentin Parnakh," and several others followed suit ("Russia IC").