The Big Band Era and its Impact Worldwide

Sitar Group Wiki Tasks:

  • Written contribution from each group member: All of our essays are posted below (except April Marlin ** whom we have tried contacting but have had no luck)
  • Bibliography:** Jennifer Gillespie
  • Discography: Liz Oeltjenbruns and Travis Gormley
  • Webography: Jake Gordon and Haley Liles
  • Videography: Tim Guest
  • Images: Haley Liles and Alex Wucker
  • Videos: Tim Guest
  • Maps: Adam Vaughn


By Jacob Gordon

The Big Band Era took place roughly between the 1920’s through the 1950’s. Most prominent between 1930’s and 1940’s, the Big Band Era is characterized by jazz or swing bands consisting of ten or more musicians playing a wide range of different instruments. Saxophones, trumpets, and trombones are essential instruments in the Big Band Era, and bands would often have multiple of these aerophones. Typically, the aerophones are accompanied by a rhythm section consisting of piano, guitar, bass, and drums.

Drawing its origins back to New Orleans in 1898, following the end of the Spanish-American war, African-Americans interested in becoming musicians purchased instruments from decommissioned military bands. These self taught African-American musicians played unconventionally which provided new sounds and different scales to a growing musical genre. Ragtime is the product of this African-European syncretism. Ragtime musicians began playing new rhythms consisting of blue notes and harmonies that were off beat in comparison to the European concept of melody. Initially, Big Band Jazz was largely based off of improvisation, with part of the band playing a melody, as the rest of the musicians provided solos. By the 1920’s, this improvised, unorganized, musical style had matured into a prearranged, well-rehearsed musical structure. It became a necessity for all big bands to have an arranger, someone who dictated who plays what, and for how long. Not straying too far from its musical roots of improvisation, musicians still played improvised solos but only when the arrangement called for it.

With the economy crippled by the Great Depression in the 1930’s, society tuned into radio as it provided free entertainment. Improvements to recording equipment which allowed for more refined quality of live and recorded music made radio broadcasts a more affordable alternative to purchasing personal discs. Along with the radio broadcast improvements, the invention of the Simplex record changer mechanism by Homer Capehart in 1933 introduced the world to the Jukebox. Jukeboxes provided music for all to hear in speakeasies, ice cream parlors, and drug stores and can be attributed to the success of the Big Band genre. By this time, Big Band Jazz music had spread across the country from its birthplace of New Orleans. Ballrooms, parlors, and concert halls in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco were all playing Big Band music.

Big Band music caught the attention of the nation in the form of Fletcher Henderson at the end of the 1920’s. Originally performing as a dance band, Henderson’s band eventually took on more jazz and blues influence. With Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Henderson assuming the role of band arranger, they created the first music of the Big Band genre. After enjoying moderate success arranging for his own band, Henderson struck gold in 1935 when he began to arrange music for Benny Goodman. Although the arrangements were the same Henderson used previously in his old band, Goodman’s band of talented musicians playing Henderson’s masterful arrangements became the most popular Jazz/Swing Band of the nation. Goodman’s band was extremely unpopular throughout the first leg of their cross-country tour due to their radio broadcast being too late at night for those on the East coast. All throughout the West coast the band was met with overwhelming praise; and in the summer of 1935 at the Palomar in Los Angeles, Benny Goodman seemingly overnight started the Big Band Era.

Essay Works Cited
Thomas, Bob. “The Origins Of Big Band Music.” The Red Hot Jazz Archive. 1994. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. .

Parker, Jeff. “Jazz History Part II.” Swing Music Net – Jazz Music And Jazz History. 2003. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. .

Gridley, Mark. “Explore: Big Band.” AllMusic. 2003. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. .

Weinstock, Len. “The Big Band Era, Or How America Came Out Of The Great Depression And Went On To Win World War II.” The Red Hot Jazz Archive. 1991. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. .

Dana, Robert W. "Craigs Big Bands & Big Names." Craig's BigBands and BigNames, Big Band Era Music, Swing Jazz Big Bands. 2003. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. [[html]]<>.[[html]]

Gridley, Mark. "Explore: Big Band." AllMusic. 2003. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. [[html]]<>.[[html]]

Weinstock, Len. "The Big Band Era, Or How America Came Out Of The Great Depression And Went On To Win World War II." The Red Hot Jazz Archive. 1991. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. [[html]]<>.[[html]]

"big-band jazz." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2011. [[html]]<>.[[html]]


By Alex Wucker

“Big bands” or bands that performed swing music during the 1930s and 1940s (during the swing era) got their name because they typically played in larger groups of 10 or more people as opposed to smaller bands which people were used to seeing during that time frame (Gridley). As evidenced by an image of a typical seating chart, the band on stage was set up much differently than the typical band we would expect to see on stage today. I think bands on late night shows would be the closest set up I could compare the typical seating arrangement of a big band in modern day terms. The left side of the horns section looks more like a conventional band we have these days with a guitar, bass guitar, piano, and drum section putting together the rhythm section, but to the right of the conventional band set up there is three rows of horns, typically including saxophones, trombones, trumpets, and other horn based instruments (Gridley). The horn section is set up more like a small orchestra type set up, so seeing a “big band” on stage is like seeing a conventional band mixed with an orchestra set up, which was unconventional for audiences to see at the time.

Big band Era performances were much different from what most of society during the early would expect from a concert in modern times. The name “swing” music implies what you would expect at a big band concert during the era, a big group of people swinging each other around in dance. Swing music first became popular among teenagers who wanted to go out and have a good time and dance away the worries that had troubled many Americans during the great depression (Music of the Big Band Era Part 2). As adults began to see the fun their kids were having at these swing concerts, they decided they would check it after hearing it on the radio as well. Once the adults made it out to the shows and started dancing and enjoying themselves and forgetting about the worries of the depression and big band performances turned into big sold out events (Music of the Big Band Era Part 2).

Towards the beginning of the big band era the bands typically played in more intimate smaller local settings because as the movement started in the early 1930s everyone was still hurting monetarily and was not eager to jump up and pay a band to perform in a huge auditorium (Music of the Big Band Era Part 2). Then radio came in to save the day, as big bands grew popular from getting major play time over the air, adults began to appreciate the music more and as the economy improved big bands went from playing smaller shows to touring and playing “engagements in fancy hotels and ballrooms.” Before the big band era of swing died out, some bands went out and played behind the lines of the troops, which was a different live experience than the dancing environment these were more to boost the morale of the troops by way of a pep rally of sorts (Music of the Big Band Era Part 2).

Example of Big Band seating arrangement - Carolina Club Orchestra


By Haley Liles

The Big Band Era took place from 1930-1945 (swing.pdf). The Big Band Era is also known as the Swing Era, in which Jazz music was first originated. There were several different instruments that characterized the time of the original Big Bands. According to, instrumentation in this era began in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. Bands from the military brought used band instruments and African Americans bought the instruments. They began to form bands and taught themselves to play. They even used household objects as instruments.

The instruments that were typically used were trumpets, trombones, and saxophones (swing.pdf). During the Big Band Era, the tenor saxophone became the main instrument of jazz replacing the cornet, which is was the main instrument of traditional jazz ( The marimba was also used during this time. The marimba is a member of percussion and consists of keys and bars. There is a mallet that is used to hit the keys ( There was also a rhythm section, which included the piano, guitar, acoustic bass, and drums. “Playing in a big band required a high level of musicianship. Players had to be able to read music, blend well in their sections, play in tune, and swing” (swing.pdf).

To make up a big band, there were usually four trumpets and four trombones. The trumpets included: the lead, section, section, and jazz, while the trombones consisted of: lead, section, jazz, and bass trombone. There were five saxophones that had a lead alto, second alto, first tenor, second tenor, and baritone sax. Male and female vocalists were also included in the big band, although vocalists are not usually thought of when thinking about Jazz bands. Some composers also used variety in instruments such as the baritone, clarinet, French horn, tuba, banjo, and violin. Some big bands focused more on the woodwind instruments including the flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, and the saxophone. Also, some Latin auxiliary instruments were used such as the cowbells, the congas, tambourines, or triangles ( band). As we can see, the instrumentation in the big bands varied and consisted of several different instruments to make up the jazz sound.

The combination of these instruments set jazz music apart from other types of music. Jazz music has a swing type feel and people cannot help, but to tap their feet, snap their fingers, and dance to the music. The percussion family helps establish the fun and cheerful beat. Trumpets, trombones, and saxophones add the swing feel with their bold and lively sound. The swing, or Big Band, style of jazz music “is more formal and usually less improvised” (

When I think of Jazz music today, I usually think of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones. I don’t usually think of other wind instruments or some of the other instruments mentioned. The woodwind instruments add the flow of swing. “The trumpet players were now challenged to incorporate more of the flowing sound of the woodwind instruments into their playing” (

Swing music uses all kinds of different instruments that distinguish it from other styles of music. During the Big Band Era, brass instruments, woodwind instruments, and other types of instruments were combined to produce the great sound of swing music.

"The Origins Of Big Band Music.” The Red Hot Jazz Archive. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. [[html]][[html]]

“Marimba.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. [[html]][[html]]

“Swing.” Acrobat Adobe. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. [[html]][[html]]

"Big Band.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. [[html]][[html]]

“Jazz Styles.” Home Intro. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. [[html]][[html]]

"Jazz Styles: Classic Jazz: Swing.” The Outside Shore. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. [[html]][[html]]

Glenn Miller Swing Band

Duke Ellington Band

Count Basie



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 particularly 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”).

Essay Works Cited
Badger, R. Reid. "James Reese Europe and the Prehistory of Jazz." American Music. 7.1 (1989): 48-67. Print.

"Big Band Music Information." Swing Music., n.d. Web. 11 Apr 2011. [[html]]<>.[[/html]]

"Biography - BBC Big Band." BBC Radio. BBC, n.d. Web. 15 Apr 2011. [[html]]<>.[[/html]]

"Brief History of Jazz in Russia ." Russia IC. Guarant-InfoCentre, 01 Apr 2008. Web. 19 Apr 2011. [[html]]<>.[[/html]]

"Irving Berlin." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. [[html]]<>.[[html]]

Levin, Floyd. Classic Jazz; A Personal View Of The Music And The Musicians. 2002. Print.

"Quintette du Hot Club de France." BBC Music. BBC, n.d. Web. 16 Apr 2011. [[html]]<>.[[html]]

Group Bibliography
Badger, R. Reid. “James Reese Europe and the Prehistory of Jazz.” American Music. 7.1 (1989): 48-67. Print.

Levin, Floyd. Classic Jazz; A Personal View Of The Music And The Musicians. 2002. Print.

Ross, Firestone. Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman. New York, NY: Norton, 1993. Print.

Russo, William. Composing for the Jazz Orchestra. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1961. Print.

Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1967. Print.


By Liz Oeltjenbruns

Many famous artists emerged from the Big Band era. Paul Whiteman was one of the original bandleaders of the era and many reporters dubbed him as the “King of Jazz.” Whiteman was known for his large ensembles, blend of symphonic music and jazz as well as his work with George Gershwin. Rhapsody in Blue was his most famous work that George Gershwin composed and Happy Feet was considered the “King of Jazz’s” theme song.

Another famous early Big Band musician was Ted Lewis. He combined his comedy, music and vocals to produce famous hits which nicknamed him “Mr. Entertainment.” His famous catch phrase “Is everybody happy?” portrays his happy and upbeat music. One of his most famous works was Me and My Shadow. This hit was often his closing act where he would dance and sing with literally his shadow.

A final famous performer during the early Big Band times was Harry Reser. He was most recognized for his amazing banjo skills and for being the leader of The Clicquot Club Eskimos. This was a famous television show on NBC where he and his band mates performed musical shorts. The earliest recording of Santa Claus is Coming to Town was done by Reser and his band in 1934 and reached #1 in the charts shortly after.

Many artists have been influenced by early Big Band music and performers. Towards the end of the 1920s Big Band music became heavily influenced by jazz. The epicenters of this jazz style birth were Chicago, New York City and Kansas City. Walter Page was credited for developing a walking bass and literal 4/4 time which helped bring swing music to its peak. Some of the most notable performers were Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington.

Bob Crosby was a notable Dixieland bandleader and vocalist. He was best known for his musical group The Bob-Cats. The Bob-Cats specialized in Dixieland jazz and focused on a traditional jazz revival of the 1940s. His voice is very similar to his more famous brother Bing. His most famous hit was Summertime. The Bob-Cats considered this their theme song. This composition has been used by several famous bands including Sublime’s hit Doin’ Time.

Benny Goodman was known by many as the “King of Swing.” He led one of the most popular music groups in America and was a performer at Carnegie Music Hall. Goodman was the first jazz bandleader to perform at Carnegie and his performance is noted as one of the most significant concerts in all of jazz history. He was widely successful on the television airwaves and one of his most famous hits was Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing). This was the climactic song that the audience became enthralled in at his Carnegie debut. Although Goodman didn’t write Sing, Sing, Sing his cover is one of the most famous. Anyone who has ever watched television or listened to music would easily be able to recognize this famous piece.

Duke Ellington may be one of the most famous musicians of all time. He called his music “American Music” not jazz, gospel or any of the other genres he is attributed to. His piece It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) is accepted as a jazz standard and introduced the word “swing” into everyday language.
Swing music had a revival in the late 1990s. The Lindy Hop (which was a popular dance in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s) had made a comeback as well as many younger people taking an interest in swing and Big Band music and dance. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis currently tours worldwide promoting Big Band sounds.


  • “Rhapsody in Blue” featured on Rhapsody in Blue/Concerto in F.
  • “Summertime” and “Sing, Sing, Sing” featured on The Swing Era; The Music of 1937-1938 Volume 1.
  • “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” featured on Ken Burns Jazz-The Story of America’s Music
  • "Duke Ellington's Jazz Violin Session CD" - 1963
  • "Ella & Duke At The Cote D'Azur CDs" - 1967

Essay Works Cited
Big Band:

  • Gridley, Mark. “Explore: Big Band.” AllMusic. Rovi, 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. .
  • “Traditional Pop Music.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 3 Apr. 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. .
  • William Russo, Composing for the Jazz Orchestra University of Chicago Press, Library of Congress no. 61-8642
  • George T. Simon, The Big Bands, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1967, Library of Congress no. 67-26643

Bob Crosby:

  • “Bob Crosby.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 17 Apr. 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. .

Duke Ellington:

  • Cohen, Harvey G. Duke Ellington’s America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-226-11263-3
  • Collier, James Lincoln. Duke Ellington. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-19-503770-7
  • Dance, Stanley. The World Of Duke Ellington. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970. ISBN 0-306-80136-1
  • Ellington, Duke. Music Is My Mistress. New York: Da Capo, 1976 ISBN 0-7043-3090-3

Benny Goodman:

  • Firestone, Ross (1993). Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman. New York: Norton. ISBN 0393033716.

Ted Lewis:

  • “Ted Lewis (musician).” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. .

Harry Reser:

  • “Harry Reser.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 23 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2011. .

Paul Whiteman:

  • Paul Whiteman: Pioneer of American Music (Volume 1: 1890–1930), Studies in Jazz, No. 43, by Don Rayno, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003.
  • Pops: Paul Whiteman, King of Jazz, by Thomas A. DeLong, New Century Publishers, 1983.
  • Jazz by Paul Whiteman, J. H. Sears, 1926.
  • How To Be A Band Leader by Paul Whiteman and Leslie Lieber, Robert McBride & Company, 1948.


By Tim Guest

Big band music has been very influential since it first came into the musical spotlight in the beginning of the last century. While this art form has evolved in the US over the years, other countries have also picked up on the craze, and the evolution has continued in many different directions. It is very easy to look into the music scene of many countries and see the influences of big band music, and Austria is no exception. In 1977, Mathias Ruegg founded the Vienna Art Orchestra and, along with his group of musicians, played his compositions around Europe. Ruegg had a fairly modern take on big band music, and a lot of his work had many similarities to the big band jazz music that the US had been putting out since the introduction of the genre. This group went on to get a record label in 1980 and even toured in the US in 1984. VAO seemed to come to an end in the late eighties, but came back together in 1992 with a smaller group of musicians, and changed members again in 1997. This band has been a prolific musical presence within big band music ever since the late seventies, and it is not hard to see their appeal, both in style and longevity.

When one turns on the Vienna Art Orchestra, the rich sounds of saxophones, trombones, and many other instruments pours out in such an intense torrent of sound, it is hard not to get caught up in the music. This band is often the spitting image of some of the older big bands, but in the blink of an eye, a solo will pop out that sounds like nothing one has ever heard before. VAO is clearly a band that has taken some of the best aspects of several types of music, and created their own sound that does justice to them all. Though the most prominent sound that I hear is big band jazz there are certainly little pieces of classical music mixed in. Ruegg is a classically trained musician who studied classical composition and jazz piano in Graz, and was the main sculptor of VAO’s general style. The later work of the Vienna Art Orchestra tended to deviate more from the compositions of Ruegg and worked more with the musical styles of the heavyweights of jazz and classical music, from Duke Ellington and Mingus, to Wagner and Schubert. Recent times have seen the VAO slowly fall out of the music scene, while still making some solid contributions. In 2008, Gruegg ended the big band aspect of VAO, and morphed it into a chamber group with jazz soloists. Sadly, in 2010 the Vienna Art Orchestra was entirely ended after thirty three years of incredible music. The Vienna Art Orchestra was at one time made an official cultural ambassador of Austria, and performed well over eight hundred times. Big band music has long been a very influential force in music around the world, and the Vienna Art Orchestra was one of the most impressive descendants of this phenomenal art form.

Essay Works Cited

  • “Vienna Art Orchestra.” Web. 16 Apr. 2011. .
  • “The Musicians: Mathias Ruegg.” Http:// Web. 16 Apr. 2011. .
  • Web. 14 Apr. 2011.


The Original Big Band

Brazilian Big Band

Afro-Cuban Big Band

Japanese Big Band

Big Band in Germany

Arabian Big Band


by Adam Vaughn

Big Band music evolved quickly as a result of the growing popularity of Jazz music. As the demand from the public increased, the more popular Jazz performers naturally moved up and away from the smaller venues with the usual small number of instruments and largely improvisational shows. The result was a shift towards the carefully arranged and structured Big Bands that eventually became so popular, no one in Jazz could avoid forming Big Bands not even the titans of Jazz (Parker). The blend of African and European styles that eventually became known as Jass, as it was then spelled, took shape first in New Orleans, Louisiana (Parker). The location of origin for Big Band is considered by many music historians to be Chicago, Illinois in the 1920’s (Newman, 2005). Although there has been plenty of debate over Big Band’s specific city of origin, we do know that New York City (The Savoy Ballroom), Kansas City (The Reno Club), and Los Angeles (Palomar Ballroom) were also important places that allowed Big Band to gain momentum in the years leading up to the eventual explosion in popularity nationwide created in part by the spread Swing dancing starting in 1936 (“History of swing,” 2004). As Big Band groups tirelessly performed all over the United States throughout the 1930’s and first half of the 1940’s records, and their subsequent airplay over the radio, coupled with stories about the most popular stars of the day, allowed the Big Band sound to travel the globe, gaining footholds in western Europe and South America most notably.

Throughout recorded history there has been evidence to support the theory that significant cultural trends spread first to large, urban areas of a country first, and then eventually outward towards smaller cities and rural areas. The spread of Big Band in many different parts of the world was no exception. Big Band music moved around the world as music always does, through the fans. Other musicians of various genres were also listening and many of them would eventually incorporate the Big Band sound in to their own work in some form or another. In certain urban areas the Big Band sound gained enough exposure to be able to inspire musicians in other countries to form their own Big Bands entirely. We will touch on a few of these urban areas on the map provided. All points on the customized map refer either to the origins of Big Band or its impact on the world from prior to 1950. A customized map of the world like this is a great way to illustrate the long journey physical performers would have to travel to reach listeners overseas before television. In Europe local musicians combined different styles to create their own blend of Big Band in places like Paris and The Hague, a large city in The Netherlands, as well as many other big cities. In South America Big Band made its way in to popular music in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s in particular. In Medellin and a handful of other large urban areas around South America the popular music of the day was an influential style of Latin music that combined Mambo and Big Band.

Interactive Map: Click on each point on the map for a description


By April Marlin





Travis Gormley
1. Essay: Big Band Influence in Africa

■Highlight African “Afrobeat,” existed from 1970-present
■Provide information on all the music styles the “Afrobeat” fuses together
■Give examples of a few popular Afrobeat Big Bands and detail their unique styles
■Cite ALL sources used for research

Afrobeat’s Big Band Influence in Africa

African Afrobeat is a mixture of Yoruba music, funk, highlife, and chanting vocals, combined with the percussion and vocal styles of another big band, jazz. Combining such rich and powerful music with improvisational jazz creates a very unique sound. The Afrobeat sound became popularized in Africa in the 1970s and hasn’t looked back since. The origin of the word Afrobeat is very unique with “Afro” being the acronym of African organized sound, while “beat” is a rhythmic counting pattern in relation to such music. (Grass, 1986) Fela Kuti of Nigeria, was one of the first to come up with this fusion of music and in fact, the origin and development of the actual Afrobeat music can be traced back to this famous African musician. Fela Anikulapo Kuti was “born on October 15, 1938 to the family of Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (1900-1955) and Mrs. Funmilayo Thomas Ransome-Kuti (1900-1978) at Abeokuta in Yorubaland, Fela manifested at an early age not only his budding musical talent, but also a tendency towards activism.” (Oikelome 2010) Fela excelled at playing many different western music styles at a very young age, several times he was called upon by his parents to entertain guest with the piano. In August of 1958, Fela received some musical training at the Trinity College of Music. The training was mainly emphasizing the theoretical and the practical aspects of western music and performance, which really helped him to have a tremendous understanding of music. (Oikelome 2010) Once he returned to Africa in 1970, Fela released his first album entitled, “London Scene,” and in 1971, changed the name of the band from “Nigeria 70” to the “Africa 70.” From then on Kuti’s influence on Afrobeat music was forever etched into history.
Some of the instruments used to make these unique sounds include, saxophones, trumpets and trombones, as well as, tenor and bass guitar. The percussion could be made up of many instruments including a drum set, conga drums, Akuba (which is a set of three small stick-hit congas), claves, and even shekeres where commonly included. (Grass, 1986) Fela used these instruments to accompany the lead vocalist and chorus, which used their voices to call for political change. Fela’s Afrobeat music was highly political, usually incorporating his “radical” ideas through the vocals of his songs, and because of this, became highly controversial. (Grass, 1986) Although Fela Kuti is credited as being one of the founding members of the Afrobeat sound, he is not the only musician in the style. Other Afrobeat musicians include, Sonny Okosun who was also from Nigeria and lead the group Ozziddi in the 1970’s and 80’s, and Tony Allen who played in Fela’s band and was a tremendous influence in the music as well. Tony Allen is arguably one of the greatest drummers of all time, as his rhythms and beats are both intricate and unique. Allen is famous for using all four limbs of his body to each play their own pattern of beats all at one time. (Williamson, 2008) This ability allows for a richer and fuller sound than just a typical two or three beat pattern. Afrobeat music and the Big Band have come a long way from Fela Kuti and his controversial political messages, but with more musicians like Tony Allen taking over the Afrobeat sound will live on for years to come.

Word Count: 564

2. Task: Discography

■List the names of 3 CDs made by “Afrobeat” Big Bands noted in your essay
■Cite ALL sources used for research

Task: Discography

1. “Fela's London Scene”, (1970) by Fela Ransome Kuti, produced by Barclay
2. “No Accommodation for Lagos,” (1979) by Tony Allen, produced by Phonogram
3. “The Good, The Bad & The Queen,” (2007) by The Good, The Bad & The Queen, produced by EMI


1. Grass, Randall F. "Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: The Art of an Afrobeat Rebel". (1986) The Drama Review: TDR (MIT Press) 30: 131–148. (4/21/11)

2. Oikelome, Albert "Stylistic analysis of afrobeat music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti". (2010) Retrieved 19 April 2011.

3. Williamson, Nigel (2008-01-18). "Tony Allen: The veteran Afrobeat drummer is shaking his sticks as hard and as brilliantly as ever". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-04-22.

Tim Guest POSTED
1. Essay: Big Band Influence in Context

■Describe music styles outside of the U.S. who have been influenced by the Big Band Era (ie: Afro-Cuban or Brazilian styles with traditional big band instruments OR Vienna Art Orchestra
■Cite ALL sources used for research

2. Task: Videos

■List 5 DVDs or online videos related to topic
■ie: show an online video of an original Big Band, then show an Afro-Cuban and/or Brazilian style music that uses big band instruments
■Cite ALL sources used for research

Liz Oeltjenbruns POSTED
1. Essay: Famous Big Band Artists

■Who were the original Big Band artists?
■Provide a timeline of famous artists (and their popular song titles) highlighting their “glory days”
■For example:
■A. Original famous artists
■B. 1950 – 1990 famous artists influenced by Big Band Era
■C. 1990′s Swing band revival of Big Band Era style
■Cite ALL sources used for research

2. Task: Discography

■List the names of 3 CDs made by Big Band artists noted in your essay
■Cite ALL sources used for research

Jennifer Gillespie POSTED
1. Essay: Big Band Influence in Europe

■Which European countries did the Big Band Era most heavily influence?
■Give examples of the influenced music and explain how the sounds/styles mimicked the Big Band Era and how they differed from it
■Cite ALL sources used for research

2. Task: Group Bibliography

■Compile the complete list of citations from ALL essays and ALL media used from ALL group members
■Compile a list of at least 5 printed books and/or scholarly articles related to topic (ONLY printed materials in this list – NO websites)

Jake Gordon
1. Essay: Introduction

■Give a brief history of the Big Band Era
■Answer 5 W’s: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
■Cite ALL sources used for research

2. Task: Webography

■Research 3 online articles, blogs, or other web-based sources related to “Brief history of the Big Band Era” essay topic
■Cite ALL sources used for research

Haley Liles POSTED
1. Essay: Instruments used in original Big Bands

■What instruments were typically used in Big Bands? How did those instruments set apart this type of music from other types? If these instruments were also used in other music genres, how were they used differently in the Big Band Era?
■Cite ALL sources used for research

2. Task: Images

■Provide 5 images of instruments used in original Big Bands
■Cite ALL sources used for research

April Marlin
1. Essay: Additional instruments

■Were any additional instruments added by later artists in different parts of the world influenced by the Big Band Era? If so, what were they?
■Examples: Valve trombone, french horn, banjo, accordion and strings (violin, viola, cello)
■How were these instruments incorporated into the Big Ban Era music styles?
■Cite ALL sources used for research

2. Task: Videos

■Provide 3 videos from Youtube or other online sources of the Big Band Era influence in different parts of the world
■Cite ALL sources used for research

Alex Wucker POSTED
1. Essay: Performance

■How was this type of music typically performed?
■Did popular musicians play at concerts with large crowds? Or did they play for initmate crowds at small venues? What was a typical seating diagram for a Big Band?
■Is it like what we see today at concerts with the lead singer in the front center and musicians in the background? Or are performances set up like orchestras?
■Cite ALL sources used for research

2. Task: Images

■Provide 2 images of a typical Big Band seating diagram
■Cite ALL sources used for research

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