Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 24, 2009

Big Bands on Youtube (swing)

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 5:52 pm

Priceless performance by the Ellington band at its greatest. Solos by Ray Nance on violin, Tricky Sam Nanton on trombone, Rex Stewart on trumpet and Ben Webster on tenor sax. Some consider Duke Ellington to be a figure comparable to J.S. Bach or Mozart. I agree.

Count Basie Orchestra playing “One o’ Clock Jump”, one of their standards. In distinction to Ellington, Basie’s compositions, including this one, are more like 4 or 5 note “riffs”. They are used as a context for interplay between different sections of the band and solos from the top musicians of the 1930s outside of the Ellington orchestra—like saxophonists Lester Young and Buddy Tate, and trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry Edison. Clayton and Tate are featured in this performance.

Ellington preferred to call what he played “American music” rather than jazz. He was the first to start performing in concert halls, even though Count Basie is probably better known for his Carnegie Hall performances that were part of the Spiritual to Swing concerts produced by the leftist John Hammond.

Cab Calloway was an immensely popular musician who was cast in a Betty Boop cartoon singing “Minnie the Mooche”. He played “Sportin’ Life” in a movie version of “Porgy and Bess” in the 50s, and had a role in the Blues Brother movie as well. He often sang about drugs, from “Reefer Man” to this performance of “Kickin’ the Gong Around”. You have to wonder if Michael Jackson got the idea for the moonwalk after watching this clip. Frankly, I think Cab was a much better dancer.

Benny Goodman in great performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” from the 1937 movie “Hollywood Hotel”. Goodman worked closely with John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive alluded to above. Like Hammond, Goodman was committed to New Deal cultural leftism and was the first white bandleaders to feature a Black musician—vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.

Gene Krupa, Goodman’s drummer, started his own big band. He hired Anita O’Day, one of the greatest pure jazz singers, who created some controversy by a performing in a duo with African-American trumpet player Roy Eldridge “Let Me Off Uptown”. When John Chilton, the author of an Eldridge biography, was asked about the difficulties Eldridge faced as a Black man in a white band, he replied:

He worked with Gene Krupa, whose band he joined as a star member. The experience was great for him on the bandstand, but when he got off, even though Krupa was the most broad-minded person in those days, he encountered problems. For instance, when they got to a hotel, the employees would inform him that the room he booked had mysteriously become unavailable, that the hotel was now completely booked up. Roy devised a very clever scheme to combat this by entering the hotel lobby with his suitcase and telling the employees that it was for Mr. Eldridge’s room. That way they gave him the key and he was in, and they then couldn’t get him out. At any rate it was an indignity to have to go through that. A very famous circumstance involving bigotry occurred while they toured the North. Someone wouldn’t serve Roy in a restaurant, and it ended up with Krupa hitting the bigot, and having to pay a fine. Of course, the rest of the band supported Gene, but the audience had no idea these traumas were going on in the background.

Artie Shaw had other things in common with Benny Goodman besides being a clarinetist. He was also a Jew: Arthur Jacob Arshawsky. And like Goodman, he was sympathetic to the left but even more so as the wiki on Artie Shaw points out:

In 1946, Shaw was present at a meeting of the Independent Citizens’ Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions. Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan, part of a core group of actors and artists who were trying to sway the organization away from communism, presented an anti-communist declaration which, if signed, was to run in newspapers. There was bedlam as many rose to champion the communist cause, and Artie Shaw began praising the democratic standards of the Soviet constitution. In 1953, Shaw was brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee for his leftist activities. The committee was investigating a peace activist organization, the World Peace Congress, which it considered a communist front.

Unlike Goodman, Shaw evolved into a post-swing musician working with small bop-oriented groups when the economic basis for big bands had dried up. Here’s the Shaw band performing the exquisitely named “Shoot the Likker To Me John Boy” in 1939. There’s a very young Buddy Rich on the drums.

Next up is Youtube clips of big bands from the post-swing era, like Woody Herman’s.


  1. Great stuff, my personal road in Jazz has been backtracking. Started digging Ornette Coleman and the Free players than going backwards with occasional forward leaps with Trane, hard bop, bop, than began learning to appreciate swing via Duke Ellington Suites and compilations.
    What helped me greatly is the works of Charles Mingus who, throughout his career, has always remained connected to his bop and swing roots despite keeping a contemporary and forward looking sound.
    Mingus had a short stint in the Ellington Big Band in the early 50s which ended in an ugly brawl after Juan Tizol (composer of “Caravan” amongst other classic tunes) made a racial remark to Mingus.
    Tizol being a veteran of the Ellington Band the Duke, with seemingly no future of the two in the same band let Charlie go (Mingus and Duke would collaborate again in the 60s on a trio with Max Roach on the incredible Money Jungle). But he wasn’t out of work for long, soon he was recruited into the Lionel Hampton band.

    This is a clip of Lionel Hampton Band playing trombonist Slide Hampton’s tune “Slide Hampton Slide”, Mingus is yet to join the band, but I’ve been aware of this great footage because it appeared, cut-up, in the Mingus documentary Triumph Of The Underdog. Here is the complete, uncut clip iv found:


    (I dunno how to embed a Yahoo video on wordpress)

    Comment by Michael T — August 25, 2009 @ 12:55 am

  2. “Goodman worked closely with John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive alluded to above. Like Hammond, Goodman was committed to New Deal cultural leftism and was the first white bandleaders to feature a Black musician—vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.”

    John Hammond was indeed a New Deal radical and a pioneer in interracial friendship and solidarity. He also rebelled against his class, his mother being a Vanderbilt heiress. As a boy he would sneak out of their East Ninety-first Street mansion and go looking for decent music in Harlem. It’s all in “The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music” (2006) by Dunstan Prial. Benny Goodman was from a big Jewish family resident in the Chicago ghetto. And here’s where their working “closely” together tells us a lot about ethnic relations in the 1930s and 40s. Hammond liked Goodman’s music (with some fussy reservations) and according to Prial actually pressured Goodman into being more accepting of black musicians. But Hammond didn’t want Goodman as a brother-in-law. His sister Alice, though, had other ideas and Benny was “welcomed” into the Vanderbilt family in 1942.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — August 25, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  3. This is really great and refreshing. You should consider doing something similar for your favorite latin music bands!

    Comment by Ian J. Seda-Irizarry — August 25, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  4. More on who’s who in Basie band. First tenor sax solo, Lester Young, followed by: trombone, Dicky Wells; drums, Jo Jones; tenor sax, Buddy Tate; trumpet, Buck Clayton; bass, Walter Page. In shot of sax row, from left: Tate; Jack Washington (alto); Young; Earle Warren (alto). Trombone on left, Benny Morton.

    Comment by Nelson Blackstock — September 11, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

  5. […] you’ll recall from my posts on big bands on Youtube, (Swing and Modern) ,  I am a big fan of this kind of music even though it is fairly difficult to hear […]

    Pingback by The Pittsburgh Collective « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — October 29, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

  6. “Goodman worked closely with John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive alluded to above. Like Hammond, Goodman was committed to New Deal cultural leftism and was the first white bandleaders to feature a Black musician—vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.”

    Actually, the first black musician in Goodman’s band was Teddy Wilson.

    Comment by Mike Tarrani — July 20, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: