Ensembles: The Big Band Jan26

Ensembles: The Big Band...

In the 1920s, as recorded music became more common, there arose the beginnings of an ensemble constructed to appeal to a popular music audience. These groups contained trumpets, trombones and saxophones; supported by a rhythm section, and joined with a group of string instruments for a more orchestral quality. Such groups performed popular tunes and acted as accompaniment for vocalists. The jazz influence was minimal, with little improvisation; however, many period jazz musicians supplemented their incomes as members of such groups. Probably the best known example of groups of this type for contemporary listeners was Lawrence Welk’s orchestra which remained active for many decades. It wasn’t until the late 20s that we begin to see the big band really come into its own. Growing primarily out of New York, Chicago, and Kansas City, these bands dropped the string players, and adopted a musical style that allowed for much more improvisation. With a few exceptions (like Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer), these groups were primarily formed of black musicians and aimed at black audiences. The recordings were euphemistically referred to as “race records”, and were routinely dismissed as low quality. Still, talent will inevitably rise to the surface, and these groups began gaining larger audiences while crossing the race barriers. Black band leaders became household names and gained the respect of the musical community as a whole. The greatest of these would doubtlessly be Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club orchestra. Also, notable for this period is the fact that improvising soloists became nearly as famous as the band leaders themselves, many of whom would go on to form their own bands. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman were just a few who came from this background. As the 1930s approached, the big band...

The Evolution of an Instrument: The Drum Kit Jan12

The Evolution of an Instrument: The Drum Kit...

We’ve all seen them or heard them, whether we listen to Rock music, Jazz, Country, and increasingly Classical: the drum kit. Sometimes referred to as a drum set, or “trap” set, this is the collection of percussion instruments collected onto a rack system so that they can be played by a single individual. When you hear some child saying he wants to play drums, this is usually what they mean. The earliest forms of the drum set date to the late nineteenth century, in particular in connection with Vaudeville and other small performance venues. These arrangements of percussion instruments were imperative to having the benefit of a full percussion section using the minimum of space. A bass drum would be set on its side on the floor where it could be played by the foot, thus giving it the name “kick drum” which is still used today. A concert snare drum (a flatter version of the field drums military bands used which had catgut or wire strands stretched across the bottom head which vibrate sympathetically to the top head being struck) would typically be placed to the left of the bass drum between the legs. Usually a floor tom (a larger, un-snared drum) would be placed to the right of the bass drum. In addition, other auxiliary percussion instruments would be mounted or placed close at hand, such as cymbals, whistles, cowbells, and anything else the music called for. The whole set up was colloquially called a “contraption”, which appears to have been the origin for calling a drum set a “trap” set. Another possible reason for the term was that early kits had a bass drum with a trap door in the shell to use it as a box for transporting smaller percussion...