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The Big Bands
shown enough of the pioneer Savoy Ballroom spirit on occasion to supply some valid mainstream music.
More important by far, in that it was the first big band to reflect the tremendous impact of bebop, was the Billy Eckstine orchestra. Formed by the singer in 1944, the band lasted for three years and during that time featured arrangements by Tadd Dameron, Budd Johnson and Gerald Valentine, vocals by Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan, solos by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon and Art Blakey. Like the Fletcher Henderson band, Eckstine's team had to be seen to be remembered in its true perspective, for the few records it made were inadequate both in performance and recording.
More effective and longer lasting in the translation of bop into big band terms was the contribution of Dizzy Gillespie, whose first full orchestra toured in the summer of 1945. The following year he reorganized a big band, retaining it, with numerous personnel changes, until 1950. He resumed the orchestral format in 1956. Gillespie's band combined the innovations of bop with the elan and spark of the leader's personality, the brilliance of the arrangements by Gillespie, Tadd Dameron and John Lewis, the new element provided by the Afro-Cuban drums of Chano Pozo in 1947, and the contributions of Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke and other instrumentalists later acknowledged as key figures in modem jazz history.
Before the episodes with Eckstine and his own bands, Gillespie had worked briefly with an orchestra led by Boyd Raeburn, a saxophonist and arranger whose contribution to big band jazz has been overlooked by fans who came along too late to be aware of its impact. Raeburn, between 1944 and *47, made use of harmonically ambitious arrangements by George Handy, Ed Finckel and Johnny Richards. His band indicated a path that was to prove popular among avant-gardists of the *50s, by its inclusion of modern soloists in a somewhat more cerebral orchestral framework.
Several other orchestras, during the late '30s, the '40s and the early '50s, played big band jazz but served mainly as dance bands and made no significant contribution in terms of jazz styles.