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Big Bands

What is Chicago jazz like?

After World War I, many musicians from New Orleans migrated to the northern industrial cities, especially Chicago. Among them, renowned artists like Joe King Oliver or up-and-coming artists like Louis Armstrong.

The combination of these Black musicians and young white amateurs developed a more raw and dynamic style, with important changes. Eddie Condon or, as the most relevant figure, Bix Beiderbecke, stood out.

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five - Got No Blues (1927)

Theme composed by Lillian Hardin, pianist and wife of Armstrong. They met when, after emigrating to Chicago, they played in Joe King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.

The Hot Five was the first jazz recording band that Louis Armstrong led under his own name. They operated between November 1925 and December 1928. They had the typical instrumentation of a New Orleans jazz band although, due to Armstrong's creative force, trumpet solos became more and more common. It is in these brilliant solos that Armstrong cemented the basic vocabulary of jazz improvisation, becoming its most influential performer.

And the one from New York?

From very early on, jazz was also introduced in New York, first through pianists like James P. Johnson or Willie "The Lion" Smith, but also thanks to bands like Will Dixon's The Memphis Students.

However, the real New York style, or high brow, as it was called at the time, began with Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, in which all the great figures of 1920s jazz played.

Red Nichols and his Five Pennies - Hurricane (1927)

Theme composed by Paul Mertz and Red Nichols, outstanding representative of the so-called New York style or high brow.


It would be precisely Henderson who best represented the new way of playing a stylized type of jazz, less localized and more universal. But the New York school gave a name of even greater projection, Duke Ellington. Other important references of the style were Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, William McKinney's and Don Redman's McKinney's Cotton Pickers, as well as the band of pianist Sam Wooding or the Panamanian-born Luis Russell.

What is a big band?

A big band is a large group of jazz musicians who play together. They appeared as such at the end of the 1920s, although their golden age is the period between 1935 and 1950.

They are the result of the expansion of New Orleans jazz, adapting it to the New York style. They are produced when the typical jazz band is created with different instrumental sections and arrangements are made for each of them.

The Dixie Stompers - Variety Stomp (1927)

Theme performed by the big band of its author, Fletcher Henderson, one of the essential figures for the development of these groups.


The first signs of big band sounds can be found in 1926, with hot jazz groups such as Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers. However, it is thought that the architect of the beginning of the history of big bands was Fletcher Henderson, who since 1921 had worked with bands of more than nine musicians, such as The Dixie Stompers, who made traditional jazz. A pianist and arranger, he was a key player in the development of the big band, although his work was exploited by musicians like Benny Goodman.