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Making the Scene

Making the Scene: Contemporary New York City Big Band Jazz

Alex Stewart
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Making the Scene
    Book Description:

    The received wisdom of popular jazz history is that the era of the big band was the 1930s and '40s, when swing was at its height. But as practicing jazz musicians know, even though big bands lost the spotlight once the bebop era began, they never really disappeared.Making the Scenechallenges conventional jazz historiography by demonstrating the vital role of big bands in the ongoing development of jazz. Alex Stewart describes how jazz musicians have found big bands valuable. He explores the rich "rehearsal band" scene in New York and the rise of repertory orchestras.Making the Scenecombines historical research, ethnography, and participant observation with musical analysis, ethnic studies, and gender theory, dismantling stereotypical views of the big band.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94016-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Intro
    (pp. 1-24)

    “THE BIG BANDS ARE BACK” proclaims a bumper sticker or the liner notes to a CD. Many of us have heard and have good reason to be skeptical of this refrain, voiced sporadically in the years since the swing era (roughly 1935– 46).¹ Yet, despite the persistence of powerful discourse dismissing big bands as anachronistic, irrelevant, or even anti-jazz, big bands have remained vital to jazz musicians, especially in New York City. Throughout the decades following the swing era, big bands appeared regularly in ballrooms, concert halls, and jazz clubs. Recording and broadcast studios mediated the sounds (but not always...

  8. Chapter 1 New York City Big Band Scenes
    (pp. 25-39)

    Monday night is musicians’ night. With Broadway theaters dark, the weekend club dates finished, and many residencies at nightclubs running Tuesday through Sunday, on Monday nights jazz musicians gather to perform and listen to the music that intereststhem.Though a thriving tourist industry may supply clubs with a stream of foreign and domestic visitors, on Mondays the venues are much freer of “amateur” clubgoers than later in the week. In an atmosphere of camaraderie and release from the week’s accumulated frustrations, jazz musicians cram themselves onto tiny bandstands to play in big bands.

    A cool Monday evening, October 1997....

  9. Chapter 2 Behind the Scenes: Training, Rehearsals, and Gigs
    (pp. 40-60)

    Paquito D’Rivera says with characteristic irony, “Every time I want to have some fun (and lose some money!), I organize a big band.” D’Rivera typifies jazz musicians’ attitudes toward big bands by revealing, in the same breath, his joy and his frustration.¹ For many jazz musicians, especially leaders, big bands are a money-losing venture. If this weren’t enough, for some of the listening public, association with big bands carries a certain stigma. Gary Giddins has noted the tendency since World War II and the emergence of bebop for critics to look to small groups for innovators. Big bands, by contrast,...

  10. Chapter 3 The Rise of Repertory Orchestras
    (pp. 61-89)

    In a 1970 SundayNew York Timesarticle, Martin Williams, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Performing Arts Division and the Smithsonian Press, appealed to such “august cultural centers” as Lincoln and Kennedy Centers to incorporate jazz in their programming. “When are they going to realize,” he queried, “ that if they are really going to stand for art and culture in this country, they are going to have to recognize jazz.”¹ Williams’s vision included plans for residencies by major composers and artists (Ellington, Basie, and other leaders were still alive), founding of repertory orchestras, transcription and publication of musical scores,...

  11. Chapter 4 On the Inside: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
    (pp. 90-117)

    From the mid-1960s to the present the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and its later incarnations as the Mel Lewis and Vanguard Jazz Orchestras have been at the heart of the New York jazz scene.¹ Whether as full-fledged members or regular substitutes, affiliation with these bands has marked for many musicians an important rite of passage, signaling their entry into the highest professional ranks. Outside regular Monday nights at the Village Vanguard, current and former members reunite in Broadway shows, recording studios, and jazz groups. Steeped in the ensemble traditions of “Thad and Mel’s band,” their musicianship traces elaborate patterns of...

  12. Chapter 5 Making It Work: Leaders and Musical Direction
    (pp. 118-131)

    Even with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra’s strong performance traditions, band members, section leaders in particular, enjoy substantial autonomy. As these same players move into other situations, the picture can change dramatically. “It depends on the leader how much freedom you have to play the way you want to play,” says Jerry Dodgion. “He might have a stylistic thing that he does with all his stuff, then you’re locked into something.” The amount of control varies from band to band and derives as much from leaders’ personalities as from their relationship to the music, their players’ experience and authority, and the...

  13. Chapter 6 New Directions in Jazz Composition: Three Portraits
    (pp. 132-175)

    Since the 1930s most jazz has been based on repeating chorus structures such as the thirty-two-bar popular song or twelve-bar blues. An exposition of the theme followed by a series of individual solos leads into a climactic shout chorus or recapitulation of the theme. As solo improvisation received more emphasis in jazz, this “jam session” approach to large-scale form became the norm.¹ In a thoughtful analysis Travis Jackson has discussed the importance of these practices to African diasporic populations in the United States in terms of a ritualized blues aesthetic.² However, in much the same way that in modern Western...

  14. Chapter 7 On the Edge: Sue Mingus and the Mingus Big Band
    (pp. 176-202)

    “I felt like I was being flung by a huge human slingshot way out into the universe,” says Alex Norris about the first time he played trumpet with the Mingus Big Band. “And things were flying by me, like trees and people and buildings. I had no idea what was happening. It kind of shocked me at first. But then I realized, this is Mingus’s music—this is actually the way he did his music.” The trombonist Clark Gayton adds, “Anything you learned in any other big band does not apply here. Throw all that out the window. In other...

  15. Chapter 8 “In the Crack” to “Totally Outside”: Avant-Garde Bands
    (pp. 203-226)

    A common trope in writing on jazz has been celebration of improvisation as an expression of human freedom. Indeed, some writers have interpreted the entire span of jazz history as an ongoing struggle of the individual against musical constraints. In his book on avant-garde jazz,The Freedom Principle,John Litweiler proclaims, “The quest for freedom . . . appears at the very beginning of jazz and reappears at every growing point in the music’s history.”¹ Others have traced this quest to much earlier African American musical expression. Amiri Baraka notes that in the “pre-church worship of the Black slaves, the...

  16. Chapter 9 Jazz and Clave: Latin Big Bands
    (pp. 227-256)

    A Sunday,1998. I receive a last-minute call to substitute in a rehearsal with the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. The band rehearses uptown, on the edge of El Barrio, in the space at Boys Harbor where another Latin big band, led by Ray Santos, also meets regularly. I arrive a little late, but much of the band is still not there. Hoping to meet Chico, I am a little disappointed to learn that he rarely attends rehearsals because of his advanced age. Instead, his son, the pianist Arturo O’Farrill Jr., leads the rehearsal. Although I have not been very...

  17. Chapter 10 Going for It: All-Women Bands
    (pp. 257-277)

    “You are what you are,” groans the baritone saxophonist Claire Daly after learning that the purpose of my call is not to ask her to sub on a gig or a rehearsal but to interview her for a chapter on all-women bands. Still, despite having been interviewed innumerable times about “women in jazz,” she good-naturedly fields my questions. “Ultimately, what most women musicians would like to see,” she explains patiently, “is that they don’t have to be in a separate chapter.” Like most women in the workforce, professional women who are musicians would like to erase distinctions based on biology....

  18. Chapter 11 Blood on the Fields: Wynton Marsalis and the Transformation of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
    (pp. 278-308)

    Since Martin Williams’s call to arms for the repertory movement in 1970, many repertory orchestras have come and gone: the New York Jazz Repertory Company, the National Jazz Ensemble, and the American Jazz Orchestra. Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center set even loftier goals than establishing a standing orchestra—itself no easy task. Marsalis and company launched a crusade to canonize the great literature of jazz, aiming to bring “real” jazz to millions of new listeners while steering people away from commercially hyped pretenders and corrupted or deluded heretics. Their list of accomplishments is nothing short of spectacular. They...

  19. Outro
    (pp. 309-314)

    Following a suitelike structure common to many extended jazz works, the chapters of this book have journeyed through a series of jazz scenes chosen as much for their contrast as for their representativeness. My work has depended on the contributions of many different people. Like a good jazz arrangement, this narrative has tried to preserve the musicians’ distinctive voices, drawing much of its power from their knowledge and brilliance.

    The big band, as any jazz musician in New York knows, far from representing nostalgia or sterility, offers composers, arrangers, leaders, and players a chance to participate in forms of individual...

  20. APPENDIX: Some New York City Big Bands Active in 1997–1998
    (pp. 315-316)
  21. NOTES
    (pp. 317-354)
    (pp. 355-368)
    (pp. 369-372)
    (pp. 373-374)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 375-398)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 399-399)