Generally speaking, the rhythm section of the big bands changed to keep up with virtuosic solo musicians. What instruments provided the driving rhythm in this era and what did they do that was particularly different than before?
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Generally speaking, the rhythm section of the big bands changed
to keep up with the virtuosic solo musicians. What instruments
provided the driving rhythm in this era and what did they do
that was particularly different than before?
Well, the big change in the rhythm section, the transitional
period of the late 1930s and into the bebop period is the way
the rhythm section interacts with the rest of the band. Uh, at
an early period - partly because the recording equipment was so
primitive - uh, drummers couldn't even play on a lot of their
drums, they had to use wood blocks. Sometimes they used
suitcases. Um, but when they could record basically their job
was just to keep the beat and that's all the bass player did.
It was four to a bar [Giddins demonstrates] - that's it.
And then suddenly you have musicians like Jimmy Blanton working
with Ellington's band, who's still keeping time, still playing
four but he's actually playing melodies that are contrapuntal
to whatever the themes are that the orchestra's playing and
then you have drummers who are not just keeping the time.
They're totally involved. The big band drummers like Dave Tuft
with Woody Herman's band would create a different sound
depending on whether it was a saxophone soloist or a brass
soloist. And they would get in, into the mix. They would push.
If there was a space, they would keep the soloist honest. Guys
like Art Blakey and Max Roach, Roy Haynes - completely
interactive musicians. Um, they're constantly paying attention
to every note and they are always in the mix. They are always -
the same thing with the pianists. The early pianists all
they're doing is playing chords so everybody knows what the
changes are. Now comping - as accompaniment is known among
musicians - becomes much more sophisticated, much more complex.
They're pushing the soloist by putting in chords that will get
them to think in a different way. Or they're responding. The
whole movement is for more interaction to bring everybody in
the ensemble into the band as opposed to just having a
frontline of soloists and a rear guard that's just keeping the