Chapter Study Outline

  1. Rhythm Is Our Business
    1. The foundation of the swing band lay in the rhythm section: piano, guitar, bass, and drums.
    2. Rhythm sections supplied the beat and marked the harmonies in distinctive ways that fit a particular style. They also made advances into areas typically reserved for front-line soloists, helping to set the stage for modern jazz.
  2. Piano
    1. Pianists in swing bands took solos, but pianistbandleaders limited themselves to introductions, solo choruses, and an occasional mini-concerto. Earlier self-sufficient piano styles such as stride and boogie-woogie peaked during the 1930s.
    2. Fats Waller (1904-1943)
      1. Composer, songwriter, pianist, vocalist, satirist, and prolific recording artist, Waller straddled the line between pop and jazz.
      2. Born in New York, he learned piano and organ and got his appreciation for Bach from his mother. During his mid-teens, he became enamored of James P. Johnson. He worked rent parties, played cutting contests, and gained a reputation as an expressive, ebullient interpreter of blues and ballads.
      3. By the late 1920s, he was a prominent composer in jazz and theater music. Louis Armstrong had hits with some of his songs, such as "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose."
      4. In 1934 Waller and his six-piece band signed with RCA-Victor.
      5. Waller satirized Tin Pan Alley and sentimental songs but could also compose sincere material. He used different registers of his voice for different effects. His success had another side, however: RCA only wanted hits, not his more serious work, and as a result, by the time he died at age thirty-nine, some of his best work had still not been recorded.
    3. Art Tatum (1909-1956)
      1. Tatum was born in Toledo, Ohio, and was legally blind all his life. Even so, and perhaps because of his disability, his spectacular dexterity impresses listeners now as much as it did during the 1930s.
      2. He led his own bands by the age of seventeen and signed a two-year radio contract before he was twenty. Ellington sought him out while passing through Toledo and encouraged him to come to New York, where the influence of higher standards would improve his playing. His superiority was instantly recognized by stride pianists in New York.
      3. Tatum's virtuosic style is inseparable from his technique.
      4. Tatum was admired by many jazz pianists, such as Waller (whom Tatum named as an inspiration), and more recent players such as Hank Jones, and he was championed by classical pianists such as Vladimir Horowitz and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
      5. Tatum played nightclubs, dives, after-hours joints, and radio broadcasts, but he played few concerts and recorded only for independent labels. In short, he never was accepted by the mainstream.
      6. He was primarily a soloist. This gave him the advantage of being able to change chords and rhythms at will. Both Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus claimed him as a primary influence. He enjoyed his greatest popular success interacting with his trio (Tiny Grimes on guitar and Slam Stewart on bass).
      7. "Over the Rainbow"
        1. This 1939 recording was the first of five recorded versions and was made only days after the debut of the movie from which it came, The Wizard of Oz, an example of Tatum's amazing ability to quickly make a song his own.
        2. This recording was made for a company called Standard Transcriptions, which made recordings only for radio play. This way, broadcasters did not have to pay licensing fees to air commercial recordings. Eventually, the labels and networks cut a deal and transcription discs disappeared.
  3. Plugging In
    1. Unlike the solo role it had enjoyed in the 1920s, the guitar had begun to recede into the rhythm section by the early 1930s, merely reinforcing the roles of the drummer and bassist.
    2. The guitar's problem was that it was difficult to hear within an ensemble. Various methods of amplification started to develop (resonators, microphones, pickups). The recordings of Django Reinhardt demonstrated the guitar's potential as a jazz instrument.
    3. In the early 1930s, the Gibson Company began building electric guitars. By the late 1940s, the solid-body electric guitar was introduced-an instrument that would go on to represent rock and roll, urban blues, and country music.
    4. Charlie Christian (1916-1942)
      1. The real breakthrough came with Charlie Christian, who showed that the electric guitar was more than a loud acoustic guitar. Christian's career lasted less than two years, but during that time he transformed the electric guitar into an instrument capable of the same kinds of rhythmic and dynamic capabilities as jazz saxophone or trumpet. He also provided an initial impetus for soon-to-be bebop players.
      2. Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Christian took up guitar, trumpet, piano, and bass. Mary Lou Williams heard him and convinced John Hammond to arrange a 1939 audition with Benny Goodman. Goodman was reluctant at first but changed his mind after hearing him.
      3. Goodman put Christian into his sextet, which was playing on weekly radio broadcasts. He also featured Christian on his big-band recordings.
      4. Christian had a major influence on generations of guitarists; his bluesy, riff-based, logical melodies seemed to change the role of the guitar overnight.
    5. "Swing to Bop" ("Topsy")
      1. This recording was made in 1941 by Jerry Newman. He recorded sessions at Minton's Playhouse at a time when Monk and Kenny Clarke were in the house rhythm section, whose job it was to accompany musicians who would drop by to jam.
      2. This piece was originally a swing hit called "Topsy" but was renamed when Newman released it a few years after it was recorded. The word "bop" didn't exist yet so "Swing to Bop" couldn't have been the name. Drummer Cozy Cole recorded a hit version in 1958. This recording starts near the end of Christian's first chorus.
      3. Within a relaxed feel, Christian constantly varies his riffs as well as rhythmic accents, and shines especially in the bridges.
  4. Bass
    1. The bass was the last instrument of the rhythm section to reach maturity. Its traditional role of keeping the beat and outlining the basic harmonies provided little incentive for bassists to expand the instrument's possibilities. Until the 1930s, the average bass solo was a walking-bass line. Bad technique and intonation were commonplace.
    2. The exceptions:
      1. Walter Page: the leader of the Blue Devils in Oklahoma and an important figure in Kansas City during the 1920s, Page codified the walking bass, which he brought to the Basie band. His rock-steady pulse became one of the hallmarks of the Basie band but was a dead end for other bass players.
      2. Milt Hinton: expanded the walking bass by introducing advanced harmonies, syncopation, and inventive melodic figures. He was in great demand as a recording artist and recorded with jazz, pop, and rock and roll singers while playing modern jazz with boppers such as Dizzy Gillespie. He was also a respected jazz photographer.
      3. John Kirby and Slam Stewart: bassist Kirby wasn't a great bass player, but he was known for his popular, cool-sounding sextet (1937-1942). The band featured singer Maxine Sullivan, Kirby's wife. Slam Stewart played with singer-guitarist Slim Gaillard and later with the Art Tatum trio. He had perfect pitch, kept great time, and was known for scatting along with his solos, which he played with a bow.
      4. Wellman Braud: bassist with Ellington's band. Ellington liked the lower end of the musical spectrum and wrote arrangements that required substantial participation from Braud. For his part, Braud helped develop the walking bass and popularized arco bass playing accompanied by wind instruments.
      5. Jimmy Blanton (1918-1942): Ellington also played an important role in the discovery of the musician who revolutionized bass playing, Jimmy Blanton. He became a central figure in the Blanton-Webster incarnation of the Ellington band (co-named for saxophonist Ben Webster).
        1. Blanton's career parallels Christian's: he transformed instrumental practice on his instrument, was active during roughly the same period (1939-1942), changed the nature of the rhythm section, and died young.
        2. Blanton added melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic nuances. He had a sophisticated sense of harmony, an attractive timbre, and authoritative time.
        3. Blanton recorded the first bass solos that departed from a walking-bass style. He can be heard to good effect on "Ko-Ko," "Concerto for Cootie," and "Jack the Bear." Ellington also recorded piano-bass duets with him. He died at the age of twenty-three, even succumbing to the same illness as Christian.
  5. Drummers Step Out
    1. In contrast to the bass, drumming evolved quickly. Drummers were loud and therefore often the center of attention. They learned to become showmen in terms of their performance persona and instruments. Drumming would change after the Swing Era, but it was already a sophisticated practice by the 1930s. Still, a genuine virtuosity also emerged after the Swing Era as drummers found new ways to keep time, shape arrangements, and inspire soloists.
    2. Chick Webb
      1. Chick Webb was the first great swing drummer and the first to lead his own orchestra, which dominated Harlem's Savoy Ballroom in the early 1930s. Though he was a dwarfed hunchback (he had his drums custom made), he nevertheless played with power. He influenced most of the major Swing Era drummers.
      2. Webb became nationally known when he discovered Ella Fitzgerald and recorded her hit "A Tisket, a Tasket."
      3. In 1937 the Webb band won a battle of the bands against Benny Goodman at the Savoy Ballroom-a particularly sweet victory given that Goodman's drummer was the nationally famous Gene Krupa. Webb died at the age of thirty.
    3. Gene Krupa
      1. Gene Krupa was one of the white Chicago players of the Beiderbecke circle. He was the first drummer to become a matinee idol. He was best known for histrionics (especially "dropping bombs") and his tom-tom solo on "Sing, Sing, Sing."
      2. In 1938 he started his own band and made social history by hiring African American musician Roy Eldridge.
    4. Jo Jones
      1. "Papa" Jo Jones made his mark with the Basie band, for which he played off-and-on from 1934 to 1948. His great innovation was to transfer the time from the bass drum and snare to the high-hat cymbal, creating a lighter sound.
  6. Swing was bigger than jazz: sweet or hot, highbrow or low-down. With offshoots like Western swing and novelty, it defined and unified American culture. The irony was that, like much of popular culture at the time, it was among the few luxurious forums to flourish during the Depression. The music that followed swing emanated from its mavericks, who would lay the groundwork for rhythm and blues, salsa, star vocalists, and bebop.

Chapter 10 Jukebox