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Swing Era Soloists
Chapter Outline

This chapter gives an overview of the musical contributions of prominent individual musicians of the Swing Era. We meet "the standard," tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, who serves as a paradigm for many other fine soloists (Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Chu Berry), and "the alternative," Lester Young, whose timbral and rhythmic innovations foreshadow more modern jazz. We look at jazz in Europe (focusing on guitarist Django Reinhardt) and at the very different careers of two crucial singers, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

  1. Jammin' the Blues
    1. Soloists' styles were as well known as band styles during this period, with individual players often having a very short space in an arrangement to take a solo.
    2. Famous soloists often switched bands but shone only as brightly as the arrangement allowed.
    3. The lack of soloing time led many players to participate in jam sessions. As many players left big bands for the armed forces during the 1940s, others played public jam sessions or joined small groups, especially groups started by successful orchestra leaders These settings allowed for more playing time.
    4. These small groups consisted of some of the first racially mixed ensembles on stage.
    5. Small groups also encouraged experimentation and captured the informal flavor of the 1920s Armstrong and Beiderbecke recordings
    6. The increasing popularity of soloists garnered new respect for jazz musicians, provided diverse playing opportunities, and helped spur the rapid development of musical technique.
    7. In 1944, when swing was coming to a halt, Norman Granz produced a ten-minute film, Jammin' the Blues, featuring well-known soloists of the day and capturing the informal environment of the jam session.
  2. Coleman Hawkins
    1. The prime exemplar of the rise of the Swing Era soloist who dominates and establishes the legitimacy of the instrument.
    2. Father of the Tenor
      1. Although the saxophone had been used in symphonic music, its early role in popular music was as a novelty instrument (Rudy Wiedoft).
      2. The first jazz focused on the soprano sax (Bechet) or the C-melody sax (Trumbauer). These instruments eventually fell into disuse as Hawkins distanced the tenor from its comic associations and established it as a rival to the trumpet in jazz.
    3. The Way of the Arpeggio
      1. "Bean" or "Hawk" (Hawkins) established the approved style of saxophone playing while with the Henderson band (1923¿1934): heavy vibrato, powerful timbre, emotional zeal, and harmonic ingenuity. He changed improvisation from varying the melody to creating melodies based on arpeggiated harmonies.
      2. In exploring various ways to break down chords, he frequently added more intricate harmonies and harmonic substitutions, thereby prefiguring modern bebop.
      3. Good examples of his deepening exploration of chords can be heard on the 1933 recording of "Queer Notions," based on augmented chords and whole-tone scales. Another good example is "Heartbreak Blues" with Henry "Red" Allen (1933).
    4. Across the Atlantic
      1. In 1934 Hawkins signed with British bandleader Jack Hylton to tour England. He was so impressed by the reception of jazz in Europe that he stayed for five years, touring all over Europe while staying in touch with developments in the United States through recordings. One of these developments was the emergence of Lester Young.
      2. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Hawkins returned to the States and started recording again with some of the musicians he had influenced.
    5. "Body and Soul"
      1. A month after he returned from Europe, Hawkins went into the studio to record the nine-piece band then playing at Kelly's Stables. They recorded three arranged pieces and needed a fourth to complete four recorded sides. They played an ad-lib "Body and Soul," which became a hit.
      2. Originally written for a Broadway review in 1930, it had since become a standard for torch singers and jazz musicians such as Armstrong, Goodman, Django Reinhardt, and Chu Berry. Hawkins's recordings acted as a challenge to other saxophonists.
      3. Hawkins started with the melody, but after two measures he headed into new territory. Hawkins described the climactic passages as a kind of sexual release.
      4. It was at the top of pop charts for six weeks in 1940. Audiences clamored for his solo. He later played it as if it were composed; lyrics were eventually put to it; Benny Carter made a big-band arrangement out of it. In 1948 Hawkins used the same harmonies for a piece called "Picasso" for unaccompanied saxophone, the first of its kind. The solo has become a must for saxophonists since then.
  3. The Hawkins School
    1. Hawkins's influence was like Armstrong's: players of other kinds of sax switched to tenor; his solo on "The Stampede" was especially influential. Except for an indigenous tenor saxophone style emerging from the American Southwest (embodied in Lester Young), Hawk's primacy was almost absolute.
    2. Ben Webster (1909¿1973)
      1. Born in Kansas City, his mentors included Budd Johnson and Lester Young. He arrived in New York in 1932 with Benny Moten's band and then worked with several key bandleaders before joining Duke Ellington's band.
      2. Originally a tempestuous soloist, he was known in his later career as a distinctive ballad player and accompanist for singers.
      3. Along with Young and Hawkins, he was one of the three pillars of prewar saxophonists. His playing during the 1950s and 1960s became even more distinctive, marked by an idiosyncratic embouchure technique. For the last nine years of his life he lived in Europe due to lack of work in the States.
    3. Chu Berry (1908¿1941)
      1. Born in West Virginia and educated at the university there. He started on alto sax and switched to tenor in 1929.
      2. In 1930 he went to New York and played in a number of bands, finally taking Hawkins's place in Henderson's band when Hawk went to Europe in 1935¿1937.
      3. He impressed a young Charlie Parker with his ability to stay relaxed at fast tempos. In 1937 he joined Cab Calloway's band, where he achieved his greatest success.
    4. Roy Eldridge (1911¿1989)
      1. Inherited the mantle of Armstrong and set the stage for Dizzy Gillespie
      2. He could play Hawkins's tenor solo from "The Stampede" on trumpet and developed his distinctive style copying tenor saxophone solos, not trumpet solos, although he studied Armstrong closely.
      3. Moved to New York in 1930 after working in the Midwest
      4. He joined Henderson in 1935. In 1936 he formed his own eight-piece band.
      5. He was a brassy, high-note player.
      6. In the 1940s he became the first black musicians to sit in a white orchestra, in this case, led by Gene Krupa. He accompanied singers, played with Artie Shaw, and participated in the "Birth of Bebop" jam sessions. He played with both swing and bop musicians.
    5. The Lestorian Mode (1909¿1959)
      1. Young's style was radically different from Hawkins's. A fan of Frankie Trumbauer, Young produced a light, vibrato-less tenor sound by trying to reproduce the Trumbauer sound.
      2. He grew up in New Orleans and played many instruments in the traveling Young Family Band.
      3. In 1927 he left to work with King Oliver, Benny Moten, and the Blue Devils.
      4. In 1933 he settled in Kansas City.
      5. In December of that year there was a legendary battle of the tenor saxophones between Hawk, Young, and Ben Webster, which Young won.
      6. When Hawk left for New York, Henderson asked Young to join the band, but he didn't last because his sound was so radically different from Hawk's.
      7. He worked his way back to Kansas City with the Andy Kirk band.
      8. In Kansas City he rejoined Count Basie. He fit in well with this blues-based, improvisation-centered band, in contrast to the heavily arranged Henderson band.
      9. His playing exhibited a new freedom in jazz.
      10. Lester's style
        1. Very different from Hawk:
          1. Some of his melodic phrases used notes of the chord, and some did not. He did not detail every harmony.
          2. He was more liberal with dissonance. He would repeat, slightly altering the pitch in doing so.
          3. He was more liberal with rhythm. He would sometimes disregard the beat, creating a counterrhythm.
        2. He traveled with Basie to New York and Chicago in 1936.
        3. Although accepted this time, he remained an outsider. Diffident, shy, and unconventional, he introduced "cool" into jazz.
        4. He had an idiosyncratic style. He wore a porkpie hat and narrow, knit ties, held the saxophone to the side at an angle when he played, and spoke a colorful slang of his own invention.
        5. White musicians copied his lyricism and timbre; black musicians, his blues riffs and darker timbre in the middle and low registers.
      11. "Oh Lady Be Good"
        1. One of his best solos: slurred notes, polyrhythm, staccato single notes, pitch variation, and swing. Song is by the Gershwins for a 1924 Broadway musical.
        2. Basie plays the melody.
        3. His pseudonym, Jones-Smith Incorporated, was provided by John Hammond because Basie was already signed to Decca.
      12. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"
        1. Remained with Basie and recorded with Billy Holiday until 1940, when he left to form his own group. He also played with the Al Sears band and briefly rejoined Basie.
        2. Drafted in 1944, after which everything changed
        3. After admitting to smoking marijuana, he was sentenced to a year of hard labor in Georgia.
        4. On returning to civilian life nine months later, he was never quite the same. He started drinking heavily and his playing suffered.
    6. Jazz Overseas
      1. Jazz was carried all over the world through recordings.
      2. Two factors stimulated its growth overseas:
        1. Europeans recognized it as serious. There was racism, but not supported by the law of the land as in the United States.
        2. In some places, like Nazi Germany and Russia, jazz was illegal and so was associated with rebellion and freedom. It was appreciated underground, despite being banned.
      3. Nazis banned jazz as the decadent product of blacks and Jews, but as they conquered other countries, they realized that the captured population listened to local radio that played jazz more than German broadcasts. They decided to exploit this by providing imitations of swing.
      4. After the war, American jazz musicians were treated as heroes.
      5. On the other hand, jazz was a reminder of a horrific time, so it lost some its popularity.
      6. World jazz
        1. Jazz mutually interacted with local musical practices when it arrived in many parts of the world, generating new musical mixes. American jazz musicians remained stars but internationally, many local musicians also achieved fame.
    7. Django Reinhardt (1910¿1953)
      1. The only European to be considered one of jazz's prime movers
      2. Born a Gypsy, he grew up in a Gypsy settlement near Paris.
      3. He learned violin and banjo from relatives and then learned guitar.
      4. He started playing professionally at age twelve.
      5. In 1928, just before he turned nineteen, his left hand was burned in a caravan fire, which left his fourth and fifth fingers paralyzed. Amazingly, he learned to play with only two fingers and his thumb.
      6. He developed a strong right-hand, percussive picking style and a rapid-fire left-hand fretting technique.
      7. He was turned on to jazz by the recordings of guitarist Eddie Lang and violinist Joe Venuti.
      8. Franco-American relations
        1. The year that Coleman Hawkins started his five-year stay in Europe, 1934, was important in the history of European jazz.
        2. A few years earlier, French fans started the Hot Club de France.
        3. In 1934, Hugues Panassie published Le Jazz Hot, the first serious book on jazz in any language and the first to suggest the preeminence of African Americans in jazz.
        4. The year 1934 also saw the first publication of the magazine Jazz Hot, published by Panassie and Charles Delauney, and the formation of a band to represent the club: Quintettte du Hot Club de France.
        5. The Quintette grew out of jam sessions and featured two great soloists, Reinhardt and Grappelli, who was largely self-taught and inspired by Joe Venuti.
        6. The rhythm section was made up of two guitars and a bass; there were no drums or piano.
        7. They were praised both in Europe and America, confirming that white Europeans could play jazz and thus validating its universality.
        8. Grappelli was considered on a par with the best American jazz violinists, but Reinhardt was in a class by himself.
        9. Delauney started recording Reinhardt with visiting American jazz musicians like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter.
    8. King Carter (1907¿2003)
      1. Among musicians, considered the real King of Swing
      2. Born in New York, he was a largely self-taught instrumentalist, composer, and arranger.
      3. By seventeen he was playing professionally, and soon he was writing for major band leaders such as Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Johnson, and McKinney's Cotton Pickers, which he took over in 1931.
      4. He played alto saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and piano. He occasionally sang. He started his own band in 1932.
      5. The Complete Musician
        1. He was important in four ways:
          1. Instrumentalist: with Johnny Hodges, established the alto saxophone as a major jazz instrument; also played trumpet
          2. Composer-arranger
          3. Bandleader
          4. Social activist
        2. Composed several standards. His arranging style was streamlined, setting the standard for Basie and Henderson.
        3. As an arranger his trademark was his solid reed-section writing, which swung like an improvised solo.
        4. His most acclaimed album is the 1961 issue Further Definitions, which is associated with the avant-garde.
        5. He also arranged music for singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles.
        6. As a bandleader he enjoyed little commercial success because he concentrated on the music rather than courting dancers, but he was so well respected among musicians that he had his pick of players.
        7. As an activist he continually fought racism. In 1937 he started the first integrated international orchestra.
        8. He worked his way into the Hollywood studio system, cracking the color bar. Thus he enjoyed financial security, living in Beverly Hills and driving a Rolls Royce. He worked on both movies and television.
        9. In 1978 he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, rejuvenating his playing career.
      6. "I'm Coming, Virginia"
        1. This is a 1938 treatment of a 1926 standard by black songwriters Will Marion Cook and Donald Heywood.
        2. The piece is played by an integrated, pan-national ensemble that includes Django Reinhardt.
  4. Singers
    1. Special Relationship to Jazz
      1. Singers model themselves on the rhythmic freedom of instrumentalists while instrumentalists model themselves on the flexibility and expressiveness of the voice.
      2. Singers concentrate on melody, not the abstract variations typical of instrumentalists.
      3. They occupy a middle ground between jazz and commercial music.
    2. Pop singers during the 1930s and 1940s were influenced by jazz but were not jazz singers per se. They were often resented for achieving the success that jazz musicians sought but rarely achieved.
    3. Singers were added to big bands because lyrics made melodies more memorable and more likely to become a hit. The first to recruit a singer was Paul Whiteman, who recruited Bing Crosby in 1926 and Mildred Bailey in 1929.
    4. Songbirds
      1. By 1929 Crosby was extremely popular and created the template of the pop singer, who translates popularity into a film and broadcast career. Bailey illustrates a different template by providing a feminine touch.
      2. Many female singers doubled as eye-candy and were referred to using bird metaphors. This is in stark contrast to the female blues singers of the 1920s, with the exception of Ethel Waters.
      3. This next generation of female singers found themselves adopting the persona of the weaker sex in song lyrics. Earlier blues singers celebrated sex; the new generation had to represent themselves as more innocent. But there were exceptions.
    5. Billie Holiday (1915¿1959)
      1. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Baltimore
      2. Illegitimate daughter of guitarist Clarence Holiday
      3. Left by her mother in the care of abusive relatives
      4. At age ten remanded to a school for delinquent girls,
      5. In 1929 joined her mother in New York, where she worked at menial labor
      6. Arrested for prostitution
      7. Started singing at this time
      8. By 1933, heard at a Harlem club by John Hammond, who invited her to record with Benny Goodman
      9. In 1934 wowed the audience at the Apollo Theatre
      10. In 1935 Hammond recorded her with pianist Teddy Wilson and other top musicians, including Lester Young.
      11. Worked with the Basie and Artie Shaw big bands but had to leave the latter because of racial injunctions. In 1939 she sang at the only interracial nightclub in the country, New York's Café Society. Her recordings sold well. "Strange Fruit" (1939), about a lynching, raised her standing with the intelligentsia.
      12. Her downfall was long and painful due to her drug addiction, bad marriage, a sensationalized trial in 1947, an eight-month jail term, and the deprivation of her cabaret card.
      13. By the 1950s she was focusing on ballads as her voice weakened. She made a TV appearance in 1957. She died at age forty-four.
      14. Lady Day's Style
        1. Her main influences were Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, and, especially, Louis Armstrong, for his sense of swing, paraphrase, and embellishment.
        2. Unlike other singers she did not scat and she rarely sang blues. Her timbre was thin but she could make a song her own by altering the melody.
        3. Jazz musicians adored her phrasing. She had a musical romance with Lester Young.
      15. "A Sailboat in the Moonlight"
        1. Written by Carmen Lombardo and a hit for Guy Lombardo, it was banal and sentimental. Yet Holiday's rendition is rhythmical, inspired, and touching.
    6. Ella Fitzgerald (1917¿1996)
      1. In contrast to Holiday, she:
        1. Was a great scat singer; had a four-octave range
        2. Used falsetto, cries, and low growls
        3. Had luscious timbre
        4. Like Holiday, rarely sang the blues, but unlike her, used blues as just another vehicle for improvisation.
      2. Born in Virginia and raised in Yonkers, she sang in church. After her mother died, she went to live with aunt in Harlem, who treated her like an orphan. By 1934 she was living in the streets. She sang at the Apollo in 1934; although she was hooted when she walked on because of her looks, she won the competition.
      3. Benny Carter recommended her to Chick Webb. He became her legal guardian and restructured his band to feature her voice. She recorded from 1935 on and had a big hit in 1938 with "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."
      4. After Webb's death, she recorded with other musicians and was recruited by Norman Granz for his Jazz at the Philharmonic program. He became her personal manager, building the Verve Record label around her. During the 1950s and 1960s, she made the highly acclaimed songbook series of recordings.
      5. "Blue Skies"
        1. Originally for the Irving Berlin songbook album, the song was judged too adventurous but was released on a later album, Get Happy! Harry "Sweets" Edison provides an obbligato. She sings a three-chorus scat solo quoting Gershwin and the Wedding March.
  5. The Rest of the Band
    1. Pianists, guitarists, drummers, and bass players developed technical skills in order to keep up with the advances made by horn players, so that eventually every player in a band could be featured as a soloist. The nature of the rhythm section thus began to change.
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