A big band or jazz orchestra is a type of musical ensemble of jazz music that usually consists of ten or more musicians with four sections: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section. Big bands originated during the early 1910s and dominated jazz in the early 1940s when swing was most popular. The term "big band" is also used to describe a genre of music, although this was not the only style of music played by big bands.
Big bands started as accompaniment for dancing. In contrast to the typical jazz emphasis on improvisation, big bands relied on written compositions and arrangements. They gave a greater role to bandleaders, arrangers, and sections of instruments rather than soloists.
Big bands generally have four sections: trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and a rhythm section of guitar, piano, double bass, and drums. The division in early big bands, from the 1920s to 1930s, was typically two or three trumpets, one or two trombones, three or four saxophones, and a rhythm section of four instruments. In the 1940s, Stan Kenton's band used up to five trumpets, five trombones (three tenor and two bass trombones), five saxophones (two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, one baritone saxophone), and a rhythm section. Duke Ellington at one time used six trumpets. While most big bands dropped the previously common jazz clarinet from their arrangements (other than the clarinet-led orchestras of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman), many Duke Ellington songs had clarinet parts, often replacing or doubling one of the tenor saxophone parts; more rarely, Ellington would substitute baritone sax for bass clarinet, such as in "Ase's Death" from Swinging Suites. Boyd Raeburn drew from symphony orchestras by adding flute, French horn, strings, and timpani to his band. In the late 1930s, Shep Fields incorporated a solo accordion, temple blocks, piccolo, violins and a viola into his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra. The legendary Paul Whiteman also featured a solo accordion in his ensemble.
Jazz ensembles numbering eight (octet), nine (nonet) or ten (tentet) voices are sometimes called "little big bands". During the 1940s, somewhat smaller configurations of the big band emerged in the form of the "rhythm sextet". These ensembles typically featured three or more accordions accompanied by piano, guitar, bass, cello, percussion, and marimba with vibes and were popularized by recording artists such as Charles Magnante, Joe Biviano and John Serry. 
Typical big band arrangements from the swing era were written in strophic form with the same phrase and chord structure repeated several times. Each iteration, or chorus, commonly follows twelve bar blues form or thirty-two-bar (AABA) song form. The first chorus of an arrangement introduces the melody and is followed by choruses of development. This development may take the form of improvised solos, written solo sections, and "shout choruses".
One of the first bands to accompany the new rhythms was led by a drummer, Art Hickman, in San Francisco in 1916. Hickman's arranger, Ferde Grofé, wrote arrangements in which he divided the jazz orchestra into sections that combined in various ways. This intermingling of sections became a defining characteristic of big bands. In 1919, Paul Whiteman hired Grofé to use similar techniques for his band. Whiteman was educated in classical music, and he called his new band's music symphonic jazz. The methods of dance bands marked a step away from New Orleans jazz. With the exception of Jelly Roll Morton, who continued playing in the New Orleans style, bandleaders paid attention to the demand for dance music and created their own big bands. They incorporated elements of Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, ragtime, and vaudeville.
Duke Ellington led his band at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Fletcher Henderson's career started when he was persuaded to audition for a job at Club Alabam in New York City, which eventually turned into a job as bandleader at the Roseland Ballroom. At these venues, which themselves gained notoriety, bandleaders and arrangers played a greater role than they had before. Hickman relied on Ferde Grofé, Whiteman on Bill Challis. Henderson and arranger Don Redman followed the template of King Oliver, but as the 1920s progressed they moved away from the New Orleans format and transformed jazz. They were assisted by a band full of talent: Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone, Louis Armstrong on cornet, and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter, whose career lasted into the 1990s.
This type of music flourished through the early 1930s, although there was little mass audience for it until around 1936. Up until that time, it was viewed with ridicule and looked upon as a curiosity. After 1935, big bands rose to prominence playing swing music and held a major role in defining swing as a distinctive style. Western swing musicians also formed popular big bands during the same period.
There was a considerable range of styles among the hundreds of popular bands. Many of the better known bands reflected the individuality of the bandleader, the lead arranger, and the personnel. Count Basie played a relaxed, propulsive swing, Bob Crosby (brother of Bing), more of a dixieland style, Benny Goodman a hard driving swing, and Duke Ellington's compositions were varied and sophisticated. Many bands featured strong instrumentalists whose sounds dominated, such as the clarinets of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, the trombone of Jack Teagarden, the trumpet of Harry James, the drums of Gene Krupa, and the vibes of Lionel Hampton. The popularity of many of the major bands was amplified by star vocalists, such as Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly with Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb, Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie, Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest with Harry James, Doris Day with Les Brown, and Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman. Some bands were "society bands" which relied on strong ensembles but little on soloists or vocalists, such as the bands of Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman.
A distinction is often made between so-called "hard bands", such as those of Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey, which emphasized quick hard-driving jump tunes, and "sweet bands", such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Shep Fields Rippling Rhythm Orchestra,. who specialized in less improvised tunes with more emphasis on sentimentality, featuring somewhat slower-paced, often heart-felt songs.
By this time the big band was such a dominant force in jazz that the older generation found they either had to adapt to it or simply retire. With no market for small-group recordings (made worse by a Depression-era industry reluctant to take risks), musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines led their own bands, while others, like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, lapsed into obscurity.
The major "black" bands of the 1930s included, apart from Ellington's, Hines's and Calloway's, those of Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb, and Count Basie. The "white" bands of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Shep Fields and, later, Glenn Miller were more popular than their "black" counterparts from the middle of the decade. Bridging the gap to white audiences in the mid-1930s was the Casa Loma Orchestra and Benny Goodman's early band.
White teenagers and young adults were the principal fans of the big bands in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They danced to recordings and the radio and attended live concerts. They were knowledgeable and often biased toward their favorite bands and songs, and sometimes worshipful of famous soloists and vocalists. Many bands toured the country in grueling one-night stands. Traveling conditions and lodging were difficult, in part due to segregation in most parts of the United States, and the personnel often had to perform having had little sleep and food. Apart from the star soloists, many musicians received low wages and would abandon the tour if bookings disappeared. Sometimes bandstands were too small, public address systems inadequate, pianos out of tune. Bandleaders dealt with these obstacles through rigid discipline (Glenn Miller) and canny psychology (Duke Ellington).
Many bands from the swing era continued for decades after the death or departure of their founders and namesakes, and some are still active in the 21st century, often referred to as "ghost bands", a term attributed to Woody Herman, referring to orchestras that persist in the absence of their original leaders.
Although big bands are identified with the swing era, they continued to exist after those decades, though the music they played was often different from swing. Bandleader Charlie Barnet's recording of "Cherokee" in 1942 and "The Moose" in 1943 have been called the beginning of the bop era. Woody Herman's first band, nicknamed the First Herd, borrowed from progressive jazz, while the Second Herd emphasized the saxophone section of three tenors and one baritone. In the 1950s, Stan Kenton referred to his band's music as "progressive jazz", "modern", and "new music". He created his band as a vehicle for his compositions. Kenton pushed the boundaries of big bands by combining clashing elements and by hiring arrangers whose ideas about music conflicted. This expansive eclecticism characterized much of jazz after World War II. During the 1960s and '70s, Sun Ra and his Arketstra took big bands further out. Ra's eclectic music was played by a roster of musicians from ten to thirty and was presented as theater, with costumes, dancers, and special effects.
As jazz was expanded during the 1950s through the 1970s, the Basie and Ellington bands were still around, as were bands led by Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Earl Hines, Les Brown, Clark Terry, and Doc Severinsen. Progressive bands were led by Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans, Carla Bley, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin, Don Ellis, and Anthony Braxton. 041b061a72