It may come as no surprise to many of you but it appears the “big band dance gig” is quietly fading out. Sure, this has been going on for some time. But there are two things which cause me to write about this now.
Mainly, I find it interesting that nobody else seems to be writing about it. The death of the big bands received a lot of attention in the past but this is yet another nail in the coffin. I see this as something different than the fall of the big band from the popularity it had during the swing era and beyond. This is generally the loss of a way of life for musicians, the end of the big band dance gig. I guess these situations tend to go unnoticed.
I also find it interesting (and sad) since it may well signal an end to one of the more enjoyable gig experiences for the jazz musician. It’s a rare event to have 18 (or more) musicians on the same gig! The opportunity to hang out and network with so many other players is always great. It is (was) also a great way to learn the craft of performing jazz music. Big band arrangements are often the best way to experience (and learn) the subtle variations in swing 8th note rhythmic feels, articulations and phrasing. They are also one of the few situations where jazz players learn to play together in a larger ensemble.
I wonder what effect this might have upon students learning to play jazz now in schools. Most school jazz programs revolve around the big band. One of the most alluring aspects for me when I was in school was the “aliveness” of jazz: meaning that I felt like I was participating in something I’d be doing for the rest of my life. It gives me pause to think about the change in student attitudes about big bands. If big band music is left as something only practiced in schools, what effects will that have on the music overall? Hmm…