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Which type(s) of big band music are most fun to play and most crowd pleasing?

  • Dixieland - up to 1920s or so "jazz"

    Votes: 4 17.4%
  • Swing Era - Miller, Goodman, Shaw, etc.

    Votes: 14 60.9%
  • Modern - Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, etc.

    Votes: 6 26.1%
  • Latin/salsa

    Votes: 4 17.4%
  • Vocals - e.g. Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald style

    Votes: 7 30.4%
  • Novelty - TV/movie themes, pop songs, etc.

    Votes: 4 17.4%
  • Other - please specify

    Votes: 1 4.3%
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Which big band repertoire do you most like to play? And just as important, which repertoire do your audiences most appreciate?

Which specific tunes do band members and audiences really like? Which tunes seem to bore audiences or turn them off?

Do you like to focus on one or two genres, or is your band all over the map in any given concert? In your opinion, which approach does your typical audience (paying or non-paying) seem to appreciate the most - a concert focused on doing one type of music well, or a mulligan stew of big band music?

I know that the musicianship and the enthusiasm of the players counts for a lot, as does the mood and tastes of the audience ... but out of the thousands of charts that exist, a band has to pick and choose where to spend its money and time.
 

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I enjoy playing "Contemporary" compositions including works by Maria Schneider and Gordon Goodwin.

"Modern" ala Ferguson, Rich, and Kenton is old stuff.
 

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In the small town I live next to, there's a series of "Summer Band In The Park" concerts. Band members number about 80 to 90. All are professionals, teachers, advanced amateurs. Programs are mostly marches - Sousa, Gilroy and others, mixed with some classical - William Tell overture, 1812 overture and others. There often is a guest performer - singer, clarinetist, drummer, etc. Crowds are extremely large and appreciative.

Last week though, the band played two arrangements; "In The Miller Mood," and "A Salute to Jazz," which included "Birdland", Nica's Dream, a tame "Cherokee," and several others. Those two performances received the largest ovation of any I've heard in the 10+ years I've attended the concerts.

So what's the most well-received? It depends upon the audience. Here, the audience is mostly composed of old folks who remember Miller, Basie, Dorsey, Shaw, et al.

I really like the big band stuff - Goodwin to Florence to Akyoshi, to Watrous, Basie, Ellington and so on. The recent concert, while not any of the above, was pretty good for most of the audience. Best of all, no "smooth jazz," whatever the hell that is.
 

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The 8pc "little big band" I work with in the Des Moines area gets a very nice reception by combining Jazz Age with Swing Era rep - not just jazz but Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, tangos, marches, rags going back to 1910...we're liberal. :D

Being liberal, we consider the Swing era to follow RIGHT AFTER the Jazz Age, and 1930 the changeover year. (Listen to Fletcher Henderson play Somebody Loves Me. That, by any stretch of the imagination, is THE first swing recording. In 1930!) This allows us to play stuff other bands wouldn't even think about.
 

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In the small town I live next to, there's a series of "Summer Band In The Park" concerts. Band members number about 80 to 90. All are professionals, teachers, advanced amateurs. Programs are mostly marches - Sousa, Gilroy and others, mixed with some classical - William Tell overture, 1812 overture and others. There often is a guest performer - singer, clarinetist, drummer, etc. Crowds are extremely large and appreciative.

Last week though, the band played two arrangements; "In The Miller Mood," and "A Salute to Jazz," which included "Birdland", Nica's Dream, a tame "Cherokee," and several others. Those two performances received the largest ovation of any I've heard in the 10+ years I've attended the concerts.

So what's the most well-received? It depends upon the audience. Here, the audience is mostly composed of old folks who remember Miller, Basie, Dorsey, Shaw, et al.

I really like the big band stuff - Goodwin to Florence to Akyoshi, to Watrous, Basie, Ellington and so on. The recent concert, while not any of the above, was pretty good for most of the audience. Best of all, no "smooth jazz," whatever the hell that is.
MAN, I thought you were talking about where I live. I played in a local municipal band just yesterday. We have it every summer. It's in the park. There's often a soloist. We play Sousa, Fillmore, Overtures, etc. Yesterday we played, "In The Miller Mood". Awesome!
 

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In my opinion, the stuff that's the most fun to play isn't generally the same as what makes the crowd happy...
 

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I could play nothing but Basie charts for the rest of my life & be happy - Basie swings like NO other big band music.

That being said, I also really like a lot of Kenton charts (especially the Hank Levy ones) - Thad Jones, Maria Schneider, & Buddy Rich.
 

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In my opinion, the stuff that's the most fun to play isn't generally the same as what makes the crowd happy...
Amen to this!! If I never had to play "In The Mood" again, I would be a happy man....
 

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Not sure how exactly to answer the poll because there are so many variables... I personally prefer playing a good mix of ellington, basie, and more modern stuff. In terms of pleasing the crowd, a mediocre band can please the crowd simply by playing songs the audience knows (in the mood...). A good vocalist is generally a pretty major crowd pleaser. On the other hand, late fifties-sixties ere basie when done well will almost always get a good response. A lot depends on whether the audience is hoping to dance.
 

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In my opinion, the stuff that's the most fun to play isn't generally the same as what makes the crowd happy...
The crowds typically want the same 12 tunes every time they think big band. I think it's so they can feel a shared experience, like dancing, without actually getting up to dance.

The musicians typically want to execute interesting arrangements, so they can feel a shared experience that they're proud of.

Where can they meet in the middle? How about this:

1) Have some open-plan seating, not a packed-in, formal experience.
2) Have a dancing area, where folks can get spontaneous.
3) Remember SWING IS A VERB. Play some little known classics (like the Casa Loma Stomp, see below). And don't bury your heads in the stands. Get into it. Put it over! This music has to be fresh and about fun.

Take a clue from the atmosphere on this clip. That's what you're going for.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Great comments and suggestions everyone ... food for thought!

The poll has no "best before" date so over time maybe we can see if (in the opinion of SOTWebbers) swing music really is the cat's jammies.
 
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