Sunday, November 21, 2010

Big Bands, Little Bands

I’m a music columnist for a local newspaper and each Sunday (formerly Friday) I fill a prescribed number of inches with what I hope is deathless prose, award-winning thoughts, something which will survive wrapping tomorrow’s garbage in. It was an oral history of the big band era when an elderly friend shared his memories.

Ask ten people about the big bands; half will name the top three or four and the rest will say, “huh?” I write for both. Many people remember Glenn Miller’s Orchestra, now a “ghost” band on the road under the estate’s permission and (of course) financial gain. Fewer people will remember Anson Weeks, mostly a west coast operation.

There are the national groups, well-known everywhere, and the regionals. The latter may be just as good, but never strayed far from their base; content with good local bookings and maybe some radio hookups, they were happy staying clear of the road. Others played hotels and tv for years and never left home.

It’s amazing, given our propensity for going with the name bands, to see just how good the locals and regionals can be. I used to play recordings from a Boston regional and it was just as good as any of the bigs. Locally, here, one or two bands never moved out of the Valley and certainly could have.

If you don’t already know it, many of the big bands actually travel lean and depend on the locals to fill in the chairs. They are just as good.


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