as Charlie Johnson's "Hot Tempered Blues," which, informal though it is, features all kinds of combinations: notated duets for trumpets and clarinets, a violin solo with a clarinet background, and a jammed last chorus.
A perfectly encapsulated summation of what happened in the music in the time period covered by the set can be found by comparing the set's two performances by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, "South" and "Moten Swing." "South," recorded in 1928, is a performance steeped in the New Orleans rhythmic feeling, with its characteristic sense of hesitation followed by a burst of movement ahead, like a parade beat. For "Moten Swing," however, recorded four years later, the tuba of the earlier session has been replaced by the string bass of Walter Page, playing four even beats per measure instead of the tuba's two, and the banjo has been replaced by a guitar, all of which make the beats more subtle, lighter, and forward-moving.
The Moten band, in fact, was seminal in the transition from the heavy, sometimes jerky rhythmic efforts of the first jazz big bands to the streamlined, forward-moving rhythmic feel of the best of the late swing bands and, through them, to the bebop of Charlie Parker. The band's work after Count Basie joined as its pianist is documented on Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra (1929-1932): Basie Beginnings (RCA/Bluebird 9768-2-RB). The most enjoyable tracks, and the most modern sounding, are the ones recorded at the same 1932 session that produced "Moten Swing." One thing to listen for is the lightness of the beats in the rhythm section. Most big bands at the time sounded like a runner landing hard on every footfall; Moten's sounded like a runner landing only hard enough to propel him or her into the next stride. An interesting tune here is Moten's treatment of the New Orleans standard "Milenburg Joys," which begins with Walter Page's bass hitting on one and three, like a street-parade tuba, and then shifting into the sleekest of straight four-four.
A listen to the band's phrasing on their treatment of Rodgers and Hart's "The Blue Room" provides an insight into the nature of swing. It will be helpful for readers without a musical background to know that each of the four
beats per bar can be divided in half; you can count the rhythm one and two and three and four ( and one ...). The one, two, three, and four beats, which the rhythm section, particularly the bass, usually articulates, are called the down beats. The and half of the beat is called the up beat. The arrangement of "The Blue Room" here tends to accent the up beats rather than the down beats; this also gives the performance a forward-moving rather than a heavy-footed feeling.
But of all the big bands at the time and of all the arrangers, the one who was destined to make the greatest contribution by far was Duke Ellington.
Duke Ellington, Part I
There is no way to do justice to the work of Duke Ellington in a book this size, even if the whole book were to concern itself solely with his music. Ellington's achievement was quintessentially American and was accomplished under the conditions of life of the American itinerant bandleader - constant movement, constant management problems, and, be it said, constant inspiration from both the panorama of American life, high and low, to which he was exposed and the experience of having his music played back to him almost instantaneously by a group of some of the most talented and individualistic instrumentalists in history.
Ellington created at the highest levels throughout the whole span of a recording career that ran from 1924 to 1974. At every stage he busied himself with synthesizing what had been done and what was being done by the musicians who preceded and surrounded him, and his music, of every period, stands apart from, and above, that of his contemporaries.
From the beginning, Ellington's music dealt with formal, compositional aspects that were beyond even the very best of