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During the big band heyday of the thirties and forties there were thousands of bands playing around the country, saturating dance halls and the radio waves and entertaining people of all walks of life. Keeping track of all these bands is a daunting task, one that hasn't been attempted until now. William Lee has compiled American Big Bands, an encyclopedia reference to the great performers that gave so many people a reason to dance.
Lee has organized his book based on the decade in which bands were founded, instead of alphabetically or based on the height of each band's popularity. Therefore, you may have to use the index to locate a particular performer if you're not sure if the date they were originally performed. Also, Lee's book is not really meant for browsing. The biographies are bare boned, featuring a brief biography, notable players and venues and not much else. As bedside table reading, it's a bore, but as a reference guide to the vast number of big bands performing, it's an invaluable reference.
A quick flip through the book will uncover some little known yet worthy big band leaders tucked away in between Dorsey and Miller. Lee has also documented those bands that have been formed long after the public turned their attention away from big band to bebop and the Beatles.
Some may quibble about the lack of usefulness of the entries, griping about the lack of a discography or, in most cases, notable performances or recordings. And undoubtedly some great regional bands have been left out of the mix. However, Lee has done a great job at what he set out to doprovide a reference guide that sorts out all the bands that helped make jazz a national phenomenon.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.