Rick Lawn: The Evolution of Big Band Sounds in America

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: One very special example of integrating the art forms is Daniel Schnyder's Yardbird Suite, an opera that integrates large ensemble music, including improvising, with a libretto, dramatic acting, and visual stage effects. And films, in which background music has always played a key role, are becoming more ingenious in their use of music, not to mention everything else, in creating an effect. Daniel Pritzger's recent film, Bolden, about the first New Orleans jazz trumpeter, is a kaleidoscopic concatenation of Jazz Age music contributed by Wynton Marsalis, with post-modern visual effects.

RL: Jeff Beale, who studied with my teacher Ray Wright, started out playing trumpet and writing arrangements for big bands. He's huge now in scoring for TV and film.

AAJ: To summarize, big band creativity and writing have always been remarkable, and future developments are very promising. But more and more the finances are difficult. Yet, thanks largely to European audiences, there's a thriving big band culture today.

RL: European audiences seem to be more curious and open-minded than we Americans are. It's a cultural difference. For many years, the radio orchestras throughout Europe were government funded and the bands got so well-established that they've been able to keep the funding coming through other sources. But, money aside, big bands have always been an important aspect of jazz around the world and will continue to be.

Top Photo: Alto saxophonist Dick Oatts solos with the Village Vanguard Orchestra, 2012; John Rogers/NPR.

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