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Dance Bands

Although jazz and dancing were regularly linked until the towering of rock and roll, dance bands occupy their own echelon in jazz history. From the 1920s such bands organized to provide copybook replays of popular material at the correct tempo for dancers (not necessarily jazz fans), were a necessary part of America's and Europe's social scene. What they played was functional music with strong emphasis on a singable melody, particularly early on, and was often heard as an anti-social irrelevance. However, American bandleaders such as Paul Specht, Roger Wolfe Kahn and dozens of others (as well as such studio bands as Fred Rich's, the California Ramblers) often staffed their orchestras with toprank jazzmen such as Mannie Klein, Sylvester Ahola, Red Nichols, Jack Teagarden, Frank Signorelli and the Dorseys.

Hunting down these great musicians' short solo contributions to otherwise mediocre records, as well as records of dance bands that reveal overall jazz feeling and arranging flair, has become a study in itself: in Europe the VJM label has regularly issued examples of the genre known collectively as hot dance.

Up to World War II, the story in Europe (and particularly in Britain) was much the same. Jazz by and large remained a specialist music played by musicians who made their living working for dance bands then let their hair down in the small hours playing clubs. Records of British bands of the period (Ambrose, Lew Stone, Ray Noble, Roy Fox and others), like their American counterparts were often spiced with jazz solos, many being magnificent jazz in their own right. A dramatic and regrettable development in Britain post-war was the wholesale discarding of the pre-war musicians, who in the wake of crusading revivalism (which condemned commercially based music of any kind), and bebop (which set store by modernism above all), found themselves prematurely consigned to retirement.

It is not a recent concept for dance band musicians (including jazz performers with large bands) to vary their style of renditions according to the different expectations of various audiences. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, there were thirty quite well-known bands in New Orleans alone. The music played in some African-American clubs was considered far too "rough" for the white dances. Consequently, the musicians would have to adjust to a more sweet style.

These society bands almost always performed in the more posh hotels, such as New York’s Waldorf Astoria, Lexington, Pierre, Taft, Roosevelt, the Central Park Casino, the Rainbow Room atop Radio City, Chicago’s Palmer House, and the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. Obviously, there was an excellent pay for performance in a style to which the society of the country could dance. Some of the more successful bands were Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, Sammy Kaye, Eddy Duchin, Dick Jurgens, Wayne King, and Freddy Martin.

Guy Lombardo
Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians
Lawrence Welk's Novelty Orchestra




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