Off the Charts: Big Band Circa 2006
In the pop music world it seems like the ’80s revival just won’t go away, and in classical music the 19th century still reigns supreme. But jazz is, as usual, much less predictable. It’s been half a decade since Ken Burns’s still divisive PBS documentary told us that jazz for the most part had died in the 1970s. Don’t tell that to the myriad inventive players out there who continue to stretch the genre in unprecedented new directions.
What has been one of the most surprising developments in recent years has been the resurgence of the big band as the medium of choice for a wide variety of up-and-coming musicians in the scene. But don’t expect that any of these folks blowing their horns will be decked out in zoot suits or that there will be throngs of fawning teenagers doing the lindy-hop in the background. For today’s big band innovators, the ensemble is everything from an expanded rock band to a more malleable symphony orchestra, a means by which to explore timbre with as much freewheeling abandon as melody and harmony.
This fall, Molly, Randy, and I each spoke to three emerging big band leaders who approach this music from very different aesthetic vantage points. Darcy James Argue’s music delights the anachronism of the big band in a post-punk musical environment. Sherisse Rogers sees the big band as a melting pot for a plethora of musical styles ranging from hip-hop to Brazilian. Charles Waters is a practical avant-gardist for whom the big band has proven to be a viable means to expressing large-scale compositional ideas.
There are many other fascinating musicians out there who are exploring new approaches as well. By focusing on these three, we hope it will whet your appetite to discover the variety of exciting new work being created for big band right now. This is just a small snapshot of what is certainly not a retro movement.