When I say “modern jazz,” I mean post-World War II jazz. Two things characterize it: (1) small bands; (2) it is for listening, not dancing.
Big band jazz was different. The era of the big jazz bands, meaning swing bands, lasted a decade: from about 1931 (Harlem’s Chick Webb) through 1942: mobilization during World War II. It was Benny Goodman’s band, beginning in 1935, that made the music popular.
The year 1942 was also the beginning of the strike of the musicians’ union. The union refused to allow its members to record music, except for the Armed Forces Radio Network, which was broadcast only overseas. Live performances were allowed. The strike lasted until late 1944. Meanwhile, singers branched out on their own, never to return to the big bands in supporting roles.
The big bands were dance bands. They played in large dance halls. These bands were large enough to be heard. There were enough paying dancers for the band leaders to pay a lot of musicians. There was interaction between the bands and the dancers. Benny Goodman’s signature song was “Let’s Dance.”
Goodman’s band became the first swing band with a large national audience. That was because, beginning in 1935, his band was one of three that played on NBC’s three-hour radio show, Let’s Dance. Goodman’s band started playing at 12:30 AM, which was too late for New York City. But in the West Coat, it was 9:30 PM. Goodman became a celebrity in Los Angeles.
There was another reason for this. There was a disk jockey in Los Angeles named Al Jarvis. He began playing swing records, beginning in 1932. He was among the earliest disk jockeys in the nation. He called his radio show The World’s Largest Make Believe Ballroom. He changed it later…