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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Big band nostalgia

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

As you all might know, I am a big fan of the big (great) band era. I have an album of big band music, and as I was playing it this weekend, I noticed a leaflet in the album telling all about how the big bands started.

The following column was taken from this leaflet by "Readers Digest."

And now for a little background: Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for a second presidential term in 1936 against Alf Landon of Kansas. We all know the result of that election. He not only won his second term, but also went on to win a third term.

After three years of hot, dry weather, the Great Plains of the midwest had blistered to a Dust Bowl.

At the Olympics in Berlin, American Jesse Owens enjoyed a field day to the undisguised annoyance of Nazi Nordic supremacists.

Margaret Mitchell's huge Civil War novel, "Gone With The Wind," was an immediate and overwhelming success.

Early one December morning Americans turned on their radios, heard the boom of Big Ben in London and then, through a crackle of static, the clipped high- pitched voice of Edward VIII announcing his abdication of the British throne for "the woman I love," Mrs. Wallis (Wally) Warfield Simpson.

The curtain went up on the great band era just as 1935 was coming to an end. The date was Dec. 22; the place, the Paramount Theater in New York; and the occasion, an experimental two-week booking of Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra.

The Paramount had used popular bands in its stage presentations, but never before had a band been offered as the main attraction. Show-wise Broadwayites told the Paramount's managing director, Robert Weitman, that he was out of his mind; people wouldn't pay to sit and listen to a dance band.

But Weitman had gauged the temper of the times accurately -- during the '30s, bands had been steadily building followings through radio broadcasts, records and one-night stands.

In its first week, the Casa Loma Orchestra set a house record for the Paramount, and its two-week engagement was extended to four. Weitman hurriedly booked other groups to follow, and soon bands were being showcased in major theaters in 50 cities across the United States.

The arrival of swing in 1936 helped intensify the interest in big bands. Benny Goodman appeared in tumultuous triumph at the Manhattan Room of New York's Hotel Pennsylvania in the fall of 1936. And Art Shaw, a clarinetist, formed a swing band built around a string quartet. The rising popularity of swing was further recognized by the launching in June of the first radio network series entirely devoted to swing, called The Saturday Night Swing Session, with a band that included Bunny Berigan and Raymond Scott.

To be continued.

Marilyn Miller
The Old Grey Mare