Harry James this weekend. One of the most popular figures of the Big Band era, James was an institution and a staple in the American Pop Music diet of the 1940s. But like many bandleaders of the time, he branched out into small group settings and went the other way to include strings – he wasn’t just a dance band, and even though he could embrace the “sweet” aspect of Big Bands, James, like Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw and several of the other major figures from the period, also had the ability and the clout to go exploring and try new things. This became part of their enduring legacy but also part of the reason why many of these figures from that period sustained their popularity and appeal well into the 1960s, when many of their contemporaries faded from the scene or clung to the nostalgia banner. Speaks volumes about staying flexible and curious.
This show, which actually sounds like portions of several other broadcasts assembled for the Coca-Cola Spotlight Bands series, was a regular rebroadcast for the Armed Forces during and after World War Two. This one comes from 1946, just as musical tastes are wandering in the direction of change and the popularity of small-groups is starting to rise. Oh yes, and Bop was just around the corner.
For those of you just coming to Big Band jazz and all the various offshoots prevalent during this period, Harry James is essential listening. Not only from the aspect of what was popular during a specific period of time, but what was also being tried and experimented with and how it influenced other musicians in the years and decades that followed. We didn’t arrive here from nowhere; we got here by twists and turns and unlikely combinations that worked – by sounds and mashups and pulling elements from everywhere. And we have to keep doing that if music is going to stay fresh and vital. Pop will die if it has to rely on eating itself for nourishment. The only way it can sustain and grow is by staying curious and open to what is a world of possibilities.
‘Nuff said. Enjoy.