For a change, Big Band for this edition of Downbeat. Just prior to and shortly after World War 2, Big Band Swing was the mainstay of mainstream Popular Music – it was a mix of Jazz and uptempo dance music and it had a broad appeal with people throughout the world. Many innovators in Jazz during the later 40s and 1950s had their formative years established in the Big Bands of the time – many came up via arranging (like Gerry Mulligan), while some, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington managed to keep a solid footing in both camps.
Tommy Dorsey was one of the mainstays of the Big Band era – along with Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and a host of others, they were the preeminent bands that toured the country and had coast-to-coast network radio shows.
This broadcast, from June of 1947, actually comprises three broadcasts from the month of June that year. It was broadcast via ABC Radio from The Casino Gardens Ballroom in Ocean Park, Santa Monica. The ballroom in question was located near The Aragon Ballroom and was a competing venue during the war and the height of the Big Band era. People will mostly likely recognize that now as what eventually became Pacific Ocean Park, the Cheetah Night club and the huge fire that destroyed the whole thing in the early 1970s.
But in 1947, Big Bands were still a hot commodity, even though it was becoming increasingly more difficult to financially afford booking such large bands into shrinking venues – and not everyone was dancing at this point. So the venues became smaller and smaller, the budgets shrank, the mood and the tastes were changing, and bands like Dorsey’s were not far away from the turning point.
Although Tommy Dorsey would go on for many more years – and along with his brother Jimmy, hosted a TV variety show which boasted the first network TV program featuring Elvis Presley, Dorsey’s hit making ability shrank considerably, and his audience pretty much stayed in the World War 2 period. So while new records were few and far between, his reissues were big sellers, especially to an audience that had transitioned over to the LP and wanted the original hits in a new format.
But to give you some idea of what Jazz was up to during this time, as small-groups and experimenting started going on, the sound of Big Bands was continuing and continuing to be part of our Popular Culture for as long as it lasted.