The Rise and Fall of Popular Music
[A polemical history]
The 1940s: War and Other Calamities
The war years are remembered both in Britain and in the USA as an egalitarian time. In Britain food rationing and fairer distribution brought about the best diet some of the population had ever seen, and illnesses such as rickets, caused by poor nutrition, began to disappear. In the USA country boy and city slicker alike served in the armed forces; dance bands and black artists like Fats Waller and Art Tatum made V-discs for the armed services' jukeboxes; and all were exposed to each other's cultures en masse for the first time.
The combination of world war and music business shenanigans caused profound changes in music itself. The history of the music business is studded with instances of panic, doomsaying and dramatic events, and the participants themselves -- be they music publishers, or a president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) or a lawyer working for BMI -- were often outsized personalities. In the late 1920s, for example, it was thought that Tin Pan Alley was moving to Hollywood, and that if the film producers took over completely, it would be the end of ASCAP. The constant buying and selling of music publishing houses was often due to jockeying for power in the industry, which began to worry about how charges would be made for television music years before most people had ever seen a television set. Solutions usually failed to foresee new problems, and some of the disputes directly affected the nature of the music. The decade of the 1940s, while dominated by the war, provided two cases in which self-interested organizations forced changes which had wholly unexpected results and were not welcomed by those whose interests were supposedly being served: the ASCAP strike against broadcasters, and the musicians' union strikes against the record companies.
ASCAP was the first and is still the largest of the American performing rights societies, which collect and distribute royalties to members from the use of their music. In 1915 ASCAP won a lawsuit against a restaurant in New York City in which Victor Herbert's music was played by a small orchestra. The decision of the United States Supreme Court was that, whether or not use of the music helped the restaurant to make a profit, 'the purpose of employing [the music] is profit, and that is enough'. This allowed ASCAP to insist on licensing fees from vaudeville managers, record companies and then broadcasters. ASCAP grew from 182 members in 1914 to more than 33,000 by the early 1980s. It is affiliated with societies in 40 other countries and runs such annual awards as the Nathan Burkan Memorial Competition for law students' essays on copyright law (started in 1938, in honour of a man who began as Witmark's lawyer) and the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for writing on music (started in 1968).
For years, ASCAP was seen as just another self-serving attempt to create a monopoly in an industry that was full of them. The Board of Music Trade had been formed in 1855 to fix sheet music prices and to fight music teachers (who were middlemen, selling music to their pupils); the National Association of Music Teachers was formed in 1857. Later there were the Music Publishers Protective Association (MPPA), the Vaudeville Managers Protective Association and so on. At one point in the early history of ASCAP the MPPA collected but did not distribute millions of dollars in royalties, cash that ASCAP was supposed to pay to its members in order to justify itself. These organizations constantly squabbled with one another, especially as changes occurred in the music business; publishers joined and left them according to where they saw their best interests .
ASCAP was inevitably dominated by publishers. At one point the classification scheme according to annual turnover included an AAA category of only one publisher, E. B. Harms, who therefore raked off the fattest payments. Songwriters were not even allowed to join unless they had had several hits, and they relied on their publishers to share out the money fairly, often a forlorn hope. In 1932 ASCAP's operating expenses soaked up 32 cents of every dollar taken in. Its public image was so poor that it considered hiring a public relations firm, but instead it made a deal agreeing low rates with radio stations owned by newspapers, in order to be treated more kindly by those papers.
ASCAP's first agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) was made in 1932. During the Depression sheet music sales and record sales fell, and vaudeville was dying; by then it was obvious that radio was the most important source of commercial entertainment in America, while a move to amend copyright law to free music from licence fees had been defeated in Congress. By the 1932 agreement ASCAP was entitled to fees of 3 per cent of 'time sales' (advertising income) rising to 5 per cent in 1935, with a smaller fixed fee for 'sustaining' (non-profit) programmes. Many broadcasters regarded the 1932 agreement as a sellout, and network affiliates wanted networks to be responsible for the fees for network programmes. There was always plenty of ferment among publishers. Warner had acquired several important publishing houses and held out for a larger slice of the ASCAP pie: for the first half of 1935 the public did not hear any music on the radio by Romberg, Herbert, Gershwin and Rodgers or from Warner's many musical films; more ominously, the public did not appear to notice.
Warner tried to buy the Mutual Broadcasting System, but was rejected in 1936. Broadcasters and others had looked in vain for sources of non-ASCAP music. Schemes to compete with radio, using a signal riding piggy-back on the electricity supply, had been proposed as early as 1922, and Muzak was formed in 1934 to pursue this avenue, but the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) won a court case against a hotel in 1936 which helped to thwart Muzak's plans, and in 1938 Muzak finally failed to receive permission from the Federal Communications Commission to compete with the radio networks.
With cable television ubiquitous today in the USA, it would seem that this ruling has been undone, but meanwhile Muzak turned to supplying special music services for offices and factories, which became ubiquitous even sooner. This has profoundly cheapened and degraded music; no matter whether such services are operated by Muzak or one of its competitors, no matter what the quality of any individual service, the force-feeding of music is ultimately bad for it. In the 1930s Muzak had an agreement with ASCAP, but also relied upon Associated Music Publishers (AMP), which was made up of about 150 small US publishers and some European ones and effectively a holding company for non-ASCAP music. (Muzak's transcribed-music library service used an AMP label.)
In October 1939 Sydney Kaye, a member of CBS's law firm, proposed that broadcasters set up their own licensing agency, relying on SESAC, AMP and other sources, and luring some established composers away from ASCAP with promises of fairer treatment: they would be allowed to retain all non-broadcasting rights, such as publishing and stage performance. Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), was chartered, using funds pledged by broadcasters in expectation of an ASCAP strike against them. Many broadcasters saw BMI as yet another monopoly, but it was clear that they were not going to get away with paying nothing, and they soon fell into line. Furthermore, ASCAP was over-confident and insensitive: in two states where laws instigated by broadcasters prohibited ASCAP from interstate commerce, ASCAP offered a per-piece agreement to broadcasters, rather than a licence fee; broadcasters in other states had wanted this for years, and angrily signed with BMI. When its new demand was presented, just before the deadline of 1 April 1940 for the start of BMI's operations, ASCAP did not bother to invite the NAB's agent, Neville Miller, and the meeting ended with harsh words between CBS executives and Oscar Hammerstein II. The new demand was for 3 per cent of income for smaller stations, rising to 7.5 per cent for regional and national chains, as well as sustaining fees. ASCAP's strike against the broadcasters began at the end of 1940.
Kaye's vision of the future of radio was as great as that of Sarnoff and Paley; he already knew the power of it. In 1938 only 368 tunes received more than 47 per cent of the airplay; by September 1940 BMI was providing 14 printed popular songs a week. In 1939, it was later revealed, 13 ASCAP publishers had dominated Your Hit Parade, radio's top chart showcase, collecting 60 per cent of the money paid to ASCAP's l65 members. It was clear that radio helped make hits and could dictate its own terms, and also that the terms being offered were fair. BMI signed M.M. Cole of Chicago, a leading publisher of hillbilly songs; E.B. Marks moved to BMI and Ralph Peer formed a BMI company; new firms such as Acuff-Rose joined BMI. The eccentric and musically conservative tobacco magnate who was behind Your Hit Parade would probably have preferred to go back to ASCAP's music of the 1910 era, but reluctantly agreed to broadcast only songs available to radio. During the strike no composition published by a member of ASCAP could be broadcast, except on independent stations that broadcast little live music anyway. In 1940 ASCAP members had sold about 300,000 pieces of sheet music a week; sales dropped to 120,000 a month.
A great deal of music that was out of copyright was performed, from Stephen Foster's songs to 'Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B Flat', a classical rip-off by Freddy Martin's dance band that was number one for eight weeks that year, with ASCAP making not a penny. The Russian folksong 'Song of the Volga Boatmen' was a big hit for Glenn Miller in early 1941, followed by 'Perfidia', a Latin tune published by Ralph Peer. Peer had scooped up Mexican and South American music, but ASCAP had refused to handle the new companies in which Peer had holdings because they were privately owned for profit (as though ASCAP members were not interested in money). ASCAP now went south of the border, in search of music with which to head off BMI, only to find that Peer had already got the best. 'The Peanut Vendor' had come from a Cuban revue, and was a success in the USA in 1930; it later became part of Peer International, and in 1941 the reissue of Louis Armstrong's delightful 1931 version was another hit. Bandleaders and composers were not fools; Charlie Barnet's 'Redskin Rhumba', for example, recorded in October 1940, was registered with a BMI company, so that it could be played on the radio, and was a hit the same year. It was at this time that Bing Crosby had hits with 'Brahms' Lullaby' and with Floyd Tillman's 'It Makes No Difference Now', a country hit published by Peer. The awful truth began to dawn: the world could get along without ASCAP music.
Various suits had been pending in federal courts against nearly all the principals, and the courts had to arbitrate, bringing order into the marketplace. The networks' creeping monopoly in the increasingly profitable industry was dealt with: General Electric and Westinghouse had disposed of their stock in RCA in 1931, and NBC stations were handed to Sarnoff (while in 1932-3 stations reluctantly began to allow prices to be mentioned in advertising). RCA/NBC had to sell off the Blue Network, which became the American Broadcasting Company. The networks were requested to divest themselves of their booking agencies; CBS's Columbia Concerts Corporation, for classical music, in which Paley still had an interest, was sold to Arthur Judson, while its pop talent agency was sold to the Chicago-based Music Corporation of America. Payment for music at source was required of the networks, removing a headache for the affiliates; all music users were offered the choice of a blanket licence, per-use fees or per-programme fees. ASCAP was barred from exclusive rights to members' work, freeing them for direct licensing, and the self-perpetuating board of directors was abolished by giving members a right to vote for it. Discrimination among similar types of user was banned.
BMI's contract of April 1941 charged a flat fee of 1.5 per cent of income to the networks, while the pressure on ASCAP was mounting: publishing houses were losing money, and Hollywood music was being kept in the can. Walt Disney, for example, anxious to get the songs from Dumbo on the air, instructed Irving Berlin Inc. to license them either through BMI or without charge, otherwise Disney would start his own BMI company. In July 1941 ASCAP offered the networks a licence fee of 2.75 per cent of income, considerably less than the 5 per cent they had been collecting. Many smaller broadcasters were opposed to any settlement with ASCAP, but the networks and ASCAP knew that lack of a settlement would lead to the collapse of ASCAP, chaos and anti-trust suits against the networks, so the deal was made.
Broadcasting was booming, and there was plenty of money for everybody. ASCAP, divested of its internal squabbling and corruption, became more prosperous than ever, and more or less respectable at last. But the formation of BMI had results reaching far beyond competition in the field. BMI's future was not at all secure at first; it soon offered advances to songwriters on getting a song recorded, and doubled the royalty rate from 1 penny per performance to 2, but it also raised the rate paid to publishers to 4 cents, naively expecting publishers to share the pay-out fairly with writers. Meanwhile ASCAP's distribution system had been revised and was now fairer to writers, so mainstream songwriters continued to join ASCAP except for authors of black and hillbilly music, who could now receive advances and royalties from BMI that they had never had from ASCAP. Furthermore, after the war government restrictions on new radio stations were lifted, and by 1950 there were 1,517 independent stations compared with 627 network affiliates; half of the independents served single-station local markets, and courted them with more country music and rhythm and blues than the networks did. The outcome of all this was that BMI members were publishing a good deal of black and hillbilly music, and BMI unwittingly fed and watered the seedbed from which rock'n'roll would grow.
Only two years after BMI was formed Billboard began printing the first black chart (the 'Harlem Hit Parade'), and two years later, in 1944, it printed the first country chart ('Most Played Juke Box Folk Records'). Minority musics were becoming more profitable, and the major record labels, having cut back recording of minority musics during the Depression, now fell behind in serving these newly lucrative markets. Dozens of now legendary rhythm and blues labels were soon formed, all of this signalling the beginning of the end of the domination of New York and Tin Pan Alley. In retrospect, the rise of rhythm and blues, crossover hits, rockabilly and so forth was inevitable.
None of this is to be regretted now; those of us who grew up after 1940 would hardly wish to trade the delicious shock of Amos Milburn's 'Let Me Go Home, Whiskey', or Carl Perkins's 'Blue Suede Shoes', for ASCAP's continuing restriction of the music market to Tin Pan Alley products such as 'Doggie In The Window'. Given the pop charts of the early 1950s, many listeners were bound to notice that more interesting things were happening elsewhere, and again we find apparently unconnected events combining. BMI affiliated with overseas societies, and from 1944 included the American Composer Alliance: Roy Harris, Walter Piston, Elliott Carter, Charles Ives and others became BMI composers. BMI has sponsored awards to student composers since 1951; its Musical Theatre Workshop (begun in 1959) and more recent Alternative Chorus Workshop have their best works presented annually to audiences of agents, publishers, producers and record company executives. BMI has long since become respectable, and in any case the competition of minority musics by itself could not have brought Tin Pan Alley and the Swing Era crashing down. There were many other factors, but among the most foolish were the musicians' union strikes.
James Caesar Petrillo was a pianist and bandleader in Chicago; his girl vocalist at one point was Frances Octavia Smith, later known as Dale Evans. Petrillo was already active in the Chicago local of the musicians' union in 1934 when it kicked the Kansas City band led by Harlan Leonard and Thamon Hayes out of town, whereupon Hayes, disgusted, quit the road, and Leonard had to start again. Petrillo, a combative little man who is said to have refused to shake hands for fear of germs, ranted against 'canned music' at the 1937 convention of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and was elected leader of the national AFM in 1940.
Record labels bore the legend 'unlicensed for public broadcasting', which was ignored. A suit had been brought by RCA, and Second Circuit Federal Judge Learned Hand ruled in 1940 that copyright was not infringed by the playing of a record on the radio. The decision was wrong and unfair, and a contradiction of the decision which had legitimized ASCAP in 1915, but Petrillo and the record companies were also shortsighted: broadcasting helped to sell records. It seems incredible now that the rivalry between records and radio had lasted for more than a decade, when the two industries were so important to each other, but it must be remembered that Martin Block's Make Believe Ballroom, the first noteworthy DJ format, only got started at WNEW in New York City in 1935. On the other hand, Milt Gabler was in no doubt about the value of radio: as a record retailer and at Block's suggestion, he was happy to sell the station not only Commodore records but also all the new releases from the other labels. In every industry it is often the people who do the business who make the best decisions, and in the music business, until more recent times anyway, they were often people who loved music. It is the power-brokers at the top who often get it wrong.
Petrillo commissioned bandleader Ben Selvin, who was already experienced in both recording and radio and had been a Muzak executive, to determine whether recordings were putting musicians out of live work. Selvin reported to an AFM convention in 1941 that record labels paid millions of dollars annually to musicians, and that union action was not the answer to problems caused by the mechanization of music. He received a standing ovation, but while the membership, and especially the bandleaders, agreed with Selvin, Petrillo demanded that record companies refuse to allow records to be played on the radio and jukeboxes, though they had already tried that. Then he ordered musicians to stop recording on 1 August 1942.
This had several effects. Studio time was booked solid in the weeks leading up to the strike, as artists tried to get their work recorded before the drought began; this should have been evidence enough that the strike was a mistake, but too often unions forget that their members are likely to know which side of the bread is buttered. It is impossible to know to what extent minority musics were given another boost; presumably there were blacks and hillbillies who did not belong to the union and did as they pleased during the strike. Old recordings were reissued: Dorsey, Miller and Ellington all had hits with sides recorded as early as 1938, some of them entering the charts for the second time. Frank Sinatra's 'All or Nothing at All', made with Harry James in 1939 and unnoticed at the time, reached number one in June 1943, while Bing Crosby's 'Sweet and Lovely', a hit in 1931, was again in the charts in 1944. But worst of all from the point of view of jazz and big-band fans, to say nothing of musicians, the era of the pop singer began.
The vocalists with the bands, such as Sinatra, Dick Haymes and Perry Como, and Kitty Kallen, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Georgia Gibbs, Margaret Whiting and Jo Stafford, had been becoming popular anyway, and they began their rise to domination in the post-war years. They were more logical heart-throbs for fans who bought records. In theory, anybody could sing, while it took many years to learn how to play a saxophone or a trumpet to professional standard. The words to the songs were important to the fans, who had been brought up on a steady diet of romantic love in songs and films, and were only too willing to imagine singing to each other.
This attitude toward singers as inspired amateurs was carried to absurdity by the musicians' union, which did not allow vocalists to join. So singers recorded a cappella during the strike: Haymes had eight hits backed by the Song Spinners, and Sinatra had seven with the Bobby Tucker Singers, with no instrumentalists at all. (The Song Spinners had a number one wartime hit of their own: 'Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer'.) In mid-1943 Bing Crosby's recordings of two songs from Oklahoma! with Trudy Etwin and the Sportsmen Glee Club were highly successful, while the biggest hit of the decade was the Mills Brothers' 'Paper Doll', which had no backing group. At a time when the demand for union musicians was greater than ever before because so many of them were being drafted, Petrillo helped the record business to discover that it could manage without them: singers were cheaper to record (later with studio musicians on salary) than name bands. Booking agents got the same message, as for various reasons big-band venues were already closing during the war.
The record labels eventually had to cave in: Decca signed with the union in September 1943, Capitol a month later, RCA and Columbia in November 1944. The War Labor Board had instructed Petrillo to lift his recording ban; Edward Wallerstein at Columbia wrote a bitter letter to Judge Vinson of the Office of Economic Stabilization, which ended:
The economic pressures on us are such that we can wait no longer and must now either sign or go out of business. Since no action has been taken by the government, we have today entered into an agreement with Mr Petrillo's union which will include provision for payments by us directly to the Union, the principle which we have resisted for more than 27 months, which we contested before government bureaus for sixteen months and which, although successful in our contests, we ate finally accepting because of the government's unwillingness or incapacity to enforce its orders.
Just in case he had not done enough damage, when disc jockeys were becoming ubiquitous and the record business was booming, Petrillo called a second recording ban in 1948, by which time many bands had folded. The result of the strikes was not more money for the musicians making the records, who had lost income through not being able to record during the strikes, but a tax on records which swelled the union's coffers; some of it was used to pay for free concerts. The best musicians thus subsidized the rest, and, according to a War Labor Board report, two-thirds of the union's rank and file did not depend on music for a full-time living anyway.
Petrillo was almost as well known in his day as John L. Lewis, the beetle-browed leader of the USA miners' union. To be absolutely fair, he had to get something right occasionally: Charlie Barnet wrote that when a Las Vegas club-owner wanted him to play in a parking lot, Petrillo wired him: 'Special scale for bands playing in a parking lot: leader $50,000.00, sidemen $1,500.00.' 'We never played in the parking lot,' recalled Barnet. In Chicago Petrillo had made the first agreement with a radio station and kept the peace between musicians and hotels and theatres. Nevertheless, Petrillo's Chicago local was violent and segregated -- the city had been a centre of recording of black music until a strike in the mid-1930s priced it out of the market for a decade -- and the damage Petrillo ultimately did to the big bands was immense. Bass player Red Callender was scathing about the musicians' union in his autobiography Unfinished Dream (1985): it was not the national union that integrated white and black locals, but the musicians themselves, who also had to sue the union to get their own money out of Petrillo's trust funds.
In the meantime, bands that had been going through an interesting formative evolution had not visited the recording studios, and much documentation of the music was lost, except for a few broadcast airchecks. Furthermore, during this period the public heard very little of the new music, which might have prepared listeners for the changes to come, changes which were out of the hands of the puny power-brokers.
The Second World War was the end of an era for all sorts of political, social and economic reasons, and the Big Band Era may have been coming to a close anyway. Bandleader Alvino Rey is one of those who reflected years later that the bands had neglected the dancers, who had made Goodman such a big success in 1935, by concentrating on flag-wavers and slow smoochers (with heart-throb vocalists) and offering little in between. Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Harry James and others hired string sections, a move which led nowhere in musical terms (partly because there were few arrangers who knew what to do with violins). But the immediate effects on music of the war were obvious. For one thing, country music became a big business.
In 1945 two soldiers in Europe wrote to Bob Wills to say that upon clearing out some 'Jerries' during house-to-house fighting, they had found some old records, one of which was Wills's 'San Antonio Rose'. (A quarter of a century later Apollo 12 astronauts broadcast the song to countless millions around the world, in an impromptu version from outer space.) The band of the early 1940s had been Wills's best, and the Tiffany Music transcriptions (220 selections made for radio stations in 1945-7) are probably the best Wills collection; he continued having hits until 1950, but with smaller and smaller groups. Decca made a new recording of 'San Antonio Rose' for jukeboxes in 1955, but it was not a patch on the original. Spade Cooley's big band filled California dance halls during the war, and he had a huge hit with 'Shame on You' in 1945 (vocal by Tex Williams). But the days of the big band were numbered.
Wills broke up his band in late 1942, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army at the age of almost thirty-eight, not knowing that nothing would ever be the same again. After being discharged in July 1943 he formed the biggest band he ever had -- twenty-two musicians and two vocalists -- but it did not record, and lasted for only six months. Times had changed: musicians were in short supply, the Depression was over at last and money was more important than loyalty. It was the same story for all the other leaders.
Country music had always been essentially a small-group music. In the late 1940s the singing cowboy Roy Rogers seemed more typical of country music than he was, with such tunes as 'Chickashay Gal' and 'Blue Shadows on the Trail'. His films, with Republic's sunset-like colour process, are still redolent of nostalgia for millions of ageing fans, especially the movies made with the Sons of the Pioneers. But more authentic country was also booming. Capitol Records, formed in Hollywood in 1942, was successful with Tex Ritter, and hired West Coast country disc jockey, bandleader and radio show host Cliffie Stone to build its country list; he signed Tex Williams, Jimmy Wakely, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Merle Travis; Williams's 'Smoke! Smoke! Smoke That Cigarette' (1947) was said to be the label's first million-seller. In 1949 the name of the Billboard country chart was changed from 'Folk Music' to 'Country and Western', after long agitation from those who disliked the 'hillbilly' appellation, especially in the West Coast scene that Hollywood had helped to create. Bing Crosby's hits with country songs encouraged more to break through to the pop chart in the form of 'covers', and in a survey immediately after the war Roy Acuff beat Frank Sinatra as the GI's favourite singer. Canadian-born Hank Snow, after many years of trying, achieved lasting stardom in 1950 with 'I'm Movin' On'.
But country music, though it was becoming big business, was kept in a commercial ghetto. The dominant Swing Era style had been a jazz-oriented one, and jazz itself, in a most dramatic development, moved away from mainstream public popularity to become 'modern jazz'.
In 1939, as politicians in Europe prepared to conduct their diplomacy by other means, Coleman Hawkins returned to the USA and formed an octet. In October he recorded 'Body and Soul', and reclaimed his title as the boss of the tenor saxophone. The technically interesting song was written by Johnny Green, an arranger, conductor and composer of film scores; he wrote few songs, but they are of very high quality, and include 'Out of Nowhere' and 'I Cover the Waterfront', also popular among jazz musicians. 'Body and Soul' was described by Alec Wilder as not only innovative but strange, having 'one of the widest ranges and one of the most complex releases and verses'. It is another example of a high-class artifact that was accepted by the public without a murmur. Virtually a solo with rhythm section, Hawkins's recording was good for romantic dancing and a big hit, but it is also an enduring jazz milestone. His harmonic commentary on the song becomes a lovely series of arpeggios; his controlled passion from the urgency of getting it all in imparts a forward motion, as does the way he divided the beat into unequal parts. Most jazz musicians did this, but Hawk imbued it with further urgency by 'swallowing' the second part of the beat until it almost disappeared.
Hawkins was apparently influenced by the pianist Art Tatum, whose technical wizardry was unique. Born virtually blind, Tatum began to perform as a teenager; he accompanied Adelaide Hall and made his first recordings in 1932. In 1934 he formed a trio with Slam Stewart on bass and Tiny Grimes (later replaced by Everett Barksdale) on guitar. He recorded exclusively for Decca well into the 1940s, but incredibly he was not recorded at all for two years in the late 1940s, later making solo and small-group albums for Norman Granz. His quartet set with Ben Webster, Red Callender and drummer Bill Douglass, made weeks before he died of uraemia, is one of the most beautiful albums ever made, though the sets with Buddy DeFranco, Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter are equally valuable.
Tatum acknowledged his debt to Fats Waller, but it was Waller who announced in a club with Tatum present, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I play piano, but tonight, God is in the house.' Tatum was not a composer (except in the sense that every great jazz musician is a composer); he embroidered standards. Using rich rhythmic and harmonic improvisation, he would paint himself into a corner, then miraculously escape, forcing his ideas to work after all. This was over the heads of some listeners, who complained that he played too many notes, which is one reason why his trio recordings were more commercial than his solos. After-hours recordings made on portable equipment by jazz buff Jerry Newman in 1940-1 show him in a relaxed mood, playing around the dud keys on a battered piano and quoting anything he liked while he did it.
Among Tatum's fans were Rachmaninoff and Vladimir Horowitz; Oscar Peterson had a photograph of himself with Horowitz and Tatum. Contrary to popular belief, Tatum was probably not a primary influence on Peterson, though they were friends. Peterson was afraid to play in front of him, but one night, playing in a club, he heard Tatum's voice from the audience: 'Lighten up, Oscar Peterson.' It is doubtful if Tatum could have been a primary influence on anybody, since his astonishing facility would be impossible to copy or imitate, but his complete freedom to do as he pleased, and his insistence on doing so, was of the greatest importance.
The small-group sessions described in the last chapter document some of the changes in music, and a clue can also be heard in the soundtrack of the 1943 film Stormy Weather, mentioned earlier. This all-black musical was almost the only one of its kind; the stars, who included Fats Waller, Lena Horne, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and Cab Calloway's band, played successful and glamorous characters as well as the downtrodden, albeit restricted to roles as entertainers. In the scene in which Bojangles dances to the music of a combo, although the men are dressed in rags and it takes place on a riverboat, the music is anything but backward-looking: the rhythm section is dominated by bassist Mitt Hinton, who plays the most ecstatically solid accompaniment, and the oompah two-beat style of New Orleans is abolished by the supreme court of music.
The unique harmonic richness of Duke Ellington's music must have been an influence on younger musicians. The success of Ellington's sensational bass player Jimmy Blanton in making the instrument an equal voice in the band was paralleled by that of young drummers like Kenny Clarke and Max Roach (who replaced Clarke in Hawkins's combo in 1943). Clarke became famous for 'dropping bombs' -- putting bass drum accents wherever the music seemed to demand them -- later explaining (not altogether convincingly) that his foot got tired. This further liberated the drum kit from timekeeping, and the bass player, who had to take over some of that role, often played on the beat instead of slightly behind it as during the Swing Era, again injecting more urgency and forward motion into the music.
Another new voice was that of the guitarist Charlie Christian, who was born in Texas and played in Oklahoma as a teenager. He brought a blues feeling to a new solo instrument, the electric guitar. He was not the first to play it, but the first to invent a vocabulary for it, using the sustained notes of equal value possible with amplification. His swing and his ear for harmony were impeccable, though his lines were full of rhythmic figures which might have become monotonous. But he did not live long enough to develop further, dying young, like Blanton, of tuberculosis. He has been an influence on every jazz guitarist since.
Minton's Playhouse was a Harlem club run by Henry Minton, a former saxophonist; in 1941 he hired manager Teddy Hill, another saxophonist, who had fronted an excellent band in 1936-7. Monday night was Celebrity Night, and not only visiting celebrities but young turks jammed there, playing free or for tips (the local musicians' union often turning a blind eye). Clarke, Christian, a strange young pianist called Thelonious Monk and a confident young trumpeter, John Birks 'Dizzy' Gillespie, were among the regulars at Minton's. But Monk and Clarke were the only ones who worked there; the others were hanging out. When Gillespie was working on 52nd Street with Benny Carter, Monroe's Uptown House was more convenient after hours; the musicians did not make any money there either, but both Minton and Clark Monroe made plenty of food available.
Milt Hinton lived across the street from Minton's. He described how 'so many kids from downtown, kids that couldn't blow, would come in and they would interrupt'.
So Diz told me on the roof one night at the Cotton Club, 'Now look, when we go down to the jam session, we're gonna say we're gonna play 'I Got Rhythm', but we're gonna use these changes. Instead of using the B-flat and the D-flat, we're gonna use B-flat, D-flat, G-flat or F and we change.' We would do these things on the roof and then we'd go down to Minton's, and all these kids would be up there. 'What're y'all gonna play?' We'd say, 'I Got Rhythm', and we'd start out with this new set of changes ... and eventually they would put their horns away, and we could go on and blow in peace and get our little exercise.
This accelerated what they were doing, according to Gillespie: 'playing, seriously, creating a new dialogue among ourselves, blending our ideas into a new style of music. You only have so many notes, and what makes a style is how you get from one note to the next.'
Another important double bass player was Oscar Pettiford, who had come from the Midwest; he played melody bass like Jimmy Blanton, but he had been influenced by Charlie Christian, a guitarist. At Minton's, Monk and Dizzy would be showing each other things on the keyboard, exploring chords and inventing a new way of playing. Unfortunately, there are no commercial recordings documenting the crucial period 1943-4 because of the musicians' union strikes.
Gillespie was greatly inspired by the extremely fluent Roy Eldridge, whom he had replaced in Hill's band in 1937. Gillespie wrote: 'Roy used to come by Minton's. "Look, you're supposed to be the greatest trumpet player in the world," Monk used to tell him, "but that's the best." And he'd point at me . . . Monk'll tell you the truth, whatever he thinks about it. He's not diplomatic at all.'
As a member of Cab Calloway's band (1939-41) Gillespie had written tunes like 'Pickin' the Cabbage'; he was already nicknamed Dizzy. His facility on the trumpet was similar to that of Tatum at the keyboard: he could do anything, and he was ready to do it. He worked with Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet and Earl Hines; he also began writing big-band arrangements, and he had become friends with Charlie Parker.
Parker, an alto saxophonist, had been a heroin addict since he was a teenager in Kansas City and was unreliable, which is why he was not recorded on Keynote by Harry Lim, who admired him. Lim's operation was based on efficient use of studio time, and Parker might not show up; he had been fired by Harlan Leonard and went in and out of Jay McShann's band. In 1978 James Lincoln Collier, in his otherwise unremarkable history of jazz The Making of Jazz (1978), speculated that the reason Parker died young, while Gillespie lived twice as long, was that Parker had less character. This is ridiculous. Gillespie and Parker were both black, both the same age, both from poor families and both brilliant musicians, but Gillespie's stern, loving father lived until Dizzy was ten years old, while Parker was spoiled by his mother, and his father, like many other African-Americans, had to be a travelling man, for practical purposes no father at all. The importance of the presence of both parents in the family has been too well established to be thrown away so easily.
As for Gillespie, he had not acquired his nickname for nothing. He was fired from Calloway's band for throwing a spitball, and had been guilty of too many pranks to be believed when he professed his innocence (though it seems to have been Jonah Jones who was guilty); afterwards he nicked Calloway with the knife he carried at the time. A good marriage no doubt helped Gillespie to survive, and what made this possible, again, was his earlier experience of a stable family life.
Parker tried to play in Kansas City clubs as a teenager, but was not ready. Having been treated with derision, he went away and practiced until he could modulate from any key to any other key, perhaps, it has been suggested, because he did not know that he did not need to know that much to play in a band. He was nicknamed Bird after Yardbird, meaning chicken, one of his favourite foods. (Dizzy called him Yard.) On his first visit to New York in 1939 he washed dishes in a club while Art Tatum was playing out front; soon after, while playing 'Cherokee' at a gig, he began to improvise on the higher intervals of the chords, instead of the lower. This required new harmonic resolutions, and was in effect a new tune: he was playing the music he had already heard in his head.
Parker recorded with McShann's band in 1940-1. He played tenor in the Earl Hines band, which also included Gillespie and Billy Eckstine, for decades one of America's favourite vocalists. Eckstine left to form his own band, with Parker, Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. Again, there were no studio sets by these epochal outfits, but recordings made in a hotel room in 1943 captured Parker on tenor and Gillespie and Eckstine on trumpets, just as the new music was being born.
Dan Morgenstern, in his notes for the complete Commodore recordings, describes one of the recording sessions as 'prototypical mature swing at its finest hour -- just before bebop would change things forever'. He is referring to a 1944 date led by drummer Big Sid Catlett, with John Simmons on bass, Ben Webster on tenor saxophone and the interesting Marlowe Morris on piano; any of these men could have played with anybody at the time. Morgenstern is, of course, quite correct; all the same, the changes were already in the air (even at Commodore, which recorded a good deal of what most people thought was dixieland, though it was essentially the Chicago style of the Austin High School Gang). It is easy to make too much of a distinction between 'modern jazz' and the Swing Era, as though we still have a hangover of the awful and ridiculous war of words that went on at the time between the 'mouldy figs' (those who thought that the original New Orleans style, and its Chicago offshoot, were the only true jazz) and the beboppers. The evolution was under way.
The Benny Goodman Sextet sides of 1939-40 (with Christian) already show a tightness and a forward energy, and Georgie Auld on tenor saxophone an insouciance, which was a portent. The Flip Phillips sessions recorded in 1944 by Bob Thiele, using sidemen from Woody Herman's band, were an example of music which is already modern, in comparison with any similar session of only a few years earlier, in the smoothness of the rhythm section, the stylishness of the riffs and other essential features. But it is true that it was in 1943-4 that the most dramatic turning point seems to have been reached, by the young black musicians who were ready to take things another step further, at precisely the time when the music was not being recorded.
The new music came to be called bop, short for bebop or rebop, onomatopoeic in origin from the music itself. The musicians used altered chords and wider intervals, and insisted on choosing a wider range of notes, a process that had been going on in classical music for centuries. Syncopation seemed to disappear altogether in the new, smoother rhythm section, but there were new accents within bars and even between notes, together with phrases of unusual lengths, so that even the rhythmic nature of jazz changed: an intense and technically brilliant music was created, full of pride, sardonic wit and fierce joy. The scene was accompanied by attitudes and language incomprehensible to outsiders; some of this had been pioneered by Lester Young, an influence in more ways than one, but the zany wit of Gillespie was also important.
Tempos were often furiously fast or very slow, but even when the tempo was slow the soloist might play fast, using what sounded to the swing fan like machine-gun runs of semiquavers. At the time the big bands were playing fewer tunes for dancers, and bop was not for dancers either. (Gillespie protested that he could dance to bop, and we do not doubt it, but most people did not.)
All the independent record labels of the early years of the industry -- Paramount, Gennett, Okeh and Black Swan, for instance -- had long since disappeared or been swallowed up. The 1940s was the second era (and not the last) in which independent labels were formed to serve an industry whose largest companies were geared towards serving the majority. It is remarkable that so many record labels were formed during the war.
Capitol, the first major label to be located on the West Coast, was formed in 1942 by record retailer Glenn Wallach and songwriters Buddy DeSylva and Johnny Mercer. The second record on the label, released in July, was 'Cow Cow Boogie', by Freddie Slack and his band, with vocalist Ella Mae Morse, a surprise million-seller. (For the story of that big hit, go here.) Capitol quickly became the most innovative company in the industry. The sound of the recordings made in Hollywood in 1945 by Coleman Hawkins, for example, was technically outstanding for the period; Capitol was the first to record everything on tape, the first to give free records to disc jockeys (not an unmixed blessing, in retrospect) and later the first to issue records at all three speeds.
Even more impressive was the number of labels formed expressly to serve the black community. Apollo was formed in the same year as Capitol in Harlem by Ike and Bess Berman to record black gospel music, and soon diversified into jazz and rhythm and blues. (John Chilton, however, writes that Apollo was formed by Teddy Gottlieb and Hi Siegel from their Rainbow Music Store.) Savoy was formed in Newark, New Jersey, by Herman Lubinsky, another record retailer. National was formed by A.B. Green in Manhattan in 1944, and its A&R director was Herb Abramson, later to be a co-founder of Atlantic. Syd Nathan left the department store business to form King in Cincinnati in 1945. DeLuxe was formed around 1944 in Linden, New Jersey, by Jules Braun and his brothers; Fred Mendelsohn formed Regent in 1947, Deluxe was sold to King and the Brauns and Mendelsohn formed Regal in 1949. (Mendelsohn formed Herald in 1952, and ended up succeeding Lubinska at Savoy.) On the West Coast, Specialty was formed in 1944 by Art Rupe, Black and White in 1945 by Paul and Lillian Reiner, Modern by Jules and Saul Bihari (soon to include subsidiaries Kent, Crown and Flair). At about the same time Leo, Edward and Ida Mesner formed Philo, which changed its name to Aladdin in 1946. Evelyn and Charles Aron formed Aristocrat in Chicago in 1947, joined by tavern owner Leonard Chess, who bought them out in 1948 and changed the name to Chess in 1950.
Mercury had been formed in Chicago in 1945-6, and ten years later it had the first rhythm and blues hit to reach number one on the national pop chart: 'The Great Pretender' by the Platters. Don Robey formed Peacock in Houston, Texas, in 1949, which was perhaps the first black-owned label since Black Swan, and more 'indie' labels followed in the early 1950s. But another remarkable thing about the independent labels listed in the last paragraph is that they were all formed by Jews, who in those days did not find it easy to make their way in mainstream business in the USA. (It was in 1947 that Laura Z. Hobson's best-selling novel about genteel American anti-semitism, Gentleman's Agreement, was filmed; unfortunately it was a dull movie.) The Jews who formed the classic indies in the 1940s lived and worked in black neighbourhoods, and knew and understood the music better than anyone at a larger company could (with the possible exception of Jack Kapp at Decca, who recorded a lot of minority music). If they had not taken the risks and done the work, the Lester Youngs on Aladdin and other priceless jazz, to say nothing of scores of wonderful rhythm and blues hits, would not exist. And these independents were the first to record bop.
Hawkins encouraged the boppers, employing them on recordings. Jazz historians have decided that the first bop recordings were made at a Hawkins session in February 1944 for Apollo, by a twelve-piece group which included Max Roach on drums, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Dizzy Gillespie in the trumpet section, as well as Don Byas in the reeds. (One of the most interesting transitional figures, who was at home in any decade's style, Byas spent his later life in Europe.) At a quartet date on another label in October Hawkins used Thelonious Monk; it was Monk's first recording session. A year later, on Savoy, Parker made his first recordings as a leader, with Miles Davis and Gillespie on trumpet (Gillespie played piano on some tracks), Roach on drums and Curley Russell on bass. The cats were well and truly out of the bag.
Cab Calloway called it 'Chinese music'. Boppers often flattened the fifth note of a chord, inventing short routes between keys; Eddie Condon said, 'We don't flatten our fifths, we drink 'em.' But Stravinsky had used flattened fifths in 1910, and Earl Hines, Bubber Miley and others in the 1920s. Bop was very obviously a black music, and the USA was not ready for black pride just yet. There were white boppers in black combos, for example trumpeter Red Rodney and pianists Al Haig, George Wallington and Joe Albany; but pressure on leaders to practice Crow Jim (the reverse of American racism, dubbed 'Jim Crow' from the early minstrel act) soon sent them into obscurity. (Some made comebacks as bop became repertory music in the 1970s.) It is said that bop left jazz in a shambles, but that is nonsense: the jazz content of pop music was decreasing anyway, and bop was not a revolution, but a further flowering of an art form already decades old, leading towards the emancipation of black music from ballrooms and taverns by making demands on the listeners. Bop was a natural musical evolution, though there must also have been a feeling on the part of the young players that they were taking their music back.
Bop was great fun for anyone prepared to listen, and the records are still selling today. The music business, however, mishandled it. The sudden success of Benny Goodman, then Tommy Dorsey and the others had come as a surprise to the industry in the mid-1930s, but those leaders were already insiders and good businessmen. The boppers were musicians (mostly black) who needed the patronage of the American music business, from the major labels to the disc jockeys, and they didn't get it. The major label that recorded the most bop was young and feisty Capitol (run by musicians). Gillespie formed the Dee-Gee label in 1951 and went broke, but the recordings he made hold up better than most of the pop music of the period. The music business (including broadcasters) co-opts and tries to control (or ignore) whatever it does not understand, as it did with rock'n'roll ten years later.
The first frenetic flowering of bop was temporary; the 'hot modern' music soon began to cool off, leading to several styles -- modern jazz, cool jazz, hard bop and so on -- as the classic New Orleans style had immediately begun to evolve two generations earlier. In the meantime black popular music already had two tributaries. If bop can be seen as the art music of the black American audience of, say, 1949, in that year the name for its pop music was officially changed: Jerry Wexler, then a reporter at Billboard, convinced them to change the name of the 'Race Records' charts to 'Rhythm and Blues'.
For the black audience there was so much new music to listen to that the ferment crossed over to some extent. Some of Lionel Hampton's big-band hits, with their strong backbeat, were not far removed from the R&B hits of later years, and in 1946 'Hey! Ba-ba-re-bop' parleyed its bop-derived nonsense lyrics to the number one spot on the black chart for sixteen weeks. Helen Humes (whose beautiful ballad with Basie a half-dozen years before had been 'Blame It On My Last Affair') had a big hit in 1945 with 'Be Baba Leba' on the new Philo label, backed by a Bill Doggett octet, and followed up in 1950 with the salacious 'Million Dollar Secret', which was recorded live with drummer Roy Milton's band in August. In November of that year she was backed in her live act by another jump band led by Dexter Gordon. A jump band was a small group that combined the beat and the drive of the big jazz band with the repetitious chorus associated with the blues, in effect making something new out of the Swing Era's predilection for riffs. Herb Morand was the trumpeter and manager of the Harlem Hamfats, one of the first jump bands, which began recording in Chicago in 1936; a 'hamfat' was a musician newly arrived from the South who was said to use fat to grease the valves in his horn, and such a group purposely retained the flavour of the South in their sound.
Far more successful than the Hamfats was Louis Jordan, who had worked in Chick Webb's band, occasionally singing as well as playing alto saxophone. In 1938 he formed his Tympany Five (actually larger than a quintet); his showmanship brought him to the fore, and he had nearly fifty top ten hits in the black charts in less than ten years, about twenty of which crossed over to the heretofore lily-white pop chart. 'Caldonia' was covered by Woody Herman in 1945 (and his 'Inflation Blues' by B. B. King in 1983); his version of Jack McVea's novelty 'Open the Door, Richard' (1947) was one of the most popular. His skill as a leader and his innovative vocal style not only made wonderful good-time music, but also may be seen in retrospect as an early example of a new black consciousness. The attitudes expressed in his vocals on many titles, such as 'That Chick's Too Young To Fry', 'Jack, You're Dead', 'I Know What You're Puttin' Down' and 'Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens', were redolent of a southern heritage, as well as of the rich humour and joi de vivre of the increasingly large urban black population.
Joe Liggins was a pianist, vocalist and bandleader whose goal was to create a big-band sound with a smaller combo; his own 'The Honeydripper' was number one for eighteen weeks in the black chart in 1945, and was followed by a string of hits up to 1951; his younger brother, guitarist Jimmy, was also in the charts from 1948. Lucky Millinder's band shrank until by the early 1950s it was essentially a jump band. Drummer and pianist Tiny Bradshaw had formed his own band in 1934, and finally had chart success from 1950 to 1953; among Bradshaw's tenor saxophones were Red Prysock and Sil Austin. The saxophone was the most important sound in the jump band era, and has retained an important role in R&B and rock'n'roll to this day.
Guitarist, vocalist and composer of novelty hits Slim Gaillard wrote 'Flat Foot Floogie', which was a hit in 1938 for Slim and Slam, Gaillard's duo with bass player Slam Stewart; several cover versions were also hits, notably that of Benny Goodman. Gaillard was a success in clubs on the West Coast during and after the war, and claimed years later that one of his fans had been film star Ronald Reagan; having invented a hip 'vout oreenie' language, he compiled a dictionary of it. In 1945 he recorded 'Floogie' again in Hollywood, with a small group including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and tenor saxophonist Jack McVea. One of the other tracks was a bit of laid-back jive called 'Slim's Jam': the men come in one at a time; Gillespie is in a hurry to get to another session; Parker borrows a reed from McVea, who knocks on the door as he enters, saying, 'Open the door, Richard!'
This was a reference to a comedy routine by Dusty Fletcher, one of the biggest stars in black variety: the comic arrives home late and somewhat the worse for wear and finds himself without a key; he cannot raise Richard, his flatmate, to open the door, because Richard has picked up a lady and is, er, busy. McVea subsequently composed a riff and turned 'Open the Door, Richard!' into a jump band set-piece which swept the USA in seven hit versions in 1947, among them those of Basie, Jordan, Fletcher and McVea. The novelty became so obsessive that a radio station in New York finally banned the tune, as well as the disc jockeys' Richard jokes.
Most of the small-group sessions recorded in the 1940s seem to have been saxophone-led, and the music is extraordinarily rich: there was a spectrum from pure jazz at one end to good-time exhibitionism at the other. The 'swingtets' from Blue Note, led by Ike Quebec and John Hardee, were beautiful tracks aimed at jukeboxes, as were Bob Thiele's Signature discs. Earl Bostic played alto saxophone; his compositions for big bands include Gene Krupa's 1941 hit 'Let Me Off Uptown' and he then had his own success in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Bostic had recorded some superb solos as a sideman at Commodore in 1945. He was also highly regarded as a technician and, in fact, had the reputation of sacrificing tone for technique. (Art Blakey later remarked that if John Coltrane had worked for Bostic, he must have learned a great deal: 'Nobody knew more about the saxophone than Bostic, and that includes Bird.') Bostic was among the first to employ Coltrane, as well as Benny Golson and Stanley Turrentine, and later wrote albums for Ella Fitzgerald and others.
Big Jay McNeely was the foremost practitioner of the acrobatic, honking R&B saxophone; his biggest hit was 'Deacon's Hop' in 1949, but he remained a legend in clubs well into the 1980s. Illinois Jacquet began with Lionel Hampton's big band, but recorded with his 'Black Velvet' combo for RCA; his main success was 'Port of Rico' on Mercury in 1952 (with Count Basie on organ). Arnett Cobb was another Texas tenor saxophonist whose ability to please a crowd obscured his excellent ballad playing. Johnny Hodges, who never honked, left Duke Ellington in 1951 and for five years led his own smaller group. His was certainly a jazz-oriented band, but his 'Castle Rock' was a hit in 1951, a good year for alto saxophones: Bostic's 'Flamingo' and Tab Smith's 'Because of You' were also hits. Jimmy Forrest was an underrated tenor saxophonist whose jump combo had a great success in 1952 with 'Night Train', actually an Ellington riff, which then became required learning for every embryo high-school rock band in the country.
The valedictory hit of the jump band era came in 1956, in time to let a whole new generation in on the secret: Bill Doggett's 'Honky Tonk' was number one for thirteen weeks in the black chart, and stuck at number two (for three weeks) on the national pop chart. Doggett, born in 1916, had played piano in many a big band when he formed a combo in 1952 and recorded this two-part instrumental, with Doggett on organ, Clifford Scott on tenor and Billy Butler on guitar. Its inexorable rocking lope made it one of the biggest hits the King label ever had.
Electric guitars and pure blues became increasingly stronger in the commercial market. Composer, bass player, guitarist, vocalist and ex-boxer Willie Dixon formed the Five Breezes and recorded for Bluebird in 1940, then with the Four Jumps of Jive on Mercury and the Big Three Trio on Columbia. He did not have a hit of his own until 1955, but meanwhile became Leonard Chess's right-hand man in the studio, as Chicago developed a blues scene of extraordinary power, headed by Muddy Waters, who brought the country blues to town. Muddy's first hit in the black chart was '(I Feel Like) Going Home' in 1948 on Aristocrat. John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson, born in Tennessee, paved the way for a whole generation of Chicago blues harmonica players and had a high entry in the black chart with 'Shake the Boogie' in 1947, the year before he was murdered. Guitarist and harmonica player Aleck Ford (also known as Rice Miller) had already worked as Sonny Boy Williamson in the early 1940s on the radio; now he adopted the name permanently, and, apart from having hits of his own, played on Elmore James's 'Dust My Broom' (on the tiny Mississippi Trumpet label) in 1952, which represents another direct link from the delta to the south side of Chicago. Chester Burnette acquired the apt stage name of Howlin' Wolf; his hits in the black chart began in 1951 with 'Moanin' at Midnight'. Riley 'Blues Boy' King recorded for Nashville's Bullet label in 1949; his 'Three O'Clock Blues' was enormously popular in 1951.
Vocal groups were coming up and inventing a whole new tradition of unaccompanied doo-wop, named after the 'doo-wah' vocal device commonly used in backing harmony. As their grandfathers had sung in barber-shops, so the young groups in the post-war years sang on street corners to get the girls; they rehearsed in hallways and alleys where they liked the echo, and they made uncounted numbers of obscure records on obscure labels. There were bird groups (the Crows, Penguins, Flamingoes) and car groups (the Cadillacs, the Lincolns, the Coup De Villes, the V-eights); there were Velvetones in New York and Chicago, the Vibranairs in Baltimore and the Vibranaires in Asbury Park. The Ravens reached the black chart in 1948 with 'Write Me a Letter' on National, the Robins in 1950 with 'If It's So, Baby' and the Dominoes, with Billy Ward and Clyde McPhatter, in 1951 with 'Sixty-minute Man', which was number one in the black chart for fourteen weeks. Italian-Americans also loved the tradition, and vocal groups both black and white became ubiquitous.
All this was in addition to solo singing, which ranged from beautiful barroom crooning to shouting Kansas City blues: Ray Charles was in Seattle imitating Nat Cole in the late 1940s; Kansas City's singing bartender Big Joe Turner had his first hit, 'My Gal's a Jockey', on National in 1946; pianist and vocalist Amos Milburn's long run of big R&B hits began in 1948. Pianist, singer and songwriter Ivory Joe Hunter had his first hit in 1945 with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers. He was later backed on records by members of Duke Ellington's band, and his soulful singing of his songs, for example, 'I Almost Lost My Mind' and 'Since I Met You Baby', achieved such crossover success that he was welcomed on the Grand Ole Opry before he died in 1974. Guitarist Johnny Moore's trio had years of popularity from 1946, with vocalist Charles Brown, who sang as a soloist on 'Get Yourself Another Fool' on Aladdin in 1949 (and toured as far as Scotland in 1990). Roy Brown's 'Good Rockin' Tonight' appeared in 1948 on Deluxe, and Ruth Brown's 'So Long' in 1949 on Atlantic. Black pop retained its emphasis on honest entertainment and could always be danced to, while white pop was flying around in smaller and smaller circles until it almost disappeared.
During and after the war much good music was still being played by big bands, among the best being that of clarinettist and vocalist Woody Herman, who started in show business at the age of six. He formed a band in 1933, but it failed. He worked for Gus Arnheim and then Isham Jones; when Jones retired, the band became a cooperative and each member owned shares. 'The Band That Played the Blues' had an integrity of its own from 1937 on the Decca label. 'At the Woodchopper's Ball' was a hit, 'Blues in the Night' was sung by Herman and the band's theme, 'Blue Flame', was named after a locker-room prank involving the lighting of naturally produced methane gas with a match.
As the original members left the band, a process accelerated by conscription, Herman bought their shares until he owned it. During the musicians' strike 'Woodchopper's Ball' was reissued and was again successful. Decca was one of the first major labels to settle with the musicians' union, but of twenty-four Herman titles recorded in 1944, only four were released. Meanwhile, the band that began recording for Columbia was entirely transformed. Bass player Chubby Jackson and pianist-arranger Ralph Burns had joined in 1943 (both from Charlie Barnet), and Jackson helped recruit most of the rest. Guitarist Billy Bauer had replaced the last remaining member of the old band; other key members were drummer Dave Tough (soon replaced by stand-in Buddy Rich, then Don Lamond), trumpeter/arranger Neal Hefti, tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips, trumpeter Pete Candoli and trombonist Bill Harris. Vocalist Frances Wayne's hits with the band included 'Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week' (on Decca), 'Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe' and 'Gee, It's Good to Hold You' (Columbia); Herman sang on the frenetic 'Caldonia'. But it was on the instrumentals that this band romped, stomped, swung and screamed, without ever going over the top: 'Apple Honey', 'Northwest Passage', 'The Good Earth', 'Your Father's Mustache', 'Blowin' Up a Storm', 'Sidewalks of Cuba' and the more relaxed 'Goosey Gander' represented a new generation of young white jazz musicians who had done all their homework and knew how to share the joy with the listener. Burns's 'Bijou (Rhumba a la Jazz)' featured Harris, who wrote the beautiful 'Everywhere' (arranged by Hefti). Margie Hyams played vibraphone, but was replaced by Red Norvo, precipitating a new, modern edition of the Woodchoppers, the band within a band: the nonet -- which included Herman on alto as well as clarinet, Jimmy Rowles on piano and the bright new trumpet star Sonny Berman -- recorded 'Steps', 'Igor', 'Four Men on a Horse' and similar unique soundscapes. As early as mid-1944 Candoli's sixteen-year-old brother Conte played in the band during his summer holidays from high school. The band gave a famous concert at Carnegie Hall in 1946.
Pianist Claude Thomhill had arranged and recorded 'Loch Lomond' with vocalist Maxine Sullivan in 1937; Thomhill's theme was his own composition, the impressionistic 'Snowfall'. Among the musicians he hired were trumpeter Conrad Gozzo (later one of the most sought-after studio musicians), Irving Favola and Lee Konitz on reeds and trumpeter Red Rodney, a young bopper who also recorded with Charlie Parker. In the 1940s Thornhill's innovative arrangements (many by the young Gil Evans) caught the ears of musicians and they were influential for decades. The quirky 'Portrait of a Guinea Farm' (1941) had a six-strong reed section; a choir of clarinets played a tune that could have been a Russian dance by Rimsky-Korsakov. The band's hits in the late 1940s included 'A Sunday Kind of Love', a good pop song with a vocal by Fran Warren, who in 1947 also recorded a sung version of 'Early Autumn' (written the year before by Ralph Burns as one of the four parts of 'Summer Sequence' for Woody Herman). In the same year the band recorded Parker's 'Thrivin' on a Riff', 'Donna Lee', 'Yardbird Suite' and 'Robbins' Nest' (a tribute to a disc jockey which became a sort of jazz classic, written by Sir Charles Thompson and Illinois Jacquet), as well as experimenting with such fare as 'La Paloma' (a Spanish song first published in the USA in 1877) and 'Warsaw Concerto' (an effective British film theme by Richard Addinsell), and such standard dance band material as 'Polka Dots and Moonbeams'. By this time Thornhill was using two French horns, a tuba and occasionally a bass clarinet, and also a crooning vocal group called the Snowflakes. Much post-war jazz, especially of the 'cool school', was influenced by Thornhill's willingness to experiment with textures and harmonies, all the while running what the public thought was a sweet band.
Pianist, arranger and composer Stan Kenton made his debut with his own band in 1941. He presented, successively, three of the era's best girl singers in Anita O'Day ('And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine', 1944), June Christy ('Tampico', 1945) and, in the early 1950s, Chris Connor; his sidemen in 1944 included Stan Getz and in the late 1940s Kai Winding (trombone), Vido Musso (tenor saxophone), Art Pepper and Bud Shank (alto saxophones), Maynard Ferguson and Shorty Rogers (trumpets) and Shelly Manne (drums), and in the early 1950s Lee Konitz (alto saxophone): most of the best white musicians in West Coast jazz. Apart from twenty or so pop hits, such instrumental tracks as 'Eager Beaver' and a frenetic 'Peanut Vendor' were highly rated. Kenton later turned to pretentious original music beloved of high-school bandmasters, and was prone to futile disparaging remarks about country music ('a national disgrace') and the Beatles ('children's music' -- though given the evolution of pop music since 1964, we see what he meant). In the 1940s his music was seen both as good pop and as good jazz, and indeed, a compilation on four Mosaic CDs of the arrangements of Bill Holman and Bill Russo (1951-63) revealed much beauty and fine playing, an admonishment to those of us who may have given up on Kenton too easily. But he insisted that his music be given parity with European classical music, which led to Kenton's most infamous album: Wagner played by a huge jazz orchestra. Self-conscious art and commerce do not mix well; Kenton was a good bandleader and talent scout, but not himself a particularly inspired composer, arranger or pianist.
Saxophonist Boyd Raeburn led a sweet band when he left college, but in New York in 1944 built a band full of young boppers; he could not record during the strike and henceforth recorded only for tiny labels. He became renowned for hiring such modernists as Sonny Berman, Al Cohn, Oscar Pettiford, pianist Dodo Marmarosa and clarinettist Buddy DeFranco. Dizzy Gillespie, Budd Johnson, and Tadd Dameron all wrote for the band; forward-looking in-house arrangers were George Handy and Eddie Finckel.
And there were up-to-date black big bands trying to play bop, though it is questionable whether a big band can play bop at all, just as Luis Russell could not play in the New Orleans style with a largish band twenty years earlier. Nevertheless, Billy Eckstine had one of the biggest, deepest and smoothest voices of all time, and with Budd Johnson had encouraged Earl Hines to hire progressive young musicians; in 1944 he and Johnson formed a band which until 1947 employed trumpeters Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and Kenny Dorham; Parker, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon and Lucky Thompson on reeds; and Art Blakey on drums. It played arrangements by Dameron, Johnson and Eckstine, and featured vocalists Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne. The band made few recordings, and its only hits were vocals by Eckstine, who sensibly made a career as a solo singer; his lovely work for MGM includes duets with Vaughan.
Gillespie, a composer as well as the most influential trumpeter after Armstrong, an engaging vocalist and a great showman, led exciting big bands between 1946 and 1949, recording for Musicraft, RCA and Capitol. If the line-up of sidemen was not quite as stellar as that of the earlier Eckstine band, it was more than adequate; among the reedmen alone at various times were Budd Johnson, Cecil Payne, Jimmy Heath, John Coltrane, James Moody and Paul Gonsalves. The arrangements by Johnson, John Lewis, Tadd Dameron, Gil Fuller, George Russell and others were influential as well as interesting. Cuban-born conga drummer and vocalist Chano Pozo, according to Gillespie, could play in one rhythm, sing in another and dance in a third, all at the same time. When they both worked for Cab Calloway, Gillespie had shared lodgings with Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauza (later Machito's music director), who introduced him to Latin music; Afro-Cuban jazz has been an enduring element to this day. Machito (Frank Raul Grillo) led one of the most popular Latin bands, whose music was often jazz-flavoured, and recorded with Parker, among others. Pozo was something of a roughneck, and was shot to death in a Harlem bar, but he wrote 'Tin Tin Deo' with Fuller and 'Manteca' and 'Cubana Be, Cubana Bop' with Gillespie and Russell, and played on Gillespie's recordings of the last two. In spite of everything, however, the band was not a great commercial success. And anyway, the big bands were about to disappear from mainstream popular music.
As a result of the wartime rationing of fuel, tyres and batteries, and the conversion of car factories to war production, it was increasingly hard for the dancers to get to the ballrooms and dance halls where the bands played. Furthermore, many young people had other things on their minds, such as letters from the local draft board. A stiff wartime entertainment tax made life more difficult for ballroom operators and booking agents, and was not lifted until well into the 1950s, long after most of the clubs and dance halls had closed. Despite the popularity of the bands, and the image we all have of Glenn Miller playing for large numbers of service men and women, the primary purpose of going to war was not to entertain: there was not that much work for musicians on the military bases, where many of the dancers had gone. Even making recordings was difficult during the war (when Petrillo was not trying to prevent it) because of a shortage of the main ingredients of 78s. (Capitol signed a young, not-very-good bandleader because his father owned a warehouse full of shellac.) The labels also bought old records and ground them up to make new ones; quality fell as virgin shellac was mixed with the recycled material. After the war the decline of the Big Band Era was hastened by social, economic and demographic factors.
Films made in the late 1980s, such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Good Morning, Babylon featured the famous Los Angeles 'red car'; in the beautiful Californian climate a great deal of dancing took place in outdoor pavilions, and before the war young people used one of the best public transport systems in the world to get there: they could take a trolley-car clear across Los Angeles for 5 cents. The red cars (the Southern Pacific Railroad) and the yellow cars (a smaller system, the Los Angeles Railway Company) together operated over 1,000 miles of track. A great many towns had similar networks knitting together suburbs and amusement parks, a good number of which had dance pavilions, which in turn gave employment to many a local musician, as well as to touring name bands.
In 1936 National City Lines had been created by a cartel including Standard Oil, Phillips Petroleum, Goodyear Tire and Rubber and General Motors, for the purpose of buying up streetcar lines and making bus routes out of them. Those who thought this should be prevented by introducing subsidies for public transport were labelled 'Reds' by newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, whose reactionary owner, Harry Chandler, sat on the board of directors of Standard of California and had interests in road construction. An affiliate of National City Lines began taking the red cars out of service and tearing up the track, and after the war most of the damage had been done: few young people in the late 1940s could afford to buy cars, so the decline of public transport was another nail in the coffin of live music. Today Los Angeles has one of the world's twenty-four-hour traffic jams, and is thinking about how to get rid of the internal combustion engine.*
The country filled up with ex-soldiers who set about starting families at the time of the rise of television. It was easier to stay at home and watch TV than it was to go out, and the end of the ballrooms also saw the decline of the cinema. (This was the beginning of the 'baby boom': an interesting corollary is that the preceding generation of teenaged girls was relatively small; readers of a certain age will remember that the difficulty of obtaining a babysitter was a stock joke in television sitcoms of the 1950s.) Add to all these problems the fact that after the war it was simply uneconomic to run a big band. Before the war Bob Wills could make good money playing at dance halls full of people who paid 75 cents to get in; but afterwards the cost of keeping a band together was much higher, while there were fewer dance halls and fewer dancers. In January 1947 the big bands of Woody Herman, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Carter and Jack Teagarden, as well as the all-girl band of glamorous Ina Ray Hutton, all folded. Some of these re-formed from time to time, especially Herman's, but that month was seen by the music business as terminal.
From 1939 clarinettist and arranger Les Brown had led a popular band, which had two number one hits: 'Sentimental Journey' in 1945, with a vocal by Doris Day, and 'I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm', which was recorded in 1946; during Petrillo's second strike against the record companies it reached the top of the charts at the end of 1948. Everybody knew it was the last number one instrumental of the Swing Era. It had been a heady time, when popular music was good and good music was popular, but it was over.
* See the Great American Streetcar Scandal.