The Standardised Jazz Orchestra

The first standardized form of the jazz orchestra seems to be the New Orleans band of 1900. (Regrettably there are no recordings of this band). Our only indisputable clues today to the actual character of old New Orleans jazz are the rather rough, foursquare brass-band-like recordings made by the famous Original Dixieland Band in 1918. And the Dixieland Band, though from New Orleans, was neither the original music of the African American, nor a typical New Orleans, band. It consisted of a trumpet, a clarinet, a piano and drums.New Orleans bands, the first of which seems to have been Buddy Bolden's in the late 1890s, must have produced a rather raw, brassy kind of jazz. They typically had a trumpet, a trombone, a clarinet, a string bass, drums and a banjo or guitar. In Buddy Bolden's band the trombone was not the usual slide trombone but a valve instrument, which was really quite unusual. A violin (there, he was a genius wasn't a, what happened to the violin sections of jazz band since those days?) was often added to this combination, perhaps mainly as a marketing ploy to make it seem more respectable. The result must have been a strange mix of elegance and roughness compared to the smooth technical dexterity of later jazz (particularly with a slide trombone). It's probable that it sounded rather like the march time of the contemporary piano rag.

When the New Orleans bands moved North with the dissolution of the old Storyville red light district in 1918, the classical simplicity of this jazz band combination changed. "King" Oliver, one of the first bandleaders to move permanently in Chicago, added a piano to his band resulting in a band style and lineup that was to become typical of Chicago, rather than New Orleans jazz. The special New Orleans jazz tradition undoubtedly significantly influenced the development of jazz as a popular art form, but its contributions in the field of orchestration were soon to be overtaken.

By the time "King" Oliver and his band became popular in Chicago, America had caught jazz fever and there were already masses of jazz bands throughout the USA. Many of the old New Orleans bands had toured extensively on the vaudeville circuits. Hot jazz was already a familiar thing in Harlem and New York's famous Roseland ballroom. Sweet jazz, for dancing purposes, was a commonplace in high schools and colleges. Sweet jazz pioneers like Art Hickman of San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel, had been playing smooth jazz since 1914. Shortly after this Paul Whiteman assembled the first of his big jazz bands, and was soon to appear at the Palais Royal in New York. For nearly fifteen years, jazz in one form or another had made sporadic appearances in the larger American cities. It was not called jazz at the time, but it was a different sort of music from that played by old-fashioned restaurant and hotel orchestras. It included employed saxophones and characteristic rhythm sections as early as 1905, when Will Marion Cook's Memphis Students appeared for a stand at Proctor's Twenty-third Street Theatre in New York. It was certainly a different sort of jazz from the original, but it all included the jazz style syncopation. And by the end of the first World War it was becoming a fairly standardized musical form, and became a part of the popular musical revolution.
In 1917 the American popular music scene was confused, and it didn't really crystallise until later. Theatre and movie-house orchestras suddenly began to change their orchestration following the new style introduced by the hotel dance bands. Tin Pan Alley arrangers began introducing saxophones into their standard commercial orchestrations and leaving out instruments like second violins, oboes and cellos. Three years later the hit song Whispering became a top of the pop saxophone hit. Ragtime piano playing, either solo or with a jazz band comprising drums, violins, trumpets, trombones et cetera, had been sweeping America since the 1900s, and with special exuberance since 1910. The large jazz band is taking over with well-developed orchestration style. The New Orleans African American musicians like Louis Armstrong and "King" Oliver, who came North at this time, perhaps found the Northern tradition of instrumentation an improvement on the New Orleans variety. Or perhaps the great popularity of the larger Northern bands took their fancy. At any rate, they practically all joined or formed Northern type bands in Chicago, and the real old-style New Orleans band virtually disappeared overnight.
This Northern and Western types of band, which were to become the standard jazz orchestra of the 1920s ranged in size from eight to fifteen musicians. In it all out form the jazz band comprised of subdivisions, a format recognized by all jazz orchestras of the period. These were the brass section, the reed section and the rhythm section. The brass section commonly comprised two to three trumpets and two to three trombones; the reeds, two to four (usually four) saxophones and a clarinet (sometimes played as an alternate instrument by one of the saxophonists) ; the rhythm section, a piano, a guitar (or banjo), a bass tuba (or string bass) and a set of drums. This was the typical orchestral lineup that was used by virtually all the big name bands from Whiteman to Glenn Miller and from Fletcher Henderson to Duke Ellington. There were also smaller versions. The standard orchestrations of the Tin Pan Alley publishers were aimed for years at a somewhat more modest ten-man combination distributed as follows two trumpets and a trombone; three saxophones; piano, tenor banjo, tuba or string bass, drums; solo violin. (economics were important even than, but things have got worse and it's rare for people to book a jazz band from Midsummer music that is much bigger than 4 to 6 musicians):
Unusually, the violin was commonly a standard instrument in the band the 1920s, though it has virtually disappeared from the jazz band and jazz big band, and only came back in the 1970s and 1980s with the light music orchestras that had some elements of jazz to them. This was possibly because the leaders of many theatre orchestras, (as is the case with a string quartet or a classical chamber Orchestra) of the period were violinists and had to be included by the Tin Pan Alley orchestrators. As a jazz instrument, the violin has never been much of a success except in the hands of a few isolated specialists like the very gifted jazz violinists Joe Venuti, who died in 1978 and Stefan Grappelli who I heard at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh before his death in 1997. The music is truly spectacular, but as a violinist myself (classical with my string quartet and folk with my ceilidh bands and barn dance bands.), I feel is not so much a problem of jazz on the violin but of the violin playing with trumpets and woodwind, where a single saxophone can drown out a violin completely. The jazz violin is best in my view in a jazz trio or quartet made up of violin, double bass, piano and percussion, where very importantly the pianist and the drama have to be able to play sensitively and quietly. It's so easy for a drum set to drown out everything around it, and a violin soloist is easy game. Even the piano is an overpowering instrument, been to so many concerts, all played myself with pianists who have no idea of ensemble and will drown out the violin. In folk music to, this can happen, but this time with the accordion. I remember going to concerts of the Shetland fiddler, Aly Bain (as a fiddle in a ceilidh band, I was of course looking forward to this.) What a disappointment! There was some guy hammering away on a huge million base accordion, the fiddler might have been there or might not have been, who knows?
Going back to the size of bands in the 1920s, still smaller combinations were frequently found among the improvising bands. The commonest of these were perhaps the eight- and piece bands comprising one or two trumpets, a trombone, a clarinet, one or two saxophones, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Something to be aware of in the combinations of instruments is firstly that the brass, reeds and rhythm sections were in each case fairly evenly represented. Second, there was always a piano. Third, saxophones were practically always present, and in the larger combinations were used in powerful ensembles of three and four at a time. Fourth, the rhythm instruments (piano, guitar, bass and drums) were of course indispensable. When the size of the orchestra was reduced, it was brass or reeds that were cut out. In the style of the day, four rhythm instruments were required whether the band was an eight or a fifteen piece band.
The sections of a large jazz band or jazz big band akin to the classical division of the symphony orchestra the sections of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. (Of course, has said elsewhere, the simplest form of these voices instrumentally is the classical string quartet, with two violins, viola and cello taking these voices). On a small scale, these sections were often treated by jazz arrangers as a classical composer would handle a Symphony Orchestra. But sections of saxophones, brass and percussion were really evolved for a different function from that of their symphonic counterparts and which was to do with the internal structure of the jazz idiom. As I commented before, the make up of the standard jazz ensemble was probably strongly influenced by the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic character of the song-style jazz that resulted from the invention of the blues. This musical genre, and the jazz that grew out of it, demanded instruments capable of imitating the emotional inflections of African American vocalisation. As a melodic instrument the violin, for example, was by nature too restrained and formal (or so that's the natural wisdom, but you ain't heard me play on my fiddle man!) The violins range, too, was in general somewhat high for this sort of focal utterance. And it was a difficult instrument, played generally by highly trained musicians who did not have the ability or inclination to go while, or to fall into the the Afro-American rhythmic sense, that jazz required. This is why jazz played by classically trained musicians is often so flat and stilted. Often wonder what it would be like to ask a typical Eastern European string quartet to play jazz. I guess they would probably build to it quite well, as the Eastern European style of violin playing is heavily influenced by gypsy violin playing, which is as wild in the abandoned is Afro-American jazz, and in some ways is much faster and more extreme. This is perhaps why in Prague and Budapest and other Eastern European capitals, there are so many excellent jazz clubs? Going on with the analysis of instruments in the jazz lineup, the flute, for another example, was too unemotional an instrument, too limited in its range of dynamic contrasts for this kind of jazz, though it is well used instrument in the lounge jazz and modern jazz, which is far less emotional in its form.