The Count, The Duke, The King and Glenn: Music of the Big Band and Swing Era
William Carson, Alma A. Turechek Professor of Music
April 4, 11, 18, 25
This forum will highlight the stories and music of four fantastic big band leaders who dominated the swing era: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman (“the King of Swing”) and Iowa’s own Glenn Miller. The series begins by exploring the developments that led to the emergence of the swing era and the prominence of big bands. This session will also trace the rise of Count Basie’s band from obscurity to pop musical leadership, allowing us to recognize the band’s most significant soloists and other important band leaders like Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb along with issues of race and privilege. Week two continues with Ellington’s band, following its story from early days as “the Washingtonians” to Ellington’s later symphonic and sacred works. Musicians associated with Ellington, like Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams and Billy Strayhorn, will also be discussed. Participants next learn about Goodman, from his humble musical origins in a Chicago synagogue band to his triumphant Carnegie Hall jazz concert and beyond. Important sidemen like Gene Krupa, Harry James and Lionel Hampton will figure prominently in this story, as will Goodman’s insistence on racial integration. Finally, Miller’s story takes us from his early years in Clarinda, Iowa, to the height of his fame in the early 1940s to his disappearance over the English Channel in 1944. It also shows how World War II and a musicians’ union strike contributed to breaking up the big bands and catalyzed a return to small-group jazz and the birth of bebop.