Big Band Boulevard
Program #05 (December 9, 2018 at 6 p.m.)
Big Band and swing tunes with featured bandleader Jimmie Lunceford. Also selections from Glenn Miller, Harry James, Gene Krupa and more.
Jimmie Lunceford, American big band leader whose rhythmically appealing, well-disciplined orchestra was one of the most influential of the swing era.
Lunceford’s band (which was sometimes called “Jimmie Lunceford’s Harlem Express”) was characterized by a two-beat rhythm that came to be known as the “Lunceford beat” and was celebrated for the remarkable precision of its playing. Lunceford insisted on long rehearsals to achieve such proficiency, as well as to polish the band’s humorous and highly visual stage act. “A band that looks good, goes in for a better class of showmanship, and seems to be enjoying its work will always be sure of a return visit wherever it plays,” Lunceford once said. During performances, musicians would spin, toss, and catch their instruments with drill-team precision, incorporate dance routines or glee-club-style singing, and end each show with choreographed bows. Yet showmanship was always secondary to the music. Lunceford himself was a competent musician, but he rarely performed with the band (his flute passage on “Liza” is his only recorded solo), preferring instead to conduct. His skills as a conductor are reflected in the precision of the band’s attack and ensemble playing, as well as its dynamic subtleties.
During its peak period (1934–42), the band had 22 hit recordings, more than any other black band except Duke Ellington’s and Cab Calloway’s. These included “Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It),” “Organ Grinder’s Swing,” “My Blue Heaven,” and the band’s two best-known numbers, “Rhythm Is Our Business,” its theme song, and “For Dancers Only,” its most celebrated recording. In 1940 Lunceford’s orchestra won a battle of the bands over a field of 28 groups, among them Count Basie’s, Glenn Miller’s, and Benny Goodman’s.