When I was young bass viols and guitars were acoustic. The only electric instrument was a “steel” guitar and you only saw those in country bands. I was fortunate in that I grew up in the big band era. Glenn Miller, Harry James, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman – those were the days. All the radio stations played big band music, and a huge deal for radio networks was a “remote broadcast” from some ballroom or hotel where a big band was playing a dance.
My introduction to playing music was in grammar school where we had a drum and bugle corps. I played the bugle. In high school we had no music program, but a lot of that was during the war years so I guess instruments were hard to come by. I bought myself a tenor saxophone from Sears-Roebuck and took lessons and taught myself to play it. It wasn’t until I reached college that I got to play with bands. The marching band and “concert” orchestra, of course. But that was not where the fun was. I started playing in a Dixieland 8 piece group. We had a 16 or 32 bar written “chorus” or “riff” and then it was every man for himself playing a solo, then back to the riff to close out. Those were called “head” arrangements. My greatest joy was the opportunity to play with a big 18 piece band. According to who showed up I played tenor sax, alto sax, baritone sax and occasionally clarinet – but my favorite was always the tenor; it has such a lovely tone.
There is great joy in working together as a team to make music. There is just nothing to compare. Sadly the big bands went away because of union rules and that made it too expensive for bands to travel and perform. And, of course, today’s radio stations are all talk or hip-hop crap or elevator music.
I tell you all this because my wife just gave me an Internet radio and once again I can enjoy listening to big bands. And here is the weird, almost magical thing to it. Only another musician will understand, but they will. I haven’t picked up a horn in fifty years. But when I listen to a band now when the tenor sax takes a solo, for a millisecond before he hits a note – I know, and can hear in my head what that note will be. It’s a weird sensation, but I love it.