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Making the Scene

Contemporary New York City Big Band Jazz

Alexander Stewart (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 416 pages
ISBN: 9780520249547
August 2007
$34.95, £27.00
Other Formats Available:
The received wisdom of popular jazz history is that the era of the big band was the 1930s and '40s, when swing was at its height. But as practicing jazz musicians know, even though big bands lost the spotlight once the bebop era began, they never really disappeared. Making the Scene challenges conventional jazz historiography by demonstrating the vital role of big bands in the ongoing development of jazz. Alex Stewart describes how jazz musicians have found big bands valuable. He explores the rich "rehearsal band" scene in New York and the rise of repertory orchestras. Making the Scene combines historical research, ethnography, and participant observation with musical analysis, ethnic studies, and gender theory, dismantling stereotypical views of the big band.
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Author’s Note

1. New York City Big Band Scenes
2. Behind the Scenes: Training, Rehearsals, and Gigs
3. The Rise of Repertory Orchestras
4. On the Inside: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
5. Making It Work: Leaders and Musical Direction
6. New Directions in Jazz Composition: Three Portraits
7. On the Edge: Sue Mingus and the Mingus Big Band
8. “In the Crack” to “Totally Outside”: Avant-Garde Bands
9. Jazz and Clave: Latin Big Bands
10. Going for It: All-Women Bands
11. Blood on the Fields: Wynton Marsalis and the Transformation of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

Appendix: Some New York City Big Bands Active in 1997–1998
Alex Stewart, a former freelance jazz musician, is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Vermont.
“A gold mine of information. . . . Stewart takes his knowledge of, and observations on, the subject and weaves them into a compelling narrative.”—Music Educators Journal
“An insightful and provocative exposition, the book is an overdue examination of an important area within jazz studies and, because of its approach, is of interest to ethnomusicologists in general.”—Tom Greenland Ethnomusicology
“One occasionally hears that ‘Big bands will come back’ but as Alex Stewart proves in this absorbing and well-researched book, they have never REALLY been that way.”—Gordon Jack Jazz Journal International
"Alex Stewart's excellent book tackles a subject which has been hidden in plain sight: the central importance of the big band, not as dead artifact of the Swing Era, but as a seminal and nurturing force through the entire history of jazz down to our own time. Through an attractive blend of ethnographic participant-observation, historiography, and formal analysis, Stewart puts the big band at the center of jazz, arguing for its indispensability as a locus of instrumental training and rehearsal, composition, legitimation, and professional networking. Informed and enriched by his own experience as a performer in those worlds as well by his ethnomusicological training, Stewart brings a multi-angled perspective to processes of music-making and career-building that are not often illuminated in scholarly or journalistic literature."—John Gennari, author of Blowin' Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics

"A superb book, combining first-class scholarship with the insights of a musician who was there."—Bill Kirchner, jazz musician, historian, producer

"I finished the book, then ordered two copies to give to friends. It was fascinating—I knew everyone!"—Carla Bley, composer, pianist, bandleader

"Most of the analytical literature of jazz deals with small-group jazz. This book contributes to a new understanding of familiar material by arguing for the continuing relevance of the big band format to current debates about the definition of jazz, the future directions of the jazz tradition, and the relationship between improvisatory freedom and composed order."—John Murphy, University of North Texas

"Alex Stewart has given us an account of the New York big band scene that combines a clear fondness for big band music, and the people who make it, with a razor-sharp analytical intelligence. His book makes the emphatic case that this music deserves serious attention; he has done us all—writers, players and listeners—a great service."—Steve Swallow, bassist, composer

"This is an important contribution to jazz research dealing with a formerly under-explored area. Stewart provides exceptional insight, taking advantage of his insider status as jazz musician/scholar. Variations of big band performance practice and stylistic approaches are explored through a collection of interviews, ethnnographic study, and score analysis. This book greatly complements and enriches the field of music study at large."—Christopher Washburne, Columbia University

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