The 1930s and 40s were a good time for jazz music, when club-goers danced the East Coast Swing as a 17-piece band filled the dancehall with the full orchestra sound of big band music. Big band, likely the most aptly named genre of music out there, really picked up around that time and is still with us today. Groups across Atlanta keep the era of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman alive.
Big Band Atlanta is one of those groups, adding an eighteenth player to the traditional 17-piece big bands, which are made up of four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones and a four-member rhythm section. Big Band Atlanta will bring all 18 band members out to play Friday Night Live at Atlantic Station this week.
Big band is the largest of jazz combos, and therefore is the most versatile. Because big bands have more individual pieces they can each play a wide range of harmonies and create a fuller sound, said Nick Menasco, Big Band Atlanta’s musical director.
Atlanta’s big band community is pretty tight-knit and fluid, because musicians regularly play with a number of different groups. Trumpeter Alan Olson was playing with a group in Peachtree City about five years ago when he decided he could start his own band closer to home. That’s when Big Band Atlanta was born.
Olson now refers to band practices as “musicians’ bowling night,” citing the camaraderie between all of the musicians coming together to share their love of music during rehearsals.
By day, Olson and a few other members of the band work in information security technology.
“Everyone we see during the day just thinks we’re geeks,” he said. “Then we get to put on our suits and grab our horns.”
Each member of Big Band Atlanta comes to rehearsal with different experiences, such as Olson, who is also an enlisted member of the Air National Guard band. But when Menasco can get all 18 people thinking the exact same way, it’s exciting and creates a powerful sound, Olson said.
The big band era brought one of the only truly American forms of music. Still, neither Olson nor Menasco discredits other genres.
“I can appreciate a punk band if they’re all in sync, playing well and enjoying themselves,” Olson said.