In the years preceding the mid-1940s, the powerful American Federation of Musicians prohibited records from being played on sizable radio stations. The union had no problem with records being sold in stores to consumers or being played on jukeboxes. Consumers paid for the right to play them at home as often as they wished, and jukebox companies collected nickles each time records were played. The union collected a piece of that action.
The reason radio airplay was problematic had everything to do with money and clout. The union's contention was that musicians were paid only once to make a record. Yet playing that record over and over on the radio for commercial enrichment from ad dollars was money that neither the musicians nor the union ever saw. That was the money side of things. The clout side was that records eliminated the need for performing musicians. Unemployed musicians would depress union membership and dues, which in turn would compromise the union's financial standing and bargaining power in Congress.
As a result, radio stations in the pre-war years had to hire live musician and orchestras to provide listeners with music. Not until the settlement of two recording bans in 1944 and 1948 were radio stations permitted to play records freely on the air. As the airplay of records increased in the late '40s and '50s, the need for live musicians on the radio declined and radio orchestras fizzled out in the 1950s. In Europe, however, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia, where the radio air waves were controlled by the government and jazz was admired, radio bands became increasingly popular thanks to government subsidies.
One of Europe's finest radio jazz orchestras is the Danish Radio Big Band. Founded in 1964, the band has had a rich and glorious history. Not only are the musicians first rate, but the band often collaborated with American jazz expatriates and musicians passing through Denmark on tour. A six-CD set, The Danish Radio Big Band: A Good Time Was Had By All (Storyville), illustrates the band's recording legacy. The set features a sampling of tracks from the many of the band's previously released albums.
Here's how the box's six CDs stack up...
The Early Years: 1964-1974
That Jones 1978-First U.K. Tour 1987
At Home and Abroad 1991-1996
Django Bates, Bob Brookmeyer & Elaine Elias, Australia 1997
Silvania Malta, Neils Jorgen Steen, Martial Solal 1997-1999
Thomas Clausen, Palle Mikkelborg, Jim McNeely & Michel Camilo 1999-2001 & 2014
The recordings include guest turns by Stan Kenton, Ben Webster, Thad Jones, Ernie Wilkins, singer Georgie Fame, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Eliane Elias, Phil Woods, Martial Solal, Michel Camilo and others. Particularly noteworthy are the Webster tracks—Things Ain't What They Used to Be, Cry Me a River, Stompy Jones, Webster's Did You Call Her Tonight, Old Folks and Bojangles. Webster's breathy, sobbing tenor saxophone combined with the sensitivity of the band's arrangements were a perfect match.
Among the other highlights are the Thad Jones tracks, which shimmer with his arrangements' brassy sophistication. Also spectacular is Eliane Elias's One Side of You, with Elias on piano backed by Bob Brookmeyer's arrangement. Another favorite is Bill Evans's Show-Type Tune played by pianist Jim McNeely and the orchestra. The last one comes from the wonderful album The Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra and Jim McNeely Play Bill Evans.
The only problem with this fabulous box is that you're going to want to buy each of the individual albums from which these tracks originated. There's worse ways to spend money.
JazzWax clips: Here's Ben Webster playing Cry Me a River...
Here's Eliane Elias playing Bob Brookmeyer's arrangement of Just Kiddin'...
And here's pianist Jim McNeely playing Bill Evans's Show-Type Tune...
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