Although the big bands are normally associated with a slightly later era, there were several large bands playing during the 1920’s and early 1930’s, including that of Fletcher Henderson. Bix Beiderbecke was a cornet soloist who played with several bands and was considered a legend in his time.
The mid 1930’s brought on the swing era and the emergence of the big bands as the popular music of the day. Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie led some of the more popular bands. There were also some important small group swing recordings during the 1930’s and 1940’s. These differed from earlier small groups in that these featured very little collective improvisation. This music emphasized the individual soloist. Goodman, Ellington, and Basie recorded often in these small group settings. Major saxophonists of the era include Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Ben Webster. Trumpet players include Roy Eldridge, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Cootie Williams, and Charlie Shavers. Pianists include Ellington, Basie, Teddy Wilson, Erroll Garner, and Oscar Peterson; guitarists include Charlie Christian, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessell, and Django Reinhardt; vibraphonists include Lionel Hampton; bassists include Jimmy Blanton, Walter Page, and Slam Stewart; drummers include Jo Jones and Sam Woodyard. Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Ella Fitzgerald were important singers in this era. Most of these musicians recorded in small groups as well as with big bands. The styles of these musicians can best be summarized by saying they concentrated primarily on playing melodically, on the swing feel, and on the development of an individual sound. The blues was, as in many other styles, an important element of this music.