[Dixielandjazz] Shaw and "string sections in jazz"

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Sat Jan 1 12:28:45 PST 2005

One more note on Artie Shaw.

During the 40s, there was a recurring discussion in Down Beat and 
Metronome asking "Can a string section be used effectively in jazz?" 
Shaw was a pioneer in integrating strings with his big band, as on 
"Frenesi" and other records.

It sounds naive now, but early on, when you heard strings in a big band 
jazz context then it actually sounded "foreign." Folks' ears weren't 
attuned to it. String sections were identified with classical music, 
early dance bands and Mickey groups that played "corny," backup for 
torch singers and crooners, etc. Even in the 50s, strings were seen 
either as suspect (Stan Kenton's use was called pretentious) or a very 
big deal, as when the "------------ with Strings" LPs came out (Charlie 
Parker, Clifford Brown, etc.; the earlier Bobby Hackett/Jackie Gleason 
sessions weren't promoted as jazz but as jazz-tinged easy listening).

I don't remember when this changed--don't recall a particular band or 
recording that was called the groundbreaker, but I do know that by the 
60s, arrangers were using strings routinely, even with pop/R&B stuff 
like the Temptations' excellent "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." This isn't 
an OKOM question, but does anyone on the list have some thoughts on it?

Charlie Suhor

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