The Wonderful Territory Bands

"If anybody wrote a book about Territory Bands, - nobody would believe it!" -- Lee Barron


Back in 1989, when the Big Bands Database placed the first version of the Territory Bands Database online, there was no other such compilation anywhere in the world. 18 years later, this is still the only such database.

The history of the "Territory Bands" is a tale of un-inhibited joys, deep sorrows, unbelievable experiences, once-in-a-lifetime-events, and the making of what ultimately became (in the words of famed composer/author Alec Wilder) "The American Popular Song".

While our currently popular music seems far removed, never-the-less, the roots of our present day music can be directly traced back to the pioneering work of these now largely forgotten bands. They deserve a much better fate.

This 'Territory Bands Database' is still very much a work in progress. There is so much more that we shall be adding. With this in mind, we do ask that folks with still more information on the bands and musicians listed here, as well as bands and musicians not currently listed, contact us so that we can place their information online too.

Throughout the 1920's - 1950's, New York city was home to the nation's recording and broadcasting companies,. Many of the most famous bands were based in New York City. In addition, the city provided a very large pool of musicians for the bands,

Because of this, many folks jump to the conclusion that New York was the "hub" of musical excitement.. . While many of the great bands toured extensively, they almost invariably started and ended their tours in New York.

But New York was by no means the entire story. There was a huge number of excellent bands that rarely visited New York or Chicago; some never at all. They were based in smaller cities and often employed a fairly stable roster of sidemen.

These bands were referred to, by music industry insiders, as Territory Bands; a term which should NOT be regarded as perjorative or demeaning. By and large, Territory Bands, both 'Black' and 'White', never achieved national prominence, or worked in the large cities. They were local, musicians. They toured their area playing in cafes, ballrooms, touring minstrel and vaudeville shows, school affairs, and such. For, these were usually the only venues available, -especially for the Black musicians.

The "name" bigbands made the headlines, but the territory bands disseminated the 'sound'. In Kansas City, the sound was 'Blue-sy'; the Southwest had a certain 'western swing' sound, and so forth. Overall, they played a rather eclectic mix of Classical, Popular and Ragtime music. While their local performances were rarely recorded, their playing was usually happy, lively, and they supplied their audiences with reasonably high quality entertainment. Many of the bands were fully the equivalent of any of the nationally known or so-called 'name' bands.

The home 'territories' were loosely defined, but some classifications have emerged. Generally speaking, the areas were defined as Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, West Coast, Southwest and Northwest. In addition, some state-groupings became common. One such group was usually referred to as MINK - Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Another group was VSA - Virginia, South Carolina and Alabama.


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© Copyright 1979-2008   |   Murray L. Pfeffer   |   All Rights Reserved