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On any given night, one full 16-piece jazz orchestra is sure to be playing somewhere in Tokyo. Considering the generally small stages, lack of practice rooms, band members’ tight schedules and competition from small combos, it is amazing that big bands regularly pack Tokyo’s jazz clubs. But they do. The sheer impact of hearing a large band live is one obvious reason, but it’s also their diversity and updating of styles that make them a vital element of the local jazz scene.

In the United States, big bands fell out of favor after the war, partly because of economic constraints, but also because of the be-bop revolution. Instead of providing dance music in large halls, jazz bands downsized and compositions were shortened to give players more time to improvise. In response, many larger bands moved toward harmonic complexity and an orchestral approach aimed at creating a beautiful sonic landscape. But the concept of jazz had already moved toward small combos, short lead lines and an emphasis on improvisational virtuosity.

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