WWII Jazz Music: The Best of the Era

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


WWII Jazz Music was some of the best of the era. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the best songs and artists of the time.


Jazz music was one of the defining genres of the early 20th century. It emerged from the cultural melting pot of New Orleans in the late 19th century, and went on to become a hugely popular musical style in the US and beyond.

During the Second World War, jazz became an important tool for propaganda, helping to raise morale among troops and civilians alike. Many of the era’s greatest jazz musicians were enlisted to perform for the troops, and to record Jazz for Victory albums which were widely distributed.

In this article, we take a look at some of the best jazz recordings from the WWII era. From big band swing to bebop, these tracks capture the energy and excitement of a genre in its prime.

The Big Bands

he big bands were the face of jazz music during WWII. They were the most popular and well-known bands of the era. The big bands were known for their large size, with some bands having as many as 15 members. They were also known for their tight arrangements and for their swinging style of music.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra

The Glenn Miller Orchestra was one of the most popular and well-known big bands of the Swing Era. Formed in 1937, the orchestra had its first hit with “In the Mood” in 1940. The band became even more popular after Miller’s death in 1944, when it was led by trumpeter Tex Beneke. The big band continued to tour and record after the war, and its version of “In the Mood” remains a jazz standard today.

The Benny Goodman Orchestra

The Benny Goodman Orchestra was one of the most influential bands of the Swing Era. They were known for their unique blend of jazz and classical music, and their performances were wildly popular with audiences of all ages. The band featured some of the era’s most talented musicians, including clarinetist Benny Goodman, trumpeter Harry James, and drummer Gene Krupa. The Benny Goodman Orchestra made history in 1938 when they became the first jazz band to perform at Carnegie Hall. They continued to perform and record together until 1950, when they disbanded.

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was an American big band of the 1930s and 1940s led by Tommy Dorsey. One of the most popular and highly regard bands of its era, the Dorsey band’s signature tunes were “I’m Gettin’ Sentimental over You”, “Marie”, “On Treasure Island”, and his biggest hit single, “Boogie Woogie”. The Dorsey band had a large following both on radio broadcasts.

The Vocalists

Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington were all popular jazz vocalists during the WWII years. They each had their own unique style that made them stand out from the rest. Billie Holiday was known for her heart-wrenching ballads, Ella Fitzgerald was known for her scat singing, Sarah Vaughan was known for her smooth voice, and Dinah Washington was known for her bluesy style.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was an American jazz singer sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

Fitzgerald’s rendition of the nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” helped propel her to stardom in 1938. Beginning in the 1940s, Fitzgerald That same year, she won Best Female Artist at the second annual Esquire magazine award ceremony—the only woman to ever receive the honor—and recorded “Cow-Cow Boogie” with the Chick Webb Orchestra.

Fitzgerald continued to record hits throughout the 1950s such as “The Coffee Song” and “Mack the Knife”. She gave one of her most memorable performances at jazz festival in Newport, Rhode Island in July 1958; despite heavy rain that forced much of the audience to leave, Fitzgerald’s set was so well received that she was called back for five encores. The live album Ella in Newport documented the event.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and songwriter.
Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, Holiday began singing in nightclubs in Baltimore and New York City at the age of eighteen. She signed a recording contract with Brunswick in 1935. Collaborations with Teddy Wilson yielded the hit “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, which became a jazz standard. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Holiday had mainstream success on labels such as Columbia and Decca. By the late 1940s, however, she was beset with legal troubles and drug abuse.

After a short period of successful comeback performances in 1947, Holiday’s health declined rapidly during the last years of her life. She died of cirrhosis on July 17, 1959.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 12, 1915. His mother, Natalia Della Galella, was Italian-American, and his father, Anthony Martin Sinatra, was an immigrant from Genoa who worked as a professional boxer and later as a fireman. Sinatra began singing at an early age and made his first public appearance at the age of eight with the Hoboken Four. He sang in nightclubs throughout his teens and became known as “The Voice” after appearing on radio in 1931. In 1939, he signed with Columbia Records and released his first album,, “The Voice of Frank Sinatra.”

During World War II, Sinatra’s career was interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a Private First Class in the Armed Forces Radio Service and rose to the rank of Sergeant before being honorably discharged in 1945. After the war, he resumed his singing career and signed with Capitol Records in 1947. He released several successful albums with Capitol, including “Songs for Young Lovers” (1953) and “In the Wee Small Hours” (1955).

In 1953, Sinatra starred in the musical “From Here to Eternity,” which earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He went on to appear in such films as “The Tender Trap” (1955), “High Society” (1956), and “Pal Joey” (1957). In 1960, he formed his own record label, Reprise Records, and released his iconic album “Come Swing with Me.” Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Sinatra continued to release successful albums and appear in films such as “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), “Robin and the 7 Hoods” (1964), “Tony Rome” (1967), and “The Lady is a Tramp” (1977).

Frank Sinatra died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998 at the age of 82.

The Composers

During WWII, many Jazz musicians were drafted into the military. This included big names like Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. As a result, the quality of Jazz music during this time suffered. However, there were still some great compositions written during this era.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington was one of the most important figures in jazz history. He was a bandleader, composer, and pianist who wrote some of the most enduring standards of the genre. His career spanned five decades, and his concerts were among the first jazz performances to be presented at respected concert halls like Carnegie Hall. Ellington’s music is characterized by beautiful melodies, subtle orchestrations, and a swinging groove. He is considered one of the greatest American composers of all time.

George Gershwin

George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. He wrote most of his vocal and theatrical works in collaboration with his brother Ira Gershwin. He is best known for compositions such as “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924), “An American in Paris” (1928), “Porgy and Bess” (a 1935 opera) and “Somewhere” (from West Side Story, 1957).

Cole Porter

Cole Albert Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964) was an American composer and songwriter. Many of his songs have been adapted into films and television shows. Born into a wealthy family in Indiana, he defied his father’s wishes and took up music as a profession. He wrote his first song, “Goodbye, Old Gal,” while still in college. After college, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a composer and arranger for publisher Melrose Brothers.

Porter’s first big hit was the song “You’re the Top,” which was recorded by Ethel Merman in 1934. In 1936, Porter wrote the musical “Anything Goes,” which was a hit on Broadway. The show’s title song, “Anything Goes,” became one of Porter’s most popular songs. Porter served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and wrote several songs for the troops, including “Don’t Fence Me In” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”

After the war, Porter returned to Broadway, where he wrote several more successful musicals, including “Kiss Me Kate” (1948) and “Can-Can” (1953). Porter’s health began to decline in the 1950s, and he died of pneumonia in 1964 at the age of 73.

The Musicians

You can’t talk about WWII jazz music without talking about the musicians who made it great. Some of the most famous and influential jazz musicians of all time got their start during the WWII era. These included people like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman. They were all incredible musicians who had a major impact on the jazz scene.

Louis Armstrong

Armstrong was born in New Orleans in 1901 and learned to play the cornet in the city’s Waif’s Home and Station House No. 2 band. He began his professional career playing in brass bands and on riverboats on the Mississippi River, and made his first recordings in 1922. He moved to Chicago in 1924 to join the Creole Jazz Band (led by clarinetist Johnny Dodds) and made his first solo recordings that year. In 1925 he returned to New Orleans to play with his mentor Joe “King” Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. He took over as leader of the band when Oliver left for Chicago in 1927, and continued to lead various iterations of the band until 1931.

In December 1929 Armstrong made his most influential record, “West End Blues,” with his own band featuring Sidney Bechet on soprano saxophone, Earl Hines on piano, and Zutty Singleton on drums. The records he made with this band are considered some of the best of the pre-swing era. Armstrong moved to Chicago in 1930 to take advantage of the city’s larger music scene, and there he began working with pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller in a series of radio broadcasts that were later released as phonograph records. He also started working with arranger Fletcher Henderson, whose band was one of the most popular in the country.

In 1932 Armstrong began fronting a big band for Henderson, which became known as the Louis Armstrong Orchestra. He made several recordings with the orchestra that were commercial successes, including “Star Dust” (1932) and “Body and Soul” (1933). He also began appearing in feature films such as Pennies from Heaven (1936) and Every Day’s a Holiday (1937). In 1935 he started working with his All-Stars group, which featured some of the best musicians of the era including Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, Earl Hines, andJimmy Dorsey. The All-Stars became Armstrong’s primary musical outlet for the rest of his career.

Armstrong continued to tour and record extensively throughout the 1940s and 1950s, both with his All-Stars and with various other ensembles. He made his last recordings with Duke Ellington in 1966 but continued touring until 1971 when he embarked on his final world tour. He died of heart failure in 1971 at the age of 69.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 29, 1920. His parents were Charlotte and Charles Parker Sr. His mother was a musician who played piano at a local hotel. His father left the family when Charlie was just a child.

Charlie began playing the saxophone when he was eleven years old. He initially wanted to play the clarinet, but his family couldn’t afford one. He practiced obsessively and quickly became quite skilled. When he was fifteen, he joined Jay McShann’s band. They toured throughout the Midwest and South, playing at nightclubs and dance halls.

In 1939, Parker moved to New York City. He quickly became involved in the city’s vibrant jazz scene. He played with several different bands and soon developed a reputation as a gifted improviser. In 1945, he made his first recordings with the Dial label. These recordings helped to launch his career and established him as one of the most innovative and important jazz musicians of his generation.

Parker died of a drug overdose in 1955 at the age of 34. Despite his tragically short life, he left behind a lasting legacy. His music influenced generations of musicians and helped to shape the course of jazz history.

Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and singer. Gillespie was a leading figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz. He is remembered for his skillful and humorous scat singing and for popularizing the Afro-Cuban style of music known as “changuí”.

Gillespie was born in Cheraw, South Carolina on October 21, 1917. He began learning the trumpet when he was 12 years old. He played in local bands before moving to Philadelphia to study music at the Granoff Studios. In 1935, he moved to New York City and began playing with big bands such as Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman. He also began working as a session musician for recording companies such as RCA Victor and Columbia Records.

In the 1940s, Gillespie became one of the most prominent leaders of the bebop movement. He formed his own band, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Quintet, which included musicians such as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane. The group recorded several albums together and performed at clubs such as Carnegie Hall and The Hollywood Bowl.

Gillespie continued to perform and record throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He collaborated with a number of famous musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Otis Redding, and Frank Sinatra. In the 1970s, he toured Africa and Asia with his own orchestra. He also toured Europe with various jazz groups. Gillespie’s last public performance was at the University of South Carolina on April 30, 1993. He died two months later on June 6th at age 75.


In conclusion, WWII Jazz music was some of the best music of the era. It was a time when musicians were able to experiment with new sounds and styles, and the results were truly remarkable. While the war itself was a tragedy, the music that came out of it was truly something special.

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