The publication, Metronome Magazine, served as a source for music enthusiast to learn about current happenings on bands, recordings, and radio programs. The magazine was published from 1881 to 1961, and during the 1930's, 40's and 50's, the magazine primarily focused on jazz. From 1939 to 1961, the magazine gave readers, and critics, a chance to cast their opinions on the most influential player for a given year. Not only were the results from these polls documented annually in the publication, Metronome facilitated a recording session that brought together all of the poll winners. These recording were released as the Metronome All-Stars.
The Metronome All-Stars was comprised of musicians from all over the country, some of which had never played together before the recording date. The recordings give some insight to the transition from Swing to Bebop, since the earliest Metronome All-Star recordings catered towards a Swing Band approach, and following the 1942-44 Recording Ban, the music changes to that of Bebop. Nonetheless, the music created had rich textures and was full of harmonic color since it drew from so many of the best players in jazz during that time. Much of the music recorded has since been performed only a handful of times.
In 1941, the Metronome All-Stars recorded a composition by pianist and band leader Count Basie entitled "Royal Flush". Basie grew up on the east coast and eventually moved to Harlem, New York City in the 1920's. By the 1930's he was a member of the Benny Moten band that was based out of Kansas City. With Benny Moten, Basie had the opportunity to tour to cities such as Chicago and St. Louis. It was also during the 1930's that Basie started his own big band, one that he continued to lead for 50 years, up until his death. Some of the best musicians in jazz got their start with Basie's band including tenor saxophonist Lester Young and guitarist Freddie Green. Basie's music and arrangements are staples of the Swing style and the Big Band era. In 1941, he recorded his composition "Royal Flush" with the Metronome All-Stars that included trumpeter Roy Eldridge, guitarist Freddie Green, and drummer Gene Krupa to name a few.
The first Metronome All-Stars recording to come out after the 1942-44 Recording Ban was still in the Swing style, even though the music of Bebop and Charlie Parker had received some recognition from audiences. The 1946 Metronome All-Star band included Cootie Williams on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Buddy De Franco on clarinet, Johnny Hodges on alto saxophone, and band leader and pianist Duke Ellington to name a few. The group recorded a composition by the composer and arranger team, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, entitled "Metronome All-Out," written specifically for the ensemble. The Ellington/Strayhorn collaboration had gone down in history as one of the more important composer/arranger teams in jazz. Many of the compositions that they wrote were vehicles for improvisation in the Bebop style during the 1940's and 50's and are still frequently played today. Ellington led one of the most important big bands that brought popularity to the jazz style. He wrote over a thousand compositions, probably the largest body of work composed by a jazz artist. His big band performed extensively for almost 50 years, from the 1930's up until his death in 1974.
In 1947, the Metronome All-Stars, comprised of Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Bill Harris on Trombone, Buddy DeFranco on clarinet, Flip Phillips on tenor saxophone, Nat King Cole on piano, Billy Bauer on guitar, Eddie Safranski on bass and Buddy Rich on drums, recorded a composition by Nat King Cole entitled "Leap Here". A few years had past since the 1942-44 recording ban and the bop influences of Charlie Parker were beginning to show in compositions by Swing era artists, such as Nat King Cole. This date also marks the first nominee of a bebop musician, Dizzy Gillespie. Up until this point, the majority of Metronome All-Star artists were primarily associated with the Swing era. However, much of that would change in the coming years.
Dizzy Gillespie is considered one of the pioneers of Bebop with the likes of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Gillespie not only was a small group leader and sideman, he also led big bands in the 1950's. Gillespie was at the forefront of Afro-Cuban jazz, bring such styles as salsa and other Latin American influences into the jazz spotlight. His performance with the Metronome All-Stars on "Leap Here"in 1947 is considered one of his best, and is documented on several compilations of Gillespie's best work.
By 1949, the stylings of Bebop were in full swing as shown by the personnel of the Metronome All-Star selection with musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Fats Navarro on trumpet, Buddy DeFranco on clarinet, Shelly Manne on drums, Lennie Tristano on piano, and Charlie Parker on alto saxophone. It was the first induction for the both Parker and Tristano into the Metronome All-Stars, and the recording produced was quintessential Bebop. This recording marks one of the few times Parker and Tristano collaborated together.
The composition "Victory Ball," written by Lennie Tristano, incorporates a polyphony of mixed meter in the melodic phrases, something his student, Warne Marsh, describes as meter studies. Nonetheless, the inclusion of a bigger ensemble gave Tristano a larger palette of colors to work with outside of his usual group, and as a result, the Metronome All-Stars recording of "Victory Ball" is not only in the Bebop style, but has the harmonic complexity, and density, of modern classical orchestration. Since its 1949 recording, "Victory Ball" has only been recorded a handful of times by such artists as tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh and alto saxophonist Anthony Braxton. The title, "Victory Ball," references the anti-war poem by Alfred Noyes at the conclusion of World War I.
The following year, the Metronome All-Stars recorded another composition by Lennie Tristano entitled "No Figs." This virtuosic piece of music demands a very high level of proficiency by the musician and has only been recorded by Tristano's groups outside of the 1950 Metronome All-Stars release. The ensemble includes a similar personnel to the year prior but with Lee Konitz beating out Charlie Parker for the alto saxophone chair, Max Roach beating out Shelly Manne on the drums.
Blind pianist George Shearing was apart of the 1951 Metronome All-Stars ensemble. The London born pianist emigrated to the United States in 1947 and started his own quartet in 1949 that included the vibraphone, a unique instrument for jazz during the 1940's and 50's. His compositions, such as "Lullaby of Birdland," and "Conception," were highly regarded and he popularized standards such as "September in the Rain." His inclusion into the Metronome All-Stars was early in his career, however he still contributed the composition "Local 802 Blues," named after the Musicians Union in New York City. This 1951 recording is unique because it incorporates simultaneous improvisation by two musicians, something that was rarely utilized up until this point. Shearing lived a long life with many accomplishments including a knighthood in 2007. He died in 2011 at the age of 91.