1923-1929: Big Band Jazz
At no other time before 1950 did Detroit bands play as central a role in the stylistic development of jazz as they did during the period 1923- 1929. The Jean Goldkette Victor Recording Orchestra and the McKinney's Cotton Pickers both played well-documented roles in the early development of big band jazz.
The McKinney Cotton Pickers was one of the pioneers of big band jazz in the 1920s along with a handful of other African American bands in the country.
The McKinney band is the best documented of Detroit bands, but there are others that escaped attention because they did not have the Cotton Pickers' good fortune to record before the 1940s. At least three other African American big bands had frequent engagements in Detroit's ballrooms.
Jean Goldkette Victor Recording Orchestra represented the more avantgarde among white musicians by combining society music with "hot" solos of the day.
It was not until the middle of the 1930's that white big bands had fully assimilated the stylistic innovations of the African American musical pioneers. Goldkette, like several contemporary bandleaders (white or black), was also a band booker. During its heyday in the latter half of the 1920s his booking organization managed around twenty different bands. In the fall of 1926 Goldkette brought the McKinney band to Detroit, first to the Arcadia, and by early 1927 to his own Graystone Ballroom. The band became the first African American band to play at the Graystone, although not before it agreed, under management pressure, to change its name to McKinney's "Cotton Pickers". Its immediate commercial success at the Graystone, as well as its RCA Victor recordings (1928- 1931), kept the Goldkette organization busy booking engagements until about 1931.