The term territory band refers to those Plains and midwestern dance bands of the 1920s and 1930s that played throughout an expansive geographic area extending from Texas in the south to Nebraska in the north and from St. Louis in the east to Denver in the west. Typically, territory bands were headquartered in the region's major cities, principally, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Houston, Omaha, St. Louis, and Denver. These urban centers, responding to demands for Jazz Age and Swing Era dance music as well as accompaniments for "silent" films, supported large, diversified musical communities. Traveling bands, drawn from such big city talent pools, were assembled by bookers for strings of onenighters at rural dance halls in the small towns of the surrounding "territory." Unfortunately, the history of territory bands, especially during the 1920s, is sketchy because these ensembles seldom, if ever, had opportunities to record. Among the more than 100 traveling dance bands active in the 1920s were those of Alphonso Trent (Dallas), Doc Ross (Oklahoma City), Troy Floyd (San Antonio), Walter Page (Oklahoma City and Kansas City), and Jesse Stone (Kansas City).
In the 1930s, with the Plains hit hard by the Great Depression, economic necessity brought many of the region's best musicians to Kansas City, a wide-open town where whiskey and jazz flowed twenty-four hours a day, thanks to political boss Tom Pendergast. Aside from supporting its own vibrant nightlife, Kansas City became the center for the area's territory bands. This concentration of so much jazz talent was significant in consolidating a distinctive Kansas City style. Erasing the last influences of the contrapuntal New Orleans tradition by replacing tuba with string bass and banjo with guitar and by expanding the size of groups from combos to big bands, the easygoing and swinging Kansas City style also capitalized on blues and riff-based ensembles, which, while pleasing dancers, also encouraged virtuoso soloing. During the 1930s, the Kansas City-based bands of Bennie Moten, Walter Page, Count Basie, and Jay McShann all took their turns touring the Plains as territory bands.
Chuck Berg University of Kansas
Kansas City Jazz Museum. Kansas City . . . and All That's Jazz. Kansas City MO: Andrew McMeel Publishing, 1999.
Pearson, Nathan W., Jr. Goin' to Kansas City. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Russell, Ross. Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.