Glen Woodcock is the host of The Big Band Show on JAZZ.FM91.

Back in 1963, Duke Ellington recorded an album titled Will Big Bands Ever Come Back?

It’s a question people have been asking since the 1950s.

My answer always has been, “They’ve never gone away,” and I believe that is truer today than at any time since 1947.

Because of so many jazz studies programs at so many universities and colleges both here in Canada and in the U.S., there are thousands of young musicians who either have played, are now playing or soon will be playing in large jazz groups. Consider our very own JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, for example. No, today’s bands are not going to dominate music the way they once did, but the big band sound is always evolving — and because of all these young players, the musicianship is better than ever.

The late Toronto bandleader and trombonist Dave McMurdo always said he didn’t lead a big band. But it had the traditional big band sections: trumpets, trombones, reeds and rhythm. McMurdo always wanted to come on The Big Band Show and debate it with me, but he died in 2011 before we ever made that conversation happen.

True, his wasn’t an orchestra that played dance music, which is what the big band era of 1935 to 1947 was all about. And, like his, most of today’s active big bands are what you might call large jazz orchestras — playing arrangements meant for the ears and not for the feet. (Stan Kenton and Artie Shaw would approve.) Some examples of bands playing this kind of music are Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band from California, John MacLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra from Toronto and the Lorraine Desmarais Big Band from Montreal.

Other large orchestras still play dance dates, but are also right at home on the concert stage and have soloists who can take a hot chorus or two, just like in the heyday of the big bands. Examples include Toronto’s Swing Shift Big Band and Calgary’s Prime Time Big Band.

No, big bands haven’t gone away. And there likely are more big bands around today than at any time since the 1940s.

Jim John, leader of Swing Shift Big Band, estimates that at present in Toronto there are more than 40 big bands — from rehearsal bands to those with regular gigs — while Steve Pettafor, leader of Toronto’s George Lake Big Band, estimates that number to be greater than 50.

Here are 14 of today’s best albums by modern orchestras — seven from Canada and seven from the U.S. — that are keeping the big band tradition alive and thriving.