Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Swing Music

fats waller
Swing music, also known as 'swing jazz' or simply 'swing,' is a form of jazz music that developed in the early 1930s and became a distinctive style by 1935 in the United States. Swing uses a strong rhythm section of double bass and drums as the anchor for a lead section of brass instruments such as trumpets and trombones, woodwinds including saxophones and clarinets, and sometimes stringed instruments such as violin and guitar, medium to fast tempos, and a "lilting" swing time rhythm.

Swing bands usually featured soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement. The danceable swing style of bandleaders such as Benny Goodman and Count Basie was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1945. 

1920s: Origins 

The styles of jazz that were popular from the late teens through the late 1920s were usually played with rhythms with a two beat feel, and often attempted to reproduce the style of contrapuntal improvisation developed by the first generation of jazz musicians in New Orleans. In the late 1920s, however, larger ensembles using written arrangements became the norm, and a subtle stylistic shift took place in the rhythm, which developed a four beat feel with a smoothly syncopated style of playing the melody, while the rhythm section supported it with a steady four to the bar

Like jazz, swing was created by African Americans, and its impact on the overall American culture was such that it marked and named an entire era of the USA, the swing era - as the 1920s had been termed "The Jazz Age". Such an influence from the black community was unprecedented in any western country. Swing music abandoned the string orchestra and used simpler, "edgier" arrangements that emphasized horns and wind instruments and improvised melodies.

Louis Armstrong shared a different version of the history of swing during a nationwide broadcast of the Bing Crosby (radio) Show Crosby said, "We have as our guest the master of swing and I'm going to get him to tell you what swing music is." He asked Louis to explain it. Louis said, "Ah, swing, well, we used to call it ragtime, then blues–then jazz. Now, it's swing. White folks yo'all sho is a mess. Swing!"
1930: Birth of Swing  

Compared to the styles of the 1920s, the overall effect was a more sophisticated sound, but with an exciting feel of its own. Most jazz bands adopted this style by the early 1930s, but "sweet" bands remained the most popular for white dancers until Benny Goodman's appearance at the Palomar Ballroom in August 1935. Swing's birth has been traced by some jazz historians to Chick Webb's stand in Harlem in 1931, but they noted the music failed to take off because the onset of the Depression in earnest that year killed the nightclub business, particularly in poor black areas like Harlem. Fletcher Henderson, another bandleader from this period who needed work, lent his arrangement talent to Goodman. Goodman had auditioned and won a spot on a radio show, "Let's Dance," but only had a few songs; he needed more. Henderson's arrangements are what gave him his bigger repertoire and distinctive sound. The show was on after midnight in the East and few people heard it, but unknown to them, it was on earlier on the West Coast and developed the audience that later led to his Palomar Ballroom triumph. The audience of young white dancers favored Goodman's "hot" rhythms and daring swing arrangements. "Hot Swing" and Boogie Woogie remained the dominant form of American popular music for the next ten years.  

With the wider acceptance of swing music around 1935, larger mainstream bands began to embrace this style of music. Up until the swing era, Jazz had been taken in high regard by the most serious musicians around the world, including classical composers like Stravinsky; swing on the contrary, with its "dance craze", ended being regarded as a degeneration towards light entertainment, more of an industry to sell records to the masses than a form of art. Many musicians after failing at serious music switched to swing.

benny goodman orchestra
Large orchestras had to reorganize themselves in order to achieve the new sound. These bands dropped their string instruments, which were now felt to hamper the improvised style necessary for swing music. This necessitated a slightly more detailed and organized type of composition and notation than was then the norm. Band leaders put more energy into developing arrangements, perhaps reducing the chaos that might result from as many as 12 or 16 musicians spontaneously improvising. 

But the best swing bands at the height of the era explored the full gamut of possibilities from spontaneous ensemble playing to highly orchestrated music in the vein of European art music.  

A typical song played in swing style would feature a strong, anchoring rhythm section in support of more loosely tied wind, brass, and later, in the 1940s, string and/or vocals sections. The level of improvisation that the audience might expect at any one time varied depending on the arrangement, the band, the song, and the band-leader.

The most common style consisted of having a soloist take center stage, and improvise a solo within the framework of her or his bandmates playing support. As a song progressed, multiple soloists would be expected to take over and individually improvise their own part; however, it was not unusual to have two or three band members improvising at any one time.

Peak and decline  

Swing jazz began to be embraced by the public around 1935. Prior to that, it had had limited acceptance, mostly among black audiences. Radio remotes increased interest in the music, and it grew in popularity throughout the States. As with many new popular musical styles, it met with some resistance from the public because of its improvisation, fast erratic tempos, lack of strings, occasionally risqué lyrics and other cultural associations, such as the sometimes frenetic swing dancing that accompanied performances. Audiences who had become used to the romantic arrangements (and what was perceived as classier and more refined music), were taken aback by the often erratic and edginess of swing music.

German swing bands, virtually unknown to British and American swing band followers, thrived in the early 1940s in spite of an official Nazi campaign against "decadent Western music". German authorities in fact created a Swing band called "Charlie and His Orchestra" to record hot Swing and dance music. Some songs included lyrics ridiculing and abusing the leaders and people of Allied nations. Records were dropped over "enemy" lines by parachute.
In the US, by the late 1930s and early 1940s, swing had become the most popular musical style and remained so for several years, until it was supplanted in the late 1940s by the pop standards sung by the crooners who grew out of the Big Band tradition that swing began. Bandleaders such as the Dorsey Brothers often helped launch the careers of vocalists who went on to popularity as solo artists, such as Frank Sinatra.

Swing music began to decline in popularity during World War II because of several factors. Most importantly it became difficult to staff a "big band" because many musicians were overseas fighting in the war. Also, the cost of touring with a large ensemble became cumbersome because of wartime economics. These two factors made smaller three- to five-piece combos more profitable and manageable. A third reason is the recording bans of 1942 and 1948 because of musicians' union strikes. In 1948, there were no records legally made at all, although independent labels continued to bootleg records in small numbers. When the ban was over in January 1949, swing had evolved into new styles such as jump blues and bebop.  

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