With the offbeat and big bands, the swing era filled dance floors
A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, the KNKX and Jazz24 music teams are walking through the history, the decades and the innovators of jazz. Debuting before the Great Depression, the swing era brought about big bands, new dances and spotlight solos still enjoyed today.
Listen to the story above or read the script below:
In 1932, just after early jazz pioneer, cornetist Buddy Bolden died, Duke Ellington recorded a gem that framed the sentiment of the jazz scene: "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing."
Swing music took jazz from being ‘on beat’ to being ‘off beat.’ Instead of one-two, one-two, one-two like you hear on Scott Joplin’s famous “The Entertainer," it became ‘walk the dog’, ‘walk the dog’, ‘walk the dog, like you hear on Benny Goodman’s cover of “Stompin' at the Savoy."
Innovators in the swing style include bandleaders Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Fletcher Henderson.
Henderson was one of the most prolific Black musical arrangers, and is considered one of the most influential arrangers and bandleaders in jazz history. His influence was vast and helped bridge the gap between the Dixieland and the swing eras.
When Louis Armstrong joined Henderson's band, they began to spotlight soloists.
Duke Ellington credited Henderson with being an early influence when he was developing the sound for his own band.
This was the era of the great depression – from 1929 to 1939. And while swing helped to ease the emotions, it also meant less money for shows and recordings and some bands folded, like Fletcher Henderson.
It was also during this time that clarinetist Benny Goodman, a member of the Fletcher Henderson band, became a band leader, started his own bands with Gene Krupa on drums, and brought swing to a younger and wider audience.
It meant (dances like) the jitterbug and then the Lindy Hop. The same year Benny Goodman recorded "Sing, Sing, Sing," Count Basie recorded "One O’clock Jump." Dancers also learned The Suzie Q, Truckin', The Shag and The Big Apple.
And the Big Apple, was at the center of it –
The Count Basie Orchestra brought the riff-and-solo oriented Kansas City style of swing to New York’s Roseland and the Savoy.
Duke Ellington and others were unhappy with the creative state of swing, and got into more ambitious, but less danceable, forms of orchestral jazz and smaller groups.
Singers acquired the popularity that the big bands had once enjoyed, and artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, became the stars of the big bands in the 1940s.
The number of musicians it takes to make the swing music of this original era, 12 to 25 musicians, is still expensive to book in the era of the DJ.
But for those bands that can surmount the challenges – the enjoyment of swing is still a very real thing throughout the world!
In fact, The Count Basie Orchestra, today directed by Scotty Barnhart, perform the music of the band and have won Grammy Awards, appear in movies, TV shows, and continue to play major concert halls across the globe today.
KNKX Celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month
Throughout the month of April, we will be illustrating different styles of jazz through time that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to 2022, we will journey from Dixieland to Modern Jazz styles, Big Band to Hip Hop.
Listen to installments each weekday at 9am and 7pm on 88.5 FM and KNKX.org. See all stories from the KNKX History of Jazz project.