Swing Jazz. Does swing equal jazz? Is swing the same as big band music? Is swing exclusively dance music? Is there any such thing as pure swing? Benny Goodman, a famous American jazz musician, clarinetist, and known as the “King of Swing” once said that swing music “remains something you take 5,000 words to explain then leaves you wondering what it is.” (Pener and Morris 1-10) There are so many genres and subgenres of music - and more specifically jazz - that one could never fully explain how each came to be. However, many involved with the new and old eras of swing jazz are intrigued by the bewilderment it causes musicians and dancers alike.
In order to better understand Swing Jazz Music as a whole, I set out to research its definition, history, greats, relationship to swing dancing and the swing revival.
Definition of Swing
When asked ‘what is swing?’ Louis Armstrong once said, “If you don’t know, don’t mess with it.” (Pener and Morris 7) In short, swing music is a form of jazz that developed in the 1920’s and matured through various different artists through until the late 30’s and early 0’s, in which swing became the most popular musical style in America. The earliest use of the term “swing” was to describe the effect when all parts of a composition blended perfectly together. (Starr and Waterman 115) Defining swing music has proven to be confusing and challenging to both musician and fan. The word “swing” is derived from African American English. It was first used as a verb to describe the rocking and rhythmic momentum of the music. (Starr and Waterman 120) However, the term wasn’t used as a noun until around 1935 (the start of the swing era) – which is when it became an excepted proper noun to describe the musical genre.
There are three different uses to the word swing; the Swing Effect (as it relates to other genres and subgenres of music), Swing Style (as it relates to the style of music), and the Swing Era (embraced by a mass audience as a musical genre 1935-1945). The Swing Effect is better described as the description of how the type of music was played. For instance, some ways bandleaders would get the music to ‘swing’ would be to get front line musicians to play off each other which produced rhythmic harmony between them. This also happened through allowing the front line as a whole to blend their parts synchronously with underlying rhythm/harmonic forces of rhythm section and allowing for spontaneity among soloist and improvisation. It was ultimately the alterations made to classic jazz that brought swing into the view. The Swing Effect became Swing Style when big bands (“jazz orchestras” as they were first called) became more popular during the later 1920’s. The Swing Style was used to describe quite bluntly, during the later 1920’s. The Swing Style was used to describe quite bluntly, the type of music, but not yet the genre.
The Swing Era was the peak of the life of swing, lasting from approximately 1935 to 1945 as this genre of music was embraced by a mass audience in America.
Through research, swing has been found to mean something different to everyone. Artie Shaw, bandleader, was found to say that “swing music is not a verb … it is an adjective … it isn’t a type of music, it’s a way of playing music.” (Pener and Morris 7-8). Conversely, many argue that defining swing should begin with the movement that entertained America in the two greatest trials: Depression and WWII. As more than just a musical concept, swing music even helped to pull the American music industry of the Great Depression.
History of Swing
Contrary to popular belief, swing music is not exclusive to jazz and in its earliest form existed within folk styles and even African American spirituals. (Starr and Waterman 118)
However the main roots of swing came from the birth of jazz – which was essentially African and European musical elements being put together. The...