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|In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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SWING Part 1
In the 1945 issue of Esquire Magazine’s annual “Jazz Book,” critic Leonard Feather wrote: “...Some
writers consider [swing] merely another term for [jazz] while others differentiate sharply between the
two, claiming that jazz is the genuine article and swing a despicably modern synthetic product.”
The point Mr. Feather is interested in making is that it is the writers who clash on this issue, not the
musicians. The musicians of 1945 almost unanimously agreed that there was basically no difference
between swing and jazz. The music, be it arranged or improvised, had the same basic technical
characteristics, such as syncopation and the use of the blues scale.
Men such as clarinetists Barney Bigard and Edmond Hall, despite their New Orleans background,
declared that the old New Orleans music was pretty much obsolete. Hall idolized the music of Benny
Goodman and his ability “...to play brilliantly and with unflagging inspiration in any style or mood.”
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note that in John Chilton’s Who’s Who of Jazz, bio’s for almost all
musicians born in New Orleans include the fact that they stuck with classic, traditional New Orleans or
Chicago jazz all their lives.
There were a few who were born in New Orleans who played traditional jazz at first but gradually
adapted their styles to swing such as: trumpeter Louis Armstrong with the Luis Russell Orchestra and
the Sy Oliver Orchestra; guitarist Danny Barker with the Benny Carter Orchestra; guitarist Nappy
LaMare with the Bob Crosby Band and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra; reed player George Baquet
with George Bakey’s Swingsters in the 30’s; drummer Ray Bauduc with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra
and the Bob Crosby Band; clarinetist Irving Fazola with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Bob
Crsoby Band; pianist Frank Froeba with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and the Casa Loma
Orchestra; tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller with the Dorsey Brothers Band and the Bob Crosby Band;
bassist Al Morgan with the Cab Calloway Band and the Louis Jordan Band;. reed player Albert
Nicholas with the Chick Webb Orchestra; reed player Omer Simeon with the Jimmy Lunceford Band;
and bassist Chester Zardis with the Count Basie Band.
Some Swing Tunes:
IT DON’T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING – written in 1931 by Duke Ellington
and popularized by his orchestra with a vocal of Irving Mills lyrics by Ivie Anderson.
TRUCKIN’ – written in 1935 by Rube Bloom. Introduced in “The Cotton Club Review” by Cora
LaRedd. In the late summer of 1935, it was Fats Waller’s biggest hit for Victor.
RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS – written in 1934 by Jimmy Lunceford, who led one of the finest
powerhouse swing bands of the 30’s. He also wrote “If I had Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes.”
I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT- by Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges with lyrics by Don
George in 1944. A riff melody first recorded by Harry James in 1944. Riffs became a fundamental of
jazz composition with swing and the big bands of the 30’s and 40’s.
SWING Part 2
You’re probably thinking, like most people, that swing came along with the evolution of big band jazz in
the 1930’s. Well, there are some “purist” jazz historians who would take issue with a literal
acceptance of that. They say swing was born in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, probably in New
Orleans because of the large number of ragtime piano players who populated that city.
Untrained “minstrels” who had rhythm, timing, and knew a few tunes flocked to the pleasure palaces
of that city to seek their pot of gold; and there was plenty of work. There was no such thing as
controlled music and the extremes they reached seemed to appeal to the cultural mix in New Orleans
at that time. They wanted music with a “kick,” music they could feel, and ragtime seemed to fill the
Historically the term “swing” was used in connection with dancing long before the era of swing music.
In San Francisco, around 1910, a dance called the Texas Tommy Swing was popular
Now, if this is starting to sound as if I’ve simply substituted the word “swing” for jazz in the
development of the genre, you’re right! And that’s exactly the point the “purist” historians are trying
to make: the birth of swing is contemporaneous and identical with the birth of jazz. Ragtime music was
the transitional element between the European and African-American music prevalent in New Orleans
at that time. The melding of this combination, through ragtime, evolved into New Orleans jazz, which
spread to Chicago, Kansas City, Memphis, and New York, each with its own permutations. When
these evolutionary changes hit the 1930’s, a number of “hot” dance orchestras already existed (some
that went back to the late 20’s) and the evolution of the music these larger bands offered resulted in
its being given its own name – “swing.” Nobody seems to know for sure just who first used the term to
describe the music, but one story says it was Duke Ellington with his classic 1932 song, “It Don’t
Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing”.
Some more Swing Era tunes:
BEI MIR BIST DU SCHOEN- written in 1937 by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, it was introduced in
the Yiddish musical “I Would if I Could.” Popularized by the Andrew Sisters, it became the number
one hit on the record charts. Benny Goodman and Russ Morgan both made later recordings of it.
AIR MAIL SPECIAL- written by Jimmy Mundy with Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman, it was
copyrighted in 1941. The Goodman Band popularized it.
ORGAN GRINDER’S SWING- written in 1936 by Will Hudson who also wrote “Sophisticated
Swing.” It was introduced by the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra and popularized by the Chick Webb
band with a vocal by Ella Fitzgerald. It was also recorded by the Jimmy Lunceford Band.
WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO- Harry Woods wrote this in 1934. It was introduced in the
British film “Roadhouse Nights” with Ida Lupino. It was later popularized by singer, Billie Holiday.