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The History of Swing Jazz

By Edited Sep 1, 2016 0 0

           Swing jazz originated in the 1930’s and is one of the numerous different forms of jazz known today. The sound that swing jazz brought to the public was much more sophisticated than the 1920’s and was the start of a progression of jazz numbers that peaked around the 1960’s. For the purpose of the paper, we will focus on swing jazz only and take a greater look at its styling’s, performers, and impact on the greater world of jazz music.

Jazz Musician

            By the early 1930’s, most of the new jazz music being produced followed the swing fashion. Swing jazz has been thought to have started in a few different areas and from a few different people, but most think it started in Harlem with Chick Webb. The new style initially failed due to the depression that had set in, but it eventually got its major boost across the country in California.

            The new swing jazz created a dance craze that quickly swept the nation around the mid 30’s as all of the younger people flocked to music halls to see live performances. Old jazz groups had to reinvent themselves to fit with the new times. Larger bands dropped their entire string section which was thought to hamper the upbeat and fast tempo of the swing jazz notes. The most successful bands were those that weren’t afraid to take this new step and evolve with the times. Those that didn’t lost on music sales which were considered a staple of the roaring 20’s.

            Successful bands had strong rhythm sections which were meant to support and augment loser wind sections. Often times the wind sections would have soloists that were expected to improvise solos on the fly with the backing up the rhythm sections. It wasn’t uncommon for there to be numerous solos which were all improvised on the spot as the performance went on. Later in the 1940’s, singers would become popular as well and would be backed by the whole band.

            Early acceptance of swing music was found in the black populations of the east coast. By the mid 1930’s swing jazz was finding acceptance within all races and creeds. The upbeat and fast tempo which had initially received a lot of public scorn had grown into the mainstream of public life and took over as the dominant form of jazz music.

            Of course with acceptance comes an attempt at understanding. Many people were curious what this new form was and how it should be labeled. Many of the artists of the time had their own views, but in the end the best definition may be which you develop yourself. Swing jazz was about freedom to experiment and take jazz to a new level which people had not seen in the slower speak easy clubs of the 20’s.

            Out of the 1930’s swing jazz evolved into the crooners and big bands of the 1940’s. Unfortunately, this would be the end of swing jazz for many years. After the breakout of World War 2, many of the big bands were unable to staff properly. This was mostly because of the draft and also because of the costs associated with traveling during a war. What would emerge from the end of the war was drastically smaller bands that evolved into bebop.

            The 1990’s would see a small revival of swing jazz although most if it was heavily mixed with pop music and overall diluted. It would be the last revival to date and didn’t last past the mid 2000’s. Christina Aguilera is credited with incorporating the last swing jazz into a major piece with her 2006 album. Of course this term has to be used lightly when talking about an iconic pop star like her. 

            The Blues Boogie or Shuffle is a very common practice in most jazz songs. These incorporate a swung note or shuffle note which is basically a written with equal time values but played for unequal durations. One example would be a traditional jazz song written in 4/4 but played in 12/8. This should a swing in the pattern since it is played for an unequal duration.

            Triplets were also very commonly used in swing jazz music although they can be found in rock and blues. This just goes to show us the level of impact swing and all of jazz had on future generations of music. A triplet note is basically a rhythm created by leaving out the resting note in the music. It creates an opportunity for soloists to perform without interrupting with the rest of the performance from the supporting roles.

            One more important note to take on swing jazz is that the eight notes is not played equally. This is how big bands and swing jazz musicians created groove within their music. These eight notes were usually played in the legato fashion and accented the “and” to create a slight swing sound within the piece.

            There are many notable musicians that came out of the swing jazz generations. These people defined an entire decade and quite further as future generations would build upon their accomplishments. One of the most popular swing jazz musicians was Glenn Miller who was active between 1923 and 1944. Some of his most famous work is; “In The Mood”, “Moonlight Serenade”, and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” Glenn Miller met an untimely death though while crossing the English Chanel to entertain troops during World War 2. He was presumed dead although his band would reform after the war and continue on to this day.

            The Dorsey Brothers were another very famous swing jazz group in the 1930’s. Two of their biggest hits included; “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Chasing Shadows”. Both topped the charts for a short period of time and made them the number one sought after band for a while. The brothers eventually broke up although their music lives on today.

            Duke Ellington is probably considered a legend of swing jazz music having been the composer of over 1,000 songs. He had a career that spanned fifty years and included such hits as; “Cocktails for Two”, “Black and Tan Fantasy”, and “Mood Indigo”. Duke really was the legend and has nine songs in the hall of fame. He passed away in 1974 of lung cancer and pneumonia.

            As you can see there have been many timeless musicians from this era that shaped a generation and continue to shape the world of music today. While no one can see if swing jazz will ever make a full comeback, we can still see it today if only a little in new forms. In a way this is the way jazz has always been. Jazz is an evolutionary form of music that changes with the world and never stays constant longer than its welcome. With the evolution of technology and instruments, we have seen new jazz appear in modern music from artists such as Christina Aguilera, Linkin Park, and Adele.

            These artists will in their own way spin jazz into a new form. This author doesn’t expect to see jazz return to the roaring 20’s or swinging 30’s form anytime soon, but we can’t forget what has shaped so much in the world around us. The next twenty years should be interesting as we see what new form jazz will take. It has a long and rich history and what could be a very bright and adventurous future.

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