Swing Bands and The Swinging Era

Swing bands were born before the great depression of 1929, but it was after the financial crisis that the music really started swinging (pun intended)!  

The music must have thrown the “hep cats” parents for a loop.  The transition went from Ragtime and Medicine show tunes straight to the likes of Fletcher Henderson.  On top of Fletcher, tunes like Sugar Foot Stomp made you bounce in your seat.  So, what made a band a big band a swinging era band?  There were always more than five musicians on stage and sometimes as many as fourteen.  Full horn sections would wail, wind instruments normally only used in classical were making new sounds like never before, and musicians like Louis Armstrong hit the scene!

Man oh man could Louis blow a horn! And the clarinet was suddenly a star in the hands of cats like Benny Goodman.  Jelly Roll Morton made the piano an extension of his soul. Art Tatum was known to have taught himself piano and music harmonics by ear which set a standard for future players. Sidney Bechet quickly became considered one of the greatest influences to the twist and turns of modern saxophone sounds.  As did one of Bechet’s protégés, Johnny Hodges, who played sax for Duke Ellington for nearly forty years, furthering the sounds with his unique tone!

Swinging Era was just that…full of swing that got you on your feet. From Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing to Count Basie’s One O’clock Jump.  From Charlie Johnson’s Hot Tempered Blues to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers Baby Won’t You Please Come Home…music today will never be what it was. The sounds coming out were hip and often up-tempo. Swing bands and their music were influenced by Jazz, Vaudeville, Ragtime, and was mixed with military band sounds.  Music went from improvised polyphony to the homophony of the big band…and we never looked back.

Before the demise of swing music, the radio and dance halls were filled to the brim with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Bringing forward the likes of vocalists Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Martha Tilton, and Bessie Smith.  World War II crushed big band music with the draft. Not to mention bands began to poach music from other bands as players went off to war.

Both swing dancing and the sound of swing bands have made comebacks in recent years. Swing bands and their music could only be kept down for so long.

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