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Swing (music)

Related: 1930s - jazz - dance music - swing kids of Weimar Berlin

In the 1930s Swing is king and this is the only time that Jazz and popular are the same thing. [May 2006]


Musically, swing can be either:

Swing music, also sometimes known as Swing Jazz, is a form of jazz music that solidified as a distinctive style during the 1930s, in the United States. Swing music is distinguished primarily by a strong rhythm section, usually consisting of bass and drums, fast tempo, and the distinctive "swing" that's common to all forms of jazz.

Though swing evolved out of the lively experimentation that began in New Orleans, and that developed further (and in varying forms) in Kansas City, and New York City, the swing style diverged slightly from the former in ways that distinguised it as a form in its own right.

Swing bands tended to be bigger, and more crowded than other jazz bands, necessitating a slightly higher level of organization than was then the norm. This resulted in band leaders putting more energy into developing arrangements capable of cutting down on the chaos that would result from as many as 12 or 16 musicians spontaneously improvising.

Instead, a typical song played in the swing style would feature a strong, anchoring rhythm section in support of more loosely tied wind, brass, string, and vocal sections. The level of improvisation that the audience might expect at any one time varied depending on the arrangement, the band, the song, and the band-leader. The most common style consisted of having one soloist at a time taking center stage, and take up an improvised routine, with her/his bandmates playing support. As a song progressed, multiple soloists might be expected to pick up the baton, and then pass it on. That said, it was far from uncommon to have two or three band members improvising at any one time.

As jazz in general, and swing jazz in particular, began to grow in popularity throughout the States, a number of changes occured in the culture that surrounded the music. For one, the introduction of swing in the early thirties, with its strong rythms, loud tunes, and "swinging" style led to an explosion of creative dance in the black community. The various rowdy, energetic, creative, and improvisational dances that came into effect during that time came to be known, collectively, as swing dance.

The second change that occured as swing music increased in popularity outside the black community, was, to some extent, an increasing pressure on musicians and band leaders to soften (some would say dumb-down) the music to cater to a more staid and conservative, anglo-american audience.

In later decades, this popular, sterilized, mass-market form of swing music would often, and unfortunatly, be the first taste that younger generations might be exposed to, which often led to it begin labeled something akin to 'old fogey big-band dance music'.

Ironically, early swing musicians were often in fact annoyed by the young people who would throw a room into chaos by seemingly tossing each other across the floor at random -- thus somewhat nullifying the idea that swing was developed as dance music, when in fact, swing dancing evolved among young aficionados to complement the energy of the music. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_(music) [Jun 2004]

Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture Between the World Wars (2003) - Joel Dinerstein

Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture Between the World Wars (2003) - Joel Dinerstein [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

In any age and any given society, cultural practices reflect the material circumstances of people's everyday lives. According to Joel Dinerstein, it was no different in America between the two World Wars -- an era sometimes known as the "machine age" -- when innovative forms of music and dance helped a newly urbanized population cope with the increased mechanization of modern life. Grand spectacles such as the Ziegfield Follies and the movies of Busby Berkeley captured the American ethos of mass production, with chorus girls as the cogs of these fast, flowing pleasure vehicles.
Yet it was African American culture, Dinerstein argues, that ultimately provided the means of aesthetic adaptation to the accelerated tempo of modernity. Drawing on a legacy of engagement with and resistance to technological change, with deep roots in West African dance and music, black artists developed new cultural forms that sought to humanize machines. In "The Ballad of John Henry, " the epic toast "Shine, " and countless blues songs, African Americans first addressed the challenge of industrialization. Jazz musicians drew on the symbol of the train within this tradition to create a set of train-derived aural motifs and rhythms, harnessing mechanical power to cultural forms. Tap dance and the lindy hop brought machine aesthetics to the human body, while the new rhythm section of big band swing mimicked the industrial soundscape of northern cities. In Dinerstein's view, the capacity of these artistic innovations to replicate the inherent qualities of the machine -- speed, power, repetition, flow, precision -- helps explain both their enormous popularity and social function in American life. --from the publisher

See also: Machine Age - 1920s - 1930s - Modernism - jazz - swing - dance music - black music - American culture

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