Styles & Forms | Swing | Jazz

The popularity of jazz hit a peak after the Depression years of 1929–33. By the end of 1934, huge numbers were tuning in to the NBC Radio series Let’s Dance, which broadcast performances by The Xavier Cugat, Kel Murray and Benny Goodman Orchestras. Goodman’s orchestra in particular caught on with the public and created a demand for live performances.

When Goodman went on tour in the US, scoring his first big success before a packed house of ecstatic teenagers at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on 21 August 1935, it signalled the beginning of a new national youth craze to rival the turn-of-the-century ragtime fad. Symbolically, it was the birth of the swing era, the predominance of big bands in jazz.

Reaching Fever Pitch

Following Goodman’s triumph at the Palomar Ballroom, the floodgates opened wide and several bands followed in his wake. By 1937, Kansas City pianist and bandleader William ‘Count’ Basie had recorded his first swinging sides, including the anthemic ‘Jumpin’ At The Woodside’ and ‘One O’Clock Jump’, both featuring the tenor saxophonist Lester Young and the all-American rhythm section of bassist Walter Page, drummer Papa Jo Jones and guitarist Freddie Green. That same year, Jimmy Dorsey scored hits with ‘Marie’ and ‘Song Of India’, featuring classic trumpet solos by Bunny Berigan. Shortly after, Berigan formed his own big band and had a hit in August 1937 with ‘I Can’t Get Started’, still part of the standard jazz repertoire to this day. Swing-era momentum reached fever pitch with Benny Goodman’s historic Carnegie Hall concert in New York in January 1938, which was recorded for posterity and included the classic instrumental version of Louis Prima’s ‘Sing, Sing Sing’, the frantic number that made drummer Gene Krupa such a star that he left the BG Orchestra to form his own big band.

The year 1939 saw a flurry of activity in swing: Harry James, an outstanding trumpeter in the Goodman organization, formed his own orchestra. The clarinettist Woody Herman scored his first big band hit with ‘At The Woodchopper’s Ball’. The saxophonist Charlie Barnet became a household name that same year on the strength of his big-band hit ‘Cherokee’. Singer Ella Fitzgerald took over the Chick Webb Orchestra following the drummer-bandleader’s death that summer. Glenn Miller’s Orchestra rose to prominence by blending pop elements with the highly polished big band formula, scoring several Top Ten hits in 1939 and 1940 with popular recordings such as ‘Little Brown Jug’, ‘In The Mood’ and ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’. In that same year, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie joined the Cab Calloway Orchestra; tenor-sax great Coleman Hawkins recorded his immortal ‘Body And Soul’; and bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster joined the great orchestra led by Duke Ellington. Ellington’s orchestra had been a monumental force in jazz since the early 1920s and he remained a major name during the swing era on the strength of anthemic hits such as ‘It...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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