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3

The Swing Era

footnotes

1. All styles of jazz from Dixieland to contemporary are still being performed and recorded today. All style dates given are approximations of when each respective style came to the forefront of jazz and experienced its most concentrated development; of course, styles and dates overlap.

I. The Swing Era

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alto saxophone

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tenor saxophone

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baritone saxophone

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trumpet

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trombone


A. The Music

   

Big band swing was at the forefront of jazz and underwent its most concentrated growth and development from 1930 – 1945.1  


B. The Big Band Era

   

The Swing Era is also known as the Big Band Era since the number of instruments in these bands was considerably larger than during the previous Dixieland era.  


C. Instrumentation

   

While any jazz band with 10 or more instruments is considered a big band, the most common number of instruments in a big band was (and still is) 17:

  1. five saxophones (two alto saxes, two tenor saxes, and one baritone sax)
  2. four trumpets
  3. four trombones
  4. four "rhythm" instruments (piano, bass, drums, guitar) 


D. Dance Bands

   

Big band swing music was primarily for dancing, i.e., swing bands were dance bands. 


E. Call and Response

   

"Call and Response" was a common musical device.

  1. This is where one section (say, the brass section, i.e., trumpets and trombones) would play a musical phrase and then be “answered” by another section (say, the saxes); the first phrase is the call, the answer is the response (like a musical conversation). This would go back and forth a number of times.
  2. For an example of call and response, listen to the introduction of Fletcher Henderson’s "Wrappin' it Up" on The Instrumental History of Jazz


F. Important Figures

   

The most important figures in the Swing Era were:

  1. pianist Duke Ellington
  2. pianist Count Basie
  3. clarinetist Benny Goodman (known as the "King of Swing")
 


G. Listening Examples

   

Listen to recordings of Swing Era jazz:

  1. Count Basie’s "One O’clock Jump," Duke Ellington’s "East St. Louis Toodle-o," and Fletcher Henderson’s "Wrappin’ it Up" on The Instrumental History of Jazz
  2. Count Basie’s "Jumpin’ at the Woodside," Duke Ellington’s "Main Stem," and Benny Goodman’s "Sing, Sing, Sing" (click below) 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Jumpin' At The Woodside - Count Basie
speakerspacer Main Stem - Duke Ellington
speakerspacer Sing Sing Sing - Benny Goodman
the thelonious monk institute of jazz
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