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5

Dixieland and 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.

2. For information on ordering The Instrumental History of Jazz 2-CD set, click here.

II. The Swing Era

jazz images 1

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 – 19451

      

1.

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. 

      

2.

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: 

            

a.

five saxophones (two alto saxes, two tenor saxes, and one baritone sax) 

            

b.

four trumpets 

            

c.

four trombones 

            

d.

four “rhythm” (piano, bass, drums, guitar) 

      

3.

The majority of the music was written (“arranged”) by an arranger. 

            

a.

The music was more complex than in the Dixieland era. 

            

b.

With so many additional instruments, a lot more organization was required ahead of time. 

            

c.

Room was made for improvised solos, which were important, but they were relatively short (usually one chorus or less). 

      

4.

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

      

5.

“Call and Response” was a common musical device. 

            

a.

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. 

            

b.

For an example of call and response, listen to the introduction of Fletcher Henderson’s “Wrappin' it Up” on The Instrumental History of Jazz2

      

6.

The most important figures in the Swing Era were: 

            

a.

pianist Duke Ellington 

            

b.

pianist Count Basie 

            

c.

clarinetist Benny Goodman (known as the “King of Swing”) 

      

7.

Although the Swing Era was dominated by big bands, there were a few important small groups as well, including the Benny Goodman Trio, Quartet, and Sextet (Benny also had a big band). 

      

8.

Listen to recordings of Swing Era jazz: 

            

a.

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 

            

b.

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


B. Cultural Implications

      

1.

After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, swing helped the country through the Great Depression, creating escape from economic realities via swing dancing. 

      

2.

Jazz reached new levels of sophistication in the Swing Era as an outgrowth of America’s need for self esteem following the Great Depression. 

      

3.

Swing served as a major morale booster during World War II

      

4.

Race Relations 

            

a.

In an era when racial integration was not accepted by American society in general, jazz’s social liberalism was represented by racial integration in several important swing bands. Perhaps for the first time, it did not matter what color you were, just how well you could play. 

            

b.

The first important interracial groups were The Benny Goodman Trio, Quartet, Sextet, and Big Band, all of which were formed in 1935 (prior to this time, jazz groups were either all white or all black). 

      

5.

Swing, and especially Duke Ellington’s music of the early 1930s, was the musical backdrop during the later years of the Harlem Renaissance

      

6.

Jazz was (and remains) a symbol of urban American energy, optimism, and resilience. 

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