[ Login ]
lesson plan12345678

The Swing Era


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

jazz images 1

alto saxophone

jazz images 2

tenor saxophone

jazz images 3

baritone saxophone

jazz images 4


jazz images 5


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

Video Clips

videospacer Benny Goodman Quartet - I Got A Heartful Of Music
videospacer Duke Ellington - Cotton Club Stomp
videospacer Duke Ellington - Take the A Train
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
home overview lesson plans jazz resources what's new jazz in america