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Swing dance | Swing Era | Swing Revival | Swung note | Western swing

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Swing music, also known as swing jazz, is a form of jazz music that developed during the 1920s and solidified as a distinctive style during the 1930s in the United States. Swing is distinguished primarily by a strong rhythm section, usually including double bass and drums, medium to fast tempo, and the distinctive swing time rhythm that is common to many forms of jazz.



The first recordings labelled swing style date from the 1920s, and come from both the United States and the United Kingdom. They are characterised by the swing rhythm already at that time common in jazz music, and a lively style which is harder to define but distinctive. Although swing evolved out of the lively jazz experimentation that began in New Orleans and that developed further (and in varying forms) in Kansas City and New York City, what is now called swing diverged from other jazz music in ways that distinguished it as a form in its own right.

Swing bands tended to be bigger and more crowded than other jazz bands, necessitating a slightly more detailed and organized type of composition and notation than was then the norm. Band leaders put more energy into developing arrangements, perhaps reducing the chaos that might result from as many as 12 or 16 musicians spontaneously improvising. But the best swing bands at the height of the era explored the full gamut of possibilities from spontaneous ensemble playing to highly orchestrated music in the vein of European art music.

A typical song played in 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 occurred in the culture that surrounded the music. For one, the introduction of swing in the early 1930s(during the Great Depression), with its strong rhythms, 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 occurred 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.

Similar conflicts arose when Swing spread to other countries. In Germany, it conflicted with Nazi ideology (see Swing Kids) and was declared officially forbidden by the Nazi regime. And, while jazz music was initially embraced during the early years of the Soviet Union, it was soon forbidden as a result of being deemed politically unacceptable. After a long hiatus, though, jazz music was eventually readmitted to Soviet audiences.

In later decades, the popular, sterilized, mass-market form of swing music would often, and unfortunately, 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.


  • Download sample of "Begin the Beguine" by Artie Shaw, a surprise hit that turned the clarinetist into a swing star
  • Download sample of "Jumpin' at the Woodside" by Count Basie & His Orchestra, a popular swing song by a jazz legend
  • Download sample of "And the Angels Sing" by Benny Goodman and Martha Tilton, a legendary swing recording that helped keep Goodman's career afloat as band members departed

Famous Swing Musicians

Band leaders:

Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, Chick Webb


Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw


Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Harry Edison


Count Basie, Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Jelly Roll Morton

See also

External links

Jazz | Jazz genres
Acid jazz - Asian American jazz - Avant-garde jazz - Bebop - Dixieland - Calypso jazz - Chamber jazz - Cool jazz - Creative jazz - Free jazz - Gypsy jazz - Hard bop
Jazz blues - Jazz fusion - Jazz rap - Latin jazz - Mini-jazz - Modal jazz - M-Base - Nu jazz - Smooth jazz - Soul jazz - Swing - Trad jazz - West coast jazz
Other topics
Jazz standard - Jazz royalty

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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