In a former article of this series we have talked about the incipient jazz era with early blues examples like the St. Louis Blues and the Basin Street Blues. Another article presented an introduction to dixieland music from New Orleans, Chicago and Europe.
Rock ‘n roll originally was a clearly defined music genre but is applied in modern society also to what this author simply calls rock music, music that has its roots in the rock & roll music of the 1950s and which has evolved into a large group of subgenres.
The term swing also needs some claification. Today, it is applied to the music style that emerged in the 1930s and became popular in the 1940s as a successor of dixieland and it also referrs to a phenomenon common to most types of jazz music and some dance music: it means that the notes are not played exactly on the beats. Instead, they are placed slightly before or after the beat. That is why early computer generated music sounded so stiff, it lacked a good swing feel.
Now, let’s start with some music. By clicking on the play button you can listen to a show Benny Goodmann played at the Manhattan Room in New York. The clip last for about half an hour and presents several pieces. Imagine the dance floor full of couples delighted by this then new style of music.
Swing was played mostly by big bands. These bands had more members than the dixieland bands, mostly because more saxophones, trumpets and trombones were integrated.
But instrumentation is not the only difference to dixieland. The songs had more written parts and the concept of collective improvisation was not supported any more. However, if you listen carefully, you will hear some small portions that resemble the early jazz music from New Orleand and Chicago. Furthermore, the dutch dixieland bands with their numerous brass instruments could be considered dixieland big bands, so to say.
We already presented one of the important big band leaders, Benny Goodman, a clarinet player whose nickname was the “King of Swing” and whose major merit was to have played a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, a venue that up to then had presented classical concerts only. It sure is true that Benny Goodmann was a white guy and that it needed a white guy to make black american music -that’s what jazz originally was- respectable. That is how the music industry opened up the market for jazz. Up to then, jazz had been listened to almost exclusively by progressive people. Now, the classical music audience, mostly white, had been offered a new facet.
On the other hand, Benny Goodman formed his big band with black and white musicians, demonstrating his disapproval of the segregation which still governed many ambients of the United States during the big band era.
The big bands also served to help musicians to evolve and start a solo career after having played in a big band for some time. One of the most important members of the Benny Goodman big band was drummer Gene Krupa, who originally had been baptised the ¨King of Swing” by the drums brand Slingerland, before media assigned this title to the band’s leader, Benny Goodman.
Here is a video clip from youtube showing drummer Gene Krupa with his own band many years later playing a concert for a norwegian television station. Notice that while the musicians form a big band with plenty of instruments, the song itself is rather untypical for swing music. It is called Basically Blues and includes extended solos by some instruments.
Another important band leader of the swing era was the black piano player Count Basie. His mother taught him piano and he began to play in public when he was still very young, e.g. playing the piano as the background music for silent movies.
In 1935 he formed his own big band. The next video clip shows him with his big band, most probably his Barons of Rhythm, in a show back in the 1940s.
Count Basie always was looking for a distinctive sound and brought several innovations into the music scene of the swing era, being his split tenor section one of them. Usually, the players of one instrument stand or sit next to each other on stage. In Count Basie’s band, one of the tenor saxophone players complained about the vibrato of the other tenor sax player. Count Basie found a simple but up to then unique solution to the problem: He told the tenor saxophone players to stand one on each side of the alto saxophone players.
to be continued…