It don’t mean a thing
Posted on Feb 20 17
As the catchy tune fills the air, our hips begin to sway from side to side and our feet tap to the rhythm as our fingers snap to the beat. What makes a song swing? It’s easy to define the feeling it gives us but what are the characteristics of swing music that get us moving?
Strong rhythm sections are the backbone of any good swing song, coupled with brass sections, strings and vocals. Swing is notorious for improvisation in live performances, with the lead singer or band-leader determining the right timing for the improv. It is quite common for the freestyle improv to gain traction through the performance and for the band members to all take their own moment to shine.
Swing can sometimes be confused with Jazz music. The easiest way to distinguish the two is to look at the composition of the band. Swing bands tend to have more musicians that jazz bands, with incredibly detailed and well-structured composition that features energetic bursts from the band members as they swing off on their solo’s. With this hierarchy, swing bands manage to control the chaos of up to sixteen musicians all going at it with all their heart and soul and blend it into a melodic tune that gets the crowd up and moving.
Swinging through history
The 1920’s saw the birth of the swing sound from a mix of European and West African rhythm styles. It gradually grew in the United States, with eccentric jazz experiments taking place all over the country from New Orleans to New York.
Swing music is believed to have its roots in the Caribbean in places like Puerto Rico, Cuba and Haiti. The slave populations derived the music as a form of protest that they could sing while they worked, however; this is not seen as the true birthplace of the sound but rather a precursor that ignited the sparks of the very beginning.
African-Americans adopted the Swing sound early on, as jazz musicians played with the sound and added in their own unique characteristics. It wasn’t until the early 1930’s that swing really began to take off as jazz musicians began to develop a ‘softer’ sound that pleased the Anglo-American public. In the beginnings, Swing had trouble breaking into the mainstream due to the cultural differences and racism that existed in the country at that time.
That resistance all but melted away by the end of the thirties and Swing artists were the top of the music scene and swinging Americans away by the day. While America was seen as the early adopter and the nation that grew Swing to its popular heights, Swing was now a phenomenon that had taken the developed wold by storm.
The top Swingers
As with every music style and sound, there is always a king, whether it’s the King of rock & Roll, or the Queen of Pop music, there is always one or two artists that define the gene and the sound and live on in the memories of fans for a lifetime, inspiring future generations and becoming the building blocks for further sounds in the decades to come.
The ‘King of Swing’ was undoubtedly Benny Goodman. He was most known for taking established jazz artists that were looking for something else and turning them into Swing artists. Artie Shaw was a close contender for the top spot, but being that swing is not a port, both gentlemen deserve massive credit for bringing the Swing sound into the mainstream. Over Swings heyday, many amazing artists were introduced and many of them left lasting impressions, not only on their peers but on the industry and the listeners as well.
These artists include the likes of; Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Glen Miller were all artists that settled into the Swing scene and created some of the most inspiring and pleasurable Swing songs. Duke Ellington, with his passion for the piano, brought that into the sound and his innovation was adopted by the Swing scene and used in a variety of top tracks from the day. It wasn’t just for the men either, women flourished in the swing environment that preached equality and swing birthed some of the most astounding female jazz and swing artists that have ever lived. Billie Holiday, Ivie Anderson and Ella Fitzgerald all rose to fame from the swing era.
Swinging on the dancefloor
By the late thirties, Swing had developed into the popular music of its time and along with that popularity, ever more artists entered the scene, developing the art and the sound further than any of the early adopters had imagined. The popularity of the music swept across the United states where it was taken to by Black and white communities alike.
Swing is known for its dancing as much as it is for the music. The youth of the day were inspired by the fresh new sounds that got everyone on the dancefloor and it wasn’t long before crowds developed their own dances that became their personal method of expression.
The Charleston was the first dance technique to emerge from the jazz roots of swing. Originally created as a flapper dance in the early twenties, it was re-introduced into the swing scene, The dance featured eight counts on the beat and used leg and arm movements to perform a hop, or pop step in the centre.
East Coast Swing
Triple-step swing, single-time swing and six-count swing were some of the names that were attributed to the East coast swing style that emerged from the Thirties. Its popularity came from the easy steps and footwork that was required, as well as its ability to work into any Swing or Jazz song.
The swinger and their partner first rock back on the one foot, then forward on the other, making a “rock, step, step, step” four count dance step. It was the dance of choice for those that were not very agile on the feet and not the greatest dancers, allowing almost anyone to enjoy the fun of the evenings Swinging activities.
The powerful pull of swing only really took hold in the African-American communities in the early to mid-Thirties. This swing style that can be seen in many feature films actually only arrived on the Swing scene years after the sound was already established.
The Swing dance came out of the cultural hubs and dance-clubs of Kansas City, New York, and Chicago. The energetic and vibrant Swing crowds of the city’s led themselves to the natural progression and creation of the modern Swing dance that would soon sweep the nations dance-halls and clubs.
The Saint Louis Shag
The St. Louis shag is the natural Swing evolution of the Charleston swing style. Different to most swing dances, the St. Louis shag has an estranged style, with a set of moves that follow in succession; lean step, kick forward, step down, kick forward with the opposite leg, then stag, step, and stamp. The St. Louis shag is meant for those fast-paced swing songs, with the dance partner kept close.
The Lindy Hop
Harlem was the birthplace of the hop, or ‘The Lindy hop’, to be more specific. In the early Thirties, Swing was the popular choice of music for anyone looking to have fun and the ‘Lindy Hop’ was created to allow anyone, with or without a partner, the chance to enjoy the Swing sound.
Almost everyone will remember this classic style, it’s featured in movies of the time and can still be seen on dancefloors all around the world. The Swingers would hold one another’s hands and then swing-out from each other, moving back in towards each other with the return momentum and ending in an embrace.
During the Second World War, Swing lost its shine due to huge conscription of Americans into the armed forces and the declining economic conditions that began to plague the communities of America.
During this stage of Swing music, the bands began to reduce in size and it became more common to see bands that featured only three or five musicians. This reduction of talent on tap at performances led to a change in the sound of swing and shortly thereafter gave rise to the sounds of Rhythm & Blues, RnB and even country music. Swing was lost to the ether of the history books, or was it?
A Swinging Revival
While Swing music took a backseat to the up and coming styles of modern music, there were still strongholds where Swing musicians like Stan Kenton and Count Basie played to die-hard fans. However, for the majority of Swing artists, the era ended in the Forties and was thought to never return to the mainstream.
A new rebirth of Swing began in the 1990’s that had a very short shelf life, lasting until the early 2000’s. This brief redux occurred simply because people love to dance with the Swing style, Hollywood latched onto it and released some popular movies such as; ‘Swingers’ & ‘Swing kids’ (Named after the German group of kids that were early adopters of the sound across the pond from the US and used Swing to express their political and social angst)
The new-swing period bands rely heavily on rock instruments guitars and bass instruments, with drums and horn instruments backing up the songs. While they were less improvised than their predecessors, they still manage to keep the original flow of the sound while adding in a modern edge that re-creates the sound with a fresh edge for the new millennium.
The evolution of Swing
While the founders of Swing may have long since passed, their careers and the music that they created with passion, is still celebrated by the new age of Swing artists that have integrated the old sounds with a modern edge.
‘The King of the Swingers’ are a bespoke act, compiled by Earcandy to produce a Swing band that gives the audience the feel of the old-school sound with a modern twist.
Playing the finest tracks from the era of Swing and New Orleans blues, the King of the Swingers are an act that will transport you back in time to a place where the music is swinging and the dancefloor is busy with the Swing step and the Lindy Hop.
With tracks from legendary artists such as Duke Ellington, Lois Armstrong and Ray Charles, the King of the Swingers is an act that will keep you and your guests on your feet and swinging the night away!
If you want your next event to be a barn-burner that everyone will enjoy and no-one will forget, and need to find the very best entertainment, the King of the Swingers are an upbeat Swing Jazz band for hire that will not only meet your expectations of quality live entertainment but exceed them as well.
Book the ‘King of the Swingers’ with Earcandy and get the very best in live entertainment for your wedding reception, corporate event or party.