History of Swing Music

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Put on your dancing shoes!

The history of swing music - or swing dance music or swing jazz as it is sometimes called - is littered with musical crossover. The genre itself is one part jazz, another part ragtime and another part revival. Known for using woodwind instruments like the clarinet and saxophone in tandem with larger brass instruments like the trombone and trumpet, the genre is also known for its ability to get people up and dancing.

The History of Swing Music

The history of swing music began in the late 1920s and early 1930s as a subset of jazz music. The style was defined separately from jazz due to its "groove" and faster player style. Jazz as defined in the 1920s was a rhythm-based two-beat style. Swing music grew out of this to inspire larger, louder, faster ensembles with four-or-more beat swing stylings. The genre occasionally dabbled in using string instruments, which also set it apart from jazz.

African-American Revival

Much like other typically American styles of music, swing music was a traditionally African-American art form. The genre was said to uplift the still developing culture in Southern regions in particular. The style was also said to be a refuge for African-American communities already hit hard by the Great Depression. Due largely to this influence, string instruments ceased to be used in the style as it rose to definition in the mid 1930s. Around this time, melody came to the forefront of the music and musicians played more brass instruments. Swing ensembles were generally much larger in size than their jazz counterparts - especially in the African-American community. This size allowed more players to come together and create louder, bolder sounds.


One of the first swing band leaders to achieve notoriety was Benny Goodman, who received a radio spot on Let's Dance. The show was popular at the time and largely debuted the style of swing to a larger American audience - particularly teens. The style developed to feature vocalists and large arrangements that jazz would not have allowed. Other stars like Count Basie developed around this time period as the style became one of the more popular genres of the time. The Dorsey Brothers - known for their role in Frank Sinatra's career - also became popular later in the 1930s.

However, as society changed in the US, the genre began to decline in popularity. Many men left to fight in World War II - diminishing the size of swing bands. Swing bands were also popular in Nazi Germany - angering some in the United States. As a result, the public began to yield to the stylings of vocal crooners like Nat King Cole and and country stars. The style remained alive largely outside of the mainstream, although popular stars like Fats Domino still found ways to incorporate parts of the style into B-sides.

Recent Years

In recent years, the genre has seen a slight rise in popularity - at least as far as the mainstream is concerned. While the genre also functioned underground, newer hybrids of brass music like ska brought interest to the mainstream of swing yet again. A hit single by Brian Setzer's Orchestra and a swing covers album by British star Robbie Williams also helped to bring more fame to the rising genre. Into the 2010s, the genre remains a popular back-burner for many adults.

Swing Music Now

While swing music may not be everyone's favorite genre, there is still a large audience it. Newer stars in modern pop music who embrace swing influences bring interest to the genre while many still look back and appreciate some of the older stars of swing.

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History of Swing Music