Swing (genre)

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Swing describes a style of jazz that has its roots in the USA between the 1920s and 1930s . There, from previous styles, such as Dixieland and Chicago jazz, a new style of music developed, which ultimately derived its great popularity from its danceability and its full sound. In the swing era, entertainment and art came closest to each other; jazz made compromises in order to become popular, yet retained its idiosyncrasies.

The spread of swing is inextricably linked with the creation of the big band , often referred to as a jazz orchestra, which indicates the size of the line-up. Until then, musicians ranging in size from trios to octets were the rule, but the big band was now an absolute novelty . Their size resulted in changes in the way they make music, but also a wide range of new musical possibilities.


Swing is considered to be the most popular style of jazz , which emerged towards the end of the 1920s and reached its peak from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s. It was originally developed by African Americans , but was soon copied, marketed commercially, and ultimately dominated by white Americans. The era of swing is inextricably linked with the emergence of the typical swing musician formation, the big band . The line-up of the Big Band goes back to the classic, seven-piece New Orleans jazz band , with the band's three wind instruments ( trombone , clarinet and trumpet or cornet ) now being used several times. The brass bands , which were particularly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the southern United States , had other influences on the big band . However, the New York pianist and arranger Fletcher Henderson (1897–1952) is generally seen as the founder of the “original big band” . He was the first to try out multiple ensembles in the field of wind instruments. His “big band” features a trombone, two trumpets, an alto and a tenor saxophone, a clarinet and the rhythm section . The classic line-up of the big band (see below) did not establish itself until 1930.

Away from the centers of the music and record industry, the so-called Territory Bands were responsible for the spread and popularity of swing throughout the USA . They usually had a medium-sized town as a base, around which they played the “territory” in the area in one nighters , ie performances for only one evening, with several hundred miles between these individual performances. These bands still had the opportunity to play for regional and sometimes for national radio stations. This part of the development of swing is hardly recorded on records, as these bands often had no opportunity to record records. Only in Kansas City , because of the good job opportunities, was a center formed where the contribution of the Territory Bands to swing was recorded and made nationally and internationally noticeable. The orchestras of Benny Goodman (1909–1986) and Glenn Miller (1904–1944) as well as individual personalities such as Cole Porter (1891–1964) and Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996) shaped the style of the international success of swing . In the middle of World War II, Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey created a soulful form of swing that has been replicated over and over again.

The swing wave swept across Western Europe very quickly. US-American titles were played by European orchestras shortly after their first publication and in some cases were interpreted very freely. The refraing singing typical of swing was in some cases also translated into the national languages ​​or newly written. Many important European bands such as Teddy Stauffer's (1909–1991) enriched the American swing sound world with new orchestrations. The accordion has often become the main carrier of the melody. The European orchestras not only played the American hits, but came out with countless works of their own. Willy Berking (1910–1979) brought partly unbridled swing numbers to the German record market with his Berking top series published by Imperial until 1943. In July 1944, with the help of Franz Teddy Kleindin (1914–2007), a number heavily inspired by Tiger Rag was recorded by the Hans Georg Schütz Dance Orchestra under the name The Black Panther in Berlin and published in the same year on Polydor .

In Germany, despite the great displeasure of many NSDAP party offices, it was ultimately not possible to take decisive action against the zeitgeist, which was embodied, among other things, by the swing youth . Contrary to the prohibitions, arrests, denigrations, discrimination and interventions by the censors, which were pronounced in many places, many recordings were made, especially during the war, that were in no way inferior to American hot swing. Dance bans never lasted long. For example, Delphi in Berlin, operated by Elfriede Scheibel and her husband, the jazz musician Heinz Wehner (1908–1945), one of the most important swing strongholds, was able to keep up the business until the general closure of all non-war operations in 1943, despite some state harassment national and international artists such as Stan Brenders (1904–1969), Fud Candrix (1908–1974), Eddie Tower (1899–1956) and Arne Hülphers (1904–1978) maintained. The American jazz magazine Down Beat praised Wehner's Telefunken Swing Orchestra, with which he made many recordings “as the best band in the Nazi empire”. Orchestras that were supposed to take a moderate direction of modern dance music with government support, such as Die Goldene Sieben before the war or the German Dance and Entertainment Orchestra founded in 1942 , often played with a striking swing. Warnings issued by the Reichsmusikkammer against jazz lovers among the soldiers on home leave were ultimately suppressed by the Wehrmacht High Command to keep the soldiers happy.

After the war, swing hit the zeitgeist again as music of liberation and joie de vivre. Towards the end of the 1940s, however, it quickly lost its favor with young listeners who turned to the increasingly popular rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll . With a changed soundscape, large swinging big bands like the SWR Big Band or the Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra (1920–1982) were among the major entertainment shows on West German television and on stage until the 1970s. Even today, swing has its audience on an international level, and important contemporary artists such as Rod Stewart ( As Time Goes By ) and Robbie Williams ( Swing When You're Winning ) have released swing albums with interpretations of American classics and swing legends the second generation such as Paul Kuhn (1928–2013), Max Greger (1926–2015) and Hugo Strasser (1922–2016) carried this style of music successfully into the 21st century.

Big Band

The big band in its classic line-up in swing includes 17 musicians and the band leader. The internal division of the band into three sections or groups is characteristic:

The expansion of the ensemble to include flutes and clarinets is as popular then as it is today. Orchestral instruments such as horns, tubas and string instruments, however, could not establish themselves in the addition of the instrumental spectrum.

The size of the new formation of up to 17 musicians inevitably resulted in a change in the way they make music. The main difference to the music of Dixieland - New Orleans- or Chicago jazz bands , the written down, so in the form of an established score present arrangement , since the interaction is no longer necessarily was harmonious in other ways from such a large number of musicians. This resulted in a certain restriction of the individual freedom of jazz musicians who were used to improvising based on a few defined harmonies . There was now only room for improvisation in various solos within the numbers. In addition, the notation of the arrangement required the musicians to be familiar with sheet music. The now thoroughly arranged pieces allowed a considerable expansion of the harmonic basis, so that more complicated harmonies and harmony sequences could be designed.

The division into different sections resulted in different tasks for the instrument groups: In practice, the saxophones often take over the melody part, which is why the wooden group is often referred to as the melody section . A division of the melody between woodwind and brass is also popular. Trumpets form the harmonic basis. Clarinets and flutes often function as solo instruments. One of the trumpets' tasks is to introduce so-called shouts , rhythmic, short interjections in the respective harmony, which together with a capable drummer make up part of the big band groove . The piano has more melodic tasks in the big band than was the case in the New Orleans jazz band, where it primarily formed a harmonic soundscape for the solos of the other instruments. Overall, the character of swing is characterized by greater accuracy in intonation , in contrast to the music of Dixieland or New Orleans jazz, where primarily the rhythm - referred to as the subjective auditory impression drive - was in the foreground and the precise intonation not so Much importance was attached.

What the individual musician in the New Orleans Band had played individually and improvising was now transferred in the arrangement to several musicians in a sentence , i. That is, several subordinate voices have now been added to the melody. The balanced and precise intonation results in the desired ideal that the sentence made up of four or five musicians sounds like a single instrument.

Musical characteristics

The most important way of playing, however, which gave the Swing style its name in the mid-1930s, is a rhythmic-dynamic form of movement in jazz called Swing , which is characterized by the contrast between the felt pulse (the basic beats in each time signature) and the smallest rhythmic deviations of the Inserts of the instruments comes about. In the continuous so-called offbeat play of entire melody passages, the swing phenomenon takes on a special dominance. The following example may serve to illustrate this:

The classic rhythmic swing scheme, often marked by the drummer, is a quarter note followed by two (formal) eighth notes, followed by a quarter note and so on. If the band played both eighths straight , i.e. actually half as long as the quarters (as it is usually noted), that would not be swing. In fact, the first eighth note is played a little longer than the second, which in turn also depends on the tempo, and thus creates a springy, sustaining sense of rhythm. Metrically, these swing eights are roughly identical to an eighth triplet, which is why the phenomenon of swing is also known as the “triplet feeling”. However, you will hardly find a swing recording on which they are actually identical to the triplets, as the ternary eighth notes can also shift towards dotted eighth-sixteenths (depending on the piece).

The musical elaboration of this fact as well as the offbeat accentuation, i.e. the minimal shift of melody accents compared to the basic beat, is primarily the responsibility of the drummer, mostly on his snare drum . At the same time he marks the pulse, i.e. the basic beat, on his bass drum during the big band swing. The rhythm figure of the quarter note described above with the following two eighth notes is mostly played more or less continuously on the ridge cymbal as an ostinato. From a rhythmic point of view, the bass is the most important instrument in the band. As a timekeeper, he is responsible for setting the tempo and creating a solid basic rhythm, usually characterized by quarter notes on the basic beats, on the basis of which the rest of the band can build. The swinging style of playing, previously only used to emphasize certain melodic passages, has now been made a style criterion. The procedure known as " Call and Response " is also widespread in Swing : one instrument plays and another answers it.


Benny Goodman and band.

As the first white band of this style, the Casa Loma Orchestra began popularizing swing in the late 1920s. This style of jazz became a mass phenomenon from the mid-1930s, not least due to the spectacular successes of the clarinetist Benny Goodman's band . Swing especially attracted the youth of that time, so that a number of wild dance fashions developed from swing . The use of radio had a decisive influence on the triumphant advance of swing, initially in the USA, where a radio show with three bands of different styles, including the Goodman Orchestra, organized as an advertising campaign by the National Biscuit Company between December 1934 and May 1935 the National Broadcasting Company's radio stations broadcast weekly nationwide. The radio stations in Europe also contributed to the triumph of swing.

It was only after the Second World War that Germany and Austria in particular caught up, where jazz was banned as “ degenerate music ” on the radio during the Third Reich , and fans of swing youth faced severe fines. This new style of music was mainly conveyed by the American troops in Europe. Mention should be made here of Glenn Miller , who founded his big band in 1937 with the typical " Glenn Miller sound " (four saxophones and leading clarinet) and quickly enjoyed great popularity. Hits like In the Mood , or Moonlight Serenade , American Patrol , Chattanooga Choo Choo , Tuxedo Junction or Little Brown Jug emerged . Glenn Miller joined the United States Army Air Forces and took over the leadership of the Army Air Force Band in 1942. In 1944 Miller was killed on a supply flight over the English Channel. His successful orchestra was kept alive as the Ghost Band under the direction of Tex Beneke .

Count Basie in the Rhythm and Blues Revue

Among the most successful US swing orchestras of this era were

Although not commercially successful, Jack Teagarden and His Orchestra was musically significant . In the course of time the swing developed a dual character. On the one hand, swing was used as popular dance music by dance bands such as Larry Clinton , Guy Lombardo and Tommy Tucker , on the other hand, purely concert performances took place. However, swing celebrated its triumph as dance music , and it gained unprecedented popularity. The commercial adaptation of swing to the tastes of the mass audience was derived from this. So now on Tin Pan Alley , a New York music mile, swing numbers were written non-stop for the general public. This "mass production" and the growing commercialization of swing music, especially by white bands, clearly removed this direction of jazz from its Afro-American roots. This was counteracted by musicians from the following directions of jazz, bebop (from 1940) and cool jazz (from 1949/50). In club sessions and concerts, they relieved jazz of its functional function as dance music - initially supported involuntarily by the recording ban .

Today swing is enjoying growing popularity again. The big band tradition began in the 1950s with Stan Kenton , Maynard Ferguson and later orchestras such as the Quincy Jones Big Band , the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra , Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination and Brass , The Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band or the Kenny Clarke / Francy Boland Big Band continued. As in the 1970s with the Buddy Rich Big Band and the Tonight Show Band under the direction of Doc Severinsen , new orchestras with young musicians are founded. Both the Pasadena Roof Orchestra , founded in the 1970s , the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band and the Swing Dance Orchestra founded in the 1980s by Andrej Hermlin are now almost as well known for their high musical quality as their models from the 1920s and 1930s. Years.

The small bands

In addition to the big bands, there were a large number of significant small ensembles in the swing era. Their boom came with the advent of the jukebox , a device that was to change not only the record industry , but also jazz. Not only jazz vocalists were in demand , but also the studio bands, who have now recorded countless dance music and jazz records. The focus was on singing instrumentalists such as Red Allen , Lionel Hampton , Wingy Manone , Louis Prima , Fats Waller or, in England, Nat Gonella , as well as the well-known band singers, including the "newcomer" Billie Holiday . Besides formations in medium size (especially Nonet and Tentett ), it was primarily those formed from the core of the large swing orchestra Smalls bands (also: Small Groups ). After all , it was these smaller combos that continued the tradition after most of the big big bands ended in the 1950s.

Lionel Hampton 1977 during a concert in Aachen

Important formations were

In the 1940s to 1950s, some piano-guitar-bass formations were formed, some of which were style-forming such as the Nat King Cole Trio and the Art Tatum Trio with Slam Stewart on bass and Tiny Grimes as guitarist, later Everett Barksdale .

Important albums

The soloists of swing

The big bands

The small bands

  • The Basie Bunch: Too Marvelous for Words / Cool Too (Vanguard, 1954–1958)
  • Benny Carter, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and others a .: 3, 4, 5 - The Verve Small Group Sessions
  • The Duke's Men: Small Groups Vol. I & II (Columbia, 1935-1939)
  • John Kirby 1938-1939 (Classics)


  • Albert McCarthy : Big Band Jazz. The Definite History of the Origins, Progress, Influence, and Decline of Big Jazz Bands. New York: Berkley Windhover Books, 1977.
  • Gunther Schuller : The Swing Era The Development of Jazz 1930-1945. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Will Friedwald : Swinging Voices of America - A Compendium of Great Voices. Hannibal, St. Andrä-Wölker 1992, ISBN 3-85445-075-3 .
  • Reinhold Westphal: Swing. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 .
  • Michael H. Kater : Different Drummers. Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany . Oxford Press, Oxford, New York 2003, ISBN 0-19-516553-5 .
  • Erwin Barta, Reinhold Westphal: Hello! Swing-Swing !: light music from the forties and fifties in the Wiener Konzerthaus (=  musical life. Studies on the history of music in Austria 11 ), Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-631-51054-3 .
  • Marie-Theres Arnbom : Swing dancing prohibited: popular music after 1933 between resistance, propaganda and displacement , Armin Berg Verlag, Vienna 2015, ISBN 978-3-9502673-3-4

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Will Friedwald , p. 7.
  2. For example: Willy Berking: Rhythm! , taken in Berlin in May 1942, Imperial 17375, die KC 29025-2
  3. ^ Rainer Lotz : Discography of German Dance Music. Volume 6. German National Discography , Birgit-Lotz-Verlag, Bonn 1996, ISBN 3-9803461-7-X .
  4. ^ Marc Brüninghaus: Popular music in the Third Reich . Diplomica, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8366-3813-5 , p. 55.
  5. Michael H. Kater : Different Drummers. Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany . Oxford Press, Oxford, New York 2003, ISBN 0-19-516553-5 , p. 66.
  6. ^ Horst Heinz Lange: Jazz in Germany. The German Jazz Chronicle until 1960 . Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 1996, ISBN 3-487-08375-2 , p. 93.
  7. ^ Marc Brüninghaus: Popular music in the Third Reich . Diplomica, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-8366-3813-5 , p. 79.
  8. ^ Klaus Schulz: Jazz in Austria 1920–1960 (with audio CD), Album Verlag, 2003, ISBN 978-3-85164-136-3 , p. 48.
  9. Lean'tin Bracks: African American Almanac. 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence . Visible Ink Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-57859-323-1 , p. 291.
  10. See Friedwald, p. 96.