Swing Jazz Bands

Swing jazz music had a plethora of bands that contributed to its dominance over the musical landscape in the 30’s and 40’s. Swing jazz bands were also the inspiration behind the swing revival boom of the late 90’s.  While each band had its own unique style, the swing era can be largely divided into two groups: “hot” swing and “sweet” swing.  The jazz artists that were around before swing became big either had to adapt or get out of the way.  While both styles had that distinctive swing sound, there were subtle differences that became more prevalent as time went on.

The bands of an era

The “hot” swing jazz bands played a swing that was more upbeat and hard-driving.  Many big bands were already heading that direction in the early 30’s.  One of the key attributes of hot swing was the call-and-response vocals, like in Cab Calloway’s “Are You Hep to the Jive?”  The bandleader or designated singer would sing a line, followed by a response from the rest of the band, either musically or yelling out.  This would be a recurring trend in music, eventually showing up in hip-hop decades later.  Hot swing was the more dance-floor ready version, with its fun, lively songs and lengthy solos.  The bands of the late 90’s swing revival period seemed to be more influenced by this style.

“Sweet” swing jazz bands, on the other hand, elicited more slow dances than outright sweaty dances.  Songs such as Glenn Miller’s“In the Mood” showed that sweet swing could move as quickly as its hot counterparts on occasion.  Sweet swing songs had more romantic titles and were heavier in sentimentality; as a result, it ended up being music to slow dance to, as opposed to hot swing’s primary objective of “getting you to move.”  Sure, it had the swing sound, but for the most part it took its time.

So, whether it was sweet or hot, swing music’s goal was to get people dancing.  In that case, it did that.  The swing jazz bands of the time generally migrated into one of those two camps, while some bands played both styles.  Swing jazz music had influence that was felt long after it died out in popularity in the late 40’s.  Including being the primary force behind the late 90’s swing revival, the hot swing bands influenced the doo-wop groups that followed in the 50’s, while the sweet swing bands were one of the influences behind the pop standards and “easy listening” music that enjoyed quite a following in the 50’s and early 60’s.

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Caricaturist Ian Lloyd

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