During the Jazz Age, jazz music became associated with the seedy underbellies of major cities. It was seen by mainstream Americans as immoral and was relegated to speakeasies and other questionable establishments.
After the Prohibition Era came to a close, Jazz was primed to take center stage in the music industry. However, it still wasn’t considered “friendly” for white audiences, which were the biggest music consumers of the time. Increasing promotion for the popular big bands of the day and changing the genre’s name to “swing” made it more palatable to white audiences. The result was an incredible boom in the popularity of swing music, which was destined to have a decided impact on the history of rock music.
The Development of Swing Music
Whether swing and jazz are essentially the same type of music is hotly debated among musicians and music historians. Swing music did evolve directly from jazz music, however, opting to forgo the latter’s increasing reliance on sweeping orchestral melodies in favor of a rawer sound that was heavy on the brass and wind sections.
The swing sound began to emerge in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1930s that it became a cultural force. What now seems like such a culturally relevant form of music was actually met with great resistance initially, especially as swing music spread overseas. The more swing was shunned by older populations, though, the stronger the mystique surrounding it became. Eventually, it’s popularity grew so substantially that it became the dominant form of music for over a decade.
Important Big Band Era Musicians
Many of the biggest names in swing remain extremely relevant in mainstream music, even today. Some of the major tours de force of the Big Band Era include Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and Glenn Miller. The influence of swing greats like these can be found in music from the early 1950s up to modern hits from artists like Brian Setzer.
The Decline of Swing Music
In 1942, there was a musician’s strike that resulted in a recording ban, causing harm to the careers of many of the day’s biggest stars. By the time the strike was over, the United States was firmly entrenched in World War II, making pulling together a big band a nearly impossible task, as many of the musicians ended up fighting overseas. After the war ended, some bands were able to produce a few hit records, but the Golden Age of swing was mostly over.
In 1948, there was a second recording ban that all but sounded the death knell for swing music as the predominant musical genre. During the ban, many then-up-and-coming artists began experimenting with different sounds, resulting in the evolution of bebop, another hugely influential force in the history of rock.
The Influence of Swing on Rock History
Swing music had heavy influence in a wide variety of genres. Even during its heyday, swing was slowly filtering into genres like country music. Rock n’ Roll and R&B forefather Fats Domino brought a fresh perspective to old swing songs by turning them into rock standards. Even Elvis Presley covered some of the Big Band Era’s songs.
The 1990s saw a revival of interest in swing music, with such modern acts as Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy topping the charts with their swing-infused hits. As music patterns are often cyclical, it’s only a matter of time before the third resurgence of swing music emerges.