Got That Swing?

Duke Ellington said it best: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Especially if you’re looking to dance!

How did it all get started? Well, it’s rooted in African-American music ensembles that incorporated interesting new rhythms, courtesy of jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins.

It didn’t really take off beyond the African-American community until the mid-1930s. Jazz historians tell us that Benny Goodman was getting frustrated at the lack of popularity of his band’s music. So one night in 1935, he gave different instructions to his musicians. For their concert at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, they should “get as hot as you wish.” And boy, did that work!

Swing music even inspired the swing dance craze, which started off with the Lindy Hop and Charleston. Since then the steps have evolved quite a bit, but it’s still incredibly popular.

It’s almost eerie how good swing music is at making people want to move. A German scientist has even studied the phenomenon (read about it here). Suffice it to say that there’s some musical magic going on with timing. But the end result is toe-tappin’ goodness.

A few other fun facts about swing that might be new to you:

  • Did you know that the swing song “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott was sampled dozens of times in Looney Tunes cartoons? It just might be one of the most familiar tunes you’ve heard, although you may never have listened to the entire song.
  • Swing music was a real morale-booster. Many musicians used the music to help them forget the devastation of World War I. Then the tunes helped cheer the masses during the Great Depression. And swing music (along with Glenn Miller) are closely linked to World War II as a boost for soldiers’ spirits.
  • Speaking of Glenn Miller, his self-titled album ranked #1 in 1945 and was the fourth best-selling album of that entire decade.

Check out this playlist of popular swing tunes from back in the day.