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Opinion/Editorial

Secret Jazz: The Swinging Side of Western Swing

By Published: October 14, 2003
Lest you think that all Western Swing simply borrowed stylistic elements of New Orleans and Big Band Swing, Hank Penny and his Radio Cowboys listened attentively to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Proof? Listen to 'Hillbilly Be-Bop' on Hank Penny: King of Hillbilly Bebop (Proper Records) for an ear-expanding experience. And moving further into progressive jazz: how about a takeoff of Stan Kenton on 'Artistry in Western Swing' by Tex Williams and his Western Caravan, included on Rhino's excellent single disc compilation, Heroes of Country Music Volume One: Legends of Western Swing. Also showcased on that compilation is the pianist Knocky Parker who established his jazz chops through recording the complete piano solos of Jelly Roll Morton before getting his PhD in English and becoming an English professor in Florida where he retired from all swinging activities related to music. More of Parker's jazz talents are found on the fine English import label ASV/Living Era CD, Western Swing: Hot Hillbilly Jazz & Blues 1935-1947. For any Western Swing novice on a budget, but with a deep hankering for a superbly sequenced overview of the style, there is the four disc box on the Proper label, Doughboys, Playboys, and Cowboys: the Golden Years of Western Swing.

All of this suggested listening involves going to your favorite music store and veering away from where jazz CDs are displayed. It may feel a bit odd to rub shoulders with the Dolly Parton set, but the rewards are stunning. Next time you hear about 'the West Coast' jazz style, think of the wild West style as a neglected forerunner. More stars shine bright in the heart of Texas than you may have ever realized.

Related Websites:

Proper Music and Origin Jazz



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