One Of the Kings Of Swing
While many people argued whether Goodman or Shaw was the better musician, nobody during the Swing Era could ignore that Glenn Miller left both of them in his wake once he hit the scene. Sure, the bespectacled, tight-lipped bandleader seemed more like the leader of a choir than a swing band, but his keen arranging skills and ear for melody ensured that at least every other tune he recorded seemed like the anthem of the age. He was the most popular bandleader of his day, playing the Glen Island Casino during the summer, the ...read more
Second Balcony Jump
In his autobiography Malcolm X described the first time he heard Flying Home. People kept shouting for Hamp's Flying Home and finally he did it. I had never seen such fever heated dancing. In his autobiography, Lionel Hampton tells the story of the time at the Apollo when a guy who had smoked too much marijuana launched himself from the second balcony when the band played the song, apparently in the mistaken belief that he could fly home. In fact, Hampton's hottest number had such a reputation for whipping crowds up into a frenzy that one time ...read more
It all started, or rather ended, with a tempo change. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra broke up when Tommy Dorsey abruptly walked off the stage during an engagement at the Glen Island Casino after an argument over the tempo of a tune. However, the seeds of discord had been planted long ago. The Dorsey Brothers, Jimmy and Tommy, were legendary scrappers who, despite their love for one another, constantly found themselves in heated arguments. After this final blow-up, Jimmy continued to lead the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra under his own name. For his part, Tommy took over the band of ...read more
During the Swing Era Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were the clarinetists that reigned supreme and serious fans divided themselves into factions that loved one or the other. Goodman was the peddler of popular tunes who got the crowd on their feet, while Shaw was the musician's musician who preferred to make artistic statement that people listened to.
While both left their mark on the time period, nobody felt the tension between art and entertainment like Artie Shaw. He quit playing in the mid-fifties, frustrated by the music business and weary of a scene that demanded ...read more
Part III in a series exploring the history of the Swing Era's greatest songs.
It Don't Mean A Thing
Unlike many big band leaders, Ellington was always uncomfortable with the swing music craze and had little to gain from it. For one thing, his distinctive musical imagination and complex arrangements were more appropriate for listening than jitterbugging. He was more interested in exploring a wide range of moods and emotions than the dance bandleaders, who rarely composed their own music. Finding the balance between art and popularity was a problem that plagued him during this time. It's no wonder, then, ...read more
Part II in a series exploring the history of the Swing Era's greatest songs.
In the summer of 1937 Charlie Parker headed to the Ozark Mountains with a stack of Count Basie records and spent hours woodshedding, learning the solos of Lester Young note for note. Although Parker developed his own style out of this exercise, Young's playing had a profound influence on his initial approach. But Parker wasn't the only one; there were plenty of artists who devoted time to copying the floating, melodic style of the tenor player. Many of these artists learned to play like Young from ...read more
Part I in a series exploring the history of the Swing Era's greatest songs.
Benny Goodman and his band arrived at the Paramount Theater on the morning of March 3, 1937 to find throngs of students waiting in line. Goodman had assumed that this engagement, which started at 8:30 in the morning and preceded a Claudette Colbert picture, wouldn't be that big of a deal. But when the band appeared on the slowly rising stage playing Let's Dance," dance they did--all 12,000 of them, spilling out into the aisles, on the bandstand, and anywhere else they ...read more