The Early Swing Era, 1930 to 1941

By Dave Oliphant | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Precursors to and the Birth of Big-Band Swing

Styles or movements in the arts—whether of literature, painting, or music—do not begin or end with any particular date. Sometimes a single work or the death of an individual figure is used to mark the opening or closing of an entire style or movement, but this is more for the sake of convenience in surveying historical developments than for pinpointing when any particular style or movement started or stopped. Nonetheless, in designating the early Swing Era as extending from 1930 to 1941, it is possible not only to trace developments during an entire decade (including the extra year that preceded the entrance of the United States into World War II with its resultant disruption of the music industry) but also to commence with a year that saw the end of two major “hot jazz” careers: those of Joe “King” Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, whose work in the 1920s represented in many ways the culmination of the New Orleans tradition that predominated during the first decade of jazz history and whose music would continue to have an impact throughout the 1930s. 1

Oliver and Morton have been looked upon as two of only a handful of early jazz musicians who were not afflicted with the stiffness of ragtime. More important, both were the products of an age given to a form of popular music that depended largely on a technique of “spontaneous collective music” rather than a “worked-out orchestral language.” 2 Even a piece by Morton recorded with his Red Hot Peppers on June 11, 1928, although titled “Georgia Swing,” does not represent the orchestral form associated with almost all big bands of the Swing Era. On the Morton recording, there is no saxophone included and no sectional work as such. In contrast, big bands worked with three to five reeds, three to five trumpets, and two or three trombones, which were either featured strictly as a unit playing themes or riffs, exchanging call-and-response figures with another section, or stating as an entire band a melodic line made lush by an arranger’s harmonic writing. 3 Instead of such sections, Morton’s Red Hot Peppers consisted of banjo, tuba, and drums carrying the beat for the trum-

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The Early Swing Era, 1930 to 1941
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Chapter 1 - Precursors to and the Birth of Big-Band Swing 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Name Black Bands 39
  • Chapter 3 - The Name White Bands 97
  • Chapter 4 - Other Black Bands 147
  • Chapter 5 - Other White Bands 263
  • Chapter 6 - The Small Swing Groups 325
  • A to Z 397
  • Selected Bibliography 429
  • Index 433
  • About the Author 465
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