Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s

Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s

Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s

Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s


This indispensable book brings us face to face with some of the most memorable figures in jazz history and charts the rise and development of bop in the late 1930s and '40s. Ira Gitler interviewed more than 50 leading jazz figures, over a 10-year period, to preserve for posterity their recollections of the transition in jazz from the big band era to the modern jazz period. The musicians interviewed, including both the acclaimed and the unrecorded, tell in their own words how this renegade music emerged, why it was a turning point in American jazz, and how it influenced their own lives and work. Placing jazz in historical context, Gitler demonstrates how the mood of the nation in its post-Depression years, racial attitudes of the time, and World War II combined to shape the jazz of today.


Big bands were the focal point of the so-called "Swing Era," when jazz reached its greatest popularity, in great part because of its relationship to dancing. Jazz permeated our society from movies through comic strips; found its way into our language, our fashions, and, of course, at its source, was heard in recordings, on the radio (live and on record), in theatres, ballrooms, and nightclubs. The "swing" bands did not play jazz all the time, but even the ballads and novelties were approached from a jazz viewpoint. The "sweet" bands, on the other hand, all had in their books some jazz arrangements, or "flagwavers," as they were called.

Swing, like the styles of jazz that preceded it, was essentially a black expression, but it was the white bands who were accorded the greatest popularity. Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Earl Hines, and Cab Calloway all were successful in this period, but not to the extent of their white counterparts. Benny Goodman, utilizing the arrangements of Edgar Sampson, Jimmy Mundv, Horace Henderson, and, most particularly, Fletcher Henderson, sparked the arrival of the Swing Era in the public consciousness. He was dubbed "The King of Swing," and achieved the commercial triumph that had eluded Fletcher Henderson in the latter's years as leader of the first big band to gain wide recognition by playing jazz.

In the mid-1920s, Henderson's trumpet section was graced by Louis Armstrong who, among his other musical accomplishments, defined what swinging--that solid, yet springing, 4/4 propulsion--was all about.

As the '30s segued into the '40s, new ideas were coming together from various sources and directions; different people were developing along similar lines and others were being influenced directly or building their styles in a particular way because they were being shaped by the attitudes dictated by the innovations of these seminal improvisers. Men such as tenor saxophonist Lester Young, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, guitarist Charlie Christian, pianist Art Tatum, bassist Jimmy Blanton . . .

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