Magazine article IAJRC Journal

When Swing Was the Thing Personality Profiles of the Big Band Era

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

When Swing Was the Thing Personality Profiles of the Big Band Era

Article excerpt

When Swing Was the Thing Personality Profiles of the Big Band Era By John Tumpak Marquette University Press, 2008 264 pp. Hardback. $35.

Los Angeles based IAJRC member John Tumpak (at left) has long been chronicling the personalities that created, maintained and kept alive that part of the American musical scene known as The Swing Era. Over the past two decades, Tumpak has published profiles in four jazz related publications: LA Jazz Scene, Dancing USA, Joslin's Jazz Journal and The Mississippi Rag with many of the articles seeing reprint in various other journals.

Now, thankfully, the articles have been collected in hardcover for posterity. It appears that some of these profiles have been updated for this volume to reflect lifestyle changes occurring after original publication.

George T. Simon's The Big Bands, first published in 1967, has long been considered the definitive book covering the bands and singers that made up the Swing Era. This new volume does not pretend to be as comprehensive in its coverage. Yet, it is an invaluable addition to the store of knowledge surrounding the era. In the 47 profiles of bandleaders, musicians, vocalists, arrangers and contributors that make up this book, Tumpak's universe is necessarily limited as, for the most part, it covers personalities that he has personally interviewed. Being located in southern California gave Tumpak direct access to many of those he has profiled. Conversely, many who remained in the greater New York area, moved to the Sun Belt or who lived elsewhere and, therefore, were not readily accessible, are not covered. Likewise, many who died earlier, with the notable exceptions of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Chick Webb, are not included.

Tumpak is an exhaustive researcher. Each of the profiles offers a detailed biographical sketch and, through the interview process, interesting anecdotes and opinions from those being profiled. The writing style is crisp and focused on the subject. While some familiar ground is covered such as the Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller breakthroughs to fame, most of the stories will be lesser known and every bit as entertaining due to Tumpak's style. He affords historical perspective to the era by such means as comparing incomes with those of well known baseball players.

The bandleaders included are: Van Alexander, Goodman, Horace Heidt, John Kirby, Kay Kyser, Billy May, Ray McKinley, Miller, Alvino Rey (and the King Sisters), Jan Savitt, Artie Shaw, Orrin Tucker, Webb (with Mario Bauza) and Gerald Wilson. …

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