Have you ever actually heard of swing music? Have you paid attention to what it’s really all about? If you’ve ever wondered about swing, then this is definitely where you want to be because we’re going to talk all about it. We’re going to explore what swing music is and just how it can be amazing for you to experience. Whether you love to just listen to music or you want to get out there and dance (yes, swing dance is definitely a thing) you’re going to want to know more.
What is Swing Music?
Swing music started in the United States around the 1920s to 1940s. That’s when the music was really taking off and when the dances were starting to get really big and popular around the country and even the world. But maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. At this point in time, the name came because the music sounded kind of like a swing. There was an emphasis that sounded heavier on the off-beat and this really created something unique compared to what was going on with the rest of the jazz music of the time.
Singers and bands for swing music would usually get a little creative, with the melody actually be improvised much of the time. That made it even more unique, but it was still a really danceable style of music and it was something that was fun for the young people of the time. Big bands started to really become big in the swing music style and that led to some of the most notable musicians and singers of any era. They were names that were synonymous with jazz, big bands and definitely swing itself.
Names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Cab Calloway were names that came out of this era and they are names that many of us still recognize even to this day. But they only just started the era and the real music of the time. While some of the best music may have, arguably, come from what they produced, there has definitely been a whole lot more out there since. The big band era continued past them and the music that we hear today and use as swing music may have been inspired by them, but it’s different in its own ways too.
In general, when we talk about swing music, we mean a song that has a strong rhythm and a loose type are of wind and brass. We’re talking about theme choruses or even improvised solo choruses. It’s an interesting style and it’s one that didn’t start to slow down until World War II. It’s also something that most definitely started other styles of music that range from bebop jazz to jump blues and even the modern-day pop music that so many people listen to and contribute to even to this day.
But even that’s not all that swing did. It actually contributed to the creation of western swing by being joined with blues. It created gypsy swing through a combination with jazz violin. And it became even more upbeat and vibrant when it started to be combined with some of the trendier music of the 1980s and even up through the 2000s. As the revivals began to happen around the world, swing music started to see straight revivals, where the music was being brought back, and completely new ones, where something completely different was being created in the old style.
What is Swing Dance?
Of course, with a brand new style of music, there also has to be a brand new style of dance and it was named for the music that created it. This style of dance was actually a combination of several different styles and though it may have started out already as a new style, it continued to grow and change over time. Even as the music changed the dancing changed faster. People from all parts of the country wanted to have a hand in creating a completely new style of dance and in founding something unique to them.
What resulted was a system of dances that were generally either partnered or circle dances. They involved a lot of fancy footwork or arm work and they even started to venture into styles of aerials, flips, tucks, twists and a great deal more. They were definitely unique from one part of the country to the other and they started to be truly amazing as more and more people ventured into the field. Styles of dance like the Lindy Hop, Balboa, Charleston, and Collegiate Shag started to be invented and started to gain popularity even across the country, spreading like wildfire.
While some of these styles of dance have held out and have continued to be popular even now, with more modern swing dance revivals, many of them just haven’t stood the test of time. That means we really have no idea of some of the amazing types of dancing that were done during those eras and we have absolutely no idea what great feats people were actually able to accomplish. What we do know is that the ones that are left now are a whole lot of fun and they’re definitely something for all generations to enjoy.
Influential People of the Swing Era
When it comes to the people who really made swing happen there are some names that we think of immediately. Even those who might not know a whole lot of about swing music and swing dance will recognize some of these names and you may have even come up with some of them on your own just thinking about it. But each one had something to do with creating the amazing things that happened during the 1920s and beyond and contributed to much of the music that we know and love today.
Fletcher Henderson was actually not only a bandleader and pianist but a composer and arranger. On top of all of that, he was the one that hires Louis Armstrong. So, even if you’ve never actually heard of Fletcher you’ve probably heard of Armstrong. But still, Henderson was popular and accomplished in his own right, creating some of the big music that Benny Goodman is popular for and eventually he actually became a full-time arranger for his group. Overall, this man most definitely drew in some of the big talents and helped to make it what it was.
If you’ve ever heard anything about music you’ve likely at least heard the name Duke Ellington, and for good reason. He was one of the best composers in all of the American music and he’s considered one of the most important as well. During this period of time, he was actually performing every week at the New York Cotton Club. For decades he was touring with his band, creating amazing songs and doing the compositions, arrangements, recording and a whole lot more. His music is some of the best ever heard when it comes to jazz and that continues to this day.
He had a truly distinctive voice and it went really well with the way that he was able to improvise. Not only that but he was a tenor sax player and he was a member of Fletcher Henderson’s band. That’s where he was able to develop some of his signature styles, but he would go on to be a soloist as well. In fact, he created ‘Body and Soul,’ which was believed to be one of the most amazing improvisations that ever hit the jazz industry. He continued to help in influencing bebop and a whole lot more.
A famous alto sax player of the era, Johnny Hodges actually toured for 38 years with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which is where he really started to develop his own sound and his own style. It was this that really helped him to influence jazz music and to create a level of uniqueness that most definitely contributed to the era and beyond. He could create lyrical sounds and vibrato sounds that gave him a varied style as well and it’s likely because of all of these things that he was able to influence saxophone music so much.
When you talk about swing you really can’t talk about Frankie Manning. He was one of the most influential people when it came to actually perform swing dance. As a dancer himself and later as a teacher he created some of his own styles and even created some of the most popular moves that are now known throughout swing dance. But he also influenced entire generations of people to enjoy the Lindy Hop and several other variations of swing dance as well. He most definitely created a new era and helped it continue on.
Considered to be the person who actually named the Lindy Hop, though whether or not he was actually responsible for creating it is another story. Rather, he danced this unique version and named it after a man who had just made a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Charles Lindbergh. That’s the story behind where the name ‘Lindy Hop’ actually came from (though whether or not that’s true is something that’s often disputed). Either way, this man definitely helped to make the dance popular and he was definitely instrumental for at least creating a great story.
Just like you’ll find competitive dance in a number of other areas, you’re definitely going to find it with swing dancing. While the main period for this type of dance was definitely many years ago, there are still plenty of people who enjoy it and who want to give it a try for themselves as well. It’s all about experiencing swing dancing as a couple, or even as an individual because these events can actually offer you the opportunity to jump into swing dancing with a random individual, if you know where to look.
Strictly competitions will require each person who wants to participate to have a partner and that couple will dance together the entire time. Pre-choreographed steps aren’t allowed and the couple will experience a random assortment of music that they have to work with as they go along. It creates a fun atmosphere that’s a little random.
Jack and Jill Competition
Jack and Jill competitions are going to provide people with random couples. Each person will generally perform something on their own to start but when couples dancing is required they won’t have a choice on their partner. Instead, they’ll simply draw straws (or slips of paper with names on them) to choose a partner.
Showcase competitions allow you to show off the things that you and your partner know how to do. You get to choreograph this one, but you’ll need to pull it off really well because there’s going to be a whole lot of work involved.
Classic competitions are the final version and these ones are going to give you the opportunity to select your song and choreograph your dance, just like with a showcase. But with this kind you’re going to have some rules about just what type of moves you can actually do within the song. It’s going to be a little different, but still, you and your partner showing off.
Overall, there’s a whole lot about swing music and swing dance that you’ll want to understand for yourself. If you’re lucky, you may even live in an area where you can find classes or watch the professionals do it and get a firsthand experience of what it may have been like way back in the heyday of swing. But even if you can’t get a glimpse of it firsthand there’s a whole lot that you can see on videos and nowadays online. It’s definitely something that you should take a closer look at and that you should do for yourself, because it’s going to challenge you and give you a great experience.