Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Swinging Saturday Night

Swing Bands
Clockwise: Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington.

As I contemplated what to post on this fine Saturday evening, I cycled through a few ideas, and then it hit me - Swing. It is music that makes your body want to move - whether it is to dance, or just move your shoulders. But before I broke out the Zoot Suit, I thought I had some homework to do. So I did a search on the internet, asking for the top Swing songs. I found a list compiled by some guys that I liked, so I just grabbed the top 4 and sent about finding the videos to go with them. Mind you, there was nothing scientific about the list, but I must say, once I read the list, I couldn't argue with the top songs. Like, for instance, Artie Shaw & His Orchestra, considered one of the top big bands of the 30s and 40s. Shaw himself was one of the great clarinet players, so fronting the band was a natural thing. In 1938, they played Noel Coward's Begin The Beguine and garnered much attention.

Decades before the Divine Miss M was making a name for herself playing swing music, the Glenn Miller Orchestra were touring around the country and making hit records like In The Mood, a song written by Glenn Miller and his arranger, Joe Garland. It was released in 1939, but really didn't stir up too much until it was featured in the movie Sun Valley Serenade. Soon, the song was all the rage, and topping the charts.

I don't think you could have a discussion about swing music without talking about the great Duke Ellington. And if you are talking about Duke's music, you certainly have to start with Take The "A" Train, the quintessential Manhattan song that was released in 1941. It was an instrumental written by Billy Strayhorn in 1939, who wrote much of the music for Ellington and the band. Strayhorn was also a brave out and proud gay man of color, something that must not have been easy in the 40s and 50s. And he will always be remembered as the composer of this great song.

For many historians, Benny Goodman and his Orchestra are in the forefront of Swing Music, leaders of a movement in the mid-30s that would not be denied. The Orchestra was considered one of, if not THE, top Big Bands of the 30s. So, when they started making Swing music, they were bringing it to a new audience. There are those that say the bands 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York to be one of the most important moments in the history of Swing and Jazz, adding a veneer of respectability to a new form of music. And when you are talking about Swing Music, most could not ignore 1937 recording of Louis Prima's song, Sing, Sing, Sing. It certainly was a signature song for the time, and a truly great recording.

Hope you were able to kick off your shoes and dance a little!

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