Jazz at 100 Hour 21: The Swing Era

Artie Shaw

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the very dance-oriented swinging music of the Big Bands was the most popular music around. Never had jazz been more central to mass culture. Just over the horizon were the draft of 1940 that eventually conscripted 10 million men, making it increasingly difficult to field top notch bands; war shortages of gasoline and shellac limiting both touring and recording; the economic infeasibility of touring with 16-member orchestras; the musicians strike and recording ban of 1942 – 1944 and the resulting decline in the major labels and the rise of independent labels; the decline of dance halls in the aftermath of the war; and the rise of juke boxes and radio as primary entertainment media.

But in the late 1930s, it seemed like the swinging would never end.

Benny Goodman – Ziggy Elman, Harry James and Vido Musso.
“The addition of trumpeters Ziggy Elman in late 1936 and, four months later, Harry James, provided Goodman with two world-class soloists, both of whom were also fine section players. The later overt commercialism of James’s work … has distracted attention from this trumpeter’s exceptional jazz skills. James’s brash, energetic style, set apart by his stamina and range, can be heard to good measure on ‘Peckin’, ‘ ‘Roll ‘Em,’ and ‘Sugar Foot Stomp’ from September of that year, the last in particular revealing the Oliver-Armstrong roots of his trumpet style.” – Ted Gioia

Sugar Foot Stomp. Benny Goodman and his Orchestra
(Harry James, Chris Griffin, Ziggy Elman-tp, Red Ballard, Murray McEachern-tb, Hymie Schertzer, George Koenig-as, Arthur Rollini, Vido Musso-ts, Jess Stacy-p, Allen Reuss-g, Harry Goodman-b, Gene Krupa-d). 9/6/1937.

“Vido Musso, a robust tenor saxophonist in the Hawkins mold, joined the band that same year and contributed impassioned solos on performances such as “Jam Session” (which also includes one of Elman’s better solos from this period) and “I Want to Be Happy” during his tenure with the band.” – Ted Gioia

Jam Session. Benny Goodman & His Orchestra
(Zeke Zarchy, Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin-tp, Red Ballard, Murray McEachern-tb, Hymie Schertzer, Bill DePew-as, Arthur Rollini, Vido Musso-ts, Jess Stacy-p, Allen Reuss-g, Harry Goodman-b, Gene Krupa-d). 11/05/1936.
I Want To Be Happy. Benny Goodman and his Orchestra
(Irving Goodman, Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin-tp, Red Ballard, Murray McEachern-tb, Hymie Schertzer, Billy DePew-as, Arthur Rollini, Vido Musso-ts, Jess Stacy-p, Allen Reuss-g, Harry Goodman-sb, Gene Krupa-d). 1/14/1937.

Tommy Dorsey.
For a period in the late 1930’s Tommy Dorsey, the trombone-playing bother, had a string of big-selling records. “In 1939, at the height of the Swing Era, the jazz credentials of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra were reinforced with the addition of Sy Oliver, whose arrangements had been so influential in shaping the Lunceford sound. As with Henderson’s infusion of swing into the Goodman band, Oliver helped make this unit into a hotter, harder-swinging ensemble. Over the next few years, Oliver charts such as ‘Stomp It Off,’ … provided a more flamboyant and insistent style for Dorsey and made the contrast between his music and that of his more pop-oriented brother all the more noticeable.” – Ted Gioia

Stomp It Off. Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra
(Andy Ferretti, Yank Lawson, Mickey Bloom-tp, Ward Silloway, Elmer Smithers, Dave Jacobs-tb, Johnny Minc-cl/as, Fred Stulce, Hymie Schertzer-as, Babe Russin-ts, Howard Smith-p, Carmen Mastren-g, Gene Traxler-b, Cliff Leeman). 7/20/1939.

Buddy Rich and Tommy Dorsey.
Rich had just left Artie Shaw’s band and was reluctant to join Dorsey, but when he encountered Oliver’s swinging scores during a rehearsal, he changed his mind and signed on with the group. Oliver later penned a feature for Rich, the chart ‘Quiet Please,’ a driving piece taken at a breakneck tempo that displays the drummer in top form.

Quiet Please. Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra
(Jimmy Blake, Ray Linn, Clyde Hurley, Les Jenkins, George Arus, Lowell Martin, Johnny Mince, Fred Stulce, Hymie Schertzer, Paul Mason, Don Lodice, Joe Bushkin, Clark Yocum, Sid Weiss, Buddy Rich). 7/17/1940.

Artie Shaw.
“The most direct competitor to Goodman during the closing years of the decade was Artie Shaw, a virtuoso clarinetist whose movie star looks and flair (mixed with disdain) for publicity attracted attention and controversy in equal doses. In a shrewd public relations move, Shaw took on the title “the King of the Clarinet,” an obvious challenge to Goodman’s ‘King of Swing’ epithet… [T]he best of his work ranks among the finest jazz of the era: the popular hits, such as ‘Begin the Beguine’; ‘Concerto for Clarinet’ and various other demonstrations of Shaw’s instinct for grandiloquent gestures; ballad showpieces including ‘Stardust’ and ‘Deep Purple’; – Ted Gioia

Begin The Beguine. Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
(Chuck Peterson, John Best, Claude Bowen-tp, George Arus, Ted Vesley, Harry Rogers-tb, Les Robinson, Hank Freeman-as, Tony Pastor, Ronnie Perry-ts, Les Burness-p, Al Avola-g, Sid Weiss-b, Cliff Leeman-d). 7/24/1938.
Concerto for Clarinet – Part 1. Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
George Wendt, Jack Cathcart, Billy Butterfield, Jack Jenney, Vernon Brown, Ray Conniff, Bus Bassey, Jerry Jerome, Neely Plumb, Les Robinson, Johnny Guarnieri, Al Hendrickson, Jud DeNaut, Nick Fatool, Anita Boyer). 12/17/1940.
Concerto for Clarinet – Part 2. Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
George Wendt, Jack Cathcart, Billy Butterfield, Jack Jenney, Vernon Brown, Ray Conniff, Bus Bassey, Jerry Jerome, Neely Plumb, Les Robinson, Johnny Guarnieri, Al Hendrickson, Jud DeNaut, Nick Fatool, Anita Boyer). 12/17/1940.

Star Dust. Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
(George Wendt, Jack Cathcart, Billy Butterfield-tp, Jack Jenney, Vernon Brown-tb, Bus Bassey, Neely Plumb-as, Les Robinson, Jerry Jerome-ts, Johnny Guarnieri-p, Al Hendrickson-g, Jud DeNaut-b, Nick Fatool-d). 10/7/1940. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
“’Star Dust’ … is a restrained and lyrical performance, focusing on the haunting melody written by Hoagy Charmichael in 1927. The soloists treat the tune with love and ingenuity. In the opening chorus, trumpeter Billy Butterfield uses a rich vibrato and lyrical sense of embellishment to paraphrase the famous melody. Subsequent soloists explore the tune’s mood of romantic sentiment in their own creations. Jack Jenny’s brief but melting trombone solo is a highlight, notable for his expressive leap up an octave into the trombone’s upper register. So is Shaw’s. He was a brilliant technician on clarinet, and a fluid and supple improviser. This solo is finely sculpted, suggesting the reach of a great violinist when it climaxes in the stratosphere on a high A” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Gene Krupa.
Shortly after his triumph on “Sing, Sing, Sing” at Carnegie Hall, Bennie Goodman’s drummer, Gene Krupa, launched his own Swing band. While short-lived, Krupa’s band provided a further platform for Roy Eldridge. “Through his work with the Gene Krupa band in 1941–43 and the Artie Shaw band in 1944–45, Eldridge helped break down the color barrier in the jazz world. In particular, the trumpeter’s work with Krupa on ‘Rockin’ Chair’ and ‘Let Me Off Uptown’ were as close as Eldridge would come to a hit.” – Ted Gioia

Rockin’ Chair. Gene Krupa and his Orchestra
(Roy Eldridge, Norman Murphy, Torg Halten, Graham Young, John Grassi, Jay Kelliher, Babe Wagner, Musky Ruffo, Sam Musiker, Walter Bates, Sam Listengart, Milt Raskin, Ray Biondi, Ed Mihelich). 7/2/1941. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Let Me Off Uptown. Gene Krupa and his Orchestra
(Roy Eldridge, Norman Murphy, Torg Halten, Graham Young, John Grassi, Babe Wagner, Jay Kelliher, Mascagni Ruffo, Clint Neagley, Sam Musiker, Walter Bates, Bob Curtis, Remo Biondi, Biddy Bastien, Howard Dulany, Anita O’Day). 5/8/1941. (The Jazz Singers)

Woody Herman.
With Goodman and Shaw, one of the great clarinetist-bandleaders of the Swing Era, Woody Herman proved to have the greater longevity keeping a band on the road after the others had given it up. Herman became a supporter and patron of bebop as the 1940s advanced, commissioning Dizzy Gillespie to write arrangements. Herman is the “Woody” in Gillespie’s title “Woody’n You”.

Woodchoppers’ Ball. Woody Herman and his Orchestra
(Clarence Willard, Steady Nelson, Mac McQuardale-tp, Joe Bishop-frh, Neil Reid-tb, Joe Denton, Ray Hopfner-as, Pete Johns, Saxie Mansfield-ts, Tommy Linehan-p, Hy White-g, Walter Yoder-sb, Frank Carlson-d). 4/12/1939.
Golden Wedding. Woody Herman and his Orchestra
(Cappy Lewis, Steady Nelson, Bob Price-tp, Neal Reid, Bud Smith-tb, Joe Bishop -frh, Herb Tompkins, Bill Vitale-as, Saxie Mansfield, Mickey Folus-ts, Tommy Linehan-p, Hy White-g, Walter Yoder-sb, Frank Carlson-d). 11/9/1940.

“These were late vintages of the Swing Era. On August 1, 1942, recording of jazz music came to a grinding halt as the result of a standoff between James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians, and the music industry. Petrillo insisted that the union be reimbursed for the increasing substitution of recorded music—in the form of radios, jukeboxes, and phonographs—for live performances. It wasn’t until September 1943 that Decca came to terms with Petrillo, with the Columbia and Victor labels waiting for over another year before capitulating. But even earlier the U.S. government, in an effort to conserve raw materials for the war effort, had instituted a 30 percent reduction in the production of phonograph records. The war impacted the big bands in many other ways: musicians were conscripted; new woodwind, brass, or percussion instruments became almost impossible to find; and the rationing of gasoline made band tours difficult, if not impossible. In their aggregate effects, these causes did more to put an end to the Swing Era than the often-cited onslaught of bebop music.” – Ted Gioia

Although Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody Herman soldiered on, the era of the big band effectively ended with the AFM strike and World War Two shortages of gas, rubber and players. A leaner combo-oriented music emerged in night clubs after the war. Several band leaders sought to find common ground with the new music and the big band format. In the next hour, we will listen to the Bebop-incubating big bands of Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796.
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891.
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
Big Band: Vol. 068, Benny Goodman (1936-37). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Big Band: Vol. 069, Benny Goodman (1937). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Big Band: Vol. 081, Artie Shaw (1940-41). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Big Band: Vol. 084, Woody Herman (1937-43). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Big Band: Vol. 090, Tommy Dorsey (1939-45). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Anita O’Day – Young Anita. Proper Records PROPERBOX-21
Roy Eldridge – The Big Sound of Little Jazz. Pearl TPZ 1021
Artie Shaw – Begin the Beguine. Bluebird 86274

Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 7. Swing Bands
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. The Swing Era
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
The Big Sound of Little Jazz
Simon, George T. 1981. The Big Bands. New York. Schirmer Books.

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