The Peak and Decline of Swing

The swing movement has seen several peaks through history. It was first introduced in the late 20s as another form of jazz. While jazz has a very distinctive style, swing incorporated more brass and heavy rhythm sections, usually manned by larger numbers of band members than traditional jazz. Artists such as Benny Goodman and Count Basie dominated the scene and brought swing music to the masses by the mid 40s.

By 1935 swing had become a worldwide phenomenon. Popular musicians were popping up in parts of Europe. British and American swing had dominated the charts, but German swing was also making a name. Unfortunately, the war aided in the decline of the music. Nazi officials created a campaign trying to squash the appeal of western music, going as far to create their own propaganda albums that degraded leaders of the western world and dropping them in by parachute.

In the late 40s pop music began to gain popularity and swingers had to move to a new form of music to keep enjoying the clubs. It was expensive to employ large bands to create the big band sound, and pop music required fewer players. A recording ban from 42-48 also hurt the industry.

Even though swing music did start to decline, crooners started to make a way in to the scene. Musicians like Frank Sinatra kept some swing elements in their style as they rose to fame.

The 90s brought on a rise in the genre. Music from 40 years before started to make a comeback as artists started to incorporate the older styles in their new music. Groups like the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Cherry Poppin Daddies brought a new light to the old genre. By the end of the decade swing music once again dominated the charts, and swing clubs started to pop up all over the country.

Swing Origins – How the Magic Started

The style of jazz popular after the turn of the century had a sophisticated feel to it. It was popular in night clubs and bars all over the US after beginning in New Orleans. In the mid to late 20s many artists started to experiment with different sounds, adding more brass instruments and faster beats. This new style required more people playing to pull off, and the name ‘big band swing’ was born. From here its popularity skyrocketed, making way for many notable artists to make history.

Notable Groups

Benny Goodman has always been associated with the early swing movement. Sing Sing Sing composed and performed by Benny Goodman is still widely acclaimed and played in clubs and movies everywhere. But he wasn’t the only noteworthy artist. Art Tatum, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller, and many others made huge names for their selves, and still remain popular today.

Cross Genre

Once swing music gained world wide popularity other artists wanted to incorporate this style in to their music. This led to the advent of Western swing- a style of country that used swing as its base. Western swing tends to focus more on vocals and fiddles, but also keeps with the same basic concept as jazz swing. Rockabilly became popular as a way to mix the new rock and roll style with swing. Elvis was one famous example of this. Gypsy swing features a dominate swing style minus the heavy brass and percussion. Guitars and bass created the backbone for gypsy swing. Even today swing music still has influences on modern artists.

Swing Musicians Through the Ages

In the beginning of the swinger music movement many unknown musicians were given an opportunity to make it pretty big. As the movement grew, the different types of swing music grew and expanded as well. Today swing still remains popular, and many artists still regularly release albums.

Early Musicians

When swing music started to hit its peak in the 30s and 40s, many musicians and groups gained worldwide notoriety. Art Tatum, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, and Ella Fitzgerald all enjoyed success in this genre. The list of noteworthy artists from this era is exhaustive, but a quick trip to a local music store or a browse through your favorite mp3 download program will yield hundreds of artists that still enjoy popularity.

Western Swing

Shortly after the rise of big band swing, the country music industry started to capitalize on this trend. Western swing features the same styling but with a stronger focus on harmonizing vocals and fiddles. Many western swing groups still used brass instruments, but it wasn’t in the forefront of the music. Groups such as the Texas Playboys, Milton Brown, and Spade Cooley all enjoyed success.

Modern Swing

Media attention brought about a swing revival. Groups such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Brian Setzer, and Cherry Poppin Daddies helped to move swing in to the new century. By the late 90s a revival of swing music led way to new speak easy type bars and dance clubs that featured swing music nights. Even modern artists like Christina Aguilera incorporated swing successfully in to their style.

Swing! The Musicals

With the resurgence of the swing scene in the 90s, it was only a matter of time before someone created a musical based on that. Paul Kelly came up with the idea of Swing! and watched it come to life in 1999.

The Show

Swing! takes classic music from the swing era from famous artists such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and forms a story around the music. Unlike other musicals, Swing! features no dialogue. The story is told through high energy dance and the music alone. While many people feared the show would fail, it ended up winning nominations for Tony Awards and other accolades from the musical community. It was nominated for Best Musical, Best Choreography, Best Orchestration, as well as many others.


Swing! was premiered in December 1999 and ran through January 2001 on Broadway. Even after the show officially closes, many touring productions were able to capitalize on the success by taking the show on the road. It can still be found on the touring circuit if you visit the website devoted to the show. During the touring phase it could be found throughout the US as well as the UK.

Soundtrack and DVDs

If you aren’t able to catch this show live, you can find the soundtrack to the show online or in many music retailers. The soundtrack features 40 tracks from some of the most influential swing artists of the original era. You can also find DVDs from the original Broadway production. This way you can bring the fun and excitement of the show to your living room.

Brief History of Swing Music

Swing music is a form of jazz that became popular in the early 30s. It features strong rhythms and brass instruments such as trombones and saxophones. The tempo is typically a faster pace, and doesn’t always have lyrics associated. Swing has been popular since its introduction, and has experienced several revivals over the decades.

Worldwide Acclaim

By 1935 swing music was huge in the United States. By the 40s it was popular in England and Germany. Unfortunately, World War II introduced a decline in the popularity for several reasons. Many of the big band artists were called to fight overseas, the large orchestras known with swing were difficult to finance during the depression, and recording bans due to musician strikes helped to keep the music from hitting the streets.


By the beginning of 1949 the ban had ended and swing styles evolved in to new styles. Jump blues and bebop both became popular as a result of swing. The style could be seen crossing all genres of music, including country and rock by the early 50s.

New Age Swing

In the late 90s another resurgence of popularity occurred. Groups like Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Cherry Poppin Daddies brought swing back to a new generation. Using lyrics that the youth could relate to, and the classic orchestra style swing, it was popping up on the radio and in dance clubs all over the world.

It hasn’t faded in to the background quite yet. Many newer musicians still incorporate swing elements in to their albums, and swing music clubs can still be found across the nation.

The Birth of Swing

In the early 1900s jazz music began to make its way on the music scene. First being popular only in African American communities, it didn’t take long for everyone to take notice. Before the 20s came rolling in, jazz music could be heard in virtually every club in the states, and was making its way to other countries.

In the late 20s musicians were starting to add more players with the addition of large brass and woodwind ensembles. The beats were changed and more syncopation added. This new form of music was edgier, and easier to dance to. The name ‘big band’ was coined, and because the music made you ‘swing’, the name was born.


Thanks to swing music, many forms of dance also evolved. The Lindy Hop was made popular in the early days of swing, and remains popular today. The Jitterbug became hugely popular, and even today dance competitions centered around this style can be found. Shagging was another form that had a more sexual feel to it, and still remains a favorite in many clubs.

The dance styles of swing feature high energy moves combined with elements of tap.


Swing music gave birth to many sub-genres, and some still coming in to the spotlight today. As rock and roll started to become popular, many artists combined the harder sounds with the energy of swing, creating the birth of rockabilly. Country music started to incorporate swing without the brass and woodwind, but with a stronger focus on the fiddle and country lyrics. This is still well liked in the country scene and is referred to as Western swing.

Swing Revival

The swing music scene was huge in the 30s and 40s, but maintained popularity through today. In the early 90s it hit the scene again in a big way.

A New Generation

In the early 90s the new swing movement (often called the neo-swing movement) was largely underground. Media attention grew, and retro swing started being used in more movies. The soundtrack to the 1993 movie The Mask featured several neo-swing artists, such as Brian Setzer and the Royal Crown Revue. Later in 1993 the movie Swing Kids gained critical acclaim, and brought swing music back in to households all over the world. By the end of the 90s swing music could be found in Gap commercials.

Mainstream Appeal

Later in the 90s ska bands started to introduce the new swing movement to the public. Groups such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones mixed old school swing with new punk and ska, and the combination worked. By the late 90s swing music was making its way on the air and hitting the charts again. Some of the top charting groups included The Cherry Poppin Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Older swing music from the 30s and 40s also enjoyed sudden increases in sales.


Swing music still remains popular, although the popularity has decreased slightly. Those who enjoy the music can still find clubs throughout the US and the UK that dedicate certain nights to swing music. Modern jive is huge in the UK, and vacations can actually be planned around swing events.

London Swing Scene

London swing has been popular since the 40s, but has more recently enjoyed success again.

Introduction in Europe

While swing music originated in the United States in the late 20s, Europe wasn’t far behind. This style of music quickly spread across the pond, and many artists created their own styles of swing. By the late 40s and early 50s swing music could be found globally.

London’s Influence

London has long been a hot spot for up and coming artists. While probably more known for rock, swing enjoyed a large influence as well. Rockabilly has been said to have started in London. While no one knows this for sure, it’s not a far out assumption.

Modern Swingers

Today swing music remains popular in all parts of the world. In London, a new form of swing that mixes hip hop and house music with a swing backbone has become all the rage with London Swingers. This new form of swing is referred to as electroswing. Heavy dance clubs have long been popular in London, and the Electro Swing clubs of today are no exception to this. Some notable artists include Mr. Scruff, Parov Stelar, and F.M. Einheit. Many of the popular songs take old school swing, such as Duke Ellington, and mixed it with more modern electropop. This new style is gaining popularity and slowly moving to other parts of the world, including the United States.

Swing History- From 1920 -Today

The turn of the century was instrumental in music. In the southern region of the United States, the African American community brought about a form of music that combined blues with syncopation, and jazz was born.

Jazz began popping up in underground clubs, and spread through the communities like wildfire. It spurred several sub-genres of music, including Ragtime, Dixieland Jazz, and the ever popular Swing Jazz.

Swing jazz was different than the traditional jazz sounds of the early years. By the mid 30s musicians were adding heavy rhythm sections along with brass and woodwind instruments. The result was a large band that belted out music that was smooth and easily danced to. The arrangements for swing tended to be edgier than its predecessor.

Swing music became huge in the night club scene. Its popularity spread throughout the United States, and started crossing the pond in to parts of Europe. Even German artists were starting to make it big in the swing scene by the end of the 30s.

The popularity of the genre couldn’t be squashed, even with declines seen in the aftermath of the war and the depression. While sales declined, the genre led the way for many newer forms of swing music. The rockabilly movement, gypsy swing, western swing, and more modern forms of ska-swing took its place.

Today swing music remains a commodity. Many newer bands use swing as the base for other forms of music. Acid jazz is a form of swing that is popular in the club scene today. It combines more modern hip hop and funk in with a swing backbone.

The New York Swing Scene

The New York swing scene has been a large part of pop culture dating back to the 30s. When swing first made its way on the scene in New Orleans in the 20s, it wasn’t long before the style was adopted in New York. During the prohibition era, swing was huge in New York and many swinger clubs were used as a front for alcohol consumption. Beyond that it remained large, and became a part of the culture that has remained strong through today.

Acid Jazz

Arguably, one of the more notable incarnations of swing in New York was the Acid Jazz movement. This genre of music took a strong swing backbone and incorporated hip hop and funk in to the mix. The result was a more garage feel in music. While acid jazz originated in the UK, it became hugely popular in the New York scene with many New York Swingers. By the 90s, it was hard not to find a club that didn’t feature this type of music.

Swing and Broadway

One of the most famous aspects of New York is the musical theater scene. Swing didn’t escape this avenue. Shows such as Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk used strong swing elements to captivate audiences. The show combined elements of tap, jazz, and swing to create a continuous rhythm that the dancers used to create a story. Swing! the musical also ran a decent stint on Broadway in the 90s. Elements of swing can still be found in today’s musicals thanks to the influence of musical theater on the New York and worldwide culture.