3 line stanza (unusual)
unlike the ballad (which was coherent, chronological account in 3 person), the blues
o This change in perspective matched the time African American society had
recently shifted from the communal confines of slave culture to the cold,
terrifying realities of individualism
Blues was a sobering metaphor for the meaning of freedom
New Orleans Style
Brass band societies, which often spawned smaller dance groups, gave the music it’s
o Trumpet (or cornet), trombone, clarinet known as the ―front line‖ from their
position on a marching band
Parading percussion also adapted into the modern drum set
Other source was the string ensemble featured violin, banjo, mandolin, and other
o From this, jazz borrowed the guitar an bass for its rhythm section
Piano was later added from the generation of solo ragtime pianists
Above the cornet, the clarinet usually played a countermelody (usually in 8 notes)
Trombone plays less than the clarinet
o Usually slurs or glissandos (sometimes called the tailgate trombone, or smear)
Cornet, clarinet, trombone improvised simultaneously in a dense, polyphonic texture
o Maybe the most distinctive feature of N.O. jazz
Soloing was still rare
Continued to use the multistrain forms of ragtime
No star of the band: each had own space, rhythm, timbre
Jelly Roll Morton: creole
One of the most colourful characters in American music
Claimed to have invented jazz in 1902
o If he didn’t invent it, he certainly helped define it
Boaster business card read ―Originator of Jazz – Stomp – Swing‖
Recording with a talented white hometown band the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, this
signified the first significant integrated recording session in jazz history
He took the multiple-themes structure and syncopated rhythms of ragtime to a new level
o Emphasized foot tapping beat (called a stomp) and tricky syncopations
Harnessed the potentially chaotic energy of collective improvisation to meet his own
exacting standards, with great originality, nuance, and humor
Red hot peppers: group of 8 only on record
Accomplished this in an era when critical and racial disdain was very present
Oliver used an arsenal of objects as mutes to vary his timbre (rubber plunger, pop bottle,
o His love of muting had a big influence on jazz
Oliver recruited musicians for his new band who had travelled north from New Orleans Cabled New Orleans for 20y.o. Louis Armstrong to join him (he needed someone to
punch up the front line)
The band attracted black and white musicians alike
o They heard nothing like it
Unlike the Red Hot Peppers, Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band played for audiences (instead of
o Kid Ory billed him as King in 1917 and it stuck
- Oliver had gum disease, so he got another cornet player
o This was a young Louis Armstrong
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band attracted black and white musicians
Sidney Bechet (1897 – 1959)
Can be argued that he was the first great soloist in jazz history
o Clarinet, soprano sax
Creole family, instructed by Creole teachers
Bechet purchased a straight (no bell curve) sax in London, and this was the instrument
with which he ultimately made his mark
A lot of fellow musicians respected him
o Abby Mitchell (Madame Butterfly performance)
Played in both Paris and London, clearing the way for an invasion of black entertainers,
but then a violent argument in London ended with his deportation
Bechet on Soprano Saxaphone
He began to think of him not as a part of a fixed group but as a virtuoso soloist
Proved to be the only musician of that era that could stand head to head with Armstrong
In London, he got a straight soprano sax, and performed for King George V
Returned to New York in 1921
Duke Ellington hired him
Bechet did not like playing second fiddle to anyone – he thought of himself as a virtuoso
Died 1959 as one of the most beloved musicians in europe
ODJB: Original Dixie land jazz band
- in New Orleans, many neighbourhoods were integrated at the turn of the century
o this means white musicians were attracted to jazz and ragtime
- these musicians did not have much influence on the jazz movement besides influencing
black musicians in terms of repertory, harmony and instrumental technique
- All 5 members of ODJB were San Francisco natives
- ODJB caused a sensation in New York at Reisenweber’s Restaurant in 1917
- ODJB has taken a bad rap in jazz history
- They were racist but played spirited, unpretentious music
- Their tunes became Dixieland standards, its name signaled the end of the ragtime past,
and their visit to Europe in 1919 helped make jazz international
- ODJB broke up in 1922
- All white musicians
Entertainment infrastructure (concert halls, theater, record labels etc.) took root in
New York media spoke for the nation
Most of the jazz performers who were not African American derived from immigrant
families An alliance between black musicians and Jewish song writers replicated, in part, New
Orleans blacks and Creoles and helped define jazz for three decades
- Recordings, Radio and the Movies
1925 the development of electrical recording instead of acoustical recording- more
instruments could be recorded. Also resulted in reduced prices for phonographs and
1921 radio became clearer with the invention of the carbon microphone. 1926 the first
radio network the National Broadcasting Company debuted followed by Columbia
broadcasting system a year later started a national habit of becoming attached to
broadcasts and collecting records
Cinema responded to these changes by introducing the first feature film with
synchronized sound it was an adaptation of the Broadway play called The Jazz
Up to this point music only travels as fast as a human can travel from one place to
another. However, the rapid growth in radio and records meant that a song can be
played for the first time in New York and could travel to California the next day over
the radio, or within a week through the mail. This also contributed to the popularity of
songs wearing out quickly.
- Prohibition= in the 1920’s the Republic of Congress prohibited the sale, manufacturing
and transport of alcohol
This gave nightlife an unintended boost because as it was legal to drink alcohol it was
illegal to manufacture or sell it. This created a vast organized crime catering to a
generation who drank in excess to prove they cannot be dictated by the government
By 1921 there were thousands of speaksies (illicit saloons) and they had gangster
owners who competed for customers by hiring talented musicians, singers, dancer etc
Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952)
- Grew up in a middle class home and learned how to play the piano in college.
- 1924 began a lengthy engagement at the Rosewood Ballroom- New Yorks preeminent
- As a black musician working midtown venues with exclusively white clienteles,
Henderson offered polished and conventional dance music: fox-trots, tangos, waltzes
- Had access to the best black musicians (saxophonist Coleman Hawkins) and kept up with
the ever changing dance scene
- His elaborate pioneered approach (which was helped formed by Don Redman) influenced
other bandleaders that followed
- During the 1930s he produced a stream of compositions that helped define big-band
music in the Swing era
Don Redman (1900-1964)
- Red changed Hendersons reliance on stock arrangements= anonymous versions of
standard popular songs made available by publishing companies which tended towards
basic harmonies with no jazz content. Redman revised them making radical changes to
the arrangement giving them a distinct and exciting character.
- His greatest achievement as an arranger was to treat the band as a large unit made up of
four interactive sections: reeds, trumpets, trombones, and rhythm section.
- With Henderson they closely studied jazz records coming out of Chicago and adapted
these tunes. - He especially liked the New Orleans custom of short breaks, which allowed him to
constantly vary the texture of a piece. Yet he avoided the anarchy of New Orleans style:
polyphony was not collectively improvised but composed in advance
- His principle organizing technique was derived from the church, was a call and response
interchange for example between the saxophone section against the trumpets.
- In 1924 Louis Armstrong was added when Henderson was looking to add a third trumpet
Armstrong brought essential characteristics that the band lacked: the bracing authority
of swing, the power of blues and the improvisational logic of a born storyteller
Redman then changed his orchestration style to accommodate him
- Redman’s writing not only launched big band jazz, but also served to link Oliver’s Creole
Jazz Band and Armstrong’s seminal Hot Five
- Stride piano ―Harlem Style‖= a style of jazz piano relying on left-hand accompaniment
that alters low bass notes with higher chords
- Directly reflect the musical vigor of New York. Evolved from ragtime through influences
from Tin Pan Alley. Where Ragtime was graceful, polished and measured, and was a
contained repertory, stride was flashy, loud, impulsive and open for anything.
- Like ragtime began as a composed music made up of multiple strains
- A large parallel between ragtime and stride is that each style gave birth to the foremost
African American composers of its time
- Piano Power
The name stride describes the motion if the pianist’s left hand, striding back and forth
from the low bass cleft to the octave below middle C.
While on the first and third beats the pianists play a single low chord usually
involving a tenth
Tenths require large hands- without large hands resourceful pianist performs ―broken
tenths‖ = notes played in rapid precession instead of simultaneously.
Masters of stride created intricate harmonic and rhythmic patters that keep the left
hand from becoming a mechanical rhythm device and produce tricks for the right
allowing it to make melodies with glissandos producing a richer texture than
Classical piano techniques are incorporated
Stride pianists earn money by hiring out for Harlem ―rent parties‖ = get together with
friends and neighbors with food and music where you would make a donation to a
communal kitty.--> inevitably had a high social standing
James P. Johnson (1894-1955)- ―father of Stride Piano‖
- Perfected the east coast style from its ragtime roots
- Almost every famous jazz pianist in the 20s-30s learned from him even though he never
achieved the fame of his protégés
- Credited ring-shout dances (the earliest known African American performing tradition,
combining religious songs and west African dance) and brass bands as important
- Found a job playing in the Jungle Casino. Got a big break in 1922 when he was appointed
musical director of the revue Plantation Days, he then wrote the score for Broadway
smash hit Runnin Wild. He also composed classical pieces that was performed with the
- ―You’ve Got to be modernistic‖ – good representation of the transition of ragtime to jazz.
Stride piano is like a more sophisticated east-coast style of ragtime. It has the two-beat
left hand of ragtime and the melodic right hand but there are differences too. There is more improvisation in Stride than is typically found in Scott Joplin’s ―classic‖ ragtime,
and there is more modern harmony as discussed in the textbook.
James P. Johnson is an
interesting character. Not just a fine piano player and composer of stride-piano pieces, he
also composed for Broadway and classical pieces. Johnson was not the only African
American jazz performer who also wrote substantial compositions. As we shall, see Duke
Ellington and others also wrote ―serious‖ music.
Stride piano accompaniment: a steady alternation of bass notes and chord
Whole-tome harmonies in introduction, strain A and interlude keeps listeners in a
state of perpetual surprise
Switches midway from the formalism of ragtime to variations in jazz
Structure is 3: 16 bar strains with a four bar interlude
Trio © played seven times, with jazzy riffs
Pianistic blues note
Early Duke Ellington (1899-1974)
- Most important composer that jazz has produced played a vital role in every decade of
its development. Even to this day his music is more widely performed than any other jazz
- He was distinctive in many roles: composer, arranger, songwriter, bandleader, pianist and
producer and wrote music of every kind. And made thousands of recordings
- His early breakthrough in the late 1920s and early 30s defined four aspects of new yorks
1) He clarified the nature of big-band jazz, demonstrating potential beyond Whiteman’s
imagination or Henderson’s achievement
2) He solidified the influence of stride piano as a jazz factor, employing it not only as a
pianist himself but also as a foundation in orchestrations
3) He proved that the most individual and adventurous of jazz writing could also be
applied to popular songs
4) Concerned his persona and proved no less vital to the standing of jazz and especially
its relationship to the Harlem Renaissance
- When he moved to New York with his five piece band he started playing at the
Hollywood club which was changes to the Kentucky Club, where he began to enlarge the
band, focusing on growling, vocalized brasses and finding a creative ally Bubber Miley
an innovative trumpet player. Called his new band the Washingtonians
- By 1926 he began to reveal a style of his own influenced by Miley combined his
instruments to create odd voicing thereby creating a new sound in American music
overall affect being mysterious, carnal and audacious
- The cotton club
His career took a giant leap when in he opened the cotton club in Harlem its design
exploited minstrel clichés. Through headlining here he became a major celebrity in
New York and through the radio the country
His music was described as ―jungle music‖
Described as a true jazz composer
As it grew in size it gathered a cast of Ellingtonians
After leaving the cotton club in 1931 his famous orchestra travelled the world and in
the process defined the future of jazz
- ― Black and Tan Fantasy‖ There is a lot going on here. Ellington’s music has an
unmistakably unique ―voice‖. After you’ve heard Ellington a few times, you can
immediately tell a piece that he composed and performed even if you haven’t heard it
before. This seems to be true of all the great soloists, like Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, as well as the great bands. Indeed, this is
one of the advantages of hiring your own arranger or having an arranger in the band (e.g.,
Don Redman for Fletcher Henderson; Duke Ellington for his own band). Although not
all bands could afford their own arranger, those that did had custom-made arrangements
resulting in a unique sound for the band.
Ellington was known for writing arrangements
that took full advantage of the particular individuals playing in his band at any one time.
That’s partly what gave the band its unique sound and why it was difficult for other bands
to play his arrangements effectively.
Great deal of Elligntons music is programmatic= attempting to describe specific
places, people or events usually appreciated more with no knowledge of the
subject. ―Black and tan‖ clubs which invited members of both races
Proved that improvised music could have the weight and durability of written music
o Blues: established it as jazz's harmonic foundation when most saw it as a
mere fashion. He countered the trends of the broadway shows and commercial
dance bands. He established the blues scale and blues feeling as jazz’s
o Improvisation: established jazz as music that prizes individual expression,
above and beyond technique
o Singing: introduced a jazz vocal style using scat, loose phrasing with lyrics,
which influenced later vocal stars such as Bing Crosby and Billie Holliday.
-- he was dependant on mastery of pitch and time as well as fast reflexes and
o Repertory: created masterworks based on Tin Pan Alley songs, not just
original New Orleans themes, showing that jazz could expand musically and
commercially. Came from pop tunes, hymns, blues and classical works from
o Rhythm: introduced swing
These five contributions were introduced in ways defying conventional
ideas about art and put American music on a par with European and
Although he came from bleak beginnings, he had a long and fruitful career in music and later in
movies. He did not simply peak during the 1920s. He helped spearhead swing and persevered
through bop and fusion even though he disliked them.
Born to an unwed teenager in 1902 in a devastated New Orleans area. When his mother
showed him her hometown in the country, Armstrong saw a different kind of life.
At age seven, he was working two jobs. He received his first cornet from the immigrant
Jewish family that owned one of the businesses that Louis worked for. In 1913 he was
arrested for shooting blanks and sent to the New Orleans Colored Waif's Home for 18
months, where he received rudimentary musical instruction; he was made leader of
the band before he left. After discharge, Louis took lessons from Joe Oliver.
In 1918 he started playing in saloons and parades, often with his own trio (with bass and drums),
playing mostly blues. When Oliver left for Chicago, he suggested that Armstrong take his place
in the band with co-leader Kid Ory.
Later that year he started working on Mississippi riverboat excursions. He spent three years with
the Streckfus Steamboat Line under the musical leadership of Fate Marable, who played the
calliope. During this time Armstrong:
Became a better music reader; learned to adapt New Orleans music to written arrangements
Learned songs beyond the New Orleans repertory
Experienced a new kind of audience (white)
With Oliver in Chicago
o Marable did not let Armstrong sing, so he quit in 1921 to return to Ory's band.
He became well known in the area. Ethel Waters, while traveling with her
pianist Fletcher Henderson, attempted to lure him to New York, but he stayed
in New Orleans. In 1922, he was invited to join Oliver's band in Chicago at
the Lincoln Gardens.
o He usually played second trumpet (there were a few exceptions, such as
"Dippermouth Blues"). He astonished musicians with his harmonizing
trumpet breaks with Oliver and the brilliance of his timbre. By 1924 he left
Oliver with the encouragement of his second wife, Lil Hardin (the pianist in
Oliver's band), and went to New York at the invitation of Fletcher Henderson.
With Henderson in New York
This was a crucial time for jazz and Armstrong. Henderson hired the best black
musicians of the day. Armstrong was considered an old-fashioned country rube by the
slick New York musicians of the Henderson band, but only until they heard his
originality, blues feeling, and rhythmic drive.
He also made many recordings with blues divas such as Bessie Smith and others. He
recorded with Sidney Bechet on the Clarence Williams Blue Five sessions.
combined the breezy entertainment of Southern vaudeville with the sweeping
exuberance of a lean New Orleans-style ensemble
Armstrong recorded more than thirty-six times with Henderson in fourteen
months, during which he:
o Influenced Redman's arrangements
o Made the blues more a part of the band's sound
o Increased the prominence of the band's beat with longer solos
o Set the standard for other players in the Henderson band as well as other
Because Henderson would not let him sing, he left in 1925 and returned to Chicago.
In Chicago he played in a pit orchestra that played for silent movies and intermission music.
By the end of 1925 OKeh Records asked to him record as a leader. He chose Lil
Hardin and three musicians whom he had worked with in New Orleans: Johnny
Dodds (clarinet), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), and Kid Ory (trombone). Using varying
personnel, Armstrong made sixty-five recordings with the Hot Five and Hot
These were very important recordings in that they mark:
The change from polyphony to showcasing soloists
The move from embellishments to improvisation
The move from breaks to full chorus solos or more
The move from multiple ragtime-like strains to single-theme choruses of pop songs and blues
"Hotter Than That"
Recorded in 1927. The thirty-two-bar chorus is based on a New Orleans favorite, "Tiger
Rag," originally recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1918.
Lonnie Johnson joins in on guitar as a soloist, which was unusual.
There is no written melody, just improvisation (including a trumpet solo, scat singing, and
trading between Armstrong and Johnson) and complex three-beat figures. Enter Earl Hines (1903-1983)
In 1926 Armstrong was asked to be the feature soloist with the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra
at the Sunset Café in Chicago. Dickerson also hired pianist Earl Hines.
Hines had an idiosyncratic style, which included soloing like a horn, using octaves and
tremolos as well as single notes, and accompaniment using playful rhythms
combining on-the-beat, boogie-woogie, and stride rhythms.
Armstrong and Hines hit it off immediately. Armstrong had him record with the Hot Five in
1928 and took him to New York the same year.
These recordings were considered an advance on the earlier Hot Fives. Polyphony generally
disappeared (of new Orleans), to be replaced by solos and homophonic textures
that characterize jazz to this day.
Armstrong gained a wide following but musicians started to look elsewhere for new
After the Hot Five sessions ended in 1928, Armstrong went on the road with Carroll
Dickerson. His next record in 1929 was, for the first time, with an acknowledged
integrated group: three blacks and three whites including guitarist Lang, trombonist Jack
Teagarden, and pianist Joe Sullivan. ―Hotter than that‖ The series of Hot Five and Hot
Seven recordings made during the late 1920s established Armstrong's reputation and
changed jazz from a polyphonic group improvisatory form to one where soloists,
especially star soloists like Armstrong, became the centre of attention.
After a number of long engagements in several major American cities, he went to Europe in
1932, where he was a hit in Paris and London. He returned in 1933 and 1934 to
even greater acclaim. He started appearing in short films, usually in
stereotypically demeaning roles, which Armstrong carried off with a certain
degree of irony.
By the mid-1930s his singing voice became mellower while his trumpet became more
brilliant. He was acclaimed as one of the great singers of pop music and jazz.
he formed a small band. It was with this band that Armstrong made a comeback, triumphing
at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in 1947. This led in turn to the formation of Louis
Armstrong and his All Stars.
They really were stars at the beginning. During this period he also made movies and hit records,
appeared on television, and traveled constantly, in some cases as an American goodwill
ambassador. Travelled to Africa Guana and played for an audience of 100000 people. He insisted
on touring with an integrated group. In Knoxville, his concert was dynamited. But by the mid-
1960s the controversy had passed. He had a great success with "Hello Dolly!" in 1964. During
his later years he wrote his memoirs. He died in 1971, but seventeen years later his "What a
Wonderful World" was a big hit.
He became famous as a cornet player but also knew his way around a piano.
He belonged to the generation that learned jazz from recordings. Recordings had three
influences on the dissemination of jazz: Young people could hear jazz no matter where they lived.
Solos could be learned and memorized through repeated listening to a recording.
Recordings helped young players to break away from tradition.
At the age of fourteen, Beiderbecke was deeply affected by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band
recordings when they first came out. He taught himself the New Orleans style of
cornet playing through recordings and live performances on the Streckfus
steamers that visited Davenport. Both these activities dismayed his parents.
He neglected his schoolwork so in 1921 his parents sent him to a boarding school, which
happened to be within train-hopping distance to Chicago. Beiderbecke took full
advantage, regularly visiting clubs like the Lincoln Gardens, where he heard King Oliver
and Armstrong. He was expelled in 1923 when he joined the first band of northern whites
to imitate New Orleans ensembles: the Wolverines. In 1924 they recorded for Gennett.
Beiderbecke and Trumbauer became close friends and the figureheads for a generation of
white musicians referred to as the Austin High School Gang. Other musicians who were
associated with this group included Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and
others. They created the Chicago style, which started out as an imitation of New
Orleans jazz but later became more rhythmic and combined soloing with
Coleman Hawkins (1904-1960)
Hawkins had a long and successful career. He learned to play a number of instruments
including piano, cello, and C-melody saxophone. He started playing professionally for
dances in Kansas City. In 1922 he joined Mamie Smith's band, at which point he took up
tenor saxophone. He traveled with Smith's band before ending up in New York and
joining Wilbur Sweatman, where Fletcher Henderson heard him and asked him to join his
band. He stayed with Henderson for eleven years.
He had a big sound with a wide vibrato. After Armstrong joined the Henderson band, Hawkins
strove to adapt Armstrong's sense of swing and blues sensibility to the saxophone.
Hawkins's solo on "Stampede" was influential on the next generation of jazz
However, his playing still lacked a smooth legato style until 1929, when he recorded "One
he lacked legato or a smooth attack. His phrasing has consisted of clearly articulated notes
even at fast tempos. An essential component of swing was missing: relaxing. Playing more
legato meant learning how to soften the gruff edges of his timbre and move from one note to
another with a fluid more gracefully expressive manner. He brought on a new approach to the
tenor sax—one that transcended with the smooth melodic of Trumbauer with nearly rapturous
Riff: A short, catchy and repeated melodic phrase
Motive: A short melodic or rhythmic idea.
Licks: Short melodic ideas that form a shared basic vocabulary for jazz improvisers. "are the building
blocks of improvisation".
Groove: A general term for the overall rhythmic framework of a performance.
In the 1930s jazz was known as swing. It’s called the Swing Era to distinguish it form the jazz of the
1920s. It was mostly Big-Band music performed by large dance orchestras divided into sections of
trumpets, saxophones, and trombones as well as rhythm. Swing retained the basic elements of jazz like
polyrhythm blues phrasing, timbre variation. Swing used written music more then previous forms of jazz
it continued to balance composition against spontaneous improvisation. The size of the bands
transformed dance music into an orchestral music but the style was not complex. Swing was a commercial phenomenon. Swing was central to a nationwide system of mass entertainment. With the
advent of Swing, jazz became THE POPULAR music of America.
Swing was defined by two crucial events in American history and culture. The first is the Great
Depression, which began with the stock market crash of October 1929 and deepened slowly until in
reached its peak in the 1930s. The crisis ruined the banking systems, and left thousands without jobs
and shifted America’s political landscape. Swing came of age during the Depression but it hardly caught
the era’s deep anxiety. Swing was a counterstatement to reality – it was upbeat and could distract
people from their daily lives, swing inspired action. It was a teenager’s music, the first in America’s
history. Swing was loud and brash and demanded exuberant dance steps. Its improvisatory flair and
buoyant energy encouraged American to recover from the country’s economic disaster. The Depression
nearly destroyed the recording companies. At a time when people could barely afford food and rent, the
price of a record was too much to bear. Sales of records plunged – from over 100 million in 1929 to only
4 million in 1933. Familiar jazz labels like Gennett, OKeh, and Columbia went bankrupt or were bought
up by speculators. Commercial excitement made jazz possible. Musicians poured into the field from all
over: from Georgia (Fletcher Henderson), Washington D.C. (Duke Ellington), Iowa (Glenn Miller), and
New Jersey (Count Basie). As a competition for the best jobs increased, musical standards rose
precipitously. Musicians were now expected to play their instrument flawlessly, to sight-read efficiently,
and to improvise. Dance bands offered steady work at a respectable salary; making music one of the few
skilled crafts open to African Americans.
World War II
The second crucial event defining the Swing Era was Word War II (1939-1945) a global conflict
that transformed America into a powerhouse of strength. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941
launched American into World War II and all of its industries, resources, manpower, even entertainment
– were drawn into the worldwide fight against fascism. For many people, swing exemplified what
Americans were fighting for: compared with authoritarian Nazi Germany, the casual participatory quality
of swing, bringing together people from different backgrounds, was a rousing statement of democracy.
At the end of the war thousands of soldiers returned home to their families and jobs shutting down the
hyperactive dancing culture that had formed the basis for hundreds of large swing orchestras. It was the
end of an era – and with the explosion of the atomic bomb, the beginning of a new one.
Swing and Dance
At the core of swing style was its groove: a steady, unaccented four-beats-to-the-bar
foundation, perfect for dancing. This was neither revolutionary nor new: One could hear the same
groove in recordings by Louis Armstrong, or emerging from passages by Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot
Peppers. But in the early 1930s – the same time that Duke Ellington immortalized it in the title “It Don’t
Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing”) – the four-beat groove became firmly established as the
standard for hot dance music.
The swing dance style emerged from New York’s Savoy Ballroom, which opened for business in
1926. The Savoy was an enormous space, filling an entire block in Harlem. Like many new dance halls, it
offered a luxurious environment for a modest fee. Two bands were hired on a given night, alternating
sets on opposite sides of the hall. Harlem was proud of the Savoy, and opened its door to white visitors
from downtown and around the world; but unlike the Cotton Club, its primary constituency was the
black neighborhood surrounding it. In the Savoy, social dancing was an intense, communal activity; the
Savoy dance style came to be known as the Lindy Hop – named after Charles Lindbergh, whose dramatic
flight across the Atlantic in 1927 startled the nation. The steady four-four beat opened up new
possibilities. Rhythm section
To help bands adjust to the new groove, major changes were made in the rhythm section. While the
bass drum continued to play a rock-solid four-beat pulse, the tuba, commonly used in large dance bands
of the 1920s, was replaced by the string bass. During the early years of recording, the tuba was able to
project a clear, huffing sound. But the string bass had always been a specialty of New Orleans, and many
players, including Wellman Bra