The word "swing" was first used in 1907 in the title of the song, Georgia
Swing, by American jazz singer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton.
Swing originally started out as a kind of dance music with catchy, punchy rhythms.
While various musical eras have come and gone, swing has survived and kept a core
of loyal fans. The current revival of big bands like the Count Basie
and Duke Ellington orchestras - both
of which survived their respective founders - is solid proof of
swing's enduring popularity.
The Term "Swing"
Used in the musical sense, the term "swing" refers to a rhythmic beat
generally associated with jazz and considered a vital principle of the genre. Swing
is also a way of playing jazz, characterized by a kind of groove – the act
of "swinging" – and the interaction between the rhythm section and
the soloist playing riffs or short rhythmic phrases on top of the groove. Swing
is not easy to define, and practically impossible to transcribe in a written score,
but its distinguishing feature is the continuous contrast between tension and release
that makes people want to snap their fingers and get up and dance.
The Swing Craze
swing era spans the period from the 1920s to the mid-1940s, eventually losing ground
with the advent of bebop. In the madness after the Wall Street Crash, the swing
frenzy took hold in the United States. At a time fraught with uncertainty, it gave
people a chance to let go, have fun, and dance away their sorrows. By the end of
Prohibition in the 1930s, the swing genre had hit its peak with the rise of the
major big bands that played two of New York City's most famous clubs: the Cotton
Club and the Savoy Ballroom.
Pianist, composer and big band leader, Duke Ellington, was a pinnacle
figure of the swing era. Despite the economic slowdown affecting many musicians
at that time, the Duke Ellington Orchestra enjoyed immense success,
bringing to life such swing classics as Perdido and It Don't Mean a
Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing.
With the arrival of the jukebox, swing music spread like wildfire throughout the
United States, making a household name of such musicians as clarinet player and
jazz bandleader Benny Goodman. Goodman started
his own big band in the 1930s, borrowing many of his musical ideas from his arranger
of choice, Fletcher Henderson. Goodman's big band was among
the most influential groups of its time.
In January 1938, Goodman would become the first jazz musician to
play the famous Carnegie Hall in New York. The event gave place to an historic concert,
where some of the period's greatest musicians, black and white, came together
onstage despite the fact that segregation was still very much alive. In addition
to Goodman, the audience also got the chance to hear piano virtuoso,
Count Basie, founder of the legendary Count Basie Orchestra,
which introduced soloists such as Buck Clayton, Lester Young
and Roy Eldridge to the music world.
Throughout his career, Goodman actively fought against segregation,
hiring African Americans to key positions in his big band. Among them were pianist
Teddy Wilson, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and
guitarist Charlie Christian.
A Festival That Swings
Over the years, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal has welcomed
some of the biggest names in swing. In 1991, legendary singer and big band leader,
treated Festival fans to a truly unique show, transporting the audience with the
kind of exuberance and excess that reigned at the Cotton Club in the 1930s.
In 1995, the Count
Basie Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra shared the Festival
stage, as part of an unforgettable double-bill featuring singer Joe Williams
and British singer Cleo Laine.
In 1984 and again in 1991, the Festival welcomed violinist Stéphane Grappelli, founding member of
the Quintette du Hot Club de France, a major group who had a considerable
influence on jazz and swing in France in the 1930s and 1940s.
legend of jazz and hometown boy from Montreal, pianist Oscar Peterson, put his genius to work for the
sake of swing on many occasions, while singer Susie Arioli has also explored the genre with
her album, Learn to Smile Again.
and fan of swing repertoire,
Diane Schuur, has graced the Festival stage on four separate occasions
between 1987 and 1999.
More recently, in 2009, swing fans put their hands together for Brian Setzer and his big band. Setzer is the
rockabilly guitarist famous for instigating the new-swing revival that swept the
U.S. in the mid-1990s. Festival favourite and Goodman
fan and disciple John
Pizzarelli also dropped by once more for a visit.