Jazz began to “swing” as musicians began to adopt swing eighths, th estring bass, high hat cymbals, and a looser, more rythmic feeling . This change occurred gradually starting in the twenties with musicians such as Louis Armstrong, and continued on into the 40’s. A lot of the music that came out of this period was played by bands of ten musicians or more. Because of this the swing era is also often known as the big band era. Some big bands didn’t include a lot of improvisation. Other big bands such as that of Count Basie placed great emphasis on improvisation.
Jazz music had been played as a form as entertainment since its inception. During the swing era jazz music developed into tremendous music to dance to. Jazz groups seldom performed just for listening. Swing dansing was an extremely popular past time. During this era, jazz achieved wide popular appeal. One of Count Basie’s recordings, One O’Clock Jump, sold over a million copies.
The beginnings of the swing era can be traced to developments of larger bands by Fletcher Henderson in New York, and Bennie Moten in Kansas City. Fletcher Henderson along with his brother Horace and with Don Redman created the pattern for swing arrangments. Henderson helped establish the independent use of trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and rhythm sections with the use of soloists. A swing score generally has specific notes for each instrument to play in every measure. Then the music arranger decides which measures will be used for solo improvisation. The score is then taken to a music copyist who extracts the individual parts for the various instruments.
When the depression hit the U.S. in 1929 the entire music business sudddenly failed. Some players, such as Benny Goodman were able to find employment in staff radio jobs. Others, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington left the United States for Europe. Some jazz authorities believe that the swing era was launched in 1934 when Benny Goodman left the radio business to form his own band. However, by 1934 Duke Ellington as well as Fletcher Henderson had already formed large swing bands that played in the Kansas City area.
Swing bands started to play a large part in people’s lives in the late 30’s as people tried to shake off the depression by dansing. Large ballrooms were extremely common and therefore large bands were also needed.
Bands of the swing era produced a much fuller sound than the sound produced by earlier dixieland jazz bands. The resulted from the use of two to three times as many players. Because there were more players, swing music was organized in a homophonic construction. This resulted in the music sounding less complex and more organized in its effect. Block chords used by swing bands are a prime example of homophonic construction.
The swing era is dominated by the big bands that played to huge audiences during this period. Two of the largest big bands were Count Basie’s and Duke Ellington’s. Benny Goodman also led several influential swing bands. Within the big bands there were also many individuals who distinguished themselves. Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins were two extremely talented saxophone players who became well renowned for their improvisational prowess. Ella Fitzgerald wowed crowds with her silky smooth voice and upbeat scat singing.