The Swing Book

The Swing Book by Degen Pener Read Free Book Online

Book: The Swing Book by Degen Pener Read Free Book Online
Authors: Degen Pener
“In the Mood” over and over again at weddings, charity benefits, and golden anniversary parties. The average kid growing up
     in the seventies couldn’t be blamed for equating swing with a graying Guy Lombardo trying to liven up New Year’s Eve on television.
     Or, even worse, with the bubbly schmaltz of
The Lawrence Welk Show.
By the eighties and nineties, however, even those saccharine reminders of big band’s glory days had exited the stage. No
     less a person than Duke Ellington’s foremost modern-day champion, Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of New York’s Jazz at
     Lincoln Center, has said that when he was young the name Ellington called to mind “old people and Geritol.” Adds Jack Vaughn,
     president of the neoswing label Slimstyle Records, “The swing music of old was marginalized by movie soundtracks and car commercials.
     It became background music.” And the dance was in even worse shape. Most ballroom studios around the country, while still
     teaching swing, promulgated a watered-down, lifeless version of the dance that was short on improvisation and big on routine.
     “It was often just a basic six-count East Coast,” says dance teacher and historian Margaret Batiuchok, one of the people most
     responsible for bringing back the Lindy.
    Over the years, a number of new singers, from Bette Midler to Harry Connick Jr., have helped popularize the era’s standards,
     though often the choice of material has focused on the sweeter, more conservative songs. Think of Midler’s rousing cover of
     the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in 1971; Midler also sang with the Lionel Hampton band on Broadway in 1976.
     Around the same time, the Manhattan Transfer’s jazzy vocals brought back hits such as the Glenn Miller classic “Tuxedo Junction.”
     In the mid-eighties Linda Ronstadt recorded a slew of old-fashioned tunes on a trio of albums produced by famous Sinatra arranger
     Nelson Riddle. And in 1989 swing got an enormous boost with the release of the hit soundtrack from
When Harry Met Sally,
featuring a then-twenty-two-year-old Harry Connick Jr. crooning in full Sinatra mode. Starting in the mid-eighties, a traditionalist
     revival, led by Marsalis, also began making its mark on the jazz world.
    What made the swing scene take off as a certified cultural movement, however, was when musicians began looking back to swing’s
     hardest-driving music. In London in the early eighties, swing, or more correctly, swingin’ jump blues, experienced its first
     modern-day comeback. Ray Gelato, as part of the Chevalier Brothers, and Joe Jackson, who released a before-its-time album of Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway
     material called
Jumpin’ Jive
in 1981, started to bring back the best of the jump blues sound. London’s scene was a harbinger of today’s swing craze. “There
     were swing dance nights and a lot of bands playing the music over in England, and they used to wear the zoot suits and the
     two-toned shoes. I think there was a big cross-pollination with American people coming over and seeing the thing here,” says
     Gelato. (For more information on Gelato and other neoswing musicians highlighted in bold print in this chapter, see individual
     entries in chapter 5.)
    While swing’s popularity in London eventually died down, the Brits were certainly out there before anyone else. But can they
     or any handful of people really be credited with reviving swing? Today everyone and his daddy-o likes to lay claim to that
     distinction. Almost every band points out how long they’ve been around (1989, 1991, or even 1993 are considered far-back years
     in the history of the revival). Answering the question, however, is as tough and controversial as saying who invented jazz
     in the first place. No one owns the music and the dance. Nevertheless, the musicians like to think they made it popular and
     new again, while the dancers believe that they get short shrift from the music side, which

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