If novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he called the 1920s the Jazz Age, then the 1930s through the mid-1940s could even more aptly be termed the Swing Era. That’s because during that time the swing pulse and impulse transformed jazz and through it, much of American vernacular music.
Swing music and dancing became a huge phenomenon, almost a national obsession, taking jazz to heights of popularity never achieved before or since. More jazz musicians gained favor with the general public, more audiences turned to jazz as a backdrop for dancing and entertainment, than any other time in history. Never before had jazz so dominated the field of popular music. At no other time was jazz such a catalyst for thousands of fans queuing up for a performance, for turn-away crowds so large and enthusiastic that the police had to be called in to keep order, for so many live radio broadcasts carrying the music to waiting listeners coast-to-coast, and for heated band battles that became the stuff of legends.
Many people help create swing, but two musicians, Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong, were especially influential. In the 1920s, Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra had popularized a fundamental format and style of big band arranging. Henderson and his principal arranger, Don Redman, fully developed a basic framework that featured sections of reeds and brass pitted against each other, sometimes in call-and-response patterns, and sometimes with one section playing supporting motifs or riffs (short, repeated phrases).
What separated swing from jazz that proceeded? Most of all, its rhythm. Louis Armstrong’s rhythmic innovations loosened up the beat of jazz, provided a greater variety of rhythms, and made its momentum more flowing. Between 1930 and 1935, Armstrong influenced other musicians to play slightly ahead of the beat and transformed the rhythmic feel of jazz. It was the most original and most fundamental sense; swing is a verb meaning to play with that...