Benny Goodman, the Raising of Swing and the Big Bands

August 21st, 1935 has been designated as the beginning of the Swing decade. It was the night that Benny Goodman’s orchestra triumphed in the Palomar hall in Los Angeles, with a young audience devoted to the music they made, dancing the rhythms of that time like the shag or the jitterbug, or shortly after, the Boogie-woogie.

Radio had already invaded homes in the 1930s, and if earlier in that decade, large soft-sounding orchestras were preferred, faster dances would now be imposed to the rhythm of jazz-inspired music, that some fine artists, such as Benny Goodman, had contributed to spread through the radio.

Until the end of the World War II, Swing, music played by great orchestras with a predominance of wind instruments, that people would mostly associate with jazz. Charles Boeckman quotes among others the orchestras of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Charley Barnet, Harry James, Glenn Gray, and the Loma House Orchestra, Bob Crosby, and many others, who helped to popularize Swing among all audiences with easy but well-interpreted versions.

All of these amazing people were the idols during the Depression and World War II years. Jazz stopped being something of clandestine clubs and bars and happened to animate the dance halls and night-clubs all over.

The era of the Swing was full of the orchestras with some soft, solid organized and strong sounds against the personalistic and individualistic effect of the traditional jazz bands, to which later would end up returning. Both styles were based on a rhythm but the great swing orchestras did it in a much more structured and planned way.

Arrangements, Rise

With the rise, the “arrangements” of songs for larger bands the arranger took decisive importance. This would be the orchestra swing according to the style of the arranger. A mix between a composer and a stylist, the arranger should know harmony and composition.

The sound of the band of Glenn Miller depended on the relation of the clarinets in the high line that reached in relation to the saxophones. Duke Ellington was an expert in this. Another famous arranger was Fletcher Henderson, from whom Goodman bought many arrangements, but there were many others.

The great orchestras proliferated, their directors were also great jazz soloists. A young Artie Shaw became Goodman’s main rival on the clarinet, competing for the title of swing king. Tommy Dorsey was another excellent conductor, he played the trombone softly. There was also young Frank Sinatra singing that attracted masses of teenagers.

The great orchestras became very popular, but nostalgia called for the smaller groups of contrapuntal jazz, and as Ken Burn tells in his famous documentary, jazz people like the famous promoter John Hammond thought that Swing was too regulated, too strict, so it choked jazz.

Actually, there was also some improvisation in Swing, the sax solos, the singer’s performance, and whatever was flowing through the veins of the artists, and instead of being accompanied only by the percussion, the whole orchestra was now the one that accompanied the soloist in his moment.