The writer of a column on such a broad subject as that encompassed by the term "swing" has a hard job ahead of him in deciding what he shall include in his definition of the word. For clearly there is plenty of open ground between the swing which is linked with sway by S. Kaye and that swing which, according to Duke Ellington, "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got." There will certainly be more potential readers who have danced to the strains of Kaye and others of his ilk than have heard much of the Duke's music. Hence it might be argued that I should play down to the largest audience by confining myself to discussing the latest singing song-title and the newest triple-tonguing exploits of Horace Heidt's Three Trumpeteers.
This sort of thing is fine if you're writing for the College Humor Swing Fraternity, and thus have a wide audience of rabid rugcutters from the jukebox campuses. It is also fine if you have an inclination for it, which no Crimson columnist has had yet. The commercial type of swing just isn't worth a weekly spiel from anyone's hardworking typewriter. Such a column would be only a series of publicity releases for a group which certainly doesn't need any more attention called to it. Their music has no other function than to sell itself, and beyond its passability on the dance floor there is nothing to it. The blaring brass, thumping drums, and pseudo-terpsichorean antics commonly associated with swing are only a rapidly fading part of the whole popular music field.
But there is a brand of music which needs all the publicity it can get. It was the foundation of the whole swing craze of the past six years--hot jazz, the original "swing music," which was seized by the public fancy and diluted into almost unrecognizable cacophony. Swing became the all-inclusive word, embracing alike the beautiful solos of Louis Armstrong and the blatant output of so many contemporary bands. The result was that hot jazz was blamed for the excesses of the commercialized product.
The swing fad did, however, have more permanent effects than the Big Apple and the Suzie Q, in that it brought many people nearer a kind of music they hadn't understood before. The growth of popularity of improvised jazz, built around the individual self-expression of the musician, has been a direct result of the interest of people who looked behind the jump-jump and the jive, and the screeching horns and shimmying drummers, but it still has a long way to go. Writing in the Sunday Herald Tribune a couple of weeks ago, Benny Goodman hit the proverbial nail on the axiomatic head when he said, "The music the word 'swing' stands for in the minds of serious jazz musicians has hardly begun to live in this country."
It is the original swing on which this column has concentrated in the past, and on which it will continue to take its stand in the future. There is an infinitely greater necessity for arousing interest in it than in the much broader field of popular dance music. Any music which is composed of personal interpretations which reflect the spirit and personality of the performer deserves more attention than the marketable merchandise which has assumed the name of swing during the past few years.
Of course, the line is difficult to draw categorically between commercial swing and the orthodox "jazz hot," as continental "hepcats" are wont to call it. Therefore I claim the right to discuss even Sammy Kaye favorably, if I find germs of authentic jazz in his midst. If this be contradiction, make the most of it.
NEWS: The first tidings of interest which come to my attention are of the Adams House dance next Monday, which is to be graced by the presence of Count Basie and some fifteen associated Kansas City virtuosi. The gentlemen of the dance committee are charging a pretty stiff admission fee, particularly for stags. Evidently they intend to discourage jazz lovers who may wish to slip in just to hear the Basie musicale without engaging in any female entanglements, as well as the avowed wolves who inevitably infest such soirees. The Count may no longer be the wild and woolly nobleman he was in the days when Herschal Evans and Lester Young were attempting to outdo each other on the tenor saxophone, but he still packs more punch than any band that has reared its head around here this spring. Therefore, all things considered, Cue's reviewer says "Gird up your five bucks and your woman and go."