At the risk of being called a blankety-blank purist, I have changed the name of this column from "Swing" to "Jazz." As one of my many belated acts, I hope to remove the stigma of a name which has, of late, become thoroughly unfitting to the contents.
It all boils down to a matter of one's definition of the two words. For years after the appearance of "Jazz," the word was baffling because people applied it indiscriminately to the original Negro improvisations and to the overblown dance arrangements of Paul Whiteman. So, too, with the word "Swing," which first applied to Benny Goodman's greatest band, and Sammy Kaye's "Swing and Swayers" at the same time. While the initial confusion about jazz has subsided for the most part, the confusion about "Swing" has increased. The boundaries of jazz may be disputed and indefinite, but when a jazz-lover uses the word, he means the tradition of improvised music, or written music played as if improvised.
But what is "Swing?" Originally, in a pure sense it meant jazz in a big-band form. Even though Goodman relied far less on solos than a small jam outfit, the spirit and excitement of jazz was present in the performances of his band. But in these days when Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James are "Kings of Swing," it is clear that the original meaning of the word has been perverted.
The trend at the moment seems to be back to the hot stuff, as Harry James engagement at the New York Paramount shows. But any relation between the Harry James of today and the Goodman of yesterday is strictly accidental. "Swing," as typified by Harry James today is superficial music, fit only for mass consumption and crowd pleasing. There is none of the taste, imagination, and sincerity that makes jazz worthwhile listening to; there are only the externals. If this column concerns itself with such music, except as a bad example, then the Bookshelf department might as well start reviewing Faith Baldwin, and the editorials be copied from Bill Cunningham.
As a word, "Swing" is meaningless and dead, God bless it. Jazz is much more onomatopoetic, anyway.