Swing, Swing, Swing

I don’t know a lot about swing music except that I like it a lot.

I know that it developed in the 1920s, and evolved out of the lively jazz experimentation that began in New Orleans and developed further (and in varying forms) in Kansas City and New York City. And that what is now called swing diverged from other jazz music in ways that distinguished it as a form in its own right.

I also know that swing music and various swing dance styles like the Lindy Hop were banned by the Nazis because of their connection to African and Jewish musicians.

But that’s about all I know, really.

I loved swing and early big band music long before the swing revival of the late 1990s, though I was thrilled to see its popular resurgence. Cab Calloway, of course. Glenn Miller. Louie Prima. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Count Basie. The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Artie Shaw. Gene Krupa. Benny Goodman. Royal Crown Revue. Louis Armstrong. Duke Ellington. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. I stand in awe of them all.

Louis Prima wrote “Sing, Sing, Sing” in 1936, and it was one of the songs that defined the Swing Era. Benny Goodman is quoted as saying, “‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ (which we started doing back at the Palomar on our second trip there in 1936) was a big thing, and no one-nighter was complete without it. . . .” Its use in popular culture testifies to its longevity and electricity. Here’s Benny Goodman with Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on trumpet, from the 1937 film Hollywood Hotel:

And now a sung version of “Sing, Sing, Sing” (appropriate, eh?) by the Hungarian group the Cotton Club Singers:

Our next selection is the famous “In the Mood.” I have a special affection for this song because I sang it in church. No, really. In church. Actually, it was at a festive little potluck community dinner held in the church sanctuary, but there we were, up there on the altar, in straw “boater” hats, singing “In the Mood”:

Who’s the lovin’ daddy with the beautiful eyes
What a pair o’ lips, I’d like to try ’em for size
I’ll just tell him, baby, won’t you swing it with me
Hope he tells me maybe, what a wing it will be
So, I said politely, darlin’, may I intrude
He said, don’t keep me waitin’
When I’m in the mood

First I held him lightly and we started to dance
Then I held him tightly what a dreamy romance
And I said, hey, baby, it’s a quarter to three
There’s a mess of moonlight, won’t-cha share it with me
Well, he answered, baby, don’t-cha know that it’s rude
To keep my two lips waitin’
When they’re in the mood

Here’s Glenn Miller’s version (you’ll need to double-click and view it on YouTube):

Bette Midler’s version was significantly different. It began:

Mr. Whatchacallem, whatcha doing tonight?
Hope you’re in the mood
because I’m feeling just right.
How’s about a corner
with a table for two?
Where the music’s mellow
is a gay rendezvous.
There’s no chance romancing
with a blue attitude.
You know you got to do some dancing
to get in the mood.

In the mood (oh boy) be mine forever.
In the groove (that boy) and leave me never.
In the mood (oh joy) give me some kissing.
You know it won’t be long
before you’re in the mood! . . .

Mr. Watchacallem, I’m indebted to you.
You’re here. It goes to show what good influence can do.
Never felt so happy or so fully alive.
He’s a jam a jumpin’, it’s a powerful jive!
Swing-a-roo is giving me a new attitude.
My heart is full of rhythm
and I’m in the mood.

Brian Setzer’s version is even more explicit:

Jump into my rocket ’cause I’m ready to blast
I don’t know where I’m going but I’m going there fast
Tonight there ain’t no future and there isn’t a past
We’ll make it like the first time so it won’t be the last
All I wanna do is everything that you ask
Don’t you know I’m really gettin’ in the mood

Got the jitter fingers and they’re ready to pop
When I get to groovin’ ain’t no way I can stop
Baby when we get there then we’re just gonna hop
Got to ride the feeling baby straight to the top
Girl you make my heart start beatin’ flippity-flop
Baby can’t you tell I’m getting’ in the mood

[In the mood]
The joint is jumpin’
[In the groove]
We’re onto something
[In the mood]
The band is pumpin’
Swingin’ and swayin’ and a-rock and rollin’
Come on now
We’re gonna party
[I know how]
Yeah to get it started
[In the mood]
I’m good to boogie
Blow that jiving music now


Now that I look at those lyrics, I’m thinking maybe it was “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” we sang that evening in church. . . .

Naw, I’d have remembered wearing mermaid fins.

(That was “Delores and the DeLago sisters,” a.k.a. Bette and her Harlettes, of course, performing live in Las Vegas.)

Here’s the famous Andrews Sisters’ version, from the 1941 movie Buck Privates:

Three more and then I’ll let you go, unless I’ve lost you already.

The swing revival struck a nice balance between old and new. “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” was a big hit for Count Basie in 1938 (it was named after Kansas City’s Woodside Hotel, where many of the band members stayed and where the tune was rehearsed).

In this new version, Don Sweeney plays on a vintage set of drums that had belonged to Buddy Rich; Rich gave them to Johnny Carson, and Carson gave them to Sweeney. Here’s Sweeney with his SRO Big Band:

In 1999, the Brian Setzer Orchestra teamed up with Louis Prima in a music video of Prima’s “Jump Jive an’ Wail,” one of the more exhilarating performances of swing music I’ve ever seen:

And finally, we have “Zoot Suit Riot,” the only hit single from the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. The title refers to a series of riots that erupted in Los Angeles during World War II between sailors and soldiers stationed in the city and Mexican American youths, who were recognizable by the flamboyant zoot suits they favored:

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, you know.


~ by Craig R. Smith on 7 September 2007.

One Response to “Swing, Swing, Swing”

  1. Sigh. I love swing. And, as an odd teen in the 70s, I listened to a lot of it in high school. Sadly, I never learned to swing dance. It’s one of my life’s big regrets. (And I refuse to learn with another beginner as my partner!)

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