What is swing music?

Swing is a type of music that traditionally features classical/orchestral instruments. Its sound is mainly a jazzy or bluesy feel. Swing artists include Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and many more. For whoever answered Elvis Presley, Elvis was a rock n' roll artist.

Swing was born out of the 1940's era mostly from WW2 on. It started with the Big Band Era when these groups began to experiment with black music in America and started to duplicate the shuffle beat into Boogie Woogie. Hence the Jitterbug, Zoot Suit Era and early forms of Rock & Roll began to developed thru the late 40's & 50's. These early big band musicians were all classically trained and schooled in Jazz, this was their interpretation of what the very early blues and jazz singers were experimenting with.

MAJOR Correction

Swing grew up in the early 1930s and matured in the 1940s. It was mostly performed by "big bands", jazz orchestras with anywhere from 8 to 20 musicians. The instruments were usually trumpets, trombones, reeds (saxophones and clarinets), and rhythm (drums, piano).

The big-band format actually dates back to the 1920s when leaders such as Duke Ellington and Paul Whiteman assembled groups that were larger than the typical jazz combo of the time, with 3 to 6 members. The early bands still mostly played in a style more associated with traditional jazz, but by the mid-1930s a number of factors converged to create swing. First, radio allowed many more people to hear the bands via broadcasts; second, post-Depression economic recovery gave people more disposable income so they had cars for travel and the option to spend money on entertainment.

The start of Swing Era is traditionally dated from a 1935 concert when Benny Goodman's band, fearing public rejection, decided to "fail with a bang" by playing many of the more uptempo arrangements the musicians enjoyed instead of the more mundane tunes the promoters wanted. Instead of failing, the performance was a wild success and swing soon became the most popular music form in the country.

The typical form of a swing tune is what's called A-A-B-A. That is, it opens with a melody performed twice with slightly different variations. That's followed by a second, different melody, and the tune closes with a third variation of the original melody. Unlike traditional jazz which is played free-form, most swing music is arranged. That is, the notes that the musicians play are written out in advance to harmonize multiple parts. But within that framework, individual performers would play improvised jazz solos with the rest of the band in the background.

It's almost impossible to provide a comprehensive list of swing musicians but here are a few names to search for:


Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Charlie Barnet, Lionel Hampton, Chick Webb, Claude Thornhill, Harry James, Bunny Berigan

Sidemen and soloists

(Many also became leaders later) Buddy Rich, Chris Griffin, Tex Beneke, Roy Eldridge, Harry Edison, Abe Most, Buddy Morrow, Ziggy Elman, Buddy DeFranco, Billy May


Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Dick Haymes, Martha Tilton, Helen Forrest, Helen Ward, Ivie Anderson, Joe Williams, Bob Eberly, Helen O'Connell, Connie Haines

and hundreds more ...