Swing jazz was the dominant music of the “Big Band Era” in the 1930s and 40s, played by orchestras of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and dozens of other well- rehearsed excellent “hot” bands, along with cooling the jazz emphasis, like the Glenn Miller Orchestra and “Sweet” bands like Guy Lombardo. The era began with black bands (Bennie Moten, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington) in the late 1920s, and became a screaming sensation as the white bands and white audiences (mostly college age) took up the style. Swing bands also trained a spotlight on the great songs of Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, Berlin, Carmichael etc. – the so called “Great American Songbook” – bringing them maximum attention and respect.
Swing took the nation through the Great Depression and the War years, then stumbled to almost a dead halt in 1946, as postwar couples began staying at home and raising families. Rhythm and Blues and the popularity of vocalists such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra had already made serious inroads. Bebop (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gilespie) had grabbed the attention of the more adventuresome jazz listeners.
Swing dancers of today harken mostly to the music of that Depression era and its various “jitterbug” dance styles, curiously ignoring the Latin, waltz, ballad and other “ballroom” features of the Big Bands which always – we forget – played a rich mixture.
The singing style of Frank Sinatra is also a leftover of the Swing era. His music-largely a parade of the “Great American Songbook,” has maintained a dedicated audience, which also includes diehard fans of Bobby Darrin, Dean Martin, Harry Connick and Michael Buble. No greater devotee to this music can be found than Michael Feinstein.