Documentary telling the story of swing, an obscure form of jazz that became the first worldwide pop phenomenon and inspired the first ever youth culture revolution.
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When Benny Goodman made his first radio broadcast in 1935,
he couldn't possibly have known that his music would change America, and later the world, forever.
And he could never have imagined, with his bank-manager looks,
that he'd become one of the world's first global pop stars.
And the music was called swing.
Everything in life got a beat. And that's what swing was.
The riff starts, you can see the audience - they're lighting up
and by the end of it, they're standing up and dancing and it's the physical effect it has on people.
That's why swing music is great.
Decades before the '60s, it sparked the world's first youth cultural revolution.
That was what the whole swing era was about was the dancing.
Without dancing, there would have been no swing era.
Swing was labelled as - dangerous music that made you have sex with people.
Swing has thrown up some of the most iconic stars of the 20th century.
Today, it's still topping the charts, with some of the biggest names in music.
Robbie Williams' swing album went platinum seven times over.
Nearly a hundred years on,
swing remains the longest lived, most successful and coolest form of popular music.
Of course, one never snaps one's fingers on the beat.
It's considered aggressive.
You don't push it - you just let it fall.
And of course, if you're real cool,
then you're gonna manage to affect a tilt of the left earlobe at the same time, like this, you know?
And if you're cooler than that, then of course, you tilt the left earlobe on the beat
and snap your finger on the after beat like this, you know?
As a matter of fact, by routinely tilting of the earlobe
and snapping the finger one can become as cool as one wishes to be.
We took a poll on the campus and almost everybody voted for Artie Shaw's Band.
Artie Shaw? Who's Artie Shaw?
At its most basic, swing is a mixture of orchestrated big band music and improvised jazz.
In the 1930s,
it turned band leaders like Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller and Artie Shaw into pop music's first superstars.
They earned as much as 60,000 dollars a week -
roughly half a million pounds in today's money.
Much of the credit for this goes to band leader Benny Goodman,
who, in 1935, almost single-handedly, turned swing into a global pop phenomenon.
The real credit for its creation, however, belongs elsewhere.
And in an earlier time.
The story of swing is partly about poverty, crime and sex, but chiefly, it's about race.
And it starts in New York in the 1920s...
..where the music scene was as segregated as America.
Slavery had been abolished
but its legacy was a country divided along the lines of race.
Which meant that in much of America,
African Americans could not drink at the same water fountains, eat at the same restaurants,
or sit next to white people on the same bus.
Black and white had died together in the First World War
but in post-war America, they lived separate lives and listened to different music.
White music had developed from foxtrots and polkas,
black music, from Africa and the jazz of New Orleans.
But in the lean years following the First World War,
what both audiences had in common was a thirst for fun.
And that meant dancing.
King of the white dance bands was Paul Whiteman.
'Paul Whiteman became the band leader elect of the 1920s.'
Everything else was smaller group, they were more like Dixieland groups,
but they weren't as organised.
Paul Whiteman started, in my way of thinking,
the organised type of band.
He had people like Bix Beiderbecke
in the band that he featured.
He had Bing Crosby.
Paul Whiteman was at the beginning of it all.
# I'm a sentimental sap, that's all
# What's the use of trying not to fall?
# I have no will Oh, you've made your kill
# Cos you took advantage of me... #
Paul Whiteman's smooth big band was perfect hotel music for a generation that wanted to dance the Charleston
and forget the horrors of the First World War.
It had elements of jazz but drew heavily on classical music.
The classically trained George Gershwin was one of Whiteman's chief collaborators.
In 1924, Whiteman commissioned Gershwin to write Rhapsody In Blue.
One of the first pieces of symphonic jazz,
it has become a staple in the repertoire of classical music.
It was a style of music that would influence classical composers from Aaron Copland to Leonard Bernstein.
What this well-organised big band music did not have,
was any of jazz's wild sounds or improvisation.
For that, you had to turn to a black tradition of music - the jazz of New Orleans and Chicago.
Its greatest exponent, one of the most influential musicians of all time, was Louis Armstrong.
And it was he, more than anyone else, who provided the inspiration for swing.
And we're gonna swing for ya.
In 1923, Paul Whiteman was amongst the many New York musicians
who flocked to hear him play in Joe "King" Oliver's Band.
I'm looking around - Joe Oliver and myself was playing duets -
all the musicians - Bix and 'em boys come by - Whiteman -
sit down and listen to us play - they didn't know how we did it.
You know, I...not so much him,
I had notes, second trumpet notes during all them riffs and all them breaks they used to make.
Those breaks you hear now? They were originated by Joe.
And I had a note for every one of them.
And they thought that was marvellous. Nobody trick us.
Armstrong's familiar showbiz personality makes it easy to forget
that he was one of the greatest trumpet players the world has ever seen.
Jazz starts with the rhythm.
The melody is very crucial, the harmony is crucial,
but I'm a rhythm guy. I like that groove.
Tap your foot. If you can't, Duke Ellington say,
"Don't mean a thing if it doesn't have swing." Armstrong was about swinging.
Armstrong was known as Pops and he was the father of jazz.
A master of one of the vital components that would come to define swing -
He's the greatest.
I'm so happy to have been on the scene with him.
Become a good friend of his.
He and I and Dizzy used to live in the same neighbourhood
and occasionally, Dizzy and I would call each other up and say, "Let's go bug Pops."
So, we'd walk up to Pops' house and ring the bell and Louis would say, "Who is it?"
She'd say, "It looks like Dizzy and Clark."
AS ARMSTRONG: "Let them in. They're my men."
So, we'd go in and he'd say, "Son, I'm gonna give you the history of jazz."
And he was, of course, the history of jazz!
Armstrong was the very definition of a virtuoso.
He could spontaneously invent new melodies as he played.
There was the idea of improvisation, where, as we, the kids, say, you do your own thing.
there was this freedom to express yourself.
And this was pure joy.
Because, as we all know, we can do that whether speaking or singing or playing -
we feel good about it when we can tell our story.
If you can tell it musically, that's a good thing.
And Louis Armstrong was the first great jazz improviser.
He set the mould for everyone after him.
Growing up in Jamaica, me hearing that feeling in the music -
ended up being called swing.
There was a pulse in the rhythm and it was...
I knew from a very early age that it was all this New Orleans influence.
And I think what New Orleans was, was a real melting pot - cauldron -
of all these peoples coming from various places.
When you say New Orleans - right away, it stood for the groove.
Armstrong was raised in New Orleans where music was a fundamental part of the city's way of life.
New Orleans produced some of the greatest improvisers of the age.
People sing because they can't vote.
People play because they don't have political power, social mobility.
People sing or play instruments because they don't have economic opportunities.
People sing or play music because they don't have a system of justice
that is equal to what was going on in terms of citizenship or whatnot.
So, music played a very practical and functional role -
it was the primary method and means of expression and communication
for people who felt ostracized and disenfranchised.
Young Louis Armstrong grew up expecting local musicians
to be playing at nearly all important events - birth, marriage and death.
Jazz is still the order of the day at funerals in New Orleans - happy on the way back from the funeral...
and sad on the way there.
# Steal away home to Jesus
# Steal away
# Steal away
# Steal away home
# To my Lord. #
Some of the greatest names in jazz, such as Jelly Roll Morton,
started their careers as jobbing musicians at the home of the recently deceased.
But the magnet for many of the city's greatest musicians was the prospect of work in Storyville.
This was New Orleans' officially licensed red light district.
And there was plenty of jobs for musicians to play in the lobbies of brothels and drinking dens.
It was where a very young Louis Armstrong found work,
delivering coal in an area that was usually off limits.
Well, I used to hear all that good music too
and they didn't run me out of the district because I was working for a white man.
And that ain't no problem at all. I could hear the best music there was down there.
All your best musicians.
Like many of the greatest jazz musicians,
Armstrong had extraordinarily wide-ranging tastes in music throughout his life.
Growing up in New Orleans, he was soaked in church music, ragtime and the blues, as well as pop tunes.
His technical brilliance allowed him to absorb all of it,
add his own feel and turn it into a brand new music.
When Armstrong decided and got capable of improvising, then everything changed.
He was so relaxed and so flexible and so elastic and so swinging, you know,
but that also made it very attractive to outsiders,
who listened to it and who watched it.
Because they were attracted to this freedom of improvisation -
joy being expressed by these people.
# As I said before
# I'll be glad when you're dead
# You rascal, you
# I'll be glad when you're dead
# You rascal, you
# When you're laying six feet deep
# No more fried chicken will you eat
# Ha-ha-ha, I know that'll break your heart
# You love chicken, you... #
In 1924, Armstrong's New Orleans sound was about to change the course of 20th-century popular music.
This was the year he teamed up with an African American big band leader from New York,
who, like so many, was mesmerised by Armstrong's talent.
His name was Fletcher Henderson.
In New York, you either think about Paul Whiteman or Fletcher Henderson.
Like the other New York musicians,
Henderson was blown away by what Armstrong had done with the jazz of New Orleans
and the fusion of the two would create what we now know as swing.
When Fletchy Henderson first heard Armstrong, he told everybody he had heard this guy...
who could really swing.
As far as we know, that's the first time
that phrase or that term was used
to describe a certain way of playing the rhythm.
And so it really originates with Armstrong.
Fletcher Henderson had seen the future.
And in 1924, he persuaded Armstrong to come to New York and join his band.
So, when he comes to play in Fletcher Henderson's Band - this is like the hottest band in New York -
so this country boy walks in, you know, they don't think much of him,
but once he start playing though, then they knew what the deal was.
They knew he could do something they couldn't do.
You can actually say,
I think with no exaggeration, that...
the swing era starts when Louis Armstrong plays with Fletcher Henderson.
jazz was a music that was not written. They played it
but they didn't write it.
Fletcher Henderson began putting those notes down on paper and out of that came the great swing band.
Henderson had been taking a Masters degree in Chemistry,
when he realised America had no place for a black scientist.
He switched to band-leading and relied heavily on Don Redman,
his saxophone player - the son of a music teacher -
to write arrangements incorporating Armstrong's virtuosity and improvisation
into the big band sound.
BAND MUSIC PLAYS
Fletcher Henderson started out accompanying blues singers
and had his own band,
but it wasn't until the arrival of Louis Armstrong that actually gave a kick to Fletcher's band.
It really gave Henderson a vehicle to base arrangements around.
And this is what we, you know, begin to talk about the development of the swing formula.
The way of arranging the big band to keep this sound moving that makes people wanna dance.
You can have one section playing a melody and the rest backing them up
with these little riffs or these little shouts, if you will.
And then, who plays the melody changes.
Who plays the shouts, changes.
So you have this unique dynamic that is new.
When you hear the earlier jazz recordings,
it's a lot more improvisational.
Once they started writing the things out, of course,
you're getting two halves of stuff - you're getting part of people playing the written part
and then, somebody improvising over the top.
Music is one of the few art forms
where the fact that you're focusing on two or three things happening at once
is what gives you the vibration that is really great.
And, with the big band, it's the most perfect vehicle for that.
So, if somebody has written out, sort of, a big riff going -
I can't play it on the piano - I haven't got enough hands -
but if somebody's got the rhythm section keeping the...
and then the, sort of, saxophones...
or whatever it is they're playing...
and then, somebody on the top on a clarinet or whatever is going...
and so you're getting...but when you hear all the three things at once,
then, that's when the whole thing works.
When Fletcher Henderson unleashed swing in New York in 1924,
it was at just the right time and in just the right place.
It became the soundtrack for one of the greatest explosions of African-American culture
the world had ever seen.
George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern may have been the kings of popular music of the time,
but in the New York district of Harlem, everyone was listening to swing
and it was helping turn the area into the black cultural capital of the world.
Since the beginning of the century
an emerging black middle class had colonised Harlem and turned it into a haven
for the many escaping rural depression and racism.
Harlem was the one place black people could come to and be free.
No place else.
That's why people came. They came from the South, the West,
they could walk, they could ride. Whatever way, they got to Harlem because it was there.
Whatever they wanted to do, the best place they could do it was in Harlem.
There was nothing to stop them doing it, so that became a magnet.
With the arrival of intellectuals and writers like Langston Hughes and Marcus Garvey,
'20s Harlem experienced what was known as the Harlem Renaissance.
For the first time, the world became aware of African-American culture.
Josephine Baker rocked Paris, and a Harlem Revue called Blackbirds
was a huge hit in '20s London.
Everybody came to Harlem. Everybody.
Poets, singers, writers - they were all condensed in this one small area.
So here you had the most talented, most brilliant-minded people who had no freedom.
Here was a place you could write your books.
You can produce your great Cab Calloways and Bill Robinson.
Every place was a rehearsal hall.
That's all I used to do on Saturday was go from one rehearsal hall to the other,
cos I just wanted to be one of them.
Into this artistic melting pot,
stepped arguably the greatest American composer of the 20th century.
He took swing to a whole new level.
Edward Kennedy Ellington's natural grace
had earned him the nickname, Duke, at the age of seven.
He was born into a middle class household in Washington DC,
and moved to New York in 1923.
When he heard Fletcher Henderson's Band, with its complex interplay between instruments,
he knew that swing was the perfect framework for his own refined style of music.
The thing that made Duke Ellington unique
was that he really discovered how to blend the refined and the raw perfectly.
It was a devastating combination.
By the late '20s, swing was by far the dominant form of jazz.
Ellington and the rest of them were really taking over.
A jazz band that was a swing band, a dance band - it wasn't pure jazz,
and a lot of the early jazz fans were well aware of this, and said,
"This stuff being played by Ellington or Henderson
"is not the true jazz. The true jazz is New Orleans jazz."
It didn't matter. The New Orleans jazz was dead
and whatever jazz you had was gonna be played in the context of a big dance band.
You know, sometimes a tune just comes into you and knocks you down.
You can't resist it and you just have to put it down
and usually it associates itself with a specific performer in the band.
You could take any 15-18 piece orchestra
and line 'em up to play one of Ellington's charts,
and then have Ellington's Band play it and it wouldn't swing as much,
because Duke knew how to use the people that he had in his band.
Some members of Ellington's Band stayed with him for 45 years.
What is the secret of keeping a band together for as long as you do?
You've got to have a gimmick, Humphrey.
The one I use, I use a gimmick, is to give them money...
Yes, I can see that's very popular!
Because he had the same people in the group for a long time,
that meant you got not only a consistency of sound,
but in the end a thing that I'm starting to achieve with my band,
although my big band has been going for, I suppose, 10-15 years,
is they start thinking as one. You no longer have to explain things.
Some things you would write an arrangement, other things you just start playing and people find parts
that are better than the ones you'd write out, because the band thinks as one.
Not only could his band, if they wanted to, play the blues and swing,
but they could go off in all sorts of other tangents.
But it always had what the Ellingtonian thing was -
you could always tell it was him.
Many of the techniques Ellington expected of his band,
had previously been the preserve of classical musicians.
Circular breathing, for example - a fiendishly difficult technique
that allowed brass players in his band to sustain a note indefinitely.
You take an intake of air, through your nostrils,
and while you're breathing that air through the nostrils into your lungs,
your jaws are filled with air.
Pfffft! You push the jaws like that, so it's like -
HE BREATHES AND BLOWS
And at the same time, you have to realise -
I haven't played in a couple of days, so I don't have any...but...
you have to buzz.
HE BUZZES A TUNE
HE RETURNS TO SINGLE KEY
So long as you can keep a buzz, and keep your chops buzzing like that,
you can go on forever!
# It don't mean a thing If you ain't got that swing... #
It was Duke Ellington who first noticed
that swing was a bit more than just a form of music.
# It don't mean a thing All you gotta do is swing... #
Swing was the music of black self-expression.
But most importantly of all, it was dance music.
And on the dance floor,
anyone was free to get up and let themselves go.
# It don't mean a thing If you ain't got that swing... #
Dancing to the beat. That's what it was. It was the beat.
And, uh, everything in life... got a beat.
And that's what swing was.
I mean, you couldn't listen to the music and not dance to it!
Throughout the 1920s,
dance had remained one of the key forms of entertainment
for black and white audiences in America.
Crazes had come and gone,
but the most popular dance of the decade
had been the Charleston.
Young, white college students had scandalised their elders
by wildly jigging about, or flapping.
This dance was taken by African American audiences,
and adapted to suit their music, swing.
The resulting dance, the Lindy Hop,
was a careful combination of the organised and the improvised.
The most famous dance troupe of the day was Whitey's Lindy Hoppers
and Norma Miller, born in 1919, was one of its key members.
They were the resident dancers at the temple of swing dancing,
the Savoy Ballroom, in Harlem.
NEWSREADER: 'Dark Harlem's hot and noisy Savoy!'
I was 12. I wasn't supposed to be there but I got in there.
That was Easter Sunday, and they had a matinee,
and you left church and you went up to Harlem
because you wanted to see the Easter Parade.
That was the time, coming out with the winter coats, and things...
You saw clothes that you couldn't believe!
And this was Easter Sunday and I was standing outside the Savoy
cos I wanted to see the people going in.
They were dressed up, and this man called me,
and wanted me...you know... When the music started playing
I was out there dancing in the street like all kids,
and he asked me to come and dance with him at the Savoy Ballroom.
This is what we did seven days a week.
We had to learn a routine. We were trained like athletes.
I mean, this was every day, rehearsing, rehearsing
till we became the best in the world.
We were just the best.
Your life began with swing.
For large swathes of America however,
the open exuberance of swing dancing confirmed their opinion
that this latest form of jazz was a threat to the nation's morals.
Worse still, it thrived in the illegal drinking clubs,
or speakeasies, that flourished in the prohibition era.
'Speakeasies did a land office business.
'Texas Guinan with her gals kept customers roaring.'
Duke Ellington was the star turn at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club,
a few hundred yards from the Savoy Ballroom.
The Cotton Club was owned by British-born gangster Owney Madden,
one of New York's most influential and violent citizens.
Jazz has always originated
in places that allowed it to nurture.
It was always in either, uh,
in whorehouses, nightclubs,
that had a lot of drinking, had a lot of dancing,
but most of all, places that were run by the rackets.
Gangsters, basically. And they loved jazz musicians
because it was happy music that made people feel good.
And for some reason,
I never knew any jazz musicians that worked in those places
that had any trouble with the gangsters at all.
We were in the Cotton Club for five years.
Really wonderful spot,
it was owned by people who were very influential
and prestigious, with having things accomplished,
and the great thing was about that, with the show on -
and they did have a wonderful show -
no-one was allowed to talk.
Some guy would start talking, "Yap, yap, yap, yap!"
And the waiter would come along, "Sir, would you please..."
and next the Captain would come over and say...
And the next thing you know the head waiter would come...
and then the next thing, the guy would just disappear.
That of course, was...would have been the prohibition era, wouldn't it?
By that time. Did you have any trouble with federal agents,
-or anything like that?
-Federal agents? No.
No, I didn't. I, uh...
There was never anything left for them to confiscate.
Unlike the Savoy,
Owney Madden's Cotton Club was exclusively for rich, white New Yorkers.
That was right up the street
but you can work the Cotton Club, you couldn't GO in the Cotton Club.
But I never went in the Cotton Club anyway,
I couldn't even afford to go.
They had black shows, but white audiences.
As a matter of fact, white people took over Harlem at night time
when I was coming up.
When I was about 13 years old, I became aware of jazz
on a Duke Ellington record,
I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart.
Of course, it was the first time I really heard jazz.
Course in my house my mother was an opera lover,
concert goer, chamber music person,
and the nearest I ever got to jazz
was George Gershwin on our pianola music roll.
I guess that's what started it,
and from thereon in, man, I couldn't get enough of it!
Duke Ellington may have been playing in a segregated club
but he wrote a series of pieces that captured the mood of black America
as the high hopes of the Harlem renaissance floundered
on the realities of prejudice and economic hardship.
Duke had first hand experience
of how America could treat some of its greatest musicians.
In 1931 he was on the radio in Chicago
but the show wasn't broadcast nationally.
Advertisers didn't want to be linked to a black performer.
He was at a dinner and it was segregated
and he got invited to the white table,
and Duke said, "I'm not going unless the entire orchestra goes."
And so they asked the people hosting the party if that would be OK,
and they said, "No, but come over anyway."
My grandfather took exception and left with the entire orchestra.
Racism wasn't the only problem Ellington and the other bands faced.
The stock market crash of 1929
started the Great American Depression of the '30s.
# He took her down to Chinatown... #
Only the biggest crowd-pleasing bands could survive,
providing a jolly antidote to the economic reality.
# She had a dream about the King of Sweden
# He gave her things that she was needin'
# He gave her a home built of gold and steel
# A diamond car... #
And then there was an error on the part of showbusiness managers.
They thought jazz was dead.
That was something that happened in the '20s,
it was finished, it was over, it was a fad, forget about it.
What people want is nice, dreamy, slow dancing, this kind of thing.
And they were wrong.
Easy-listening big bands seemed to be taking over.
By the early '30s, Fletcher Henderson was on his uppers.
Desperate for money, he started selling his precious arrangements.
He sold some to a brilliant young clarinettist
whose name was Benny Goodman.
He swung on his clarinet.
Whether he had a band or a small group behind him,
he was just a swinger.
I think he was a natural virtuoso, he wasn't an original,
he didn't have an original style
except one he created from the hybridness he took from several other clarinet players
but he was clever enough to do that and make it individual.
And he could do anything.
I still get astounded, half a century or more later,
some tracks that I've never heard of Benny Goodman
where he hits on a new idea I've never heard before,
and he probably never used again after that record session,
but he could just do anything he wanted.
By the time Benny Goodman arrived, swing was ten years old
and had already spawned some of America's greatest musicians.
But it was yet to be embraced by mainstream America.
Benny Goodman changed all that.
In terms of success, he was about to become the Elvis Presley of swing.
Goodman was heavily indebted to Fletcher Henderson's arrangements.
Benny Goodman could have never had the sound he had,
without Fletcher Henderson.
So we're talking about a man of colour who wrote for Benny Goodman.
When he did the King Porter Stomp
it was Fletcher Henderson who wrote that arrangement.
So it might have been played by white musicians, honey,
but they were getting their soul and their spirit from Fletcher Henderson,
cos he was something else. A real swinger!
In Goodman's hands, swing would go mainstream,
and become the soundtrack for the first sighting of the American teenager.
A full 20 years before the arrival of rock and roll.
Adults were baffled.
NEWSREADER: 'Swing. What does the dictionary say about rhythm?
'As we feared, "a measured beat."
'Let's measure it with our special camera.
'The exposure is made with a spark.'
Benny Goodman was one of 12 children
born into a poverty-stricken Chicago family.
Like many Jewish musicians,
he saw jazz as a way in to mainstream American culture,
and a way of making a living.
By the age of 16, he was working professionally in white big bands.
Later, when he moved to New York, he spent a lot of time in Harlem
and became one of the first white band leaders
to play alongside African-American musicians.
If Benny wished for anything he wished to be coloured.
Cos he used to spend all his time in Harlem
and when he heard Teddy Wilson he flipped out,
when he heard Lionel Hampton he hired him immediately.
Jazz brought the races together.
And that's how Benny Goodman had the first black musicians in his band.
And that's how... it just went on from there.
Other black musicians, that's how they broke out of that mould.
Black musicians couldn't go in the hotels.
White musicians couldn't play jazz without black man sitting beside him.
It was simple as that.
When you listen to them,
you actually get the impression -
or I got the impression when I first heard them -
that this is a black guy on the clarinet
playing with some white guys on these other instruments.
Goodman might have been colour blind, but America was not.
Racial prejudice had stopped Duke Ellington's radio show being transmitted across the country.
For a white band leader like Goodman however,
there was no such restrictions,
and in 1934 his breakthrough came on a radio show.
By this time,
many dance halls had been brought to their knees by the Depression,
and radio had begun to fill the gap for dance music.
Goodman landed a spot on NBC's nationally broadcast music show,
A programme called Let's Dance,
where he was the orchestra selected for the jazz part.
The producers of that show
realised that the collapse of the ballroom business
and the death of the bands of the '20s
was largely an economic thing. That people still wanted
to dance on Saturday night, they just didn't have a place to go or money to pay for entry,
and places had folded because nobody was going.
So they gave them a Saturday night dance on the radio.
Somebody could put a radio out and they could have their own dance.
The show clicked. It was very popular.
When Goodman's radio show led to a national tour,
Middle America, it was felt, wasn't ready for a mixed-race big band.
So the big band he took on the road was all white.
He loved playing with black musicians but he was very conservative.
He came from a very poor family
and they worried about getting anything to eat,
let alone getting enough to eat.
And Benny was the first one to be able to make any money
and he wasn't about to jeopardise that
because he was supporting the whole family.
I mean, he loved playing with the black musicians
but he was afraid that he just wouldn't be accepted.
And as it was, he couldn't play in the South with them.
In the spring of 1935, Benny Goodman's all-white big band
set out on the tour
that would change the history of popular music forever.
But it all started very badly.
It wasn't genteel enough for some of these people,
and they couldn't stand it because he was too loud.
And they got to Denver,
and the only people in the audience were friends of the musicians,
and Benny was ready to turn back and give up the band-leading business.
But his musicians talked him into continuing the tour,
and they made it to Los Angeles.
I think August 21st, 1935 is widely held to be the inauguration of the swing era.
That was the day Benny Goodman turned up at the Palomar Ballroom.
The Palomar Ballroom
called itself the largest and most famous dance hall on the west coast.
It's dance floor could accommodate 4,000 couples.
After his dismal tour, Goodman was sure most of it would be empty.
An estimated 10,000 people showed up to hear the Goodman Band.
Apparently his nationwide radio show had been airing in California
and people had been listening.
The place went nuts.
Then the word got out and all the other kids,
it had to be a thing, you had to go hear the Benny Goodman Band,
and so it was a great success.
Swing was a phenomenon.
Just the way the Beatles turned out to be a phenomenon,
40 years later, 30 years later.
It was 1935.
America was still in the depths of depression
and the world was waking up to the possibility of war.
Against this unlikely backdrop,
America's teenagers had found something to celebrate,
an exciting new music they could call their own and dance to.
NEWSREADER: 'A new sound in the night. A new kind of jazz,
'something called swing.
'And Benny Goodman is the king of it.
'It starts in the dance joints, jams the theatres,
'even raises the roof at classical Carnegie Hall.'
Now you have young teenagers,
who are able to embrace, not only buying Benny Goodman records,
but now they come out in droves to see him!
It became a social thing to do,
as a part of your social life as a teenager, to go to dances,
and that was part of the romantic scene, and so forth,
and it was part of the youth culture.
NEWSREADER: 'First, the basis of every swing band is the rhythm section.'
Massed youth culture and American popular music
exploded in the middle of the American Depression.
Everyone wanted to know about swing.
NEWSREADER: 'In Arty Shaw's rhythm section we have drums, piano, guitar and bass fiddle.
'You can hear the rhythm section through every swing tune.
'Now on top of this, an intricate melody...
'Artie Shaw and his famous clarinet.
'Then a saxophone section...
'..playing melody and harmony,
'and finally a brass section of trombones and trumpets...
'..for full colouring and a full band effect.
'And we've got swing that's really in the groove.'
White teenagers were driving the swing phenomenon
and bands such as Artie Shaw's and Jimmy Dorsey's
joined Benny Goodman on the radio, on record and on film.
The dance always associated with swing,
the Lindy Hop, crossed over to a white audience to become something else - the Jitterbug.
Young white women hadn't been seen dancing like this before.
Adult America, already suspicious of the music's African-American origins, was horrified.
Swing was labelled as dangerous music that made you have sex.
I think people are interested in sex and danger to a certain extent as long as no-one gets hurt
and music's not really going to hurt you. You're just going to have a good time.
Swing was more than music. For the teenagers embracing it, it offered a way of life.
Music, a code of dress, even a language - it was the world's first youth culture.
Swing music acts as a narcotic and makes them forget reality.
It is like taking a drug.
Swing music represents a regression to a primitive "Tam, tam, tam."
Dr Brill's film went on to outline the dangers swing presented to an average American diner...
..any public gathering...
..having a wash and worst of all, housework.
SWING MUSIC PLAYS
Enjoying dance was something really needed,
especially in America, that was in the depths of the Great Depression,
when people were homeless, had no jobs,
and it was there that the youth took on this new music that was coming out,
and embraced it wholeheartedly.
The band leaders were definitely the pop stars of their time.
There were magazines devoted to what they're doing, what they're wearing - that sort of thing.
The mass audience that Benny Goodman brought to swing also benefited African-American bands.
One of these turned out to be arguably the greatest swing band of all time -
the Count Basie Orchestra.
Basie was one of the best human beings I think I've ever met.
He was like an angel.
Everybody loved Count Basie. You could never find anybody who ever said a bad word about him.
Count Basie was a tough New Yorker stranded in Kansas City,
when the Vaudeville show he was the pianist in ran out of money.
The next really good kind of swing came from the South West.
Kansas City, Oklahoma, Omaha, even.
It was a place... The only place that didn't suffer from the Depression was Kansas City.
Kansas City was run by Pendergast
and it didn't matter - in the teeth of the Depression
the town was wide open. It was run by the rackets.
He played in a little club in Kansas City and he knew everybody who came in the joint.
Everybody who came in the club would order a drink for Basie.
So, while they're playing,
Basie takes a little vacation from the "Beep-ba-loom"
and gets up from the piano going, "Hey Joe, how are you doing?"
He goes over to Joe's table and said, "There's a little drink." So he had a drink with Joe,
he goes back to the band which is still going, "Blip-blip-blitto-blip-do-da-lom-da"
and then he'd say, "Hey, Bill, what are you saying?"
And go to Bill's table and has a little sesh with Bill
and says, "I've gotta get back." He'd go back - "ba-room-ba-loom-ba-loom."
John comes in. "Hey, John."
And that's the ticket in his manager's face.
At the heart of Count Basie's music, lay what was considered the best rhythm section in the business -
guitarist Freddie Green, drummer Jo Jones and bass player Walter Page.
Walter Page was a band leader of his own all through the '20s
and he was a bass player.
He's the man who taught the whole Count Basie rhythm section how to play -
to where you had a nice floating thing.
But Basie was just playing chords here and there.
Everybody's played down to the level of the bass
and that's what started the whole floating thing that was so wonderful about the Count Basie thing.
With a rhythm section like that you couldn't go wrong.
It automatically says to you, "This is the way to do it.
"Take advantage of this. You've gotta listen to the chords.
"And listen to the way the band swings."
They really figured it out. When they came to New York,
that's when they really turned everybody on, you know.
Count Basie may have languished in Kansas City if he hadn't travelled to New York
to appear in one of the first ever major concerts to celebrate African-American music.
In the renowned Carnegie Hall, the series of concerts were called Spirituals To Swing.
These landmark concerts were a real eye-opener to New Yorkers
who had never appreciated the full range of African-American music.
They heard gospel, blues and boogie-woogie as well as Benny Goodman and Count Basie.
You took part, played piano, in one of the first jazz concerts of all time in Carnegie Hall, didn't you?
That was the Benny Goodman concert.
Benny invited about six of our group along,
-for the jam session part of it. And it was truly a great thrill.
That was a milestone in jazz history, wasn't it?
Well, I think it's one of them, I would say.
The arrival of Count Basie in New York
marked a creative high point of the swing era
and turned the city into the jazz and swing capital of the world.
At this point the music had matured. It had the improvisation of Louis Armstrong,
the sophistication of Ellington,
and the rhythm of Count Basie.
Plus, a new generation of extraordinary vocalists
was beginning to make their mark on the music.
Singers had featured in big bands from the earliest years,
but most band leaders had dismissed them as an interruption of their music.
# I have lips to sigh with... #
By the '30s, this had all changed
with the arrival of some of the greatest singers of the 20th century -
people such as Billie Holiday,
and Ella Fitzgerald.
# Somewhere there's heaven
# It's where you are
# Somewhere there's music
# How near, how far
# The darkest night would shine
# If you'd come to me soon
# Until you will, how still my heart
# How high the moon... #
First of all, singers were considered a necessary evil.
Publishers demanded that the song have words and somebody sing them.
So they always stuck them down in the second chorus of an arrangement -
the singer would sing after the band played a chorus.
Then the band would play out after that.
So the singers didn't usually even end the old records, if you remember.
All the Benny Goodman records with Helen Ward - they sang in the middle of the song,
not at the beginning and the end.
The leaders didn't like singers, a lot of them.
They only had singers because they had to have them.
Now the singers were starting to generate as much publicity as the bands.
# I've got no lost-my-man blues
# He didn't treat me fair It's more than I can bear
# I've got no lost-my-man blues... #
Billie Holiday had started as a jobbing singer
with big band leaders, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw,
but by 1939 she was packing black and white alike into a club called Cafe Society,
in New York's Greenwich Village.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
Now I'd like to sing a tune that was written especially for me.
It's titled Strange Fruit. I don't know if you'll like it...
One of the high points of Billie Holiday's performance,
was when the lights dimmed, waiters stopped serving
and she slowed the swing down to sing Strange Fruit -
a song about the horrors of lynching in the South.
# Southern trees
# Bear a strange fruit
# Blood on the leaves
# And blood at the root... #
My aunt was a singer and she played me a record
and I didn't know what it was,
but I said to my aunt, "I want to sing like her."
# Strange fruit hanging... #
There was a record by Billie Holiday of Strange Fruit.
When I heard that record, that changed my life.
# Here is a fruit
# For the crows to pluck
# For the rain to gather
# For the wind to suck... #
Initially, the record company she worked with refused to release such a sensitive song.
# For the trees... #
When it was eventually released, Strange Fruit was banned by many radio stations in America
and by the BBC in London.
# Here is a strange... #
Billie Holiday was painfully aware of racial prejudice.
She had felt it first hand on joining Artie Shaw's Band in 1938.
She had just quit the Basie Band and that was a horror for her,
cos they dressed her up as Aunt Jemima and the band wore old field-hand stuff.
She didn't like that.
I offered her a job. She said, "Go away."
I said, "I'm telling you." She said, "What's the pay?"
I said, "60 bucks. That's what I get. That's what everybody gets. A week"
So she said, "All right, I've got nothing better to do."
With Billie Holiday on board, Artie Shaw soon had a hit on his hands.
I wrote the song, the words and the arrangement, cos it felt like what Billie should sing.
# All through the years we'll stand together
# Sharing the tears and stormy weather
# And the sunshine...#
Any Old Time was a big hit,
but in America at this time, that wasn't enough to make her immune from prejudice -
even in metropolitan, sophisticated New York City.
#..To chase away the blues... #
'NBC presents the distinguished swing of Artie Shaw, king of the clarinet
'and his orchestra creating dance history in the Blue Room of the Hotel Lincoln in new York City.'
In the middle of all this, the woman who ran and managed the Hotel Lincoln
came to me and said,
"When the singers come in at night to change from their street clothes to their evening clothes,
"they go up in the elevator and Billie goes up and we have guests,
"and they take the same elevator and see a black - a coloured lady in the elevator."
She said, "It raises the Dickens with us because a lot of people are from the South
"and they come to the desk and say, 'Do you take coloured people here?'
"And the man has to explain she's a singer with the band.
"It causes tremendous problems for me.
"Would you ask Billie if she would mind going to her dressing room by the freight elevator?"
I said, "Billie, I feel awful.
"I don't like to ask you this. Do you want to do it or don't you?" She said, "I don't want to."
I said, "OK." She said, "What I want to do is get away from this world."
Forced into using a service lift, Billie Holiday never went on the road with a swing band again.
'War song or no war song?
'From one end of the USA to another,
'soldiers on leave and war workers find that America's musical home front is jumping.'
By the time the Second World War broke out,
swing was so popular that the American establishment was forced to perform a spectacular U-turn
and embrace the music it had previously viewed as decadent and immoral.
'Recognising the historic fact that music helps to win wars,
'the Army and Navy are working with the nation's song publishers
'who are helping to meet the need for more and more music -
'both popular and classic.'
The war was good for the bands,
because you couldn't buy automobiles, refrigerators, clothes - anything,
because all the stuff was going for war purposes.
So there was a lot of money around and you spent it,
buying records and going out to dances and the bands were being used
to play for the troops.
'Famous jazz composers like the great Duke Ellington
'are turning out new works to fit the accelerated mood of a nation at war,
'but nevertheless determined to have its fun.'
Benny Goodman was deposed as the nation's favourite pop star
by probably the most famous swing musician of all time.
His sound would forever be associated with the Second World War.
His name was Glenn Miller.
Ask a young person,
"Do you know who Ray Anthony is?"
They don't have a clue.
"Do you know who Glenn Miller is?"
"Yeah, I've heard that name before." It's a strange phenomenon.
Before the war, Glenn Miller had been a trombonist and arranger,
whose big band hadn't been going all that well.
He decided he needed a new and distinctive sound
and adopted a sweeter, more romantic tone.
It achieved almost instant success.
It got bigger and bigger and then it went back down to a smaller size.
Benny Goodman had five brass,
Glenn Miller was the first one to open it up to eight brass,
so with eight brass you had to have more harmony within the arrangement.
Glenn Miller's sound was more organized, with fewer solos.
It was more soothing music - perfect for a country apprehensive about the onset of war.
In 1939, Time magazine noted that roughly a quarter of all discs
in the nation's jukeboxes were Glenn Miller's.
Miller's main pre-war hit, Tuxedo Junction,
sold 115,000 copies in the first week alone.
It was popular music, but it was very good popular music.
Those arrangements are very interesting. They are put together in a very clever way,
with the movement among the various instruments, the various sections going back and forth.
Then, at the height of his popularity, in 1942,
Miller did an extraordinary thing.
He disbanded his civilian band and decided to use his music to boost wartime morale.
At 38 he was too old to enlist,
but managed to persuade the Army to take him on to lead a joint Forces band.
..Saxophone section is presided over by that rather portly gentleman
near the centre, there. He used to occupy that same position with Artie Shaw,
before Artie went in the Navy. His name is Sergeant Hank Freeman.
He's in charge of the boys. Gentlemen.
He transferred his 30-strong Army and Air Force orchestra to London in 1944,
to be as close as possible to the fighting troops.
They gave over 800 performances to an estimated one million Allied servicemen
and provided a powerful link to home and peace.
By December 1944, he was a major, and left for Paris,
intending to play for the soldiers who had recently liberated the city.
He never got there.
His plane disappeared over the Channel. What happened remains a mystery,
but it made him a national icon.
I was on Midway Island when we heard of his failure.
It was like a President of the United States dying. It was that strong.
It was not just American troops who were inspired by swing.
Much to the annoyance of the Nazi leadership, German troops were tuning their radios into it too.
This led to one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the music - Nazi swing.
The Nazis had originally tried to outlaw swing as degenerate music
and their propaganda films emphasised that it was played by black people and spread by Jews.
COMMENTATOR SPEAKS GERMAN
Despite this, they found it impossible to ban
and like the Americans decided to harness it for their own war efforts.
Joseph Goebbels launched a swing counter-attack.
He put together a Nazi swing band called Charlie And His Orchestra,
which made over 90 recordings between 1941 and 1943 -
mainly Nazi versions of American swing hits.
You're Driving Me Crazy was a popular American swing tune of the '30s,
here performed with its Nazi re-written lyrics...
# Winston Churchill's latest tearjerker
# Yes, the Germans are driving me crazy
# I thought I had brains
# But they've shattered my planes
# They've built up a front against me
# It's quite amazing
# Clouding the skies with their planes... #
The results were broadcast to Britain and the States.
Rumour has it that Winston Churchill enjoyed them no end.
It was fitting then, that the Allies would celebrate winning the war at Hitler's old stomping ground,
the Nuremburg Stadium, by playing host to Glenn Miller's Band.
Back in Britain, swing had had a huge impact
and left an enduring legacy.
The exotic American troops who had brought the music with them might have gone,
but Britain's home-grown music scene had been electrified by swing.
We had Ted Heath's Band which was a great band.
I played with him from 1945.
The ensemble playing was excellent.
It was learned from the Americans that we listened to in the war -
Glenn Miller's Band and the Artie Shaw Navy Band.
They were hugely influential.
We started in 1953 and did all the circuit in Britain.
By 1959 we were invited to the Newport Jazz Festival
where we were playing with everybody. It looked like a who's who of jazz.
We went on and played how we knew and when the New York Times came out they said,
"This English band is still using something
"which has virtually disappeared from many American bands -
"and that is the ability to swing."
That was the surprising truth,
because while the Second World War was followed by a golden age for swing in the UK,
in America, its home, swing was sinking into decline.
British swing had a big advantage because there was little home-grown competition.
In America, by contrast, there was lots of new music.
Smaller bands were forging the way towards rock'n'roll.
Big bands faced so much competition
that they were finding it hard to survive.
Even Duke Ellington had to subsidise his big band after the war with his recording royalties.
I had so many expensive people
in the band - it's the highest-paid band in the world.
I mean the individuals are the highest paid.
The men in the band get the money. I get the kicks.
I wish I could afford this payroll.
The rest of the big bands had to change their ways.
It's a great sound, but that was an expensive sound
and the world couldn't afford it
in later years, after the '40s. The bands had to downsize. Even Lionel Hampton had to downsize.
Peggy Lee had first recorded Why Don't You Do Right? in 1942
with the full might of the Benny Goodman Band behind her.
# You let other women make a fool of you
# Why don't you do right?
# Like some other men do
# Get out of here And get me some money too... #
When she recorded it again, ten years later, it was a very different story.
She was backed by just four musicians.
# You had plenty money, 1922,
# You let other women make a fool of you
# Why don't you do right?
# Like some other men do.
# Get out of here And get me some money too... #
Big bands were giving way to more cost-effective small bands.
These small combos were creating their own version of what a swinging big band was.
It didn't have to be three trumpets and five tenors, or saxophones.
Great pianists like Oscar Peterson,
they were like mini big bands.
It was all in those fingers and the understanding between the bass player and the drummer
and whatever feeling the individual had.
Whole new styles were beginning to undermine swing.
'A small, but intense minority of the industry's customers are rare record fans.
'Many of them addicts of jazz in its more erudite forms,
'such as today's be-bop.'
Be-bop came in, which was Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
They didn't want you to dance to their music.
They wanted you to listen to their music.
That was where you had to sit and listen and they cut the dances out.
They had signs up, "No Dancing."
That damaged us.
Tastes had changed. Older people,
who had been the basic audience for the dance bands fell away.
They couldn't go out dancing. They had families.
The younger people coming along were interested in the pop singers.
-Good morning. My name is Frank Sinatra.
Like most other singers at the time,
Frank Sinatra had started out as a less significant element in big bands.
But after the war he was extraordinarily successful as a soloist.
Now it was the swing singers people wanted to hear.
I accompanied him on a couple of occasions.
I saw something about this man of small build, that was powerful.
He had this very magnetic personality
and people were just smitten with his whole outlook.
# And he broke it in little pieces
# Now how do you do?
# Hey, I lie awake just singing the blues all night... #
Frank Sinatra was one of the first singers to start employing the bands
that had started off employing him.
# You had it coming to you... #
There's nothing better that happened to me, than spending the years on the bus
with the bands, because you worked 365 days a year
and if you're gonna be good in any job at all,
I think if you eat, sleep, walk, talk and dream it,
you're gonna be good at it and in the end you'll be a big man in it.
The singers were not that important part of a band.
They would sit there - when I was with the Glenn Miller Band
the Modernaires were with the band, and Marian Hutton and Ray Eberly.
The turning point came when Frank Sinatra got so popular.
# Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week
# Cos that's the night that my sweetie and I
# Used to dance cheek to cheek
# I don't mind Sunday night at all
# Cos that's the night friends come to call
# And Monday to Friday go fast
# And another week is past
# Saturday night is the loneliest night... #
In the '50s the centre of the swing universe moved from New York to California.
Capitol Records in Los Angels signed not only vocalists such as Sinatra,
but brilliant arrangers such as Nelson Riddle,
capable of reworking swing to suit solo singers.
# Look down, look down
# The lonesome road
# Before you travel on... #
They took the vocalist like a jewel and put it in a proper setting.
It would be as if I brought you a raw stone and said, "Please, set this properly."
That's what the arrangers do.
And they were all products of the big band era.
As was my father, of course, but I think that I always have referred
to their time in the big bands, the singers and musicians
in the big band era,
as that was their answer to no university training, or anything.
This was better because I don't think the curriculum at university was up to it -
what they needed to learn as it were. Most of them didn't have any money anyway.
As well as backing this new generation of pop singers,
big band music found a new home in Hollywood.
Henry Mancini went from the Glenn Miller Band to The Pink Panther.
Johnny Mandel went from the Basie Band to Hollywood movies,
writing hits like Suicide Is Painless
and The Shadow Of Your Smile.
# Visions of the things to be
# The pains that are withheld for me... #
For the next 30 years, probably the best and most original swing music
was composed for film.
So it was no coincidence
that the next big bang in the history of swing
came from Hollywood in the shape of the 1989 rom-com,
When Harry Met Sally.
The huge success of the film's swing soundtrack
sung by Harry Connick Jr, relaunched the music
for a whole new generation which had never heard of Benny Goodman.
# Some others I've seen Might never be mean
# Might never be cross Try to be boss
# But they wouldn't do... #
In the 20 years since, swing continues to exert
an endless fascination for modern performers
such as Michael Buble and Jamie Cullen.
And for Robbie Williams - whose 2001 swing concert at the Albert Hall
became one of Britain's 50 best-selling albums of all time,
selling 7.5 million copies worldwide.
# And he shows them pearly white
# Just a jack-knife has old MacHeath, babe
# And he keeps it... #
Amazingly, swing has endured for nearly 100 years.
# Oh, that shark bites With his teeth, dear
# Scarlet billows start... #
No other form of popular music has lasted anything like as long...
..or can boast such a roll call of 20th-century music greats.
# It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing... #
That's what it was - it was the beat.
And everything in life got a beat
and that's what swing is.
# Makes no difference if it's sweet or hot
# Just give that rhythm every little thing you've got
# It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing
# Doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah
# Doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah... #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Documentary telling the story of swing, an obscure form of jazz that became the first worldwide pop phenomenon, inspired the first ever youth culture revolution and became a byword for sexual liberation and teenage excess well before the Swinging Sixties.
In the process, swing threw up some of the greatest names in 20th century music, from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. The film uses archive and contemporary accounts to shed light on why it endures today.