Swing That Music

Louis Armstrong, Swing That Music, 1936

Pretty soon the record fans and other followers of swing music began to form clubs and to publish their own music journals. These clubs are established now in every country in Europe and all keep in very close touch with one another. When counted all together they have hundreds of thousands of members. In England and Scotland there are almost fifty clubs, all joined in the British Rhythm Club Federation. The Federation publishes its own monthly music magazine called "Swing Music." The United Hot Clubs of France publishes its own magazine, called "Hot jazz." They are all swing lovers, but in France they use the term "hot jazz" to mean the new music. The swing federations in the different countries now all work together through the International Federation of Hot Clubs. M. Hugues Panassiť, who is president of the Hot Club of Paris and a leading French Music critic, is President of the International Federation and Mr. M. W. Stearns, a well-known American swing critic, is secretary. I may mention that M. Panassiť has published a very interesting book on swing music, called, "Le jazz Hot," and that another French critic, M. Robert Goffin, also has published a book called, "On the Frontiers of jazz." I was very surprised and pleased when I found that this second book was dedicated "To Louis Armstrong, the Real King of jazz, in testimony of my high admiration." Both of these books are carefully written and will be very interesting to anyone who wants to study modern music. The members of these European clubs include thousands of amateur musicians and many of the finest musical technicians and critics abroad. They have followed jazz for a long time and watched it slowly grow away from its cruder melodies and its set syncopations and become real swing music. And too, they have done a lot over there to develop swing music -much more than Americans know. They believe it is an important advance in the history of all music and are working together to have it recognized that way. I am sure they will succeed. Perhaps a hundred years from now, people will remember these clubs for their work.

Now I know there are a lot of people who will read this book who will say that "swing" is just a new name for the same old jazz they've been hearing for many years and that I am trying to make it look as though it was something new. Even some of the editors of the publishing house which is publishing this book told me that at first, though of course in a very polite way. But I cannot say too strongly to these people that there is all the difference in the world and if they will just try to understand it they will very soon be singing out when they tune in a band on their radios, "That's swing!" or "That's not swing," and will be able to tell at once.

Now the basic idea of swing music is not new. The swing idea of free improvisation by the players was at the core of jazz when it started back there in New Orleans thirty years ago. Those early boys were swing-men, though they didn't know so much about it then as we do today. But they had the basic idea, all right. What happened was that this idea got lost when jazz swept over the country. I think the reason it got overlooked and lost was that when the public went crazy over jazz the music publishing companies and the record companies jumped in and had all the songs written down and recorded and they and the theatre producers and northern dance halls paid our boys more money than they'd ever heard of to help write down and play these songs. Popular songs before jazz had always been played the way they were written and that was what made "song hits" for the publishers. So the commercial men wanted the new jazz tunes played the same way so the public would come to learn them easily and sing them. The public liked that, too, because the new tunes were " catchy" and different and people liked to sing them and hear them played that way. Jazz was new to them and they didn't understand it enough to be ready for any "crazy business." So most of the good jazz players and jazz bands which followed the Dixieland Five went down the easiest road where the big money was, and you can hardly blame them when you look back now and see how few people understood what it was really all about anyway. Some of the boys stuck along and just wouldn't follow scoring, it wasn't in 'em, and some of the others that didn't learn to read music went on swinging the way they had learned to love. Very few of them ever made much money, but playing in small clubs and dives they kept swing alive for many years. Then there was another group of the boys who took a straddle and I think they were the smartest and that they have probably done more to bring swing into its own than anybody. They were the swing-men who went on into the commercial field, joined big conventional bands, played the game as it was dished out to them and made their money, and yet who loved swing so much that they kept it up outside of their regular jobs. They did it through the jam sessions held late at night after their work was done. It makes me think of the way the early Christians would hold their meetings in the catacombs under Rome. With those musicians I guess it was the old saying: "He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day." At any rate, the truth is that most of the best-known swing artists of today are or were the crackshot musicians with big conventional bands (name bands, we call them because they are usually known by the name of their leader) or on big radio programs, but they don't miss their jam sessions where they can cut loose as they please, with or without a leader, feel their own music running through them and really enjoy themselves. These swing-men who have come up to the top because of their musicianship are slowly having an influence or, the big bands they play with. Some of them have become so popular with the public that they now have their own bands and can do more what they like to do, like Mr. "Red" Norvo, Mr. Benny Goodman, Mr. Tommy Dorsey, Mr. Jimmy Dorsey, Mr. "Red" Nichols, Mr. Earl Hines, Mr. Chick Webb, Mr. "Fats" Waller, Mr. Teddy Hill and others.

My publishers suggested to me that it would be interesting to some of my readers if I should give a list of the great swing musicians of today, the men who are making swing history, and I have thought a lot about it because I would like to do any little thing I could to help the public know more about some of the swing-men who are not in the "big-time" but who are tops among musicians. But the more I have thought about it, the more I am afraid to try-because there are hundreds of good men -both at home and in Europe -and sure as could be I would leave out somebody who ought to be in and I would not want to do that. So I have just talked in this book about the men whom I happened to know best in my own career. But before I do close this story of swing music, I can and must pay tribute to two men now dead who were among our pioneers and whose memory is honored by every swing man who ever heard them play - "Bix" Beiderbecke, hot trumpet, and Eddie Lang, hot guitarist. They both rose to fame in Mr. Paul Whiteman's early Chicago Band, the band that also featured such great swing players as Mr. Jack Teagarden, trombone, Mr. Frank Trumbauer, Sax, Mr. Jimmy Dorsey, clarinet, and Mr. Lennie Hayton, piano.

The European hot clubs have been going on for years but only in 1935 did the idea spread back to the homeland of swing. In October, 1935, the United Hot Clubs of America was launched. Mr. John Hammond, a prominent music writer and critic, was made president and Mr. M. W. Steams, secretary. The American Federation announced it was "dedicated to the universal progress of swing music." It started with these seven clubs: New York Hot Club, Milton Gabler, president, Warren W. Scholl, secretary, Yale Hot Club (New Haven), M. W. Stearns, president, Chicago Hot Club, Helen Oakley, president; Squirrel Ashcraft, treasurer, Jack Howe, secretary, Cleveland Hot Club, William H. Cloverdale, president, Lee White, Jr., secretary, Boston Hot Club, George Frazier, president, Los Angeles Hot Club, Chauncey P. Farrer, president. I think all American swing lovers should support these new American hot clubs, the way Europeans have supported their clubs, and that new clubs should be formed in other cities and colleges. It only costs two dollars a year to be a member, and any musician will get back many times that amount in what he will learn and the fun he will have meeting other swing-men and "jamming" with them. And, as the Federation's new monthly bulletin says: "Swing music is one of the unique American contributions to the world. The fact that, like our poets Walt Whitman and Edgar Allen Poe, it was first truly appreciated abroad, adds to our obligation to study it and spread an understanding of it at home. Like the skyscraper, it remains typically American." I think that is true, and I have seen myself what Europe thinks of our homebrand swing. And that takes me along back to my own story.

When we got back to London, I went over to have a look at Paris and take a little rest for a week before I had to get back home. I landed in New York the day President Roosevelt was elected, November 2, 1932. It had been a short trip but I got home thinking swing music was a lot more important than I knew before, and I guess maybe I was feeling a little important about my own playing, too - you know how you can get sometimes. Those high-C's certainly did wow 'em. Man!