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Swing Era Introduction

With Swing during the 1930s and 1940s, jazz became America's mainstream popular music. As Swing became an increasingly commercialized and omnipresent force in American popular culture, it made increasingly common appearances in American discourse and popular culture outside of the music industry. These examinations of Swing in painting, literature, film, and musical criticism questioned whether such a commercialized form of music could truly be considered "art."

With the growth of such analyses of jazz, the importance of the individual jazz musician himself was diminished, in favor of an elevated importance of the white, scholarly musician, artist, or writer, presented as a transformer of the "raw material" of jazz into a true art. Thinkers could ease their anxiety about the commercial nature of swing by shifting the stage of artistic performance and analysis from within the music itself to art or discourse created in analysis of the music. This shift often manifested itself in racist dismissal of talented African-American jazz musicians.

This site illustrates the growth of artistic and literary analysis of jazz as compensation for the genre's commercialization. The "Jazz Style" section provides background on swing as a genre, with a representative musical sample and a photo gallery illustrating the manner in which swing was produced and consumed. It also contains representative critical analysis of swing, as it developed as a specific genre of jazz. "Timbre of the Times" provides representative artwork, literature, and film which interpreted jazz, while "Technology and Swing" explains the connections between changes in technological methods of communicating jazz and the roles of the musician and, increasingly, of the artist, writer, or film director in interpreting music. Finally, by tracing the lives and careers of jazz musicians themselves, the "Artists" section provides a brief sketch of the effects of the changing cultural interpretations of jazz on the creation of jazz itself.

Introduction | Timbre of the Times | Jazz Style | Technology | Artists