Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America

Overview

Bands were playing, people were dancing, the music business was booming. It was the big-band era, and swing was giving a new shape and sound to American culture. In Swing Changes, David Stowe looks at New Deal America through its music and shows us how the contradictions and tensions within swing - over race, politics, its own cultural status, the role of women - mirrored those played out in the larger society. In its simultaneous acceptance and challenge of contemporary attitudes and stereotypes, swing reflected...
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Overview

Bands were playing, people were dancing, the music business was booming. It was the big-band era, and swing was giving a new shape and sound to American culture. In Swing Changes, David Stowe looks at New Deal America through its music and shows us how the contradictions and tensions within swing - over race, politics, its own cultural status, the role of women - mirrored those played out in the larger society. In its simultaneous acceptance and challenge of contemporary attitudes and stereotypes, swing reflected broader cultural impulses at the same time that it modified them. Although its musical roots extended back to the 1920s, swing seemed to many to come out of nowhere in 1935, inspiring a welter of conflicting descriptions and explanations. Stowe explores this history to suggest why the music of Goodman and Ellington caught so many unawares, and why it fired so many - and so many different - imaginations when it emerged in full force. He links the music to the politics of the time, to prevailing ideas about race relations, and to the complex culture industry that was evolving in the 1930s. At its commercial apex in the early 1940s, swing was readily adapted to World War II, and Stowe reveals how the music served the cause as a symbol of national unity, even as this service worked to undermine the utopian values swing expressed. He follows the failure of swing to keep its unlikely cultural coalition together and describes the subsequent attempts of bebop to pick up where the big band left off. Drawing on memoirs, oral histories, newspapers, magazines, recordings, photographs, literature, and films, Swing Changes offers a vibrant picture of American society at a pivotal time, and a new perspective on music as a cultural force.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Ware has written a fascinating social history of swing jazz, which dominated popular music from about 1935 to the late 1940s. He characterizes swing as the preeminent musical expression of the New Deal ethos, which emphasized individualism within a cooperative national collective. Explaining the social context that allowed swing to flourish, Ware describes the importance of Downbeat magazine; the United Hot Clubs of America; booking agencies; live, commercially sponsored radio broadcasts; and the jukebox. The author also details the New Deal contradictions over race and gender that fostered integration yet provided few opportunities to women and the African Americans who pioneered the musical form. He ends with the eclipse of swing by bebop. This clearly written and well-researched social history of New Deal America through its popular music is highly recommended.-David Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Booknews
Looks at New Deal America through its music and shows how the contradictions and tensions in swing music over race, politics, women's roles, and its own cultural status, mirrored those concerns in the larger society. Draws on memoirs, oral history, newspapers, recordings, and film, and discusses the music's origins in the 1920s, swing in WWII, and music as a cultural force. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674858251
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1998
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

David W. Stowe is Associate Professor of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures and director of American Studies at Michigan State University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Understanding Swing

1. The Tempo of the Time

Song of the Jitterbug

New Venues, New Audiences

2. Between Conjure and Kapital

The Big Bringdown

As American as Baseball and Hotdogs

We Are All Americans

Just Rich Men's Sons

3. The Incorporation of Swing

Anyone Can Lead a Dance Band

Broadcasting Swing

The Jukes Take Over

Are Colored Bands Doomed?

Passing in Hollywood

4. The Conscription of Swing

Soldiers of Music

The Theater of Race

The Gender Front

5. Swing and Its Discontents

Tension Music and Concertitis

Smothering the Market

Crewcut, Jarb, Swixibop

Swing Redux

6. Cracks in the Coalition

That Modern Malice

Jazz Is America's Own Epilogue: Shall We Dance?

Notes

Index

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