Swingin' the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture / Edition 2

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During the 1930s, swing bands combined jazz and popular music to create large scale dreams for a depression generation, capturing the imaginations of America's young people, music critics, and the music business. Swingin' the Dream explores that world, taking a look into the racial mixing-up and musical swinging-out that shook the nation in the 1930s and 1940s.

Long before organized baseball and the armed forces experienced racial integration, the jazz world was pushing existing boundaries with big band swing. Jazz musicians created a national fever with their thrilling new sounds, and the fan culture that surrounded them broke down the barriers that separated people of different races and backgrounds. Swing music served as a conduit between an American identity bound up with "whiteness" and a more expansive, revolutionary vision of our national culture.

In Swingin' the Dream, Lewis Erenberg shows how a dance subculture forged in New York City in the late 1920s and early 1930s became a music genre of national proportions. An innovative combination of jazz and popular music, by World War II, it was the music that universally symbolized American society.

Erenberg tells the story of swing's rapid rise to prominence through the fans who made it popular. His correspondence with hundreds of swing lovers reveals how audiences first responded to big band Jazz and his examination of music periodicals and independent newspapers of the time thoroughly tracks the genre's broad social influence. The result is a well-rounded, highly personal account of the music and culture that bolstered a nation during its lowest period and propelled it into its greatest boom--a music that remains legendary in our minds today.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Few musicologists give much acknowledgment to musical styles popular before the bebop explosion of the late 1940s. Mindless commercial entertainment for the masses seems to be the consensus of most serious critics. But Erenberg (Steppin' Out, Greenwood, 1981) makes the case that the era between 1935 and 1948, when big bands dominated popular culture, was a golden age when American music finally shed the constraints of European influence. Making its greatest impact during the stormy periods of the Great Depression and World War II, this music, a collaboration between African Americans and the children of immigrants, changed not only culture but American society as a whole. The effect of the fans shaping the course of the music hints at the influence young people continue to have on popular culture to this day. This book is a thorough chronicle of a vibrant music that provided the soundtrack for some of our most troubling times, and along the way changed our country's view of itself. Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA
Erenberg (history, Loyola U., Chicago) details the cultural and social significance of the swing music subculture in New York City and its relation to the economic, racial, and political realities of depression era America. Contending that at key points in the history of the creation of swing audiences and critics interacted with musicians and promoters to determine the form the music took, he concludes that the swing band explosion suggests that the preoccupation with democratic cultural forms that marked the New Deal years was wider and deeper than had previously been thought. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
William Kenney
Vividly written, with an impressive and graceful historical erudition, "Swingin' the Dream" demonstrates how audiences participated in creating a memorable movement in popular music and in the history of the country. -- William Kenney
Kirkus Reviews
Erenberg (History/Loyola Univ.) picks up the history of American popular culture where he left off at the end of his previous book, Steppin' Out: NY Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture (not reviewed). From the middle of the 1930s through the early years of the postwar period, the so-called swing era, American popular music was dominated by the sound of the big bands, both jazz bands and "sweet" bands. For the first time in the history of American popular culture, African-American forms came to the fore, and the success of big-band jazz made it possible, albeit with considerable difficulty, for some musicians to push a pioneering racial integration on the bandstand and even in the audience. At the same time, Erenberg argues, swing helped revive a potentially moribund youth culture, verdant in the '20s but battered by the economic realities of the Depression. A combination of forces, particularly the repeal of Prohibition and the rise of radio, made the brief triumph of swing possible. And a brief triumph it wasþthe war and the social forces it unleashed, the Red scare of the postþWW II era and a series of rapid socioeconomic changes doomed the big bands. This story has been told many times before, and Erenberg does make some significant contributions to enriching the picture, most notably in his occasional focus on audience reaction and participation. But overall this is a disconnected and often repetitive collection of essays. Moreover, the book is marred by numerous errors, such as attributing "Bidin' My Time" to Hoagy Carmichael. The most egregious error, however, points up the major source of its failure. Erenberg repeats the tale that Bessie Smith"died as a result of segregation in medical facilities." Recent scholarship has disproved this version. A perusal of his footnotes reveals that while Erenberg is knowledgeable in his own academic field, he has failed to keep up with the literature of jazz. A disappointing and, frankly, rather dully written effort.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226215167
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1998
  • Series: Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning Ser.
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 340
  • Sales rank: 1,046,333
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Pt. 1 From Jazz to Swing, 1929-1935
1 Just One More Chance: The Fall of the Jazz Age and the Rise of Swing, 1929-1935 3
Pt. 2 Now they Call it Swing, 1935-1942
2 The Crowd Goes Wild: The Youth Culture of Swing 35
3 Swing Is Here: Benny Goodman and the Triumph of American Music 65
4 News from the Great Wide World: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Black Swing Bands 94
5 Swing Left: The Politics of Race and Culture in the Swing Era 120
6 The City of Swing: New York and the Dance Band Business in Black and White 150
Pt. 3 Culture Noir, 1942-1954
7 Swing Goes to War: Glenn Miller and the Popular Music of World War II 181
8 The War in Jazz 211
9 Coda and Conclusion: Red Scares and Head Scares 241
Notes 255
Index 295
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