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Swing Music




Swing This

Sid Vanderpool - Editor

The lights are dimmed. Martini is the drink of choice. On the dance floor, the lean young man in the double-breasted pin stripe suit lets his legs fly furiously to the beat of the swing band. He shouts to his dance partner, a limber lady in a flowered dress, open-toed pumps and a pompadour: ''Wow, doll, you look snazzy!''

Sounds like a scene out of an old black & white World War Two Movie circa 1940, when couples were frantically jitterbugging to the bouncy sounds of the Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Harry James big bands. But it is happening all over the country, swinging dance floors packed with ecstatic dancers, some also outfitted '40s style.

Swing, which was mothballed after World War II, is now firing up the dance charts. Junior high kids that couldn't tell you who Glenn Miller was are Kids are jitterbugging and Lindy-Hopping to swing sounds of new swing heroes being played by DJs all over the country.

Cherry Poppin' Daddies, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy all made their debut last year and have grown in grand popularity. It's taking over, you know, a bit more each passing week: in nightclubs (been to The Derby in L.A. lately?), in both "antique" and retail clothing stores (been to The Gap lately?), in dance classes held in fashionable dance studios or those held in somebody's rumpus room. And it's turning up on radio, on TV, in magazines, in the movies.

''There's a whole culture of kids who live and breathe this scene,'' says Michael Abbattista, vice president of promotion for Velvel Records, whose roster includes the swing-influenced punk band the Amazing Royal Crowns. ''These bands have played to tons of people on the road. The swing scene is massive.''

What's being played in these clubs and on the radio isn't traditional swing sweet, melodic and romantic in the Goodman/Miller mold. ''It has a punk edge or a ska edge,'' notes Abbattista. ''It's taking the spirit of that '40s swing and giving it a '90s twist a young twist.''

Part of what passes for swing these days is really rooted in a post-swing, jump-blues style the kind of foot-stompin' soul Louis Jordan played. The music of the pivotal L.A. band Royal Crown Revue, for instance, is jump-based. And one of the hottest and most talented bands to emerge from the East Coast swing scene, the Jump from North Jersey, is at heart a jump-blues band.

Today's swing has it's roots in more of a jump sound, from people like Louis Armstrong, who played music that was more raw, more rocking than traditional swing. But this '90s version of swing has one thing in common with the original something that's a driving force in the renaissance.

This isn't the first time swing has resurfaced. Back in the '70s, there was another mini resurrection, fueled by remakes of swing classics by artists like the Manhattan Transfer (Tuxedo Junction), the Pointer Sisters (Salt Peanuts) and Bette Midler (Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy). But that was small potatoes compared with what's happening now.

The current revival can be traced back to the early '90s, when the Royal Crown Revue played the art deco Deluxe club in San Francisco, then a prime showcase for the swing faithful. The swing scene started to flourish in Los Angeles in the mid-'90s as grunge mania, post-Kurt Cobain, petered out and kids looked for something new.

Reminiscent of the disco craze that came forth from the club scene also, swing shouldn't be taking over anytime soon. There are many reasons for this. There's a lull in music right now, with no dominant trend, which allows these mini-movements, like swing, to get airplay and break through. If this were the early '90s, when grunge was king, a novelty trend like swing wouldn't be getting much air time. But a lull like this won't last forever.

Whether it's Neo-Swing, Western Swing, push or shag. If that's what gets the dance floor jumpin' and jivin', fine and dandy. But are you really ready to put on zoot suits and suspenders and old man's neckties, or sequined dresses, garter belts and fish-net stockings and start calling somebody "Daddy-o?"




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