It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing: Big Band Jazz, Swing and Duke Ellington

RGS History

If there are musical gods, Duke Ellington was one of them. In the period from the end of the First to the end of the Second Wars, one form of music predominated, a form of jazz known as Swing, and whilst it could centre around smaller ensembles such as Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five of Hot Seven, it found its natural home in the big bands that it’s increasing commercial success made possible. In contemporary eyes, or even ears, the undisputed King of Jazz in the ‘twenties was Paul Whiteman. Whiteman took a black music which was based around improvisation, and arranged it. He gave many of the most popular musicians of the era their breakthroughs. For example, his 1928 hit, From Monday On, featured the great Bix Beiderbecke and the young Bing Crosby.

So influential was he at his peak, that in 1924 it was the Paul Whiteman Orchestra that…

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