Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz In New Deal America
Brand: Harvard University Press

Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz In New Deal America

  • Publish Date: 1998-06-24
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: David W. Stowe

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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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