Swing revival

The Swing Revival was a late 1990s period of renewed popular interest in swing and jump blues music and dance from the 1930s and 1940s as exemplified by Louis Prima, often mixed with a more contemporary rock, rockabilly or ska sound, known also as neo-swing or retro swing.



For the history of swing, see swing music

The beginning of the neo-swing movement is usually credited to the Los Angeles band Royal Crown Revue, who formed in 1989, playing rockabilly-inflected swing and jump blues at such nightclubs as San Francisco's Club DeLuxe. That same year, two other influential bands formed: Los Angeles' Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, who stayed closer to replicating an authentic swing sound and image, and Eugene, Oregon's Cherry Poppin' Daddies, who started out as a punk rock band before developing a primary focus on both swing and ska music.

Most swing revival bands were based around a rock and roll rhythm section of electric guitar, double bass, and drum kit, with a three or four instrument horn section, which usually consisted of trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. One of the revival bands, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, used a much larger horn section, with thirteen wind and brass instruments, which more closely matched the size of the groups during the swing era in the 1930s.

Much of the swing revival drew on the style popularized by Louis Prima called jump blues. This use of the term "swing" is based more on orchestration and dance than strictly on musical style. The swing music in the 1930s and 1940s was part of the Big Band era, led by Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. However, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a newer style, known at the time as jump blues, became popular in African-American nightclubs as played by such musicians as Cab Calloway, Big Joe Turner, Lowell Fulson, Louis Jordan, and Louis Prima.

Swing revival bands focused on the highly rehearsed and arranged sweet style rather than the hot style, which was more improvisational, and which focused on instrumentalist virtuosity.

Transition into mainstream

Throughout the early 1990s, neo-swing was mostly an underground movement, though exposure through movies such as 1993's Swing Kids and The Mask (whose hit soundtrack featured both Royal Crown Revue and the Brian Setzer Orchestra) introduced the genre to a wider audience. In late 1992, Royal Crown Revue played the Continental Club in Austin, this was to help show there was more to partner dance music than country-western and rockabilly.[1] With a thriving live music and club scene, Austin, Texas became a city where numerous Swing revival bands would do well. Most notably, the list includes 8½ Souvenirs, Merchants of Venus, The Lucky Strikes, One O' Clock Humph, BigTown Swingtet, and Rocket Sixty-Nine; the movement had gained popularity across the country.[2]

By the mid-1990s, retro swing's popularity was increasing. The 1996 film Swingers, featuring Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, was both a critical and financial success. Also in 1996, swing revival band Squirrel Nut Zippers had a charting hit with their song "Hell". In 1997, third wave ska and ska punk had become a major presence in mainstream music. The commercial success of bands such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who combined ska and punk with a prominent brass section, and Hepcat, who played a more traditional jazz and R&B influenced style of ska, presumably helped pave the way for neo-swing's mainstream acceptance.

Finally, in 1998 and 1999, the swing revival entered the mainstream, partly due to a television commercial for The Gap featuring the original Louis Prima recording of "Jump, Jive and Wail" and khaki-clad dancers doing the Lindy Hop. Neo-swing bands cracked the Billboard Top 50, Cherry Poppin' Daddies had a major hit with "Zoot Suit Riot", Big Bad Voodoo Daddy played the half-time show at Super Bowl XXXIII, and retro-swing music was prominently featured in television and films such as 1999’s Blast from the Past. Lou Bega's "Mambo No 5" had big band elements in the music. Southern California, where the revival began and evolved into leading the world in vintage jazz and swing dance interest. During and after the retro revival began losing interest worldwide, the interest continued to flourish mostly in the Los Angeles region, but with the interest heading back to the original swing era's music. Along with original swing dance music growing in increasing popularity, the region gained tremendous interest in 1920's and early 1930's dance music. This interest spread around the world as did the retro swing music of the 1990s. The most relevant band leader during this time and continues to drive the interest is Jack Hale, band leader for two most popular bands called Swingin' SophistiCats, a 9-piece ensemble, and his Septet called Jack's Six Shooter. The Six Shooter band primarily performs the original style of music that was current when lindy-hop dancing began in Harlem, NY during the late 1920s. This style balanced the 2-beat rhythms for fox-trot and charleston dancing, paving the way to the 4-beat sound, the beginning of the style known as swing.

In Canada, prominent swing revival acts included Big Rude Jake, the Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra and Jaymz Bee and the Royal Jelly Orchestra, as well as established blues musician Colin James' jump blues project "The Little Big Band".

The swing revival had lost its popularity by the early 2000s, although there may be a few exceptions with some artists especially Christina Aguilera with her hit single "Candyman", released in 2007 as a single on her "Back to Basics" album, which has elements of 1940s swing music. Michael Bublé also had elements of swing and 1940s-1960s classic pop in his music in a more contemporary format and instrumentation.

In recent years, swing music has become popular in Germany. Singers Roger Cicero and Tom Gaebel have attained large followings both in their native country and worldwide. Cicero’s style is predominantly that of 1940s and 1950s swing music, combined with German lyrics; he became Germany's participant for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. In the early 2000s, the Canadian group The JW-Jones Blues Band released several albums which contained swing revival elements.

Electro swing

Electro swing is a later development, incorporating sampling, hip hop and house techniques. Leading artists include Caravan Palace and Parov Stelar. It is mainly popular in Europe, and electro swing artists incorporate European influences such as Django Reinhardt's Gypsy Swing.

See also


  1. A Brief History of Swing in Austin, The Austin Swing Syndicate, web site
  2. Dance Austin, Swing Bands that perform in Austin
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