Gaga for SwingBy Mary DiNunzio
Welcome to my favorite CultureOwl emagazine—The Music Issue! We at CultureOwl all have our favorite parts of the Arts (as I’m sure you do) and for me it’s music, first and foremost. I love all kinds of music, from classical to classic country—especially when it’s live. And when it’s really good, it makes me want to dance!
Can you relate? Do you still love the music that you loved when you were a teenager? When was the last time you explored a new musical genre? Music is a constantly changing art form so the latest sound may or may not be something that appeals to you, particularly if you are past your twenties. But there is an alternative. Go back to the future! Get familiar with the stuff that thrilled past generations. Let’s take a cue from Lady Gaga and take a closer look at Swing music, shall we?
For those CultureOwl followers who may be unfamiliar, let’s rundown some basics. Jazz, as a genre, is possibly the most diverse style of music there is. Swing is a type of jazz that’s characterized by its “swinging” rhythm. Ever see people dance the Lindy Hop? (Search it on YouTube if you haven’t) They are dancing to Swing music.
Big Band refers to the ensemble of players—typically 10 or more musicians with a horn section, guitar, bass and percussion. Big bands dominated jazz when swing was the rage in the 1940s. Big bands play other forms of jazz, too, besides swing. The Glen Miller Orchestra was one of the most popular swing bands ever; a version of the orchestra is still on the road touring today.
Maybe you’ve seen some of the recent footage of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett performing together. (Another must-see if you haven’t already!) What made Gaga, 35, want to duet with this musical paragon who is 60 years her senior? That is an excellent question. But if you’re asking it, I have to assume you haven’t heard their music yet… because when you do, the answer becomes quite obvious!
First, there’s Her Voice. Lady Gaga is an amazing musician in all respects, and is also classically trained. Her voice is a perfect match for swing, and jazz in general. Her power, range, and phrasing are all perfectly suited to Swing’s big, bouncy, brassy accompaniment. No studio production enhancement necessary!
Then there’s The Music Itself. Maybe I have a soft spot for that era because of my older relatives who loved it, and made a social life of dancing to it. It was the music of their teens and twenties, so it remained a favorite even as they aged. So while I’ve been familiar with that music for most of my life, it’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve started to truly appreciate it, seek it out, and give it its due. I started breaking into some new genres in my late teens, when I heard different types of jazz on the radio. I came to appreciate jazz in all its forms. People say jazz is “difficult”, meaning it’s not so easy for the average person to appreciate. Not so with Swing. If you’ve ever danced a step in your life, this music will appeal to you! There was a brief resurgence of swing music and dance style in the 90s (remember The Stray Cats/Brian Setzer Orchestra and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies?) and I was totally drawn in. Now Lady Gaga is shining a light on this classic form. And I am grateful!
Swing is one of those art forms that is in danger of being lost. The teens and 20-somethings that made it popular are barely with us anymore.
It’s up to the following generations of music lovers to keep this wonderful sound around. So try listening to something old that’s new to you. If you don’t love it the first time, listen again. Download the songs. Add them to your playlist. Share them with friends. When it comes to the arts and artists you love, don’t take them for granted! It’s up to us to be patrons. Those of us who love the experience of live music, or dance, or any performing art are the only chance for those arts to keep thriving. Arts lovers cannot live by streaming alone. Being an active participant in the arts you love is a symbiotic relationship—both sides benefit!
The pandemic has been hard on everyone. And performing arts, being oriented toward community and shared experience, have had to scramble to stay relevant. You can make it a little easier. Find a performance you’re comfortable with—maybe it’s limited seating, or an outdoor venue. Maybe you’re vaxed and masked and ready to learn to live with the current situation. Music is good for the soul. And dancing is good for your heart! If swing isn’t your thing, find something that is. And you know where to start looking: Find music performances HERE.