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. Swing Changes 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. 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.
Swing Changes, with its emphasis on the importance of social elements in the creation of meaning in swing, is an excellent example of how jazz and other arts are being studied now in some quarters of the academy. Stowe writes in a clear style and with a thorough knowledge of swing-era American history.
David Stowe is…the first writer to have attempted a systematic history of the relationship between jazz and New Deal America… An interesting book.
David Stowe’s contention is that big-band swing, with its emphasis on regimented performances in which soloists made their personal contributions to the collective whole, was analogous to ‘the notion of a cooperative commonwealth central to Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of America’… Swing Changes offers some fresh perspectives on music as ‘social practice’—with a wealth of pertinent material…in the accompanying Notes.
In Swing Changes, Stowe admirably illustrates how swing, an all-American, progressive, leftist and anti-Nazi musical form, initially exemplified an ideal of racial and cultural co-operation. It shows, with a fitting sense of betrayal, how swing was rapidly co-opted by the forces of political conservatism, social divisiveness and militaristic might which it had initially challenged. Drawing upon a wide range of documents, from eyewitness accounts, to photographic and filmic material, radio, press and music magazine features, Stowe thus traces the progressive ‘whitening’ of an African American cultural form at the hands of a flourishing culture industry. Swing had become the music of white middle-American Republicanism, a transformation which Swing Changes traces with all the seriousness of the scholar and elegizes with the passion of an aficionado. It is an important book, of equal interest to the Americanist, the musicologist and the non-specialist. It swings.
[An] excellent achievement. [Stowe] has placed swing at center stage in jazz history, linked it to the New Deal, and helped make it worth the attention of historians who have too long ignored America’s musical past.
This excellent book on the Swing Era, its music and meaning, is a model of interdisciplinary social history, combining music, business, economics, and politics in a seamless and fascinating chronicle… An intelligent and lively book, peppered with astute historical and musical observations.
Stowe has written a fascinating social history of swing jazz, which dominated popular music from about 1935 to the late 1940s. He characterizes swing as the preeminent musical expression of the New Deal ethos… Explaining the social context that allowed swing to flourish, Stowe describes the importance of Down Beat magazine; the United Hot Clubs of America; booking agencies; live, commercially sponsored radio broadcasts; and the jukebox… This clearly written and well-researched social history of New Deal America through its popular music is highly recommended.
- 299 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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