Swing, Swing, Swing

Program Notes

Program Notes

April 2022

“Ah, swing, well, we used to call it syncopation—then they called it ragtime, then blues—then jazz. Now, it’s swing. Ha! Ha! White folks, yo’all sho is a mess.”
— Louis Armstrong on the Bing Crosby radio show (1950)

Swing: “when an individual player or ensemble performs in such a rhythmically coordinated way as to command a visceral response from the listener (to cause feet to tap and heads to nod.)”
— The Jazz in America glossary

In my long association with Chicago a cappella, I’ve written dozens of arrangements for these singers, and it’s always a special joy. In particular, after creating a cappella versions of popular songs from the 1950s-1980s for two previous Chicago a cappella programs (“The History of Rock and Soul,” Parts I and II), I was thrilled to have the opportunity to delve even further back into 20th-century popular musical history.

Swing music, or simply “swing,” was the dominant form of American popular music from 1935 to 1946. The name swing came from the “swing feel” where the emphasis is on the off–beat or weaker pulse in the music. Swing bands usually featured soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement. The verb “to swing” is also used as a term of praise for playing that has a strong groove or drive. Swing has been called “the most debated word in jazz.” When jazz performer Cootie Williams was asked to define it, he joked, “Define it? I’d rather tackle Einstein’s theory!” Benny Goodman, the 1930s-era bandleader nicknamed the “King of Swing,” called swing “free speech in music,” whose most important element is “the liberty a soloist has to stand and play a chorus in the way he feels it.” Boogie-woogie pianist Maurice Rocco argues that the definition of swing “is just a matter of personal opinion.” When asked for a definition of swing, Fats Waller replied, “Lady, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”

Whether you’re a lover of “hot” swing (think Benny Goodman and “Sing, Sing, Sing”) or “sweet” swing (think Guy Lombardo and “April Showers”), I hope that you’ll find something that gets your feet tapping during these performances. Note: Feel free to dance in the aisles!

— Patrick Sinozich, Programmer and Arranger

Program Song List

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

Music by Duke Ellington, arr. Deke Sharon

Take the “A” Train

Billy Strayhorn, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Begin the Beguine

Cole Porter, arr. Patrick Sinozich

The Continental

Con Conrad, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Stompin’ at the Savoy

Edgar Sampson, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Woodchopper’s Ball

Joe Bishop & Woody Herman, arr. Patrick Sinozich

 Alright, Okay, You Win

Mayme Watts & Sid Wyche, arr. Patrick Sinozich

There’ll Be Some Changes Made

Benton Overstreet, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Three Little Fishies

Saxie Dowell, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Moonlight Serenade

Glenn Miller, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Moonglow

Will Hudson, Eddie DeLange, & Irving Mills, arr. Patrick Sinozich

It’s Only a Paper Moon

Harold Arlen, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Old Devil Moon

Burton Lane, arr. Patrick Sinozich

How High the Moon

Morgan Lewis, arr. Patrick Sinozich

A String of Pearls

Jerry Gray, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive

Harold Arlen, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Tain’t What You Do

Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young, arr. Patrick Sinozich

INTERMISSION

I’ve Heard That Song Before

Jule Styne, arr. Patrick Sinozich

L’il Darlin’

Neil Hefti, arr. Bob Zaun

I’ll Be Seeing You

Sammy Fain, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

Hugh Durham Prince, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Let’s Get Away From It All

Matt Dennis, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Sentimental Journey

Les Brown & Ben Homer, arr. Patrick Sinozich

I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo

Harry Warren, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Harry Warren, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Heartaches

Al Hoffman, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Sing, Sing, Sing

Louis Prima, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Encore: We’ll Meet Again

Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, arr. Patrick Sinozich

Notes on the Music

by Patrick Sinozich

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)

music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills

The music was composed and arranged by Ellington in August 1931 during intermissions at the Lincoln Tavern in Morton Grove and was first recorded by him and his orchestra for Brunswick Records on February 2, 1932. The song became famous, Ellington wrote, “as the expression of a sentiment which prevailed among jazz musicians at the time,” and it introduced the word “swing” into the popular lexicon. Ellington said that “swing” was simply “Harlem for rhythm.”

Take the ‘A’ Train

Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn played piano and wrote arrangements for Duke Ellington’s band. The fact that Ellington used this song as his orchestra’s opening theme, making it his signature song, says a great deal about it and his appreciation for Strayhorn. Most bandleaders would not put a song that is not their own composition in the spotlight in this way, but the relationship between Strayhorn and Ellington was not typical. Ellington wrote in his autobiography that Strayhorn “was not, as he was often referred to by many, my alter ego. Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, and the eyes in the back of my head.”

Begin the Beguine

music and lyrics by Cole Porter

The beguine is a dance and music form similar to a slow rhumba. This Cole Porter classic was introduced by June Knight in the Broadway musical Jubilee in 1935, but it was Artie Shaw’s 1938 instrumental version (which went to #1) that made it famous. The recording became one of the most famous and popular of the entire Swing era.

The Continental

Music by Con Conrad, lyrics by Herb Magidson

Introduced by Ginger Rogers in the 1934 film The Gay Divorcee, “The Continental” was the first song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The Continental dance was never a big hit (“you kiss while you’re dancing”) but the song and dance were the centerpiece of a 22-minute dance-film extravaganza starring Rogers and Fred Astaire. For listening: Tommy Dorsey’s 1949 recording really swings!

Stompin’ at the Savoy

Edgar Sampson

Although the song is credited to Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, Edgar Sampson, and Andy Razaf, it was written and arranged by Sampson, Rex Stewart’s alto saxophonist. Sampson wrote the song when he was with Stewart’s orchestra at New York’s Empire Ballroom in 1933. It was used as the band’s theme song until the band broke up, after which Sampson joined Webb’s band, taking the song with him. Both Webb and Goodman recorded it as an instrumental, with Webb’s recording rising to number ten on the charts in 1934. Lyrics were later added by Andy Razaf. The song is named after the famed Harlem nightspot, the Savoy Ballroom.

Woodchopper’s Ball

Joe Bishop & Woody Herman

Also known as “At the Woodchopper’s Ball,” this 1939 jazz composition is an up-tempo blues tune, the song that became the Woody Herman Orchestra’s biggest hit. In addition, “Woodchopper’s Ball” was the most popular composition of either of the two composers, selling a million records. The tune has been performed by numerous artists and is considered a jazz standard. The original recording by Woody Herman and His Orchestra received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2002.

Alright, Okay, You Win

Mayme Watts & Sid Wyche

A breezy, swingin’ jazz number if ever there was one, this song has remained a popular song with traditional pop singers of a jazzy bent. Originally recorded by Ella Johnson in February of 1955, the song was soon after recorded (in May of that year) by Count Basie with Joe Williams (in his debut with Basie) for the album “Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings.” The song has been recorded over 100 times. In addition to the Basie/Williams version, the recording by Peggy Lee (1958) is notable.

There’ll Be Some Changes Made

Music by Benton Overstreet, lyrics by Billy Higgins

Published in 1921, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” (also known as “Changes”) has flourished in several genres, particularly jazz. According to the online The Jazz Discography (an index of jazz-only recordings), “Changes” had been recorded 404 times as of May 2018. The song and its record debut on the Black Swan label (1921) were revolutionary in that the songwriters, the original copyright publisher, the vocalist to first record it (Ethel Waters), the opera singer for whom the label was named (Elizabeth Greenfield), and the musicians on the recording led by Fletcher Henderson, were all African American. The production is identified by historians as a notable part of the Harlem Renaissance. Several standout recordings are by Fats Waller (1935) and Benny Goodman (1939). However, the ne plus ultra recording for me is by the Boswell Sisters (1932) with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (before Tommy and Jimmy broke up in 1935).

Three Little Fishies

Music by Saxie Dowell, lyrics by Josephine Carringer and Bernice Idins

“Three Little Fishies” peaked at No. 2 on Your Hit Parade in 1939, but it may well have been the nation’s biggest hit song for a couple of weeks in May of that year. Variety magazine included it in its Hit Parade of a Half-Century (a commemorative put out by Variety naming the hits from 1905-1955) for ’39. This novelty hit tells the story of three fish who defy their mother’s command of swimming only in a meadow, by swimming over a dam and on out to sea, where they encounter a shark, which the fish describe as a whale. They flee for their lives and return to the meadow in safety. Hal Kemp and his orchestra were the first group to popularize this song, which could be subtitled “Boop-Boop Dittem Dattem Whattem Chu.” (The song’s writer, Saxie Dowell, was Kemp’s saxophonist.) Kemp’s recording, with vocals by The Smoothies, was popular but not quite as popular as Kay Kyser and His Orchestra’s. It reportedly became Kyser’s first million-selling disc.

Moonlight Serenade

Music by Glenn Miller, lyrics by Mitchell Parish

This dreamy ballad was Glenn Miller’s breakout hit, but it was years in the making. Miller wrote the melody in 1935 when he was a trombone player in Ray Noble’s band. In 1938, Miller used the instrumental version as theme music for his radio broadcasts on the NBC network. In 1939 the publisher Robbins Music bought the melody and had Mitchell Parish (“Stardust”) write a new set of lyrics for it, which were given the title “Wind In The Trees.” By this time, Miller had his own band and was set to record a song called “Sunrise Serenade,” written by Frankie Carle. Someone at Robbins suggested that Parish write the lyrics as “Moonlight Serenade” instead, which could be used as the B-side of the single, forming a theme. Parish did just that, but Miller recorded the song as an instrumental. When the single was released, “Sunrise Serenade” charted, but it was soon outdone by “Moonlight Serenade,” which rose to #3 and became Miller’s signature song.

Moonglow

Music by Will Hudson and Irving Mills, lyrics by Eddie DeLange

Writer George T. Simon, while working on a compilation of music for The Big Band Songbook, contacted composer Will Hudson regarding “Moonglow,” and Hudson explained how the tune came about. “It happened very simply. Back in the early ‘30s, I had a band that needed a theme song, so I wrote ‘Moonglow.’” Hudson’s band flopped but he pushed the song to others, most notably Benny Goodman, whose recording of it (1934) took off, becoming his first big hit and landing at number one on the charts for 15 weeks. (Notable: Goodman recorded the song again in 1936 with his quartet, featuring Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa. It charted at #8.)

It’s Only a Paper Moon

Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Yip Harburg and Billy Rose

“It’s Only a Paper Moon,” published in 1933, was originally titled “If You Believed in Me,” but later went by the more popular title. The song was written for an unsuccessful 1932 Broadway play called The Great Magoo, set in Coney Island, but the song’s lasting fame stems from its revival by popular artists during the last years of World War II, with hit recordings by Nat King Cole (1944), Ella Fitzgerald (1945 with the Delta Rhythm Boys) and Benny Goodman (1945, the vocal chorus sung by Dottie Reid). It is now regarded as a jazz and pop standard and has been recorded by numerous other artists over the years. The song features in the 1973 film Paper Moon.

Old Devil Moon

Music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Yip Harburg

Lyricist Yip Harburg tells the story behind “Old Devil Moon.” Friend and composer Harold Arlen came to Harburg’s house one night and Yip played him the score that he’d written with Burton Lane for Finian’s Rainbow (1947). Arlen thought one song was weak. Yip said, “So I had Burt play him a tune he’d been fooling around with.” Arlen praised the song, and Harburg began working on new lyrics. “I started looking for an idea, something that had to do with witchcraft, something eerie, with overtones of voodoo. Eventually it became ‘Old Devil Moon.’ Strangely constructed, it doesn’t have a verse, and it isn’t the ordinary thirty-two-bar song structure, but it became very popular. That’s what made it a great song—it was original.”

How High the Moon

Music by Morgan Lewis, lyrics by Nancy Hamilton

This song was introduced by Alfred Drake and Frances Comstock during the Broadway revue Two for the Show, which ran for 124 performances in 1940. Benny Goodman’s recording of the song featuring vocalist Helen Forrest (also from 1940) was an instant hit. It entered the pop charts a few weeks after the show opened, rising to number six. Originally written as a slow ballad, “How High the Moon” has become a bebop favorite and is almost always performed up-tempo.

A String of Pearls

Music by Jerry Gray, lyrics by Eddie DeLange

Composed in 1941, “A String of Pearls” was notably recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra on RCA Bluebird that November, becoming a #1 hit. The song is a big band and jazz standard. Its composer, Jerry Gray, had previously been chief arranger and musical collaborator for Artie Shaw, the clarinet superstar who led the top dance band in the United States. When Shaw walked off the bandstand in November of 1939, competitor Glenn Miller, within hours, offered Gray a job. By 1941, as Miller’s chief arranger, Gray wrote a series of hits (“Pennsylvania 6-5000” among others) that would cement Miller’s ascent to America’s number one bandleader.

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive

Music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Published in 1944, the song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 18th Academy Awards in 1945, after being used in the film Here Come the Waves. It is sung in the style of a sermon and explains that accentuating the positive is the key to happiness. In describing his inspiration for the lyric, Mercer says “my publicity agent … went to hear Father Divine [a prominent African-American religious leader of the 1930s] and he had a sermon and his subject was ‘you got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.’ And I said ‘Wow, that’s a colorful phrase!’”

 ‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That Cha Do It)

Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young

This song was first recorded (separately) in 1939 by Jimmie Lunceford, Harry James, and Ella Fitzgerald. The “shim sham” (a 1930s line dance) is often danced to the Lunceford recording of this song. The jazz tune was transformed into a pop song with ska elements in 1982, recorded by Fun Boy Three and Bananarama. Notable: the 1939 recording by Nat Gonella (one of the first British musicians to establish a major reputation as a jazz musician and singer) and His Georgians.

I’ve Heard That Song Before

Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn

“I’ve Heard That Song Before” is a 1942 popular song about nostalgia. It was introduced by Martha O’Driscoll (dubbed by Margaret Whiting) in the 1942 film Youth on Parade, making the song eligible to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942. It lost out to “White Christmas.” It was recorded by Harry James and his Orchestra with Helen Forrest on vocals on July 31, 1942. This was the last day of recording before the Musicians Union’s ban.* The recording was issued on Columbia and became a number one hit on both the pop charts and the Harlem Hit Parade in the U.S. in early 1943. That version of the song can be heard in Woody Allen’s 1986 movie Hannah and Her Sisters.

*On August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians, at the instigation of union president (and Chicago’s own) James C. Petrillo, began a strike against the major American recording companies because of disagreements over royalty payments. Beginning at midnight, July 31, 1942, no union musician could make commercial recordings for any commercial record company, meaning that a union musician was allowed to participate on radio programs and other kinds of musical entertainment, but not in a recording session. The 1942–44 musicians’ strike remains the longest strike in entertainment history.

Li’l Darlin’

Music by Neal Hefti, lyrics by Jon Hendricks

“Li’l Darlin’” was written in 1957 by composer/arranger/trumpeter Neal Hefti. He arranged it for the Count Basie band, which introduced the song. The composition, in the words of jazz writer Donald Clarke, is “an object lesson in how to swing at a slow tempo” – and, in some cases, an exercise in how slow an ensemble can play without falling apart! In 1958, Jon Hendricks wrote and arranged lyrics to “Li’l Darlin’” and his vocal trio, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, recorded it with Basie on May 26th of that year. In 1959 Bart Howard, who wrote “Fly Me to the Moon,” copyrighted a new lyric for the Hefti tune, calling it “Don’t Dream of Anybody But Me,” a title which often appends “Li’l Darlin’” in parentheses. Mel Torme sang this version with the Basie band on Judy Garland’s television show in 1963. (You will hear the Hendricks lyrics in this performance.) “Li’l Darlin’” is another of those songs that, without ever charting, moved right into the jazz lexicon and became a favorite of instrumentalists, especially guitarists.

I’ll Be Seeing You

Music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Irving Kahal

“I’ll Be Seeing You,” like “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” is another popular song about nostalgia. Published in 1938, it was inserted into the Broadway musical Right This Way, which closed after fifteen performances. Though not actually written during wartime, the song became the quintessential song of WWII.  The lyrics and mood of the song seem to perfectly capture the emotions of millions of American couples separated by the war. The song hit #1 ten different times! (Billie Holiday’s 1944 recording of the song was the final transmission sent by NASA to the Opportunity rover on Mars when its mission ended on 13 February 2019.)

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

Music by Hughie Prince, lyrics by Don Raye 

A major hit for The Andrews Sisters, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” became an iconic World War II tune, reaching number six on the U.S. pop singles chart in early 1941. The song is ranked No. 6 also on Songs of the Century (an education project by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic Inc.). Bette Midler’s 1972 recording of the song also reached the top ten on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song is closely based on an earlier Raye-Prince hit, “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” which is about a virtuoso boogie-woogie piano player. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song but lost out to “The Last Time I Saw Paris.”

Let’s Get Away From It All

Music by Matt Dennis, lyrics by Tom Adair

This song, published in 1941, is most commonly associated with Frank Sinatra (who had a hit recording with The Pied Pipers while he was a part of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra and later for his Come Fly with Me album), but many others have recorded it and it is considered a standard of traditional pop music. (Notable: from my youth, the 1960 recording by Louis Prima and Keely Smith still swings.)

Sentimental Journey

Music by Les Brown and Ben Homer, lyrics by Bud Green

Les Brown and His Band of Renown had been performing “Sentimental Journey,” written in 1944, but they were unable to record it because of the 1942–44 musicians’ strike. When the strike ended, the band, with Doris Day as vocalist, had a hit record with the song (1945), Day’s first #1 hit. The song’s release coincided with the end of WWII in Europe and became the unofficial homecoming theme for many veterans. The record first reached the Billboard charts on March 29, 1945, and lasted 23 weeks, peaking at #1. About this same time, the Merry Macs had a recording which featured a bouncy arrangement where the group modulates the refrain eight times (!) in the last half of the song–a vocal feat for any group attempting to record a song in one take without the benefit of editing! It’s worth listening to.

I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo

Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon

“Kalamazoo” is a #1 song recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in 1942, featuring Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton and the Modernaires. It was featured in the film Orchestra Wives (featuring an extended and amazing tap sequence by the Nicholas Brothers). Miller’s record was the year’s best-selling recording in the United States, according to Billboard magazine. It spent nineteen weeks on the Billboard charts, including eight weeks in first place. The song was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of “Best Music, Original Song” in 1943. (The Miller et al. recording is awesome!)

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon 

Another hit from the song-writing team of Gordon and Warren, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was originally recorded as a big band/swing tune by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra and featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, where it was part of an extended production number. It was the first song to receive a gold record, presented by RCA Victor in 1942, for sales of 1.2 million copies. The composition was nominated for an Academy Award in 1941 for Best Song from a movie, and the song achieved its success that year even though it could not be heard on network radio for much of 1941 due to the ASCAP boycott.** In 1996, the 1941 recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

 

**The ASCAP boycott was a boycott of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) by radio broadcasters, due to license fees. From another perspective, it was a boycott of radio broadcasters by ASCAP, “concerned about the unlicensed radio broadcast of its members’ material …” Between 1931 and 1939, ASCAP increased royalty rates charged to broadcasters some 448%. In 1940, when ASCAP tried to double its license fees, radio broadcasters prepared to resist their demands by enforcing a boycott of ASCAP, and inaugurating a competing royalty agency, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). During a ten-month period lasting from January 1 to October 29, 1941, no music licensed by ASCAP (1,250,000 songs) was broadcast on NBC nor CBS radio stations. Instead, the stations played songs in the public domain, regional music, and styles (like rhythm and blues or country) that had been traditionally disdained by ASCAP. This resulted in many classical compositions being recorded by the big bands.

Heartaches

Music by Al Hoffman, lyrics by John Klenner

Published in 1931, the biggest recorded version of this song was by the Ted Weems Orchestra, with Elmo Tanner whistling. The recording was made in 1933 on the Bluebird label (in a novelty fast rhumba tempo) to low record sales. Weems re-recorded the song in 1938 for Decca. He dissolved his band in early 1942 after leaving to fight in World War II. As the result of an enthusiastic North Carolina disc jockey “rediscovering” the song, the 1933 recording reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on February 21, 1947, and lasted 16 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 1. Almost always heard up-tempo, I feel this song at a slower speed, which you’ll hear in these performances.

Sing, Sing, Sing

Louis Prima

First recorded by Prima and the New Orleans Gang and released in 1936, “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” is strongly identified with the big band and swing eras. Fletcher Henderson recorded a vocal version in August 1936, and the first known recording by the Benny Goodman band of “Sing, Sing, Sing” is a March 18, 1936, recording of a live performance at Chicago’s Congress Hotel. Unlike most big band arrangements of that era, limited in length to three minutes so that they could be recorded on one side of a standard 10-inch 78-rpm record, the version which Goodman’s band recorded was an extended work. Arranged by Jimmy Mundy, a later 1937 recording lasted 8 min 43 seconds, and it took up both sides of a 12-inch 78. At its longest, the recording of Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall live performance (with impromptu solos) took 12 minutes and 30 seconds. The classic BG recording for Victor (1937) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1982. Ross Firestone, in his book Sing, Sing, Sing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman, says that the 1937 recording “bore only the slightest resemblance to the original score.” Helen Ward, BG’s fine vocalist in 1935 and 1936, said that the changes started spontaneously: “One night Gene (Krupa) just refused to stop drumming when he got to the end of the third chorus, where the tune was supposed to end, so Benny blithely picked up the clarinet and noodled along with him. Then someone else stood up and took it, and it went on from there.” Goodman is quoted as saying, “Sing, Sing, Sing’ (which we started doing back at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on our second trip there in 1936) was a big thing, and no one-nighter was complete without it.” I agree, and so this night ends with an iconic reminder of a great era in music.