Big Band Swing and the Lindy Hop

Big Band Swing and the Lindy Hop come up together…

It was around 1927, it was new and it was hot!… It was big band swing and lindy hop, and it was happening in Harlem at the Savoy Ballroom, New York city. It wasn’t called the Ballroom just because there were bands there.. no, the Savoy is were the kids went to dance. The Charlston was on the out and the lindy hop was coming in. The dancers took the name from Charles Lindbergh after being the first man to fly a plane across the atlantic ocean from New York to Paris.

Swing dancing, or Lindy Hop as it was being called, grew up with swing music. It had elements from the Charlston as well as the 8-count structure from the European style where partners danced close together. The great thing about the lindy hop is the dancers can break away from the structured 8 count and do improvisational steps which could include big twirls and turns and throwing your partner in the air. This improvising element was obviously a big part of the swing music as well.

I think it’s interesting how lindy swing dancing evolved alongside the big bands that performed regularly at the Savoy Ballroom which became famous for their >b>”battle of the bands” and dance competitions. Imagine how much energy those big bands in the late 20’s had during one of those battling sessions! They didn’t use microphones yet but there were a lot of musicians on that stage to fill the room with sound, a sound that fuelled the lindy hoppers with energy and excitement.As every musician knows, that energy bounces right back from the dance floor to the stage, it’s totally reciprocal.

One influenced the other

This was the “pop” music of the day so going to the Savoy wasn’t just to go and listen to a band, they’d be there to dance and party. Not only did the music influence the dancers but you can bet the good band arrangers were making sure their music would be knocking out the dancers. Things like instrumental breaks, long ferocious drum solos, horn solos that gave time for the soloist to take it over the top which in turn made for some over the top moves on the dance floor. One affected the other. Big band swing and lindy hop… a perfect match!

I’ve had the opportunity to play for many swing dance events and I’ve also experienced dance events that used recorded music, it’s just night and day, two totally different things. Even the difference in energy that a 5 piece band and a 15 piece band can create is huge.

One of the most important bands from the time was the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. Henderson is credited for establishing the instrumentation and many of the arrangement techniques that lasted throughout the swing era. He also hired some very important musicians, the two most notable were trumpeter Louis Armstrong and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.

The other key figure from the Savoy Ballroom was Chick Webb who had the most popular band among the dancers. Webb was a lovable little guy, literally cause he was only about 5 feet tall due to a spinal disorder. He was the first drummer to lead a big band and was considered the best among his contemporaries like Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Louie Bellson.

Two notable members of his band were a 17 year old Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan. But it was Chick Webb who really drove the band with his excellent drumming and wild solos which always had the potential to drive the dancers into a frenzy.
This era of music and dance started to fade in the mid 40’s as people started to open up to other styles but neither has ever totally disappeared. Today there are people dancing the lindy hop and bands playing swing music all over the world.
Big band swing and lindy hop… 80 years and counting!

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