Swing Music, A Timeless Era

Frank Sinatra. A name undoubtedly everyone has heard of; fondly tossed round by reminiscing aged grandparents, a vintage sound bed for the occasional advert, and whilst curled up on the sofa on a wet Sunday watching some old black and white film. But does anybody really know anything about this old timer, or about the history and importance of the Swing era? 69 years ago, Sinatra released his first album, ‘The Voice of Frank Sinatra’, and indeed, I’m going to try to convince you about why Sinatra and many others from the same era possessed a timeless ‘Voice’.

The term ‘Swing’ refers to the big band music that was the most popular genre of the 1930s and 40s America. Boys and girls listening to massive bands would literally ‘swing’ romantically on the dance floor. However, during WWII the popularity of swing music began to decline with the likelihood of getting enough musicians together to form a big band during the war period very low. It wasn’t until the end of the war and during the 50s and 60s that crooners like Frank Sinatra began to emerge and explode onto the American music scene. This new version of swing music became known as easy listening; the sound was bigger and fuller than it had ever been before with string instruments being swapped for the larger, louder, wind and brass instruments. Soloists would take center stage, playfully and cleverly improvising, mimicking many features of jazz music. Other well known singers who emerged from the Swing Era include Dean Martin, Judy Garland (otherwise known as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz), New Orleans’ best trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and countless others.

However, it was Sinatra, the perfect pitched, dashing young man, who really defined the 50s and the new development of swingin’ pop. Sinatra began his career as a part of Big Band Jeffe Tommy Dorsey’s swing collective, claiming later watching Dorsey play the trombone taught him the importance and technique of breath control, turning his voice into a finely crafted instrument, just as powerful as the Big Band accompaniment that supported him. Mix this technicality with his love for the classy and stylish swing of the 30s and 40s and add a little criticism of the demeaning of women in rock and roll music and hey presto, Sinatra had all the ladies swooning at his feet. Forget the young pretender Harry Styles; Sinatra was the original heart flutterer. Tuneful, chic, and above all, sexy.

Over Christmas, the BBC televised Frank Sinatra: Our Way, in which seven unknown acts from across the UK each took it in turn to perform a Frank Sinatra song, “their way”, in a bid to win a slot at his centenary concert which will be held at the London Palladium early July. Throughout the programme, both the judges and the presenters insisted that the aim of the show was to put a new stamp on a Sinatra song, whilst paying homage to the man himself. Yet what struck me after finishing the infuriating programme, was the clear ironic outcome; George Gallagher, the shows winner, really did nothing different to his rendition of ‘That’s Life’. Sure, he could sing and the cover wasn’t bad, but it was a pale imitation. There was only one Sinatra and “his way” was the only way.

In an era of technological ease where music of all kinds is at our disposal, we’re in danger of under-appreciating this great star and the genre he came to spearhead. Harry Styles is cool, but there’s music beyond modern pop that’s just as exciting and undoubtedly just as sexy. Swing is glitz and glamour, class and style; it seems a shame that this timeless genre seems to have been overlooked in the society we live in today. On this year celebrating Frank’s 100th birthday, we shouldn’t leave him to collect dust on the shelf but instead, take that timeless record down and revel in its perfection.

Is it wrong to dream of being able to waltz and sway to a classic Sinatra tune? Does that mean I’m an old woman inside a teenage body? If that’s the case then hand me the frilly handbag and the mint imperials; I’d choose Sinatra over Styles any day.

Stasi Roe

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