Brian Setzer Orchestra
'Dirty Boogie' CD from the Brian Setzer Orchestra

Swing's mainstream crossover matures
By Andy Argyrakis

Swing seems to be king again, but why in the late 1990s? The popular style associated with the 1930s and 1940s is back and perhaps is bigger than before. Want proof? How about the fact that swing CDs are lining record store shelves, tunes from the genre are being played on mainstream radio, and clubs are bopping to the beat all across the nation.

Granted, the rage has cooled a bit for the summer of '99, compared with the insanity '98 brought, but the market has stayed fresh. Groups like Royal Crown Revue, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, The W's, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and of course, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, are just a few who have survived the past year, proving they are more than a fad, but rather driving forces within the industry.

In fact, that last performer in the endless list struck gold with the hip number "Jump, Jive an' Wail," originally made famous by Louis Prima. Believe it or not, the reason that single lit up pop and rock stations across the country can be partially attributed to a Gap commercial that aired the same month. That advertisement featured Prima's version, but since Setzer had just redone it, phone calls poured into radio stations to hear his version!

The simultaneous debut of Setzer's cover and the commercial was merely coincidental, but he believes the commercial helped win fans to swing.

"People don't like to say that because they think it's corny for some reason or another," said Setzer in a Billboard Publications interview. "But how do you think people in Iowa found out about us? They don't have their own scene; they don't have clubs to go to. They found out because they saw the Gap commercial and they liked it."

Before that, a primary way the nation was able to find out about the movement was through movies like "Swing Kids" and "Swingers."

"From the time I saw "Swingers" I knew that this was stuff was great," said sophomore Ken D'Souza at the University of Illinois. "I mean that's when I picked up on the swing scene. Plus, when a lot more bands started becoming well known, I realized this resurgence would be around for a while. It's money, baby!"

Both films included intricate swing dancing scenes, which of course, spawned many new club openings and other dance clubs to start offering lessons. Even some schools like Youngstown University in Ohio offered swing classes. "I took a ballroom dancing class and besides being good exercise, I learned how to swing dance," said Youngstown senior Lynn Nickels. "I hate exercise, but dancing gives me a workout I enjoy!"

Swing groups touring the nation don't have to worry about crowds getting excited and grooving to the beat. Take for instance some of this summer's sights for Setzer's tour. Whether playing an outdoor theatre, summer festival, or club, fans are always dancing in the aisles, and perhaps even doing some vertical air moves!

Reactions like that must certainly get artists flying high, but the large mainstream audiences did not come for swing performers until this past year. Although Setzer ruled the airwaves in the 1980s with the MTV-friendly rockabilly band the Stray Cats, the early '90s were more of a transformation period. Albums like his self-titled project and "Guitar Slinger" proved to be fan favorites, but those outside of the Setzer circle didn't catch a listen.

His signing to Interscope Records helped light the fire, and the "Dirty Boogie" project has really allowed Setzer's musicianship to shine through.

"A lot of people like to drop names like Duke Ellington and, you know, yes, of course he was a genius," said Setzer in the same interview. "But I wasn't exposed to Duke Ellington every day. But every night I was exposed to the 'Tonight Show' orchestra. They were fantastic. I always imagined playing guitar with them."

While maybe he's not in the band he once dreamed of, Setzer is just one example of someone that has taken the world by storm with this revived genre. Swing bands of today show a lot of similarities to the past and can provide a window of escape from the unnecessary copycat bands that have infiltrated the music industry. The swinging culture that has influenced the nation through movies, music, and dancing continues to bring people together from all ages and all walks of life to simply "Jump, Jive an' Wail," even in the '90s!