Swing Shift: "All-Girl" Bands of the 1940s

Duke University Press
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The forgotten history of the “all-girl” big bands of the World War II era takes center stage in Sherrie Tucker’s Swing Shift. American demand for swing skyrocketed with the onslaught of war as millions—isolated from loved ones—sought diversion, comfort, and social contact through music and dance. Although all-female jazz and dance bands had existed since the 1920s, now hundreds of such groups, both African American and white, barnstormed ballrooms, theaters, dance halls, military installations, and makeshift USO stages on the home front and abroad.
Filled with firsthand accounts of more than a hundred women who performed during this era and complemented by thorough—and eye-opening—archival research, Swing Shift not only offers a history of this significant aspect of American society and culture but also examines how and why whole bands of dedicated and talented women musicians were dropped from—or never inducted into—our national memory. Tucker’s nuanced presentation reveals who these remarkable women were, where and when they began to play music, and how they navigated a sometimes wild and bumpy road—including their experiences with gas and rubber rationing, travel restrictions designed to prioritize transportation for military needs, and Jim Crow laws and other prejudices. She explains how the expanded opportunities brought by the war, along with sudden increased publicity, created the illusion that all female musicians—no matter how experienced or talented—were “Swing Shift Maisies,” 1940s slang for the substitutes for the “real” workers (or musicians) who were away in combat. Comparing the working conditions and public representations of women musicians with figures such as Rosie the Riveter, WACs, USO hostesses, pin-ups, and movie stars, Tucker chronicles the careers of such bands as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Phil Spitalny’s Hours of Charm, The Darlings of Rhythm, and the Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band.

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About the author

Sherrie Tucker is Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. A longtime jazz fan, she has conducted oral histories for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program, writes a column called “Jazzwomen Jam” for Jazz Now Magazine, and was formerly a jazz radio announcer in San Francisco.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jun 6, 2000
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Pages
424
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ISBN
9780822380900
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Language
English
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Genres
Music / Genres & Styles / Jazz
Music / History & Criticism
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Nadine Jansen, a flugelhornist and pianist, remembers a night in the 1940s when a man came out of the audience as she was playing both instruments. "I hate to see a woman do that," he explained as he hit the end of her horn, nearly chipping her tooth. Half a century later, a big band named Diva made its debut in New York on March 30, 1993, with Melissa Slocum on bass, Sue Terry on alto sax, Lolly Bienenfeld on trombone, Sherrie Maricle on drums, and a host of other first rate instrumentalists. The band made such a good impression that it was immediately booked to play at Carnegie Hall the following year. For those who had yet to notice, Diva signaled the emergence of women musicians as a significant force in jazz. Madame Jazz is a fascinating invitation to the inside world of women in jazz. Ranging primarily from the late 1970s to today's vanguard of performance jazz in New York City and on the West Coast, it chronicles a crucial time of transition as women make the leap from novelty acts regarded as second class citizens to sought-out professionals admired and hired for their consummate musicianship. Author Leslie Gourse surveys the scene in the jazz clubs, the concert halls, the festivals, and the recording studios from the musicians' point of view. She finds exciting progress on all fronts, but also lingering discrimination. The growing success of women instrumentalists has been a long time in coming, she writes. Long after women became accepted as writers and, to a lesser extent, as visual artists, women in music--classical, pop, or jazz--faced the nearly insuperable barrier of chauvinism and the still insidious force of tradition and habit that keeps most men performing with the musicians they have always worked with, other men. Gourse provides dozens of captivating no-holds-barred interviews with both rising stars and seasoned veterans. Here are up-and-coming pianists Renee Rosnes and Rachel Z., trumpeter Rebecca Coupe Frank, saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, bassist Tracy Wormworth, and drummer Terri Lynne Carrington, and enduring legends Dorothy Donegan, Marian McParland and Shirley Horne. Here, as well, are conversations with three pioneering business women: agent and producer Helen Keane, manager Linda Goldstein, and festival and concert producer Cobi Narita. All of the women speak insightfully about their inspiration and their commitment to pursuing the music they love. They are also frank about the realities of life on the road, and the extra dues women musicians pay in a tough and competitive field where everybody pays dues. A separate chapter offers a closer look at women musicians and the continual stress confronting those who would combine love, marriage, and/or motherhood with a life in music. Madame Jazz is about the history that women jazz instrumentalists are making now, as well as an inspiring preview of the even brighter days ahead. It concludes with Frankie Nemko's lively evaluation of the West Coast jazz scene, and appends the most comprehensive list ever assembled of women currently playing instruments professionally.
In the illustrious and richly documented history of American jazz, no figure has been more controversial than the jazz critic. Jazz critics can be revered or reviled—often both—but they should not be ignored. And while the tradition of jazz has been covered from seemingly every angle, nobody has ever turned the pen back on itself to chronicle the many writers who have helped define how we listen to and how we understand jazz. That is, of course, until now.

In Blowin’ Hot and Cool, John Gennari provides a definitive history of jazz criticism from the 1920s to the present. The music itself is prominent in his account, as are the musicians—from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Roscoe Mitchell, and beyond. But the work takes its shape from fascinating stories of the tradition’s key critics—Leonard Feather, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Dan Morgenstern, Gary Giddins, and Stanley Crouch, among many others. Gennari is the first to show the many ways these critics have mediated the relationship between the musicians and the audience—not merely as writers, but in many cases as producers, broadcasters, concert organizers, and public intellectuals as well.

For Gennari, the jazz tradition is not so much a collection of recordings and performances as it is a rancorous debate—the dissonant noise clamoring in response to the sounds of jazz. Against the backdrop of racial strife, class and gender issues, war, and protest that has defined the past seventy-five years in America, Blowin’ Hot and Cool brings to the fore jazz’s most vital critics and the role they have played not only in defining the history of jazz but also in shaping jazz’s significance in American culture and life.
In jazz circles, players and listeners with “big ears” hear and engage complexity in the moment, as it unfolds. Taking gender as part of the intricate, unpredictable action in jazz culture, this interdisciplinary collection explores the terrain opened up by listening, with big ears, for gender in jazz. Essays range from a reflection on the female boogie-woogie pianists who played at Café Society in New York during the 1930s and 1940s to interpretations of how the jazzman is represented in Dorothy Baker’s novel Young Man with a Horn (1938) and Michael Curtiz’s film adaptation (1950). Taken together, the essays enrich the field of jazz studies by showing how gender dynamics have shaped the production, reception, and criticism of jazz culture.

Scholars of music, ethnomusicology, American studies, literature, anthropology, and cultural studies approach the question of gender in jazz from multiple perspectives. One contributor scrutinizes the tendency of jazz historiography to treat singing as subordinate to the predominantly male domain of instrumental music, while another reflects on her doubly inappropriate position as a female trumpet player and a white jazz musician and scholar. Other essays explore the composer George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept as a critique of mid-twentieth-century discourses of embodiment, madness, and black masculinity; performances of “female hysteria” by Les Diaboliques, a feminist improvising trio; and the BBC radio broadcasts of Ivy Benson and Her Ladies’ Dance Orchestra during the Second World War. By incorporating gender analysis into jazz studies, Big Ears transforms ideas of who counts as a subject of study and even of what counts as jazz.

Contributors: Christina Baade, Jayna Brown, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Monica Hairston, Kristin McGee, Tracy McMullen, Ingrid Monson, Lara Pellegrinelli, Eric Porter, Nichole T. Rustin, Ursel Schlicht, Julie Dawn Smith, Jeffrey Taylor, Sherrie Tucker, João H. Costa Vargas

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