Genre Profile: Neo Swing

Lisa Kessler

When you think of Swing, what usually comes to mind? Most likely, you will associate it with upbeat music, flashy clothes, and even flashier dance moves from the 1930s and 1940s. Now fast forward to the 1990s, the Neo-Swing era, a revival of Swing and Big Band with a modern twist. Wearing zoot suits, lace, dresses and two-toned oxfords, the 90s generation avoided becoming their parents by modeling themselves after their grandparents instead.

The emergence of Neo-Swing can be traced back to the Royal Crown Revue, a Los Angeles based band who formed in 1989 to create a sound blending Swing and Jump Blues with clear Rock influences. Popular bands and artists such as Brian Setzer, the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies also established themselves under this genre, melding a Ska and Punk Rock foundation with Jazz, Swing, fiery horns, and showy presentations

Neo-Swing generally features a familiar rhythm section consisting of the electric guitar, double bass, and a drum set. The most important section, horns, usually consists of a trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. Today’s horn section is generally smaller than those playing traditional Swing in the 1930s. During the revival, there was a focus on Jump Blues, a style of up-tempo Blues featuring horns, and also a revitalization of both traditional Swing dancing, as well as a new style incorporating the conventional style with modern dance moves.

Neo-Swing was, at first, an underground phenomenon. However, hit movies such as Swing Kids, Swingers, and The Mask, which featured many Neo-Swing bands in their soundtracks, helped spread the genre to a wider audience. The popularity of third wave Ska and Ska Punk in the later 1990s, both of which featured a brass section, and the more mainstream bands such as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones also helped stir a revival of the Swing era.

While hype of the Swing revival has since faded, Neo-Swing is still very much alive. In many clubs, ballrooms, and dance schools, young people still jump, jive, and wail to the familiar sound of Swing.