Vital Signs

For Dancers Only: Remembering Swing

Bittersweet feelings swept over me, a child of swing, during a recent walk down Manhattan's Times Square after an absence of several decades. At the end of the walk (Broadway and 42nd Street) two other feelings emerged: there's a permanence in things notwithstanding change. And all of us are, inescapably, creatures of culture.

I felt pain seeing the spot where the Strand Theater had been (where I had had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Artie Shaw, his clarinet and orchestra, play a dazzling arrangement of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine"). Pain seeing the location of the once-Loew's State Theater (where I had been transported into swing heaven by Duke Ellington, his piano, his orchestra, and the haunting blues of his "Mood Indigo"). And pain walking by the Paramount Building with its tacky street-front stores hawking tourist gimcracks and discount consumer wares. For gone is the big Paramount Theater, the glamour of a theater in which, it seemed, I practically grew up, with its grand marquee bespeaking of giants of the stripe of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmie Lunceford, and Tommy Dorsey. In person! On stage!

And what a stage, as the first faint spine-tingling notes of the big band's theme music sounded—Goodman's "Let's Dance," Miller's "Sunrise Serenade," Lunceford's "Jazznocracy," Dorsev's "I'm Gettin'...

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