Program : 
When Swing Was the Thing: Diary of a Swing Era Teen

Swing dancers. Photo courtesy

Swing was the thing in 1935—a teenage music craze that erupted on the heels of the Depression in the years before World War II. Many predicted it would be over in a year, but swing music filled dance floors for almost a decade. And ever since, each new generation has had its cult of jitterbugging swing addicts.


Money was scarce for Americans in the first half of the 1930s. Unemployment rose to 25 percent. It was an era of stickball games in the alley, and Scrabble and stamp collecting in the parlor. By 1934 half the homes in the country had radios. With little money to spend people turned to the airwaves for low-cost entertainment. Series like the Lux Radio Theater, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Jack Benny Show crowded the dial.


Radio listener, 1940s. Photo courtesy Time Life Books, They Called it Swing.

Some of the most popular radio programs were music shows, broadcast live with studio audiences. There was Let's Dance, Saturday Night Swing Club and The Camel Caravan.


This week on Riverwalk Jazz we time-travel back to 1930s' Manhattan to hear what the Swing Era was like from the perspective of a young fan, thanks to the teenage diaries of Bob Inman, collected in his Swing Era Scrapbook published by Scarecrow Press. Special guest San Francisco actor Darren Bridgett joins us with excerpts from Bob Inman's diaries.


Inman was 14 years old and living in Bronxville, New York with his family when his older brother introduced him to jazz on the radio. With easy access by subway from his home to a hotbed of jazz in Manhattan, Bob Inman and his high school “swing pals” lived for Saturdays and weekly trips into the city to browse the record shops, hang out at stage doors collecting autographs and cadging free tickets for live radio broadcasts.


Paramount Theater marquee, New York City. Photo courtesy thepalomar.blogspot.

The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and an all-star cast, including vibist John Cocuzzi; trumpeters Clark Terry, Duke Heitger and Bob Barnard; and trombonists Bob Havens and Russ Phillips fill the airwaves with music from the "Age of Swing." Featured are pieces made famous by Benny Goodman, Harry James, The Casa Loma Orchestra, Bunny Berigan, Duke Ellington and Count Basie.



Photo credit for Home Page: Swing dancers. Photo courtesy