Swinging again Comeback: Fifty years after big bands went out of vogue, hip new orchestras fuel dance craze.

December 31, 1998

FIVE DECADES after the big band industry faded away, America is dancing to swing again. But instead of Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw, the bandstands feature the likes of Royal Crown Revue, Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Brian Setzer.

The Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey ghost bands still entertain the geriatric set on tours and ocean cruises. Contemporary zoot-suiters and bobby-soxers, though, prefer a jumpier style, one that mixes rock with Count Basie and Louis Jordan.

This retro-swing movement started on the West Coast nearly a decade ago. This year, thanks to MTV and a Gap commercial, the craze hit the East Coast in a big way.

The composition of a retro-swing orchestra is not very different from a 1930s big band. A good example is Brian Setzer's 17-piece group, which is about to accompany Bob Dylan on a big southeastern tour in the next few weeks. It consists of five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass and drum. The big difference is the electric guitar of Mr. Seltzer, singer who was a mainstay of the rockabilly band Stray Cats. He gives old standards a new treatment.

Swing dances returned to popularity in Baltimore this year. From Catonsville to Parkville, halls were filled weekly with aficionados who wanted to learn the Lindy Hop and jitterbug. "The '90s bore us," one 23-year-old dancer said, taking a spin with her husband.

It's too bad that Baltimore's two big-band landmarks -- Pennsylvania Avenue's Royal Theater and Carlin's Amusement Park -- are not here to witness this revival. The great thing about this comeback, though, is that it rekindles an interest in the 1930s and 1940s swing. In particular, the music and showmanship of two Baltimore-born band leaders -- Cab Calloway and Chick Webb -- deserve another look.

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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