802 Bookshelf: “Swing It! – An Annotated History Of Jive”

by Bill Milkowski, Billboard Books, New York, 2001. 288 pages, $18.95 paper.

Volume CI, No. 7/8July, 2001

Bill Crow

“Jive” is a word with several meanings. Being “hep to the jive” was an early insider’s term, referring to the state of being informed and aware in the jazz world, and being able to communicate in the special language of jive. Then the word came to be used to describe the aspects of jazz that were used to entertain the audience, as in “shucking and jiving.” Later a pejorative use of the word, as in “jive turkey,” connoted falsity and untrustworthiness.

Milkowski’s book chronicles the first two meanings, beginning with jazz musicians Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Cab Calloway, who connected with their audiences by singing, scatting, clowning and ingratiating within the jazz idiom. Milkowski calls these three the “Godfathers of Jive,” and presents an essay on each in his first chapter.

In succeeding chapters the author provides a gallery of entertainers that includes, among others, Louis Jordan, Slim Gaillard, Leo Watson, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Babs Gonzales, Louis Prima, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris, Gatemouth Brown, Mose Allison, Bob Dorough, Annie Ross, Jon Hendricks, a handful of New Orleans personalities, and a number of retro groups that have sprung up lately like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Squirrel Nut Zippers.

The individual essays are interesting and informative and, taken together, allow us to revisit a charming era. The accompanying photographs are very good, well chosen and well reproduced. The cover photo of young Cab Calloway, glorious in a white zoot suit, is wonderful.

Each chapter ends with a comprehensive listening guide, and a few pages at the end of the book are devoted to a glossary of jive words and terms that will provide some amusement. There is also a list of books, articles and liner notes related to the subject.