"Original" music West Coast Swing was danced to

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I watched the first hour of "Ray" last night. In the mid 1940s to early fifties Ray Charles played a wide variety of music, including blues of course, and spent several years living and performing in Seattle and Los Angeles. There are several scenes with dancers in small clubs. I didn't see anyone doing West Coast Swing.
You wouldn't have. West coast Swing as a dance has never been popular with Black crowds and that is who Ray mostly played for, especially in the smaller clubs, until he started really making it big.

The dances done in Ray are all authentic "vintage" dnces of the time, the same stuff you would've seen being done to his music at the time. A lot of blues, some jitterbug/lindy variants, and some solo dances.
Early in this thread someone talks about the Harmoni and melodic differences between, Swing, BeBop, R&B, RnR etc... most of it has absolutely nothing to do with what defines those genres at their earliest stages. Black music is based and defined around its rhythms. Harmonic and melodic arrangments or choice of instrumentation is really more of a side qualifier... how one would define what sub-genre it falls into.

Western Swing has a little of what defines Swing Jazz, it has the swung 16th note, but it is played in a very straight ahead manner, more in keeping of Glenn Miller (a Pop Big Band) than Benny Goodman (a Swing Big Band). There are clearly defined harmonies and melodies and the Rhythm section of the band is the only one playing rhythms (versus a swing band where event the Melodic instruments are playing rhythm and melody both). It is however far more swingin' than most of the popular bands of RnR especially when compared to Bill Haley.

Sonny Watson's site is full of inaccuracies, and he tends to go with his own opinion over those that contradict him, even if they are as well supported or even more. Anything that lays claim to be history which does not take into account conflicting opinions and facts is automatically suspect.

The original music of WCS is entirely defined by when you consider Lindy Hop in certain areas to have morphed (not evolved, since this carries a value judgment) into West Coast Swing.

In some areas, Western Swing is certainly going to have been the music of choice. Others it is going to have been Blues or Rhythm & Blues. Still others it will have been Small combo swing.

FYI there were several ballrooms with large bandstands and large bands playing for dancers on the West coast. The idea that WCS is slotted purely for size of venues is illogical. Especially since Lindy was being done in spaces the same size at the same time, and continues to be done in very small venues to VERY fast music.

Like most things concerning the development of art, the when, where, who, and why is entirely subjective. Every thing said on this thread is probably true... including, probably especially those that contradict each other.
Black music is based and defined around its rhythms.

I knew that! But only because I just finished reading Stomping the Blues two days ago.

A comment to follow up with what dnice says about different music in different areas. There's a radio interview Mario Robau did for Yehoodi and he talks about the music choises down in Texas back when he was first learning to dance and how it wasn't always the music of choice elsewhere (it was a long time ago I listened to this, so it may have been a different place I heard him say it).

Anyway I think it still holds slightly true that different areas have different music choises, however today it's a lot less noticable. With music sharing and regular travel, the dance community has shrunk in a sense...or combined I should say..it's one big WCS community rather than isolated pockets, so the music choices of one area have infultrated others.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I started this thread in July of 2006 because of an entry in Wikipedia that went like this:
"WCS was originally danced to sixteen count blues music, rather than the Swing jazz from the early part of the 20th century." A few years back, I was pretty much into blues as a non-musician, and I felt like I knew a bit about jazz, too. So, this statement did not ring true. I came to the forum to start a discussion, hoping to learn more. And I did.
I also started spending many hours searching across the web and through various books I own, and books that I was able to examine through interlibrary loans. I touched base with Sonny Watson, Skippy Blair, and even heard from d nice among others. I began renting and viewing movies from the 40s and 50s. I got out those tapes and cds that were part of my collection and listened to things I hadn’t listened to for years. And I bought and listened to new cds to fill in some gaps in the musical history.
I’ve tried to separate the things people write when they embellish the facts, from the facts themselves. What I found ended up surprising me a bit. I think there is a largely forgotten / overlooked chapter in the story of West Coast Swing. One thing to note is that the sources I found have no vested interest in the subject of West Coast Swing, or what music it was danced to, and therefore, no reason to embellish.
I present this information for you to consider. Some of this was posted earlier. I hope that this presentation is coherent. I fully realize that you may come to a different conclusion than I did.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
The When and Where of "Original music West Coast Swing was danced to"

To discuss the music West Coast Swing was danced to "originally" is a bit academic. There are those who argue that WCS existed in the late 1930s. That argument rests on the testimony of people who say they were there and were dancing WCS, (maybe later I’ll add a few comments about personal testimony), and the existence of the song "Sophisticated Swing" from 1938. Sophisticated Swing is one of the 1950s names given to what we now call Western Coast Swing.
Most accounts credit Lauré Haile (with a mandate from Arthur Murray studios) for surveying and documenting the dance scene in the Los Angeles area "in the 1940s". (Those who want the dance to be older write that it was the early 40s, but I haven’t seen anything convincing on that. Several web sites state that Haile began working for Arthur Murray in 1945. And if she was doing this for Murray...) A 1947 book by Murray states that there are different styles of swing in different regions of the country. Haile’s notes are reported to have been published as a syllabus for the Santa Monica Arthur Murray Dance Studio in 1951. She called what she saw an documented "Western Swing".

Late in the 1950s Skippy Blair, who had a dance studio in Downey, California within the Los Angeles Basin, began using the name "West Coast Swing" for what had previously been called "Western Swing". She made this name change, she has written, because "Nothing Western was welcome in Downey in 1958". Skippy has written that it took years before that name became widely accepted.
Many people argue that WCS like dances emerged in more than one place in the USA. That may be true, but there appears to be a documented "chain of custody" to go along with the Los Angeles area claim: Western Swing was "documented" , and was later renamed, West Coast Swing in the LA Basin.
So, I have been investigating what kind of music people were dancing to in the Los Angeles during the 1940s.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
What did people dance to in the LA area in the 1940s?

Both Skippy Blair and Sonny Watson were helpful in getting me started, since they both mentioned country, blues, and other styles of music in personal communications. Most people think of Big Band Swing when they think of the 1940s. I did too. What I didn’t know was that there were Big Bands that played a dance music which became known as "Western Swing" (~1945), and that it was hugely popular in the LA area in throughout the 1940s.
It would be an understatement to say that we don’t think of Los Angeles when we think of country music. Remember, though, that around 60 years have gone by since the 40s.
The music that became known as Western Swing originated in the dance halls of small towns throughout the Lower Great Plains in the 1920s and 1930s, evolving from the old house parties and ranch dances where fiddlers and guitarists entertained dancers. Some of the musicians involved, Bob Wills among others, added more and more elements of the then popular jazz style of swing to their music.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
What does this have to do with LA?
You may be familiar with the novel "The Grapes of Wrath" written by John Steinbeck in 1939. Steinbeck wrote about the effect of the Depression and the Dust Bowl on people of the southern Plains.
"And then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food." All of these people were moving to California.
The migration continued when the US became involved in WW II, and people from the same part of the country were attracted to the Los Angeles area by jobs in the defense and related industries.
When Bobs Will and His Texas Playboys traveled to Hollywood to appear in "Take Me Back to Oklahoma" in 1940, they may have started the Western Swing craze in LA. Wills and His Texas Playboys had been hugely popular in Oklahoma playing for thousands of dancers at Cain’s Ballroom
(History), and moved to LA in 1943.

There were other musicians playing this kind of music in the LA basin. Here are some reports taken from sites that don’t give a rip about what West Coast Swing was danced to.
During the early days of WWII National Guardsmen patrolled the beaches of Venice, California in search of enemy submarines and ships. During the daytime, Venice became a major draw for sailors and soldiers on weekend leave. Country Western and Swing music echoed from the dance halls and casino lounges.
There are numerous reports of there being thousands of people (up to 10,000) at events where Western Swing was being played in the Los Angeles area in the 1940s. http://www.noshow.freewire.co.uk/kingswing.htm
1945 Bob Wills reported making $340,00 year in Time magazine; Bob Wills’ dances outdraw
Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman; ;
Western Swing was popular. People were dancing to it. How did they dance to Swing music with a Western sound? The answer seemed pretty obvious to me. Then I came across this:
Bands playing Western Swing attracted "people (who) were top-notch jitterbugging, jumping around, cutting loose and going crazy" during the 1940s and into the 1950s. In the Los Angeles area, the Venice Pier Ballroom, the Riverside Rancho in Los Feliz, and the Santa Monica Ballroom were all homes to popular Western Swing bands.


Steve Pastor

Staff member
Blues in Los Angeles in the 1940s
If you look at web sites that talk about West Coast Swing, most seem to have drawn a connection between WCS and blues. So, here’s what I found regarding blues in the Los Angles area in the 1940s.
People that listened to Western Swing weren’t the only ones who had moved to LA. Blues musicians and people that listened to blues had also relocated for some of the same reasons as the Western Swing crowd.
But, due to the fact that Southern California was a different environment, blues was changing into something that would later be called "jump blues". Author Lawrence Cohn writes the following in his book "Nothing But the Blues" (page 175) in describing the Los Angeles blues scene in the 1940s. "There were seventy-five thousand black Angelenos in 1940..." "The influx of southwestern migrants accelerated with WWII and ample employment in defense plants, factories, and oil fields. The housing crunch was eased by the wartime interment of the Japanese. By 1950, there were more than two hundred blacks living in Los Angeles. What had been dubbed "Little Tokyo" soon became "Little Harlem"." "Clubs mushroomed along Central during the 1940s for the entertainment of the locals, servicemen, and the occasional show biz "swells" gone slumming."
LA "jump blues" reflected the LA environment and often incorporated "a jazzy sophistication" including bebop influences. Jump blues was an important step in the evolution of American music.
No doubt there was dancing going on at these clubs. Other than what Cohn wrote, I have been unable to establish the number of people who danced in the clubs along Central Avenue, or the fact that they danced swing to jump blues. In a recent post I noted the absence of anything that looked like West Coast Swing in the early part of the film "Ray". The film portrays Ray Charles’ years in both Seattle and Los Angeles from the later half of the 1940s to the early 1950s. The film makers did not include West Coast Swing dancers in the club scenes. D nice commented recently that this was an accurate portrayal of dancing in that time and place.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Where did Lauré Haile observe dancers?

So far as we know, Laur
é Haile’s assignment was to document how people were dancing in the LA area, and her syllabus was used in the Santa Monica Arthur Murray Studio. Did she go 20 miles to Central Avenue and ignore what was going on in Santa Monica, and the other places that had thousands of people dancing and jitterbugging to Western Swing?
And, did she decide to call the dance Western Swing without expecting it to be associated with a style of music that had been wildly popular in the LA basin for over a decade?
There was another type of "country" music that became popular in the second half of the 1940s - Country or Hillbilly Boogie.
The scene in "Ray" where the Florida Playboys tell Ray Charles that they are a country band and don’t play any boogie woogie happened before this trend started. (Ray gets the gig anyhow.) Country boogie was another route to early rock ‘n’ roll.
In 1951 country music was still very popular in the Los Angeles Basin. Here’s an example. 400 South Long Beach Boulevard in the suburb of Compton in Los Angeles, California was the site of California's largest barn dance. The Town Hall Barn Dance ran on Friday and Saturday nights from 1951 through 1961. Over 2,000 people paid to attend, and over 1,000 people danced to live performances of popular entertainers. The shows were broadcast both on radio and television."

Steve Pastor

Staff member
People may have danced a proto West Coast Swing to blues in the 1940s, but jump blues seems to have been more popular than blues generically, and I have found no evidence of this

The rest of the story is that in the likely time and place that WCS was identified, there was a very popular dance music called Western Swing, and Laur
é Haile used the same words as the name of the dance that became West Coast Swing. It’s hard for me to believe that it is mere coincidence.


Well-Known Member

I had the pleasure of knowing her from my days with the a/m studio ( late fifties ) in l.a. She had called me at the studio( hadn.t been from u.k. but 5 minutes ! ) and wanted to meet me. she was one of the sweetest persons you could wish to know .
One of the main stays in music, for many schools, was Bill Black-- fabulous to teach and dance to . There were , of course many others, but he seemed to be the band of choice for most teachers .

Having worked both coasts in the sixties, I can tell you that w.c. was not even taught in the eastern schools . There is also a version in texas called the" push ". If memory serves me well, it had a strong w.c. influence .

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I just hit a site with an approved page for Bill Black. It is interesting to listen to, and learn about who was playing what when. Things changed a lot as the 50s went on. And then there were the 60s. Etc
Way too often when people write things, they collapse whole decades, or even combine them. Then there is the problem that sometimes music is referred to by a different name. either old or new. That makes it difficult to talk about things. On of my favorites is when people write "R&B and blues". R&B included blues when the term come into use. R&B is short for Rhythm and Blues. Of course now, the term R&B means something else, and blues is separate.
Too bad Lauré isn't around to tell us how she remembers it. Meanwhile, we have to look at what was around then, and what was popular, and do our best to sort through things. And that's a good thing to do, regardless.
"Trust, but verify."
Really interesting. A few things, some corrections, some cautions, some just expansions.

You have Blues and Rhythm and Blues backwards. Rhythm & Blues came out of Blues, with some rhythmic, improvisational, and instrumental changes. By the time it had it's own name it was no longer refered to as Blues by its musicians or the originating culture.

Jump Blues is actually Blues music, especially since the type of Jump Blues being discussed is properly termed West Coast Blues it is important to understand that it is in fact a sub-genre, not a seperate form of music unto itself.

Be careful about assuming that something done by a Ballroom Chain studio mandate is even remotely accurate until you get independant verification from the vernacular/folk version and setting. The Ballroom industry as a general rule does not create but imitates or synthesizes, often with changes to make things better fit into their perview and teaching method. Not to take anything away from Laurie or to thereby say your info is not good or accurate on this count, just that the Ballroom version of any dance technically, artistically and historically/culturally is always different than the original. Without other direct verification I would be cautious about giving it as much weight as if it had been.

Jitterbug is a catchall term that has no bearing to any specific dance style. It was most often used in the 30's and early 40's as a perjorative for wild dancers of any non-ballroom variety. It is just as likely to have been used to describe Bal-swing dancers or Lindy Hoppers as it is to have described West Coast Swing Dancers.

Boogie Woogie as referenced in the movie Ray was about the Stride/Barrelhouse style of Piano Playing that was first described in 1880 and was recorded in 1922 and grew in popularity in from Texas to Chicago. It surged into popularity (read out of the Black and rural White communities) in the late '30s and was a mainstay in the early 40's. It greatly influenced Rock & Roll artists like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In all likely hood what was to be termed Western Swing and what would later be called West Coast Swing would have been danced in several different clubs to several different kinds of music. I doubt Laurie went to all the clubs where the dance was being done, certainly not to the black clubs during that time period.

If you want an alternate view of WCS history you may want to talk to Peter Loggins about the Ray Rand Dancers, Irene Thomas, and Dean Collins.

The research you did though shows an unrevealed side of West Coast Swing and should certainly be propagated and incorporated creating a more rounded view of the dance. Kudos.


Well-Known Member

You said " any " dance loses its original form AFTER the b/room world adapts it ?
Couple of examples that have retained their original form-- V. Waltz and Cuban Rhumba .
Could site you other e.g.. Think it might be more apropro, to say they embelish the basic concept by adding variety . And I speak from an empirical viewpoint having been " around " this dance scene, since the thirties . Witnessed the advent of J/ bug changing to Jive and Cuban Bolero being adapted to become the Intern style of rhumba . And by the way, there are those still around , who can go back farther than I .

Some thing that might interest you , as far as v.w. is concerned. Out of all the dances being taught and danced, it is the only one ( in intern style ) , that has been given a restricted number of steps. The dance council, when trying to add, were strongly opposed by the german chapters, on the grounds of keeping it closer to its original construction .
Well "Jitterbug" East Coast Swing was the ballroom adaption of Lindy Hop. As was Boogie Woogie, Bugg, Rock-n-Roll, and Jive.

Vienesse Waltz is definitely not like the original version which was much more closely tied to the Rotary Waltz. The original had none of the breakaway figures or leans and pauses so rife in the social and competitive styles.

Salsa and Mambo are two other excellent examples where entire books could be written.

The Afro-Cuban Rhumba of 1890 is also not what is being taught or danced at social ballroom dances and competitions. You might belong to a specific school where the teacher is a dance historian and teaches the original form, but what is taught internationally has been watered down, practically castrated. It was considered a lewd animalistic dance.

Now the International/European version is closer to what was originally taught than the American version, but despite several instructors adding the identifier "original Cuban" or "authentic Cuban" to what they teach, unless they literally were taught by people who danced in Cuba at the end of the 19th Century in the Black dance halls and night clubs they are simply passing on the 30's style dance that gained popularity outside of Cuba.


Well-Known Member

Now you,re jumping on my b/ wagon !. Have complained for yrs about the " destruction " and RE construction, of pretty much all rhythm dances. ( smooth for a later discussion ) .
When people use the term " authentic ", one has to classify specifically to what area you are pertaining. Music ?-- Content ?-- Style ?.

It would be nigh impossible to retain the complete original intent ( from an interpretative point ) and make it a sociably acceptable " animal " . However, content ( my biggest complaint ) has
taken most dances beyond recognition. Many will say ,-- progress-- , the point is moot . Most of the older latinos, in my past yrs of experience, would argue vehemently against that proposition .

From a musical stand point, we are all aware of the influences made by the n.y. scene in the seventies . This changed the face of Mambo / salsa forever, affecting style , as well as content .
I have to conclude with this admission ( I am english)--- the international " style " latin ( there,s an oxymoron for you ) has taken a perfectly sound concept, and changed it to a balletic exercise to music ( used to be ANY old music, tho it has got better )

Steve Pastor

Staff member
The term "rhythm and blues" was coined as a musical marketing term in the United States in 1947 by Jerry Wexler at ''Billboard'' magazine. Sacks, Leo (Aug. 29, 1993). "The Soul of Jerry Wexler". ''New York Times''. Retrieved from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE7D7163BF93AA1575BC0A965958260 on Jan. 11, 2007. It replaced the term "race music" (which originally came from within the black community, but was deemed offensive in the more positive postwar world Cohn, Lawrence: "Nothing But the Blues" page 314, 1993), and the Billboard category ''Harlem Hit Parade'' in June 1949.
In 1948, RCA Victor was marketing music under the name ''Blues and Rhythm''. The words were reversed by Wexler of Atlantic Records, the leading label in the R&B field in the early years. Sacks, Leo (Aug. 29, 1993). "The Soul of Jerry Wexler". ''New York Times''. Retrieved from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE7D7163BF93AA1575BC0A965958260 on Jan. 11, 2007.
In ''Rock & Roll: An Unruly History'' (1995) Robert Palmer defines "rhythm and blues" as a catchall rubric used to refer to any music that was made by and for black Americans. In his 1981 book ''Deep Blues'' Palmer used "R&B" as a synonym for jump blues. Lawrence Cohn, author of ''Nothing but the Blues'', writes that rhythm and blues was an umbrella term invented for industry convenience, which embraced all black music except classical music and religious music, unless a gospel song sold enough to break into the charts.

So, during the late 40s, early 50s Rhythm and Blues included Blues.
The meaning of the term r&b has evolved over the years, however.
To me, if you are discussing that period, and you write r&b and blues, you are being redundant. Others may not think so.

But, yes, I agree, r&b grew out of blues. But later, blues came out of r&b to stand on its own as something to be "marketed", even though it was the same thing all along.

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