It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah!
- Irving Mills and Duke Ellington, 1932It's been said that everything old will become new again. So maybe that explains why young Utahns are swinging to the songs of musicians such as Duke Ellington, Louis Prima and Cab Calloway as well as the sounds of more contemporary acts influenced by them.
Or maybe not. Duke, Louis and Cab probably would have never expected to see their audiences sporting bleached, spiked hair, the chain wallets, the multiple pierc-ings or the tattoos some of these young "hepcats" have - along with '30s and '40s-style suits and dresses.
That's not to characterize all the participants in Utah's new swing scene as punk-rockers or style-conscious wannabes in vintage clothing. Members of the less-flashy and clean-cut majority of swing aficionados let their feet, not their wardrobe, do the talking.
In fact, there's only one thing in common for this new brand of "swinger" - they agree how fun it is to be able to actually dance at a concert for a change.
"Once you hear (swing) music you just want to get up and dance. This way it's like getting to play dress up but still do something," said Janel Wilsey, who learned how to dance to swing jazz more than a year ago. Since then, Wilsey has helped organize a variety of swing-themed events for the University of Utah's Swing Kids Club.
And Salt Lake's college crowd certainly isn't alone in its love of all things swing. In Utah County, there are two different swing dance clubs, the BYU Swing Kids and the Utah Valley Lindy Hop Dance Society.
"It's just good, clean fun. Besides, it's a good way to get a workout," said Andrew Exon, who gives lessons on doing the Lindy Hop, the dazzling variation on the Charleston that features flying footwork, twirls, exchanges and kicksteps.
The Lindy Hop seems to be the one favored in Utah, over the straight swing, freestyle, West Coast and East Coast dance styles. But it hasn't completely supplanted line dancing and country swing as Utah's dancestep of choice - at least not yet, according to Bountiful dance instructor Mar-jean Anderson.
"The demand for swing lessons seems to be increasing with each passing month. It's double from what it was even two years ago," said Anderson, who's been teaching dance professionally for 15 years.
And Anderson's students are getting younger and younger. She said she's now getting requests to teach swing to high school and junior high classes.
"It's great when you think that these kids are gaining appreciation for all this great old music," Anderson said.
Contrary to popular belief, the current wave of swing jazz began before the release of the 1996 comedy "Swingers," which looked at the loves and lives of members of Hollywood's "cocktail culture." It flourished almost 10 years ago in California and has slowly spread east, thanks to touring musical acts like Indigo Swing, the Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. And musicians like Salt Lake guitarist Paul Kreutz have helped establish swing footholds in several nearby states.
"I wish there had always been this many (Utahns) interested in swing. It sure would have made my career a lot easier," said Kreutz, who has played in the popular local rockabilly act Voodoo Swing and more recently in the even more successful outfit Atomic Deluxe, which plays a rootsier, honky-tonk brand of music.
Kreutz and his bandmates helped pave the way for more traditional swing acts like the Swingorillas, which features members of Salt Lake's Thirsty Alley and Gaslight District.
"We've definitely benefited from the local bands who came before us. But now it's up to us to make sure people keep swinging," said Swingorillas horn player Dale Lee.
It's also difficult not to credit transplanted Californians like Exon and Mike Harrington, who have been spreading the swing "jones" to other Utahns one person at a time.
"Swing is an original American roots music. It's got a lot of heart as well as great musicianship," Harrington said. "How can you argue with music that offers that plus an irresistible beat?"
Probably the only problem facing these swingers is where to dance. Regular swing nights at one local club were canceled and no others currently offer such ac-tiv-i-ties.
But local concert promoters and club owners have begun attracting touring acts to the area and so far the response has been phe-nom-e-nal.
"Our Big Bad Voodoo Daddy show was packed, so we're looking forward to bringing more of them in," said Sam Callis from the Zephyr Club. Callis also noted that a recent show featuring both Atom-ic Deluxe and the Swing-o-ril-las drew a decent crowd on a weeknight.
The question remains whether this new swing movement is just a brief fad or whether it will endure for years. Kreutz, for one, is hoping for the latter.
"The old swing songs have stood the test of time, so there's no reason why it shouldn't remain popular," he said. As for swing's seeming 50-year-plus lull, Kreutz said he prefers to think of it as "a cooling-off period."