This strange collection traces the development of the big band from 1923 to 1952, as recorded for RCA Victor. "Swingin' Uptown" is rather a misleading title, however, and it is not explained in the annotation by either producer Orrin Keepnews or Loren Schoenberg. "Uptown" normally suggests Harlem, but exactly half the 44 tracks are by white groups, few of which ever played there. Represented by "Saturday Night Function" and "Sepia Panorama," Ellington's is justly the only band to appear twice.
The choices, for that matter, do not appear to have been made to illustrate the significance of swinging. On the second disc, in fact, "Midnight Stroll" by Erskine Hawkins comes as a considerable relief, for here a Savoy ballroom favorite shows what made swing so attractive and popular. Nevertheless, the contrasts between the different styles are often interesting and there are many surprises. For example, territory bands like Boots and His Buddies ("Blues for Avalaon") and Harlan Leonard's Rockets ("A la Bridges") sound far better today than some of the highly touted Easterners. Then, too, the set illustrates the gradual disassociation from dances and dance-inspiring rhythm.
In the notes on the first disc's content, Schoenberg does well to emphasize the importance of Frankie Trumbauer, which was eventually overshadowed by the Bix Beiderbecke legend, although it was considerable. Benny Goodman's "Sugar Foot Stomp" achieved a fortunate synthesis in 1937 between black and white orchestral approaches that was not, on the evidence here, to be maintained.