Want to add some swing to your wedding reception? Get some jazz on the jukebox and start dancing!
If you are planning a vintage wedding with a 1930s or ’40s theme, swing jazz is the only truly authentic option for musical entertainment. It’s just a fantastic music option to inject some old-school romance into your big day nonetheless. Your guests are guaranteed to get up and dance along too!
A Little Thing or Two…
The era of 1920s jazz ushered in a new style of music in the ’30s and ’40s. Swing jazz or, more simply, swing, is characterised by the emphasis falling on the off-beat.
The term ‘swing’ refers to two things: a rhythmic feel that music creates, such as toe tapping, and more specifically, a musical technique most common in jazz. The style saw resurgence in the 1950s and has influenced other subgenres, such as bebop.
Swing jazz is perfect wedding music because it can reach out to all generations. Your older guests will remember the songs from their youth while the younger members of the audience can connect with the more modern interpretations by Jamie Cullum, Robbie Williams and Michael Bublé.
Added to this, the upbeat and happy tempo combined with fun and quick witted lyrics gives the music a naturally celebratory feel. It’s the perfect genre to get your wedding guests up and jiving on the dance floor – we promise! Even slower songs with the same rhythm encourage people to find their dancing feet.
Jazz and, by default, swing music, is known for having standards. In other words, there are songs that are common to the repertoire of many musicians. Because of this, you can find a song and choose from tens of different versions for your DJ to play. Furthermore, each artist puts their own spin on a track, so you get a little something different.
To help you choose the right playlist for your big day, we’ve come up with a list of our top ten swing jazz wedding songs. Take a peek below…
It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
Let’s kick things off with a song that even has the musical style in the title. Duke Ellington was a legendary Big Band leader. He won countless awards and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the recording industry.
The song has become a true jazz standard and has been recorded by countless artists. It is the closing track on Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s 2014 album Cheek to Cheek, their tribute to jazz. If you want to know what swing sounds like, this is the song.
All of Me
Written in 1931, “All of Me” went on to become one of the most recorded songs of its era with notable versions by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. It appeared in the films Careless Lady and, sung by Frank Sinatra, in Meet Danny Wilson. It has been used as the base for many other jazz songs.
The song is unusual because of the changing emotions throughout. As The Jazz Standards Guide describes, it “combines the contradictory possibilities of the song. The downward thrusts of the opening phrases hint at emotional despair while the closing line, with its repeated high notes, seems almost jubilant.”
The song initially describes the potential outcome of a wedding night. Although it goes on to warn of the potential subsequent pitfalls of marital and extra-marital intimacy, its ironic light-hearted setting makes it an all-time jazz favourite.
The song was composed by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson, and featured in the 1928 musical Whoopee! starring Ruth Etting.
My Blue Heaven
An upbeat little ditty full of metaphors about the joys of love – perfect for a wedding celebration! The story goes that Walter Donaldson wrote the song in 1924 while waiting for the billiard table. Gene Austin wanted to record the song and for it to be a big hit. When the session musicians packed up, rumour has it that Austin grabbed the nearest cellist, pianist and whistler and recorded his version.
In 1956, the song soared to popularity again with the release of Fats Domino’s version.
Cheek To Cheek
A song that seems to have been written with the first dance in mind! Irving Berlin wrote this hit for the 1935 film Top Hat. The scene in question involves Fred Astaire singing to dance partner Ginger Rogers. If you and your partner could learn the routine, it would certainly make an impact! Though, you may have to do without the mansion and tap shoes!
Over The Rainbow
Every single one of your guests will know this classic, made famous when it was featured in The Wizard of Oz. We’re sure they’ll all be able to sing along too.
Another popular version, actually a medley, was released by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole in 1993. This version also features What a Wonderful World, made popular by Louis Armstrong, and takes a more reggae approach. The song was so popular in his home of Hawaii – and is so linked with his identity – that the music video features scenes from his funeral.
More recently, Ariana Grande performed the song at One Love Manchester, two weeks after the Manchester Arena bombing. She donated all proceeds from sale of the song to the British Red Cross.
When the pace needs to be slowed down a little, this is the perfect song for a slow dance. Watch as the couples join together to this song, originally composed by George Gershwin. It was written for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, and the lyrics were penned by DuBose Heyward. The song appears several times throughout the opera, which Gershwin composed in the style of African American folk music.
The popularity of this songs means that there have been over 25,000 versions recorded. Billie Holiday was the first to let it hit the pop charts, reaching number 12 in 1936.
The lyrics to this one are all about devotion – what could be more appropriate for your wedding day? The style of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” can be described as stride jazz as well as swing. Fats Waller and Harry Brooks composed the score and six versions of it made the charts in 1929.
Waller rerecorded the song for his appearance in the 1943 film Stormy Weather where he plays himself. This performance is so marvellously cheeky that we just had to share it with you.
Night and Day
Cole Porter wrote “Night and Day” for the 1932 musical Gay Divorce, starring Fred Astaire. Two years later, a film version of the musical was released, called Gay Divorcee starring Astaire alongside Ginger Rogers. The song was so intrinsic to Porter’s career that it became the title of the 1946 film of his life.
There are various stories about how the song originated, including an Islamic prayer. The song has been covered by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Ringo Starr to U2 and Bradley Walsh.
Orange Colored Sky
Any song that contains the lyric “Flash, Bam, Alakazam” is a hit with us! Released much later than other songs on our list, Orange Colored Sky was Milton DeLugg and Willie Stein in 1950. Nat King Cole recorded his version in August of the same year and it stayed on the Billboard chart for 13 weeks. This song has even been sung by The Muppets (with Lynda Carter), though maybe this isn’t the version you should play at your wedding reception!
There are hundreds of other classic songs written, performed and recorded in the swing jazz era that would fit in perfectly at a wedding. We’d love to hear any suggestions you might have – leave a comment below!