Blue Rhythm Fantasy

Big Band Jazz Arranging in the Swing Era
Author: John Wriggle
Discovering the overlooked arrangers who built the Swing Era sound
Cloth – $125
Paper – $30
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Cloth: 08/29/2016
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About the Book

Behind the iconic jazz orchestras, vocalists, and stage productions of the Swing Era lay the talents of popular music's unsung heroes: the arrangers. John Wriggle takes you behind the scenes of New York City's vibrant entertainment industry of the 1930s and 1940s to uncover the lives and work of jazz arrangers, both black and white, who left an indelible mark on American music and culture.

Blue Rhythm Fantasy traces the extraordinary career of arranger Chappie Willet--a collaborator of Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, and many others--to revisit legendary Swing Era venues and performers from Harlem to Times Square. Wriggle's insightful music analyses of big band arranging techniques explore representations of cultural modernism, discourses on art and commercialism, conceptions of race and cultural identity, music industry marketing strategies, and stage entertainment variety genres.

Drawing on archives, obscure recordings, untapped sources in the African American press, and interviews with participants, Blue Rhythm Fantasy is a long-overdue study of the arranger during this dynamic era of American music history.

* Supported by the AMS 75 PAYS Endowment of the American Musicological Society, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About the Author

John Wriggle is a musicologist, composer, arranger, and trombonist. He has taught for the City University of New York, Rutgers University, and Boston University.


"Illuminating, and entertaining. . . . This is a book that any lover of jazz, swing or theater music would find accessible and rewarding."--The Arts Fuse

"[T]he authorial tone is far from dry, and his historical analysis is genuinely valuable . . . and the greatest value in this unusual book is allowing to see inside Willet's world and the place he occupied within it and belatedly, perhaps, to pay tribute to his prowess and that of his peers."--Jazzwise

"Blue Rhythm Fantasy is a wonderfully enlightening experience. . . .A splendidly-documented exploration of an artist and his musical world that will both answer and raise many questions. "--Jazz Lives

"Meticulously researched and elegantly written." --Music References Services Quarterly

"Recommended." --Choice


"Writers have always been quick to heap praise on the soloists, vocalists and composers of the Swing Era but John Wriggle's Blue Rhythm Fantasy finally shines the spotlight on the craftsmen who really made the Swing Era swing: the arrangers. Having done a monumental amount of research, Wriggle invites the reader to listen to the music of the big bands with a fresh set of ears and a fresh amount of appreciation for many of the unsung heroes of that era, most notably the great Chappie Willet. An important book not just for jazz studies but for anyone interested in the entire popular music spectrum of the 1930s and 40s."--Ricky Riccardi, author of What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years and Director of Research Collections, Louis Armstrong House Museum

"The unsung artists and business people who were the backbone and lifeblood of the popular music business in NYC in the 1930s and '40s are finally the heroes in this excellent and extremely well-researched book. This exciting new teaching tool brings to the fore those crucial musicians who kept all types of popular entertainment flowing by creatively and professionally combining such diverse job titles as composer, arranger, orchestrator, and copyist."--Benjamin Bierman, author of Listening to Jazz


• Certificate of Merit for Best Historical Research in Recorded Jazz, Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC), 2017