Swing Era of jazz began at L.A.'s Palomar Ballroom

On Aug. 21, 1935, Benny Goodman and his band were turning in an uninspired set before thousands at the Palomar Ballroom, billed as the largest dance hall on the West Coast, at 3rd Street and Vermont Avenue. The audience, at the Palomar and on radio across the country, had heard this Goodman fellow was exciting and expected more. So Goodman pulled out some new arrangements and the band cut loose. So did the dancers, L.A. went jazz crazy, and swing took off as a cultural phenomenon, according to several accounts.

"The sound of swing, which utterly dominated the American popular-music scene in the late 1930s and early 1940s, instantly evokes images of tuxedo-clad Big Bands and dance floors crowded with exuberant jitterbugs," writes "Benny Goodman and his band emphatically opened the Swing Era with an exuberant performance witnessed by thousands of young fans in the live audience and millions more tuning in to a live radio broadcast."

LA History on Twitter quotes Goodman saying "To our complete amazement, half the crowd stopped dancing and came surging around [the bandstand]...that was the moment that decided things for me....The first big roar from crowd was one of sweetest sounds I ever heard in my life." His biography calls the importance given the Palomar show an exaggeration, since Duke Ellington and other black bands had been playing swing, but the Palomar performance popularized the music among white audiences.

The Palomar, which had opened in 1925 as El Patio Ballroom, burned down on Oct. 2, 1939. By some reports, the fire trucks went to the wrong address and were delayed. The site is now a Vons market, says LA History.

Photo part of series here.

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