‘Hooked On Swing’ Leader Larry Elgart Passes

Larry Elgart, best known to younger generations as the musical genius behind the ‘Hooked On Swing’ hits and co-founder of the Elgart Big Band, has passed. The alto saxophone player worked with some of the most popular big bands of the era, including that of Tommy Dorsey, Red Norvo, Woody Herman, and Charlie Spivak. The artist and band leader was 95 and died in Sarasota, Florida.

Elgart was born in New London, Connecticut, USA, March 20, 1922. As a boy, Larry had been mesmerized by big bands on the radio, and he began playing clarinet by the age of nine before taking up the sax.

Elgart, along with this brother Les, formed the ‘Les & Larry Elgart Big Band’ in the late 1940’s, and together wrote the theme for Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” television show. Larry was a collaborator of other noted arrangers including Ralph Flanagan and Nelson Riddle. In 1953, the team of Les and Larry enjoyed success with release of the band’s album titled “Sophisticated Swing”. After the brothers went their separate ways in the late 1960s, Larry Elgart continued an active recording career, and in the 1980’s enjoyed success with a string of chart-topping medleys of big band tunes called “Hooked On Swing”.

“Hooked on Swing” (1982) was an album which essentially discotized many of songs first popularized during the 1930s and 1940s by Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. The initial concept album sold more than three million copies and launched two subsequent million-plus selling “Hooked on Swing” albums of what Elgart called “fusion swing” arranged by pianist Dick Hyman.

“Hooked on Swing” was credited at times with helping fuel the surge in revival of interest in big band music. “I feel very good about the renewed interest in swing,” Elgart said in an 1983 interview, adding that he “tried to make the music of the swing era something today’s young people can relate to. The music was fun then and should be now. I am amazed, really, that so many young people know these tunes. They can’t tell you how they know them — old films, TV? We were talking about [arrangers such as] Gil Evans and Bill Finegan. They wouldn’t know who they were, but they know every tune.”

The Elgart band’s repertoire included big-band favorites, Cha Chas and Bossa Nova standards, and was best recognized less by its choice of material than what Elgart did with it. He created what he affectionately called the “Elgart sound”- the uplifting bounce of its tempos, crisp attack of its horn section and swingy flourishes of the saxophones.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Lynn Walzer Elgart, and two sons from his first marriage, Brock Elgart of Framingham, Massachusetts and Brad Elgart of Ashland, Massachusetts; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His brother Les Elgart died in 1995.