- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

Swing music reached its artistic peak during World War II and was a factor in the Allies' victory, veteran bandleader says.
"It was able to help us win the war. It had that much emotional power to it," he says.
Historians might debate the trombone-wielding bandleader's take on history, but few would play down swing music's stranglehold on American pop culture during the war years or its enduring appeal.
Mr. Felten, a bandleader and crooner from Washington, takes center stage to illustrate those points in a new PBS special, "The Big Band Sound of World War II," which debuts at 9 p.m. Friday on WETA-TV.
Before staging the show, Mr. Felten researched the era's greatest hits to make sure the song selection sets the proper mood.
A couple of numbers performed by the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra are in their original arrangements. The rest are treated as if his orchestra were any other touring in the 1940s, putting its own spin on the hits of the day.
Some songs covered during the special camped out at the top of charts, such as "In the Mood." Others, like "Waitin' for the Train to Come In," sold fewer platters but captured the essence of the period.
"It was as awful a time as man has known, yet the spirit of the era was very much of optimism in the face of the challenge," Mr. Felten says. "There's a sense of hopefulness and of knowing what needs to be done right now."
For Mr. Felten, music became something he simply had to do at an early age. He began playing the clarinet at 3 after his older brother embraced the trumpet.
"I had to have an instrument, too," he explains with a laugh.
Later, he switched over to the trombone to be more like his grandfather, Lester Felten Sr., who today at 95 continues to perform as a trombone player.
Mr. Felten eventually became a journalist, including a long gig as an editorial writer with The Washington Times (1993-99). But he continued performing, and today he works regularly as a recording artist and in-demand band leader.
Swing-era tunes "were music of the highest artistic caliber," he says, "yet it was the popular music of the day. That's what draws me to it."

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