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Teaching Jazz Swing Style

jbtsax

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I have had this in the back of my mind for a while and thought I would share it with my friends on Cafe Sax when I found the time. Many of us, myself included when playing jazz or trying to learn to improvise get so focused on the correct notes to play that we often let the "time" or the rhythm of the tune suffer. In fact, one of the things that often separates a great improviser from a good improviser is how well they play "in time" with the rhythm section or accompaniment.

This is a very simple concept that I first learned from Dr. Ray Smith the director of Synthesis at Brigham Young University, an internationally acclaimed jazz ensemble. He taught that in swing music, every rhythm must "lock into" the underlying triplet pattern in the music---just as though it is in 12/8 time. Younger players especially tend to "rush" rhythmic figures when learning to play jazz charts. Practicing their parts with an amplified drum machine set to 12/8 does wonders for the time and rhythm, and when they go back to playing with a ride cymbal "suggesting" 12/8 time they sound like much more mature players. It even helps with rhythmic precision and ensemble playing.

I have included a link to a pdf file of an excerpt of Shiny Stockings showing on the top staff how the rhythm is written in the chart, and on the staff below how the rhythm is actually played by an experienced player. Also included are links to sound files of the song played both ways.

Shiny Stockings sheet music

Shiny Stockings played in Jazz Style

Shiny Stockings played as written
 

Young Col

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Fred Astaire just oozed rhythm, even when just walking.
 

jbtsax

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This guy taught me a lot about swing rhythms too.

 

jbtsax

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Thanks for that video Colin. That certainly is the best of both worlds.
 

Young Col

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Actually reading jbt's OP it chimed with something in my memory that I have now found (on paper, not necessarilly in the recesses of the YC mind) and it's in Humphrey Lyttleton's writings on The Best of Jazz. The late Humph, for any of those who don't know him, perhaps our across the pond friends, was an excellent British mainstream trumpeter, broadcaster and writer on jazz and hilarious master of radio quiz shows.

Writing on Louis Armstrong he said that one of Louis' greatest contributions, apart from transforming jazz into a solo art form, was in rhythmic invention. As early as his 1923 records with King Oliver he was using a loping stride across phrases "which formal notation would describe as in 12/8 time" He says that the notion of subdividing the four beats in a bar not into eight quavers but into 12 quavers arranged as triplets was no doubt instrinctive to Louis, who was no musical theoretician. While he wasn't the only musican around to feel music in this way - Sidney Bechet and Bessie Smith ceratinly had a good grasp of it - he was the first person to show such assurance in such a new concept.

Humph also says "we have to remind ourselves that Louis' phrases were built, not on the one-and-two-and-three-and-four rhythm of early jazz, but a one-and-a-two-and-a-three-and-a-four rhythm in which the four crotchets (ie quarter notes) to the bar of conventional four-four time were broken up into four sets of quaver (ie eighth note) triplets -"da da da, da da da, da da da, da da da."

This seems to me to be exactly what jbt describes Dr Ray Smith as teaching. It took me a little while to get it, but it's actually really obvious whenever you see something that says "swing rhythm" at the top rather than "straight eights" or the music just seems to need it. Indeed it's far better to just indicate that, as to write a time of 12/8 or notate dotted quavers followed by semiquavers in 4/4 would inevitably straightjacket the music. You have to feel it.
 

Colin the Bear

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Trying to programme an eighties sequencer to play the "A Train" by replacing a pair of quavers with triplets and tying the first two made it swing a little but it still lacked a certain something. Missing the first of the triplets and coming in on the second, playing behind the beat, or coming in on the last triplet and playing infront of the beat helped too. You need a solid rhythm section to play infront of the beat live. They try to catch you up lol
 

Zootsax

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Using the 12/8 feel as a tool for learning swing, especially swing of that era, isn't that far off from the way the musicians actually felt the music. Especially with bands like Basie, they swung so well it sounded as if they literally were about to lose the beat. Amazing stuff.
 

trimmy

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After listening to Battle of the Bands on Radio 2 last week ( which was excellent ), you can now watch it on Sunday night 7pm BBC4
Bassie v Ellington
I'm looking forward to it (again)
 

Andrew Sanders

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Trying to programme an eighties sequencer to play the "A Train" by replacing a pair of quavers with triplets and tying the first two made it swing a little but it still lacked a certain something. Missing the first of the triplets and coming in on the second, playing behind the beat, or coming in on the last triplet and playing infront of the beat helped too. You need a solid rhythm section to play infront of the beat live. They try to catch you up lol

I once tried to explain "rhythmic displacement and anticipation of chord changes" to a drummer, and he said
"So you don't know the tune, fair enough".
 

jbtsax

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Nothing exemplifies the Basie "laid back" style of swing better than this. Lil Darlin
 

gtriever

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One of my favorite Hefti tunes! As we used to say, 'That's so laid back it's almost comatose!' :D
 

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