Tuesday 15 March 2016

What is swing music? A personal view

Swing is a particular rhythm which is very simple - yet not really.

The rhythm is this:

The Quintet of the Hot Club of Paris - Sweet Georgia Brown

So it's not really very difficult to understand, to play, to appreciate swing. 

But the fact is it wasn't used until the twentieth century - wasn't popular until less than 100 years ago. Which I find interesting - swing seems to be one of the those inventions that is so simple and obvious that it needs a genius to discover. But once it was discovered, that rhythm tore through mass popular music and was dominant for a couple of decades.

One place I see it is in the transition from the solid foursquare left hand rhythm of ragtime piano to the swinging left hand part on stride piano: here is Fats Waller:

Still a lot of syncopation (and now improvisation) in the right hand but this new rhythm. Indeed, my own definition of swing proper is that it is an evolution of ragtime that retains the use of syncopation (triplets) in the treble part, but uses this differently-stressed version of 4/4 rhythm in the bass part.

Indeed, listening to Waller, I thing swing should perhaps have been called 'spring' - because there is a sense of springing-off from the first beat of the bar: 

Anyway, swing sounds simple - it is simple - but it is almost impossible to write down using using musical notation. Which I presume is why it took so long to discover. 

You just have to hear it, then do it.

But this means that it was also fiendishly difficult to program into a synthesised drum machine. I had a drum machine, back in the early 1980s, and it could do almost anything - but not swing. 

Swing rhythm only really began to work in electronic music when sampled, instead of synthesised, sounds became usual.

The rhythm is still reasonably popular - and has its own genre Electro-Swing. 

And here is Caravan Palace - a French band consciously revisiting The Hot Club of Paris Quintet sound:


Song lyrics said...

Excellent music style

Nathaniel said...

Sounds not totally unlike Southern American "Blue Grass" I am so fond of.

Karl said...

As Peter Schickele used to remind us:
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that certain je ne sais quoi.

J. Max Wilson said...

I became a fan of swing, jive, and jump blues during the brief "Neo-swing" revival that evolved out of the punk and ska scenes in the late 1990s. The revival swing of that era attracted some musicians that had previously only been involved in rock music, and who incorporated some punk-rock ideas into their swing. Two of my favorite bands from that time ate The Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. I can't recommend everything

Some of my favorite songs from 90s' neo-swing bands include:

Squirrel Nut Zippers:

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy:

The Atomic Fireballs:

Cherry Poppin' Daddies:

The Big Six:

The Brian Setzer Orchestra:

The Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra:

Tom Maxwell:

Utah even produced it's own short-lived punk-swing band called The Moxie Tonic Medicine Show, which never recorded a full album, only 3 or so demo songs: