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Author Topic: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?  (Read 17043 times)

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Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2008, 06:13:07 AM »
I have Big Bill Broonzys'  "House Rent Stomp" on a french Vogue label vinyl compilation, where he, in the middle of the song which is played in swung eighth notes, goes into a double stop treble strings lick starting with sudden straight eighth notes, and ending the lick with swung eighth notes again. If memory serves he does this a couple of times, so it's premeditated, I'd guess.

Pan
« Last Edit: January 12, 2008, 04:10:53 PM by Pan »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2008, 07:05:39 AM »
Thanks very much for providing the notational example of what I've been talking about, Pan.  I think the visuals are hugely helpful.  I wish my computer skills were better, so that I would know how to post such an example.  Thanks!  And you are right, of course, that eighths that are meant to be swung are often written as though they were straight eighths.  A lot of Jazz lead sheets are written this way, with an indication to "swing eighth notes" at the top of the page.  Such a practice is an understandable short cut, I guess.  It can get pretty tough at times to try to notate rhythms scrupulously.  In a way, the more accurate the representation is, the harder it is to read.  There is certainly no substitute for hearing music.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Richard

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2008, 07:38:44 AM »
I am afraid the end of Xmas and the New Year has kept me away from this, but I see Pan has just posted a good example of I was going to repond with in respect of Johnm's earlier reply to my dotted quaver question! Complicated eh!

However, in the process of looking I came up with this page... it might seem heavy going but taken in a rhythmic sense it's not quite that bad!

http://www.garciamusic.com/educator/articles/swing.feel.html
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline waxwing

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #18 on: January 04, 2008, 08:11:07 AM »
Interesting, Richard. That guy certainly is a fine practitioner of the art of obfuscating, but I guess the gist is that, technically, in jazz at least, swung eighths do not fall directly on the "let" of "tri-ple-let" but slightly before, just not enough before to be square. Actually, while transcribing Scrapper Blackwell's Back Door Blues using Transcribe! I noticed this phenomenon. Transcribe gives a visual display of the amplitude wave and it was pretty clear to see that Scrapper's swung eighths did not fall at the 2/3 mark of the beat, but again, slightly before. And that varied somewhat throughout.

Personally, I feel that if you start out playing the swung eighths as "lets", and then allow the emotionality of the music to effect your tempo or rhythm a bit, Very slight rubatto(sp?), perhaps, you'll get the "feel" just right for you.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline johneeeveee

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #19 on: January 05, 2008, 12:38:28 PM »
 Hi... cool thread,
 As far as jazz goes, I believe the first guy to bring the (now) traditional swing (ding-ding-da-ding) up to the ride cymbal and really articulate it was Kenny Clarke. Word has it that he was initially fired for his style, which later became the staple of swing and BeBop.

 Peace - jv

Offline Johnm

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #20 on: January 11, 2008, 11:23:38 PM »
Hi all,
One player who excelled at the swung eighth feel was Lil' Son Jackson.  All of his up-tempo blues like "Gambler's Blues" or "Roberta" employs swung eighths which he is able to communicate perfectly in his solo renditions.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Richard

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #21 on: January 12, 2008, 01:22:57 AM »
Johneeeveee  I think I'd disagree as that basic rhythm or "time" as it is called was certainly being played quite commonly by the mid 30s on the hihat and it seems the reason it is not so much heard on the ride cymbal is because there were not any good ride cymbals! Something like a 16" would be considered huge in those days and it took untill the later 30s before larger rides were available, but even then they were not a clean sound as we now know it and more often than not when really attacked they would degenerate into overtones.

Certainly though, the 40's bop players like Max Roach, Don Lammond, Kenny Clarke et al who came along with Parker and company did indeed break away from playing time per se and that coupled with the advent of stable, larger cymbals made their contribution really stand out. 
« Last Edit: January 12, 2008, 01:24:41 AM by Richard »
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline lindy

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #22 on: January 12, 2008, 06:59:45 AM »

Cootie Williams -- who played trumpet in the Ellington Orchestra -- once said, "Define swing? I'd rather tackle Einstein's theory!"

Swing is a really elusive thing, which is why I'm so fascinated by it. Country blues, swing, success in Iraq -- all things that are undefinable, except you know the first two when you hear them.

And maybe I don't hear swing in its more subtle forms. I was going to bring up Lil Son Jackson earlier, because he has such a funky sound (there's that highly technical word again, funky), but I don't hear the swing in Gambler's Blues. At least not in the version on Arhoolie with the picture of him in his garage on the cover. I hear a very strong pulse that makes me want to tap my foot, but as a dancer, I'd be more inclined to do a one-step than a double- or triple-time swing movement to it. Is there any way you can explain that recording's swing nature? Wow, define swing in a particular song, I would hate it if someone asked me that question.

Because of an interview I did with a jazz group back in the late 70s, I held on to the dogmatic position that swing cannot be notated in standard Western notation. I finally loosened my grip on that opinion in the 90s, when I heard more people talk about the dotted eighths concept. But many people I've spoken to about this topic still say that you have to write the word "swing" on the chart somewhere to really get the concept across.

Richard, give a listen to the first recording of Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," for me one of the first examples of swing in jazz. I'm not saying it is *the* first example, but it's in the right time period for that to happen.

Lindy

Offline Johnm

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #23 on: January 12, 2008, 07:42:53 AM »
Hi Lindy,
I sense part of your confusion arises from focusing on swing in the larger sense, as in "swing dance" as opposed to the more narrow discussion implied in the title of the thread, where the question simply has to do with the division of one beat:  straight eighths or swung eighths?  If you listen to Lil' Son Jackson playing "Gamblers Blues" immediately followed by John Hurt playing "My Creole Belle, it should be clear that Jackson and Hurt are dividing the beat differently.  John Hurt is playing straight eighths and Lil' Son Jackson is swinging his.  I don't know better how to communicate the difference than by the sound of the difference.  I hope this helps.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: January 12, 2008, 09:08:25 AM by Johnm »

Offline lindy

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #24 on: January 12, 2008, 08:46:47 AM »

You're right, that is where I am stuck, I'm finding it hard to separate a technical description of a rhythmic device from "a feeling."

But before I stop beating this horse, here's two websites I found when I was looking around for information to support a point that I wasn't sure about in the first place:

The first is http://bebopified.blogspot.com/2007/10/jazz-101-swing.html, which I think is an example of that "swing in a larger sense" idea that you just pointed out. The writer uses western notation to give examples of how she thinks things are written versus how they are actually played in a swing environment.

The other is http://www.musedit.com/med/UserQuestions/SwingTiming.htm. These people are trying to sell a product, and I don't know how that colors their interpretation of the swing concept. But when I listen to their midi file of the dotted eighths example, it certainly does not sound or feel to me like swing -- in the larger sense.

Today's a good day for traditional New Orleans-style jazz, someone's put together a two-day celebration of the life and music of the banjo player and singer Danny Barker. Lots of Dixieland and 30's-style jazz. Swung eighths all over the place.

Lindy




Offline Richard

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #25 on: January 12, 2008, 11:10:33 AM »
Heres a preface to this post in that I started writing it before Johnm's last post however, I got distracted before posting! However since I had virtually finished it I though I might as well post and I do appreciate the content of Johnn's comments.

I think we are probably addressing the same point through our different ways apros swing as in notation or feel......
 

Lindy, now you have started us off on another tack  :o and we are going beyond the bounds of dotted quavers and triplets sans a middle beat!

First though, your remark about writing the word "swing" on a chart, I agree with that and have seen a few bigband drum parts with the phrase "swing like crazy" writ large! On a guitar note, Stacey Phillips who's lap tutor books always write as straight quavers with instructions to "swing".

But to "swing" itself, I felt your post was taking it to a new dimesion in that the word was used to describe the act of swing rather than the notation and is how I would normally use it. I don't know how you define it, it's a moment when you can shout "Yeah" when that piece of music touches the spot, the music does not have to be fast or furious and it's important to feel the difference between a hard driving piece and that elusive swing. And "swing" as such a magical moment, in my opinion, is unlikely to last more than few bars anyway and that some artists seem to have that abilty to generate it more than others.

I have just listened to East St Louis and there are moments, say the beginning of Coootie's middle eight when he lifts it right up. Ellington's 1940 rendition of Mainstem has many such moments and as another example Chick Webb's bands Who ya Hunchin' generates shouts from the band when it really gells! Oscar Peterson's '47 I got Rhythm is incredible when he finds his left hand! I had Better move to blues as the jazz list could be long one!

Basically, it's all very subjective and maybe harder to define in CB but you know it when you hear\feel it so a couple of immediate examples to my mind which certainly have it in part are Memphis Minnie's 1941 Me and my Chauffer and emphasis given by the offbeat on the opening chorus of Casey Bill's version of Big Bills Blues really lift that.

I'd better stop here!
« Last Edit: January 12, 2008, 11:15:36 AM by Richard »
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #26 on: January 12, 2008, 04:44:02 PM »
I've thought about the origins of the swung eighth notes and when did they emerge in jazz. Early ragtime music was usually played in straight eighth notes, at least as far as I know.
The earliest jazz recordings were made in 1917 (or maybe even 1916), but these were done by white bands only, and the rhythms are mostly straight eighth notes. Black jazz musicians apparently weren't recorded until the 20's. In fact jazz was claimed to be originally a "white" music style.  :o
The earliest recorded "blues" were also in straight eighth notes, but these were written ensemble works by W.C. Handy and the like, and have little to do with CB: http://www.redhotjazz.com/firstbluesrecords.html
Anyway, I claim to be no expert on the matter, but I suspect that the swung eight notes might originate from New Orleans, and at least Jelly Roll Morton played swung eight notes as early as in 1923, long before the "Swing Era". Check out "King Porter -A Stomp" from Red Hot Jazz site: http://www.redhotjazz.com/jellyroll.html , and also the numerous "blues" titles from 1924.

Pan
« Last Edit: January 12, 2008, 04:59:05 PM by Pan »

Offline lindy

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #27 on: January 13, 2008, 07:11:11 AM »

It?s a powerful word, ?swing.? It lights up all kinds of circuits in the brain, and I?m laughing at myself over how hard it is for me to filter out everything else to get down to the technical analysis of the type of eighth note someone is hitting. All of the past information?physical and intellectual?about the big concept of swing keeps on butting in.

As suggested, I listened to two versions of John Hurt?s ?Spike Driver?s,? one from 1928, the other from the Pete Seeger TV show, and I closed my eyes so I couldn?t watch John?s shoulders swaying. Sure enough, both have the same cut time. But the 1960s version is way funkier, and whether or not that has anything to do with ?swing? is the mental hole I keep falling into. Thinking that it may have been my inability to get MJH?s swaying shoulders out of my mind, I tried a different song that he also recorded in the original session for comparison: Frankie, which is famous for, among other things, the story that the original recording company had to speed up the recording to fit the entire song into three minutes. I compared the original with the version on the Rounder CD ?Legend,? which is much slower, and which has much more of that elusive quality that makes the body sway.

That makes me wonder about how the characteristics of tempo and counterpoint fit into the picture. In terms of tempo, compare the recordings of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey to a lot of the high-speed jazz recordings from white bands that flooded the market at the very beginning of the first ?Jass? craze. I have zero evidence, but I can?t help but think that those two women had a lot of influence on the early evolution of the high-hat / ride cymbal swing sound that dominated the 30s and 40s. Their slow groove made the body sway; the faster jazz tunes got people doing hyper-frantic moves to the trendy dances of the day?the Shag, Balboa, Charleston, and so on. Lots of ?rhythmic vitality,? as JohnM states, but low on the funky scale.

In terms of both tempo and counterpoint, my feeling is that ?East St. Louis Toodle-Oo? swings from the very first bar because of the contrast between the banjo and the baritone sax/tuba). That contrast is where I hear the breakup of the 4/4 beat into different lengths or the variation in the pulse that is the focus of this thread.

It must be in the ears of the beholder. Lots of room for interpretation on what (and what doesn?t) constitute swing, it makes the concept fun to mull over. For some reason Othar Turner just came into mind, I think I?ll go listen to his take on rhythm, er, funkiness, um, swing, whatever.

Lindy

Offline Rivers

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #28 on: January 13, 2008, 08:48:52 AM »
Lindy I'm with you on this. John Hurt's revival recordings are the most obvious example of how much swing you can get with fractional shading off the beat.

The right hand timing issues are so incredibly subtle as to be incapable of being notated. Not only that, they move in and out of play in different passages. I daresay if you look for them you can find places where he rushes the beat also, though I haven't checked this.

To look at the big picture, it's almost as if there's an inaudible beat happening that Hurt was playing to and we can all 'hear' but it's not in the physical music, at least not overtly. Perhaps we're talking about the limitations of musical notation to accurately document everything that is happening in folk music, there's much more going on at a micro and internal level to achieve an effect. Thank God for that, otherwise computers would be creating music by now. What's that you say? They are?

I'm very much a 'feel' player myself and like to get some swing happening. But I also like to play the straight time since it creates such a different emotion and sound. I admit this thread pretty much lost me early on but I'm hangin' in there!

Offline waxwing

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #29 on: January 13, 2008, 10:51:04 AM »
I'm not sure that having a few syncopated notes in the melody phrasing is the same as what Johnm was originally talking about here. For instance, in the Morton tracks Pan posted, I hear his chordal backing to be pretty much in square time throughout, with a few melody passages containing some syncopation that sounds more like 16th notes than tripled 8ths to me. This doesn't really seem to be what would evolve into the obvious triplet feel of say RJ or BBF.

On a side note, since Lindy brought up MJH's later Frankie recording, I'm curious as to the order of the verses, since I don't have a copy. It would have been impossible for the recording engineers to "speed up" the 1928 recording after the fact as all records were produced by mechanical transfers, i.e. molds, of the original. I have always figured that they timed him playing the piece, found it was a verse too long to fit and he decided to cut the "Ain't gonna tell you no stories" verse to make the song fit. Then, due to mechanical issues, the cutter was running slow and when he got to the end they signaled he had time for one more verse so he added it back on, obviously out of place. Hurt's later testimony that the engineers "sped it up" may have been merely Hurt's understanding of the events, not a true technical description. Of course, if he sings that verse last 50 years later it would shoot down my theory, unless, of course, he had forgotten the song and relearned it from his recording, which I guess is possible, but not probable. he original recording was in February, and if it was a particularly cold day in Memphis, someone inadvertently opening a window could have hardened the wax and slowed the cutter considerably if the engineer didn't re-calibrate the turntable.

Back to 'swinging' eighth notes. I think you may be onto something with Othar Turner, Lindy. I'm not so sure that swung eighths are a sophistication, born of inventiveness, as much as they may be a throw back or African "retention". Where they really become interesting, particularly with Patton and others is when they are used in a polyrhythm with the triplet feel underneath a cut time feel. This polyrhythm is often cited as an African retention and would more likely have been kept alive in the rural areas than in the heavily Euro influenced ragtime of the cities. Granted NO had a large African rhythmic influence through the drumming at Congo Square. But as I said, it sounds to me that Morton is breaking square time down into smaller, 16th note, segments (Richard's quavers, I guess?) rather than introducing a triplet feel under the square time. I don't have any OT so let us know what you hear.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
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