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Author Topic: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?  (Read 17044 times)

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Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #45 on: January 16, 2008, 03:34:08 AM »
Hi Waxwing, and all.

I'll second Richards' request to have you with us on this thread. And I apologize if I somewhat strongly disagreed with you over King Porter Stomp. :(
From your last post I'm wondering if you count the song differently than I do. You talk about the left hand boom-chang accompaniment, and how you feel it is in square time. To my ears Morton is playing a left hand stride-style accompaniment mostly in quarter notes. They would be played straight, even if the eighth notes are swung. But if you think of the stride as played in eighth notes, they would seem straight. So I'm essentially wondering if you feel the songs pulse as half slower than me, in which case you would be right about the "eighth notes" (my "quarter notes") being straight. Well, I hope I haven't confused you all even more. :P

In any case, KPS wasn't a very clear example of swung eighth notes, because the syncopated ragtime influences, and the fluctuation of the right hand rhythms. I added it on this thread, because of my search of early recordings of swing feel, not because it's a particularly good example on the matter.

To get back on Mortons' influence on jazz and blues, I'm not claiming that he put the swing on jazz or blues. But he certainly knew them and Ragtime as well. Since he claims to have known blues from the beginning of the century, he (and jazz) might have gotten the swung eighth notes originally from the blues as well. Without recorded evidence it's hard to tell.

I wish I had more recordings of early barrelhouse blues pianists, they might also be a source of swung eighths.

I also wish that you stay with us Wax, because some of your comments are very good, and have given me much to think of. For example, this thread has got me thinking of the history of the swung eighths. If we accept that they are present in the music due to African influence (as I always have), some questions might arise:

-Why the U.S.A. ? I mean in southern America or Cuba, where the African influence also was strong, the music is usually played in quite complex rhythms, but rather without swung eighths.

-The early black music such as Ragtime and Cakewalks were played in straight eighths. So appears to be the earliest jazz, and much of early CB. If the swing feel is from African heritage, where did it go in the meantime, and why did it reappear more strongly only later on?

-The African influence in swung eighth notes is something that is often referred to. But when I think of it, I realize that I haven't seen much hard evidence in this, it is more like something taken for granted. Maybe there are deeper studies on the matter and I just don't know about them. But since swung eighth notes are normally not played in western music, could it be that their being "alien" is the cause for blaming African influence? I know very little African music, but I don't recall hearing much swung eighths in the music I've heard. Could it be that swung eighth notes in jazz and blues are an American invention?

What do you think?

Pan

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #46 on: January 16, 2008, 10:29:02 AM »
Oh, Wax, you're being silly.  ;)

I think part of the difference is you seem to be focused on triplets and perhaps listening for a clear shuffle pattern. This music just seems too fast to think of the full triplets to me. There is the opening phrase if you want to break it down to that. I perhaps wouldn't bother with this one, since it's an unusual example, but then I think a lot of Jelly Roll Morton might fit in the unusual example category. He really does have both elements in much of his playing.

You should not really be listening for swing in Morton's left hand, which you seem to be saying you're doing. As you and Pan point out, that is a boom-chang or stride style of accompaniment. Almost all the swing is coming from the right hand, and again, it's a tricky example, particularly given how much he plays with straight eighths.

Attached is another example, where Morton's with a full band (the Red Hot Peppers). The swing is more obvious here to me, and of course it's called Georgia Swing. Listen to the clarinet solo at the 0:40 mark or so for an example of playing straight eighths against the swinging rhythm. The cornet and trumpet solos that follow it swing much more. Then the piano solo starts playing it straighter again.

When I was being taught in my former life as a drummer, the explanation of swing was much as Pan has it. Sure you can notate it as triplet, but sometimes the feel isn't quite that. I saw it notated in several ways, depending on the music I was given: in triplets, in straight eighths that were to be interpreted as swing, and as the shuffle pattern Richard posted earlier which was again to be interpreted as swing (i.e. not played as square as the notation). Pan makes the point of some bebop players swinging a bit straighter, and there's a different kind of swing too in some early jazz to my ear, again perhaps a bit straighter. Swing was not presented to me as a metronomic concept, and if it was played metronomically, it could in fact be a bit too mechanical. Sometimes it was looser, sometimes tighter, depending on the music.

To talk of swung eighths in blues however is a bit simpler I think. Here I believe we can think pretty safely in triplets: the music is slower, the difference in feel between straight and swung eighths more obvious than in the JR Morton stuff. But I don't think the concepts are separate conversations they way you state.

Getting back to JohnM's original post, in which he mentions Memphis Minnie's early examples of shuffle and swung eighths. I was listening to the Yazoo compilation CD Frank Stokes' Dream yesterday and Pearl Dickson's Twelve Pound Daddy came on, lots of triplets and shuffle feel. Dickson was backed by the Harney brothers on two guitars, Maylon and Richard (who later became known as Hacksaw Harney). Dickson's record is from 1927 (Minnie started recording in '29) and it's interesting as an almost anachronistic example of shuffle. It sounds both "modern" and "early" to me. The flip side, Little Rock Blues is very similar. Both these songs can be found on the Document disc Memphis Blues Vol 2 (1927-1938) DOCD-5159. I can post an example if people would like.

Andrew


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Offline Johnm

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #47 on: January 16, 2008, 12:34:28 PM »
Hi all,
John C., I would add that your assessment of Bo Carter's treatment of time on "Someday" is dead on the money, at least as I hear it.  After thinking a lot more about issues of ensemble versus solo playing and dealing with the issue of swing eighths or not, I think in ensemble situations the greatest lattitude in phrasing and treatment of time is characteristically given to soloists (or in the case of pianists like Jelly Roll Morton, the right hand) because of the soloists' mandate to "tell a story".  A completely consistent subdivision of the beat in a soloist, even if fundamentally groovy, is likely to end up sounding a bit sing-song--if working with broken triplets a little too much like "Mairzy Doats" and if working at the opposite end with a dotted eighth and sixteenth feel, a little too much like Beethoven or Robert Schumann, both of whom loved dotted rhythms.  Giving the soloist the leeway to phrase the eighths in different ways allows for a more vocal, declamatory quality--both a more sung and more spoken feel, and thus appropriate for telling a story.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #48 on: January 16, 2008, 04:51:59 PM »
Hi again.

I hope I'm forgiven, if I continue my quest for early recordings with "swung eighths". Rest assured, that for obvious reasons, this will not last for a very long time. :)

To have some blues containt in my posts, for a change, I'm happy to have found out that Bessie Smith did a bunch of really great songs with swung eighths in 1923. I'm especially pleased with "Aggravating Papa" which a small ensemble recording, but there really are a great number of others as well. http://www.redhotjazz.com/smithdownhome.html What a wonderful singer she was! In "Cemetery Blues" her own phrasing is very clearly swung.

Another New Orleans pianist worth mentioning is James P. Johnson. His "Carolina Shout" from 1921 will fit in my book of swung eighths, and the song has some quite original rhythmic twists: http://www.redhotjazz.com/jpjohnson.html

Some of the earliest "jass" band recordings have a sort of dotted 8th+16th feeling, but to me, they don't swing, so I am not adding them here. Check them out yourselves, and report back, if you find something. This is, of course, highly subjective.

I actually have some ideas about CB phrasing and swung eighths, but I'll have to do some serious listening, to not make myself even a more of a fool on this site, than I already am.  :P Will get back to you.

Pan

Offline Johnm

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #49 on: January 16, 2008, 05:04:50 PM »
Hi Pan,
There's no danger of you being taken for a fool.  Your explanation of swung eighths operating in a sort of sliding continuum between straight eighths and a dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth on the last previous page of the thread was a beautiful explanation of how the issue plays out as executed by living, breathing musicians.  You're dead right, too, that rapid tempos tend to straighten out eighth notes somewhat; there simply isn't enough time to swing them very deeply.  Don't feel you have to edit yourself tightly.  Everything you're saying makes good sense to me.
All best,
Johnm

Offline lindy

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #50 on: January 16, 2008, 06:05:33 PM »

I knew this thread would eventually get around to Mairzy Dotes and Robert Schumann. What took us so long?

I appreciated Rivers? comment about ?To look at the big picture, it's almost as if there's an inaudible beat happening that [John] Hurt was playing to and we can all 'hear' but it's not in the physical music, at least not overtly.

Here?s my take: that inaudible beat is the contrast that swing needs in order to work. The contrast can come in the form of two instruments, or a simple up stroke blended into a series of down strokes on a guitar, or as Jerry Ricks did on ?Change Your Ways,? just lightly hit a little drone note as part of the basic 6-4-6-4-6-4 bass thumb pattern, just enough to make you wonder if you?re hearing it, or an overtone or, a phantom sound.

I got to see the Count Basie band a few times during the last years of his life, and he always did this thing with Freddie Green where Freddie strummed (mostly down strokes) and Basie played some of those single notes with lots of space between them that he was famous for, and they swung, as they had been for 40-something years.

I only know one jazz progression with a flatted 7th and a major 3rd, and when I was showing it to my 12-year-old guitar student, I just showed him the two-note versions of the chords. All we did was practice the progression with down strokes. Then I added the simple melody to ?Bag?s Groove? over it. Until I started playing the melody, there was no swing present. When I started playing the melody, the kid?s dad came in the room saying ?How?d you make that sound??

I also taught my student to add some up strokes to the Bag?s Groove progression, and you should?ve seen his eyes light up with that look of ?Oh, so that?s how you make that sound!? The up strokes broke up the rhythm into the ?2/3 + 1/3? components. I know, I know, I?m not saying anything new here, but still, it?s amazing how small adjustments like that can cause such a shift in a listener?s perspective.

I?ll bet we?ve all had the experience of listening to a band, in many genres but especially in jazz, where one player will do a riff or repeat a phrase at the very beginning of a song, one that is really hard to grab onto because it skips a beat or puts an accent in a strange place, then a second instrument joins in, and instantaneously you go, ?Oh, that?s the rhythm he was leading into!? The second musician adds the contrast that the swing groove requires.

When I listened to a CD of Othar Turner and his grandkids the other night, I heard their special way of doing this. In some songs where the snare sets the rhythm, you can certainly picture a field full of military recruits marching to the drummer?s cadence. But when Grandpa blows one or two notes on his reed flute, the snare rhythm takes on an entirely different feeling. In my mind the rhythm is just a few steps removed from that New Orleans-Professor Longhair-Iko Iko thang we all love.

It?s magic, I tell you, swing rhythms, voo-doo, phantom sounds, mystical spirits and all that, that?s why jazz was born down in these parts . . .

Lindy

Offline Rivers

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #51 on: January 16, 2008, 06:50:50 PM »
Yeah. go lindy! We're on the same wavelength here.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #52 on: January 16, 2008, 10:25:30 PM »
Good on you, Andrew, for locating a pre-Memphis Minnie shuffle feel in "Twelve Pound Daddy"!  I dug it up and it is every bit as much a shuffle feel as "Memphis Minnie-jitis" and the various other shuffles that Minnie and Kansas Joe did.  Good detective work!
All best,
Johnm

Offline waxwing

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #53 on: January 17, 2008, 08:44:14 AM »
Alright, I can't help myself.-G- And, Pan, I can't see why you should feel like your looking like a fool, I'm the one with virtually no music background (forgotten piano lessons at an early age) and only 6 years of listening to and playing the blues.

But I can't help seeing, or hearing, the differences between 'swing' in Jazz and 'swung eighths' in Blues. Thinking back to the part of the discussion about musicians being responsive to, or leading the way to, dance styles, it seems that in Jazz, the rhythmic basis of the tune stays square and the 'swing' comes from the syncopation of the melodic players (or piano soloist's right hand) which varies, conversationally, from phrase to phrase, and the whole thing generally goes off at a tempo well past double that of the blues, in which the 'shuffle' beat beat is carried firmly in the bass and midrange of the guitar accompaniment, with the melody, carried by the vocal, bending and weaving conversationally around the 'swung eighths' rhythm. It seems to me anyone dancing to the jazz would be following the square rhythm but blues dancers would be following a 'swung eighths' rhythm. The jazz syncopation, at least in the examples given here, seems to be too fast and too inconsistent (conversational) to be the basis for any dance. I realize I'm working with gross generalities and very few samples here, but I'm just trying to make sense of the strong differences I hear. The two style just don't really seem to be related and it would be hard to imagine that either one was an influence on the other.

Pan, a good start in anyone's investigations of African rhythms in the blues would be Paul Oliver's Savannah Syncopators, which is contained in the book Yonder Comes the Blues. It's been some time since I read it, so I can't cite quotes, but it left a strong impression of the polyrhythms which he found there and their similarities to those in Blues, and, no doubt, in Jazz.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #54 on: January 17, 2008, 10:54:26 AM »
Great to have you back with us Waxwig! :D

I agree with you, that there is a big stylistic difference, whether the swung eights are played over a straight quarter note accompaniment, or if they are already present in the accompaniment itself, such as in the shuffle blues comping.

Thanks for the Paul Oliver tip, I will see if I can locate the book in a local library.

Cheers

Pan :)

E: typos
« Last Edit: January 17, 2008, 11:57:28 AM by Pan »

Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #55 on: January 17, 2008, 03:16:22 PM »
Hi all

I previously talked about a Big Bill Broonzy song where he inserts straight 8th notes into a song with swung 8th feel.

I'd like to think of an example from an opposite starting point.

On their 1928 recording of "Cool Drink Of Water Blues" Tommy Johnson and Charlie McCoy do something really cool with the rhythm.
The song is played in straight eighths note feel, except for some particular, and very important moments.

I believe that Johnson is playing the high E - G - E - G - E melodic motive, and that McCoy takes care of the bass string licks and the high mandolin like tremolos as well. I believe this, because the melodic motive is what holds the song together, and it would be natural for the singer to do this. I could, of course, be wrong.

Anyway, when the song opens with the melodic motive, and the second guitar enters, the second guitar enters with swung eighth notes, instead of straight ones. This leaves the listener somewhat unsure whether the song is in straight or swung eighth notes feel. When the vocals start, the guitars don't strongly state one or the other. The tremolo in the bass licks is sort of rhythmically ambivalent also.

In the end of the first chorus McCoy(?) however is clearly playing straight 8ths, and establishes a feeling of straight eighths which is held over the rest of the song, except maybe for a very slight hesitation between the two rhythmic approaches on the end of the "asked the conductor" chorus.

However when Johnson (?) decides to end the song, he launches to a bass strings lick played in swung 8ths, and the 2nd guitar immediately echoes this.

This rhythmic treatment in a basically straight 8ths song,  is very exciting. To begin the song with swung eights and then end up doing it in straight 8ths will put the listener in his / her toes. To my ears this adds a dramatic tension in the song, as if the players were trying to force the straight feeling over the swung eighth one. And as if in the end they gave up and let the swung 8ths win. :).

All of the same time they remain absolutely minimalist on their efforts and extremely professional about the whole process, which adds still another contrast to the whole thing. To my ears these guys are among the coolest on earth! :D

Apart from the rhythm, the almost hypnotic motive on the high e string of Johnsons' (?) guitar, and the loose structure with only partial chords and only hints to possible IV or V chords add greatly to make this song the great masterpiece it is. And most of all, Johnsons' incredible vocals, of course.

Anyway, this is just my very subjective take on the rhythmic treatment of the song, and I hope it will provoke some thoughts in you, whether or not you agree with any of this.

Cheers

Pan

edit: typos

« Last Edit: January 17, 2008, 03:21:18 PM by Pan »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #56 on: January 18, 2008, 11:23:28 AM »
Hi all,
Thanks for the discussion of "Cool Drink of Water", Pan.  Tommy Johnson and Charlie McCoy also have a kind of tug of war between the swung eighths of McCoy and the straight eighths of Johnson on "Maggie Campbell Blues", though I don't think it works as well there.  They sound like they start out with the rhythm flipped, each hearing the downbeat falling in the opposite place, with it sorting itself out when they get to the IV chord.
An example of a soloist playing a song with changeable treatment of the division of the beat is Elizabeth Cotten's rendition of "Graduation March".  The tune is in 6/8, like the "Washington Post March", with the bass alternating in swung eighths (or broken triplets, if you prefer that) for the greater part of the tune.  The progression in the A part of the tune is as follows:

   |     C      |      G7      |    C      |      C     |     F     |     F    |     C   |      C     |

   |     C      |      G7      |    C      |      C     |    G9    |    G9   |    G    |  D    G  |

   |     C      |      G7      |    C      |      C     |     F     |    F      |    E    |     E7    |

   |     F       |      F        |    C      |     C      |    C      |    G7   |    C    |      C     |

The one place where Libba breaks out of the broken triplet feel in the bass is on the two bars of E7.  There she switches the meter to cut time for two measures and switches to straight eight notes, giving the brief phrase there a very raggy feel.  It's a very cool effect.  And because it's one of the relatively rare places where a soloist changes the subdivisions in the bass it's a good place to pick up that sound.  Incidentally, I never noticed until listening to "Graduation March" this time how close it is to Kelly Harrell's song "In The Shadow of the Pines".
All best,
Johnm   

     

Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #57 on: January 18, 2008, 02:37:58 PM »
Although maybe slightly off topic, I thought that the "chronology of recorded blues" I stumbled onto, might be of some help on this thread: http://www.earlyblues.com/chronology_of_blues_on_record.htm

Pan

Offline Pan

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #58 on: January 19, 2008, 09:59:43 AM »
Lucille Hegamin was recording right after Mamie Smith, in 1920.

She did two takes of a song called "Jazz Me Blues".

The first one was done with a jazz band, and it's played with straight eights.

Interestingly, the second one, recorded also in November 1920 was done with only a piano player accompanying her, and it is played with swung eights.

http://www.redhotjazz.com/blueflame.html

(The take with swung eights is the Black Swan one.)

Pan

Offline MTJ3

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Re: Eighth Notes--To Swing or Not to Swing?
« Reply #59 on: January 19, 2008, 10:20:21 AM »
Gunther Schuller's comments may complicate this further, show a different perspective or be entirely irrelevant, depending on what you're looking for.  In his Early Jazz, writing about the Fletcher Henderson band, at page 257, Schuller notes: "In its rhythmic phrasing, the band placed notes stiffly on the beat, jerky by any standards, and when combined with [Coleman] Hawkins's aggressive slap-tonguing, difficult to take today.  The eighth notes are played very much as the dotted eighth-sixteenth pattern [notated example omitted], and there is very little legato playing.  It is interesting to note that at the same time(1923) the Oliver and Piron orchestras were playing a more loping triplet [notated example omitted] rhythm, while still farther west, the Bennie Moten band was playing even eighth notes in an uncomfortably primitive, stiff manner.  The rhythmic-stylistic elements are of great importance for delineating regional characteristics in the early bands."

 


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