Thursday, January 27, 2011

Analyzing Swing in Modern Jazz - Part 2

This is part 2 of Swing Analysis. It's probably better to start with Part 1 if you are interested in this topic.

Scott, from our jazz threads took my concept of subdividing pairs of eighths in 6 (24 to a bar), and seeing what it sounds like when played against a rhythm section. He used a sequencer to make the minute adjustments necessary. And the results are below.

And I was shocked to discover that apparently my theory is correct. Now this is uptempo (220 bpm) so you'll have to just get the feel of it.

The theory of this is explained in Part 1. The "Triplet Feel" playing is how beginners typically perceive jazz. The typical swing explanation is called "Long-Short Long-Short ...". Or in notation it will be seen as a Dotted Eighth + Sixteenth. It is in fact true that this rhythm is very important in jazz because this is the rhythm of the drummer's Ride Cymbal.

However, it is UNTRUE that this extends to how jazz is played on the piano or any other instrument. As you will hear in the examples below, you can play Straight (even) eighth pairs and still swing, as long as the offbeat eighth lands in the sweet spot of the swing groove. In this is done by DRAGGING/DELAYING the beat.

Triplet Feel
This feel is the exaggerated Jazz rhythm that you don't actually hear anywhere other than from beginners and non-jazz players. This what my teacher discouraged me from playing as it is not authentic.

Straight Eighths
This is an example of a playing style of some pianists where you play even eighths but you make it swing by dragging it a particular amount. See the Part 1 Thread for how much it is dragged in this example.

There is another range of playing which is in between the triplet feel and the straight eighth feel. My theory is that a harder swing is done by moving the downbeat closer to the top of the beat (from the straight eighth) while the offbeat always stays in place.

When we get another recording example, this point will be proven too. So the conclusion is that when playing jazz, don't think so much of Long-Short, but "lay back" and sense the groove that is the swing eighth in the offbeat. The 'A' in the Drummer's Jazz 'Ding-A-Ding rhythm', the 3 in a triplet.

This is not easy to do. Part 1 showed some examples of how to practice that using sounds to subdivide.

Now what's not discussed here is the accents. The way jazz works is that we focus on the offbeat. So in addition to landing on the sweet spot 3 in the triplet (the swing eighth), we also accent that eighth. How much you accent is an articulation choice and tends to happen more on the medium tempos.

Wynton Kelly, who I consider THE swing master, used a lot of accents. Kelly played in a harder swing closer to the triplet feel and mixed it with the straight eighths laid back and oftentimes in the same tune.

It's only now that I studied these rhythms in a finer subdivision that I understand what he's really doing now.

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