Jazz Professional               


Swing for Beginners (Part Two)

The Benny Goodman phrasing ­– three eights would be straight, and then there would be the twelve/eight on the fourth one. Boo-de-doo — bah —that little delay. Where you put that last note determines what style of music you’re playing.   Buddy Childers Tip: Once you have the Examples on your screen you can toggle quickly between text and examples with Backspace or Shift+Backspace

 In Part One I explained the handling of eighth notes in jazz phrasing. Throughout this article all eighth notes should be regarded in this manner —as members of a 12/8 time signature.

Jazz writers and players need personal contact. When this is not possible the writer must put everything down so as to leave no doubt in the mind of the player as to what is meant. A discipline of jazz phrasing has been hammered out over the years through the experimentation and co-ordination of hundreds of players. There is no mystery in it. Good players, when they get together, just do it, without discussion. Lesser players would be wise to listen and observe.

Due to the special conditions under which a jazz player will often be required to perform the writing of jazz music has been greatly simplified. To write in a classical manner, with exact note lengths, would greatly complicate matters for musicians having to play a piece once only, perhaps without study or rehearsal. In spite of this simplification there are accepted rules of interpretation. When you are playing, remember: every note is special. Treat it as such.

Example 1 (a) shows a common phrase. Whether the notes are written with an accent or not (b) they should be played as if the two bars were covered by a slur (c). Another way of playing them would be to slightly detach the two notes of each bar. This is written as in (d), played as in (e). Note that such tiny gaps between notes usually only occur before an offbeat. Example 2 (a) would normally be slurred (with or without accents) unless written as (b).

The phrasing has to fit the style of the piece. Example 3 is the first two bars of a well–known tune. Obviously the phrase would be slurred, with a soft accent on each note. Everyone knows that, without being told. The tune is a part of our heritage. Yet I have, alas, recently heard an entire saxophone section play this with every note detached, and with even eighths at the end. The players did so, to a man, with the utmost confidence and dedication. The result was, to me, terrifying.

A beginner can often be confused as to note lengths, and this has, indeed, long been a subject for discussion. Good writers will put a clear indication if they want long notes to end on the following beat, as in Example 4. When not indicated the accepted rule is to play the notes full out, as shown in
Example 5. This looks like hair–splitting: what it actually means is that the notes are held out until the last millisecond before the next beat. Good professional section men play like this, and they do so together.

Giving all notes a controlled volume is something the player should school himself to do. If there is no indicated crescendo or diminuendo then each note played should be held through with an even volume. The rise and fall of the melody will suggest any variations in the level.  Individual interpretation can come later, but first these fundaments.

There are players who play everything with a stab accent, dying away almost at once, a sfzp on every note. Others insist that every long note should have a crescendo on it, as in Example 6. The final eighth is invariably whacked out good and strong. I’ve heard my American colleagues refer to this phenomenon as that quaint British accent, and they are not referring to the spoken word. Such accents usually come out with a jerk. Don’t be one yourself and don’t join in.

Example 7 (a) is another common phrase. Try and curb your youthful enthusiasm and play it as at (b), medium volume, no vibrato please, no sudden accents and no gap in the second bar. As in all section playing, the impact comes from the togetherness of the section, volume, phrasing and dynamics performed as one man, like a dense chord played on a church organ.

The recordings made by Rob McConnell, Bob Florence and Tom Kubis illustrate this better than the written word can explain. Listen and learn.

The quote from Buddy Childers at the beginning says it all. If you’re playing Basie style you clip that last eighth just a little more, same with Buddy Rich, with Thad Jones and Kenton a little longer.

Every note is special, and every note has its own slot in time.

 Ron Simmonds