Jive Junction You're not wrong Walter, you're just an asshole. -The Dude

17Aug/141

Where’s all the swing music?

I skim Holly's Facebook wall occasionally and I happened to notice someone asking why there aren't more swing music festivals as opposed to traditional jazz festivals or modern jazz festivals. Jonathan Stout responded, but I thought I would add my own viewpoint here.

Almost all jazz, historically speaking, has been improvised on the spot other than the basic chords and melody. This is true for the very earliest jazz. Of course, some common riffs and patterns emerged, and some songs have characteristic phrases and arrangements used by virtually everyone.

But in swing music the arrangement is crucial to the sound. What makes swing music swing music? We've already established long ago that a big four on the floor beat and a smooth even flow are critical, but equally important is riffing. The best swing arrangements have identifiable riffs which dancers key into. Think One O'Clock Jump, or Bugle Call Rag, or any other anthemic jam-inducing song. They all have riffs you will immediately hum, even though those riffs aren't technically part of the melody.

So now we know why there are so few swing music festivals per se. To have a swing band, you either need a book of arrangements or a group of musicians who play head arrangements built over years of playing together. And writing arrangements is hard work that isn't well compensated. With so few authentic swing bands around, you can't really have a festival.

This also explains why there are so many trad jazz and modern jazz festivals. In both cases sometimes you find a band on the bill, but more often it's a group of different musicians who are put together in interesting combinations. It's just easier to have a festival like that. The musicians just have to show up and play. Don't get me wrong, it's not as easy as I make it sound, but it's a lot easier than spending a week writing an arrangement that might be used once.

Posted by Julius

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  1. Julius,

    Good posting, edifying but slightly confusing, at least to me. I know that some people reserve the term “swing music” to mean the big band music played and recorded during the swing era (whatever inclusive period that is arbitrarily supposed to be), but what shall we call music which swings? Further, what are we to call non-big band jazz which swings and was played during the swing era? Still further, are we to believe that all big band music played and recorded during the swing era swings? To complete this circuitous line of questioning, can we call all music which swings “jazz”, and, music which does not swing some other generic term other than jazz?

    Allen Hall


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