It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)…
“It makes no difference
If it’s sweet or hot
Just give that rhythm
Everything you’ve got
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing
It don’t mean a thing all you got to do is sing” – Ella Fitzgerald and/or Duke Ellington (sorry not sure who wrote it, possibly the duke for the music and ella for the words, but who knows)
…or maybe it does, just a different thing. I’m the whitest guy ever (which is odd, seeing as I’m not all that white). I can’t dance to save my life, and really don’t have alot of rhythm. It’s why I play guitar instead of drums, and why I don’t go dancing. In the band, Darrin or Greg would often talk about making it swing, and then we’d play it again and it would sound the same to me; when you’re concentrating on hitting the notes, u don’t necessarily feel the grind beneath. I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t played in an ensemble can get that…when you’re jamming out a new song, you can often see the forest, but when you’re trying to recapture that or learning someone else’s tune, you have concentrate hard enough on your own tree that you miss that forest.
Also, I’m a hard music guy. Hard music is the whitest music there is generally; it has more to do with progressive time signatures than groove; it’s hard to feel the funk in a tool song that goes from 4/4 to 5/4 to 7/4 to 9/8 timing (er…google it if you don’t understand time signatures) . It just doesn’t get your hips a shaking. Our band was never hard music; we were always straight ahead rock and roll, danceable and fun before mathematical. And that’s always been my problem with music; I look at it very mathematically as opposed to spiritually. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve often gotten into the zone while jamming, and flowed with a groove where u finish and everyone’s just like…spent afterwards…. But unless you’re in a jam band (which we really weren’t), that kinda thing just doesn’t happen live or in the studio much. Occasionally live you’ll hit the zone by accident, but not the same way; not that spiritual mind trip. This is what separates the real superstars from hacks like me; they CAN get there easily. It’s not mechanics, it’s natural energy.
So this morning on my way to work, the penny kind of dropped. I run my iPod on shuffle play all the time…it mixes it up and it’s always a nice surprise when a super cool song comes on. I had a series of songs on my iPod today that went like this: Slipknot, tool, my band, The beastie boys, Parliament. As I walked, the songs got progressively funkier; much as slipknot and tool are two of my top 3 favorite bands and the other three aren’t, there was no swing in either of those songs. Tool has a bit more groove than slipknot, but neither of them are really hip shaking dance tunes, of course. The song of ours that played is a little psuedo funk number we do, an instrumental called Nina Hartley’s Ass (yes…that’s right…). As it played, I felt a bit of groove starting to happen. When “Root Down” came on I started to feel a bit of groove in my walk, and when “Mothership Connection” got going I was totally feeling the rhythm.
And the penny kinda dropped. Even though I’m a bigger fan of the heavier bands, the bands with all the swing got me going; rather than just being intense, I was at ease and enjoying walking to the beat. Dancing I guess. This may not be groundbreaking for anyone else…it may not even be understandable unless you grew up on the music I did. When I was a kid my parents listened to Jazz and Classical. The hard jazz and the intense classical gave me a subconscious taste for virtuosity and mechanics which I have to this day. I also got educated in the swing bands of the 40’s cuz my dad played in one in the 70’s, but because of the classical training I looked at it from a musical standpoint instead of a rhythm standpoint.
My true formative years, the teen years where one starts to become the adult they will be, were anything but swing. If I go back thru the years and look at the bands that I dug, it started in the early 80’s with metal. Not the hair bands, but the european heavy bands…Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions that kind of thing. Then as I became a musician I went back to Black Sabbath, and ventured out of the just metal bands into the 70’s prog bands…genesis, yes, pink floyd, rush. It occurs to me that I was drawn to metal and prog-rock because of that desire for virtuosity; it was more prevalent there than in pop music by far. Sure I listened to straight ahead rock and roll like Led Zep, the Who and AC/DC etc, but really, although they have alot of groove, it’s not like they’re real dancy stuff . Then it was goth for a while…the bauhaus etc. In the 90’s I got very open minded and put away the need for pure virtuosity. I was looking for hard emotion, but it was all about the vocal emotion, not the beat. I started getting into industrial music and the better Seattle scene bands…nirvana, pearl jam, soundgarden. Then punk. Experimental stuff like John Frusciante solo stuff and the like. The thing about all of this music is it’s all very non swing-y. Sure alot of those bands have some groove…but it’s metal groove. It makes you go up and down instead of side to side. If that makes sense.
So perhaps I can start looking at music from the soul and heart view instead of the brain view. I mean, I’ve always known about that, and for the last 10 or 12 years have consciously attempted to play what i’m feeling as opposed to what I’m thinking. But there was always that bit of music theory in my mind as I played; that never left. That’s probably a good thing, but I need to find a way to step back from that and get the swing in my playing. Feel and follow the rhythm and shake some hips instead of drive the rhythm and make them bounce. I’m kind of excited about this new visibility and look forward to experimenting a bit.
Anyways, there’s my little self centric treatise on swing and my late discovery. 😛