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new to swing ... what's the right timing?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by jj.833, Jun 14, 2018.

  1. Hi,
    I'm playing in big band for few months. I've noticed that sometimes I drag the drummer (when he loses focus and starts to slow down), sometimes he drags me (when I can'r read the hard parts fast enough) and the horns are often trying to change the tempo both ways.
    By dragging I mean 'I hear that my tones sound a little while before drums, not for a note, but for a feel'.

    I was trying to study this by listening to other bands, seems to me:
    1. when a bigband plays according to metronome, it sounds terrible, so the varying tempo is probably right
    2. in drums, the clear indicator of the tempo is hihat stomped on 2 a 4. The bass seems to me to play slightly in advance of the tempo given by drums.

    I was playing funky grooves, I know that the bass mostly work best when playing a bit laid back from the kick drum.

    I tried different approaches in the bigband, regarding 'tempo pushing'. When I play laid back, the band happily adapts it and the song slows down and loses the energy. When I play in advance, the song works great, but it exhausts me mentally. When I try to play exactly in the right time, the song sound a bit 'detached' (lacing better term).

    What it right?
  2. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    There are way more experienced players that will answer you, but here's what I was taught:

    My teacher tells me "It's the drummer's job to swing..." meaning I should NOT try to push or pull things one way or the other with grace notes in my right hand.

    I strive to place all my 4/4 walking quarter notes DEAD CENTER in the metronome click in my head.

    Once Ray Brown starts walking quarters at :50, if you subtract the piano and drums, he's playing almost metronomic quarter notes, and Thigpen & Peterson can swing all *around* him.

  3. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    The bass provides the thump, the drummer provides the swing.
  4. isolated

    isolated Zenkaku

    Dec 7, 2004
    The BX
    Find those recordings of Lester Young with the Basie band and really check them out. Notice how the WHOLE BAND is swinging. It's not just one person's responsibility.
  5. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    IME, most bassists have a natural tendency for how they play in relation to the beat - behind, on top of, or slightly ahead. When I listen to later Rufus Reid recordings, I've heard him play differently in relation to the beat depending on the tune and the feel he wants.

    IMO, it's great to be able to control how you're playing to the beat and be able vary it in relation to the band in the moment. Ultimately, though, I think the correct answer is how does it feel best now with this band?

    Experimenting and trying different things can help you build your toolbox so you can use different relationships to the beat. Simply listening closely to the recordings of different great bands can make you aware of many of the possibilities. Recording your big band without the bass playing and then playing along to the recording, varying your relationship to the beat, can also go a long way to developing your perception and ability to manipulate the beat, IME.
    IamGroot and DrayMiles like this.
  6. The only correct answer is: it depends. It depends on your playing style, your level, your drummers playing style, his level, the horns, the style of swing, the tempo etc etc. I've played a lot with big bands, and I'm currently leading three big bands. Some of the key elements:

    - Make sure you and the drummer get to play with each other a lot, without the horns. You need to trust eachother.
    - Try out different styles with the drummer. Try to push him up, try to drag him down. Make sure he doesn't follow you! He should be able to keep a steady time, even if you are behind or early.
    - The horns will try to drag you both down if the music is medium or slow, and they will try to push you up if the music is faster (and sometimes it's the other way round). It may be intentional, but you and your drummer must not follow them. You should never allow them to change the tempo. (Good horn sections can be behind in certain phrases, without changing the overall time, but good horn sections are hard to find).
    - In my experience, horns listen more to the timing of the bass player than the drummer. Your job is to make it easy for them to understand the time. You are often the connection between them and the drummer.
    - The more busy the horns are, the simpler you must play. Don't compete with them, they'll win every time. Support them.
    - If you know you are rock solid on the time, try to play with just you, hi-hat and the horns. Let the horns play with just hi-hat, and listen to them.
    - A lot of the time in real life, you'll be fighting either the horns, or the drummer, or both. And don't forget the guitar player who can really f*** things up swing wise.
    - Sometimes you will get that wonderful feeling when everything just floats by itself and you can relax and enjoy.
    - And, the most important: swing is everybodies responsibility, not just the drummer.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2018
  7. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    If you are just starting to play swing in a big band, DO NOT play "funky grooves"!

    Play straight four-beat walking bass. When you have a grasp of doing this and can drive the band from the left side, right side, or middle of the beat (depending on what the tune needs) then you can think about adding the occasional other embellishment.

    If you play straight four beat swing walking bass with a big sound and an irresistible beat, but you never play anything else, your band will love you. If you lose the beat by trying to play "funky grooves" your band will hate you.
    IamGroot and Tom Lane like this.
  8. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    In a perfect world everybody in the band is really good, and is really feeling the time the same way. In the real world, you shouldn't worry too much about where the horns are. In fact, a lot of times, trying to play along with them will crater the tempo and feel.

    Ideally, you should lock in first and foremost with the drummer (and second, with the lead trumpet player). If you guys lock it up, be consistent, and just drive ahead, the band will learn that they've got to put it where you are or get left in the dust.
  9. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    An attractive sentiment, to be sure.

    Who’s leading the swing? Everyone just swinging away? Sounds like a recipe for lameness. So what’s the plan if you don’t have players at the highest level like Basie’s band?
  10. Have you ever played in a big band?
    DrayMiles likes this.
  11. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    This is one of the great mysteries. Keep hunting for it and you'll find it. Don't be afraid to be the boss sometimes and do your best to make the drummer sound good.
  12. okcrum

    okcrum in your chest

    Oct 5, 2009
    Verde Valley, AZ
    RIP Dark Horse strings
    Actually the question is valid. If you've only played in pro big bands, it might not seem so. My experience with those is that they are the easiest to play in, since everyone can swing and also has good time.

    In every other big band, from high school, through college, workshop, and community big bands, the situation has been different. Tom Brown, vibes player and noted jazz educator, ran one big band I played in composed of college students (other than me - I was already out of school & gigging full time). He said it best when he told us (the rhythm section) that we had to be timekeepers for the rest of the band, and for moderate tempos and up, he wanted us as far up on the beat as possible without playing ahead of it, to keep the horns moving. For ballads, we could back off that a bit.

    Remember, unless there are monitors everywhere, the furthest horns might be hearing the rhythm section as much as 20 ms later, which probably drove rhythm sections to swing in the first place. It's different in a small combo, where you're closer together.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2018
    Groove Doctor and Bob_Ross like this.
  13. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    Yes, several and enough to know this is an issue. Are you going to answer my question?
  14. I did it a bit earlier in the thread. You'll find it if you look closely.
  15. isolated

    isolated Zenkaku

    Dec 7, 2004
    The BX
    You don't need to be at the highest level to understand that the sound and feel of the music is not the sole responsibility of the rhythm section.
    lurk, Ed Fuqua and Fredrik E. Nilsen like this.
  16. saabfender


    Jan 10, 2018
    Here’s the issue. The high water mark for big band music was (arguably) 1959. That’s 60 years ago. For guys in the Basie (e.g.) band, swung music was vast majority of what they played, listened to and was presominant in the culture at large.

    That’s not the situation today. 18 young guys all with a different idea of swing is a recipe for cacophony.

    In a big band, the sections listen to the section leader for the swing standard; the lead alto and lead trombone (my old job at the university level) listen to the lead trumpet who is locking up with drummer who is driving the band and defining the swing.

    Think about this. How many drummer-led jazz outfits can you name? A half dozen quickly. How many drummer-led rock bands can you name? You’ll struggle to get six.
  17. "Swing is everybodies responsibility, not just the drummer" does not mean "everybody should swing the way they want to".
    Nashrakh likes this.
  18. okcrum

    okcrum in your chest

    Oct 5, 2009
    Verde Valley, AZ
    RIP Dark Horse strings
    Unfortunately, it also does not mean that everyone in the band can swing at all. Community bands, for example, sometimes have to fill out sections with players who aren't experienced jazzers. ;)
    Groove Doctor and saabfender like this.
  19. I work with all kinds of big bands. From unexperienced youths to unexperienced adults to semi professional. A lot of the players are definitely not experienced jazzers. Still, the whole band has a responsibility to swing, and it's my job to make it happen. Not to blame the drummer, or "we can't hear the drummer" or anything like that.

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