A Rifftides reader wrote to say that he did not understand drummer Nick Martinis’s quote in Charlie Shoemake’s anecdote about swinging or not swinging. Martinis said to his bandmates…..”Well cats, do we swing tonight or do we hide ‘one’?” Perhaps there are other readers who don’t get it. Here’s an oversimplified explanation.
“One” is the first beat of the measure. A leader is likely to begin counting off in half time–“One, two,” then double the time to the tempo he wants–“One, two, three, four…”
If “one'” is not expressed–if it is hidden–the band, and quite likely the audience, will be in a rhythmic no-man’s land. Some musicians who adventure on the edges of jazz, beyond the traditional concept of swing, want to be free of what they consider the tyranny of steady time. Others feel that the rhythmic quality we have come to call swing is at the heart of jazz, that “one” is essential.
Among those who believed strongly in the importance of “one” was Gerry Mulligan. Trumpeter John McNeil’s new CD East Coast Cool is influenced by Mulligan, yet McNeil takes liberties with time. He also swings, demonstrating that both things are possible and underlining the warning that my explanation of “one” is oversimplified. After my Rifftides review of the album, McNeil sent a message that included a quote indicating that Mulligan thought jazz that abandons the imperative to swing is an indulgence of interest mainly to the insiders who play it.
I hope Mulligan is smiling somewhere, but he’s probably saying “That cross-the bar hide-the-one shit is just for other cats–nobody else digs it.” (an actual quote) He’d like the sonorities and the counter lines, though.
Apropos of little but proof that McNeil’s turn of mind is as wry as his turns of time are tricky, here’s his latest e-mail gig alert:
Sunday, October 1st
Night and Day Restaurant and Jazz Room
John McNeil/Bill McHenry Quartet
Applying a cool, damp washcloth of jazz to the fevered brow of Brooklyn’s cultural elite since 2006.
Featuring the music of Russ Freeman, Denzil Best,
Wilbur Harden and a host of other neglected composers.
John McNeil — trumpet
Bill McHenry — tenor
Chris Lightcap — bass
Jochen Rueckert — drums
This week’s intermission pianist — Dred Scott
“I’d really love to go hunting with these guys…” — Dick Cheney
8:30 — 11:00
230 Fifth Avenue (at President) Park Slope, Brooklyn
(718) 399 – 2161 www.nightanddayrestaurant.com/
If I lived in Brooklyn or nearby and didn’t have all this painting to do, I’d be there.
John Salmon says
After Dred Scott, Roger Taney will also be sitting in.
John Salmon says
Mulligan was just pissed because he didn’t know how NOT to swing. Complete inept in that regard.
Chuck Mitchell says
Been away, so I’m just getting caught up on this “swing” thing.
It might be fun to get a few lists from your readers of jazz music
that doesn’t fit Mr. Narunsky’s definition. I’ll offer the following:
Bix Beiderbecke: “In A Mist”
Bill Evans: “Peace Piece”
Ornette Coleman: “Lonely Woman”
Wayne Shorter/Milton Nascimento: “Diana”
Pat Metheny Group, “San Lorenzo”
Jazz as a music, I believe, would be severely diminished by the
exclusion of these performances, and countless others. Mr Narunsky is
entitled to his taste, of course, reductionist as it is; but
shouldn’t all the debates about what jazz is have stopped around
1961? You know, the old Coltrane/Dolphy/John Tynan “anti-jazz” dust-
up. After that, to my mind, such discussions were irrelevant, not to
mention silly, because the possibilities of musical expression in the
genre were truly opened up in credible ways by legitimate artists.
And continue to be, despite the narrowing of public interest which I
believe is in no small part due to the attempts to straitjacket the
field of definition by the more visible and powerful interests who
share Mr. Narunsky’s point of view and have hammered it into orthodoxy.
I don’t need to name names here, do I?