It seems that every jazz lover of a certain age instinctively understands the meaning of ‘swing’ when used in a musical context. Swing comes in many guises and uses many voices, but it’s essentials never change: ‘rhythmic propulsion…a flowing beat…exciting jazz performances’. No doubt about it, Duke Ellington was right. Truly, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!
” Incredible how Past Perfect can restore what was put on the 78 originals over 70 years ago!” Robert Z.
Every jazz lover of a certain age, it seems, instinctively understands the meaning of ‘swing’, when used in a musical context. But ask them for exact definitions and the response is vague. ‘It’s a feeling, a kind of rhythm’, they’ll say. Peter Clayton and Peter Gammond provided a more useful answer in their Jazz Companion (Guiness Books, 1989). They pinpointed the verb ‘to swing’ as ‘the act of creating the essential rhythmic propulsion and flowing beat that is the distinguishing mark of an exciting jazz performance’.
The first use of the ‘swing’ word is probably a matter of mystery now, a subject for arcane research: suffice it to say that Duke Ellington gave it wider currency in 1931 when he introduced his number, ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing’. This piece took on something of a prophetic ring, for within a very few years, ‘swing’ became a standard description for the brilliant dance music of the big bands and the many small groups which emerged from them.