Repost: MICHAEL P. ZIRPOLO — GUEST POST — THOUGHTS AND INSIGHTS ON SWING

Hi swingin’ folks —

This article from 2007 is about the birth of swing, about if a tuba would swing or rather an acoustic string bass.

It’s about Clementine, arranged by Bill Challis and played by the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.

Clementine is indeed a swingin’ chart, one of the early examples of the style, and musically quite on the very same level as Fletcher Henderson’s, or Duke Ellington’s initial attempts to swing the music rather than to stomp it.

Bill Challis in 1936 (pictured on the right)

This is a very profound post, naw, it’s an article and I hope you’ll learn something about my favorite music.

But first Clementine, a sweet tune, written by Henry Creamer and Harry Warren — Jean Goldkette & His Orchestra, recorded for Victor on September 15, 1927.

Notice how Bix jumps right in in the first bars for quasi saying: “Don’t worry, folks, I’m here and I will come back in two minutes!”

Here the article by Michael P. Zirpolo from Big Band Talk:

I wanted to add a few thoughts about the “birth” of swing. As the discussion on this thread developed, I listened to some of the early recordings that to me are guideposts on the road to the development, really the evolution, of swing. It is clear from those recordings that swing first appeared in the playing of a few pioneering soloists, with Louis Armstrong being the fountainhead.

At approximately the same time as Armstrong was beginning to synthesize the various elements that make up swing, Bix Beiderbecke was also moving forward in much the same fashion. They were both playing in a way that utilized a rhythmic approach that was not bound to the rather rigid dance rhythms of the bands in which they played. To omit Bix from any discussion on the development of swing, therefore, would be a mistake.

One of the earliest recordings where a band was trying to play with the same rhythmic elasticity that Armstrong and Beiderbecke were using in their playing is “Clementine” by Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra (Victor; 9/15/27). We must remember that for reasons that had to do as much with the state of sound recording technology as with the performance conventions of the time, bands then almost always utilized either a tuba or a bass saxophone for their harmonic foundation notes.

Of course there was also a rhythmic component to the use of these instruments at the bottom of the band. The unfortunate side-effect of this, from the standpoint of swing, was that the basic beat produced by these ungainly instruments was so bulky and ponderous that it made it almost impossible for any band containing them to swing.

In this recording of “Clementine”, the band included a string bass, in the capable hands of Steve Brown, one of the pioneers in the use of that instrument in a jazz setting. As this recording clearly demonstrates, the difference between a string bass and a tuba or bass sax, from purely a rhythmic standpoint, is tremendous.

The band is not weighted down and is therefore much freer to produce music that is more relaxed, buoyant, and smooth on top of the relatively supple string bass foundation. Unfortunately, there is also present on this recording, in addition to Eddie Lang’s agile guitar, the rigidly chugging banjo of Howdy Quicksell, which detracts substantially from the rhythmic lightness achieved by the bass.

Beiderbecke’s solo is rhythmically free of whatever is happening behind him in the band. His playing simply glides over the entire orchestral background. It is not only swinging -it is timeless in every sense, melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically. It is a perfect musical statement, in addition to being great jazz.

If this solo were played today in any mainstream jazz setting, it would still turn heads. Not a note, a beat, or an inflection is dated.

Bill Challis, who arranged “Clementine”, undoubtedly understood the significance of what Beiderbecke was doing at that time. He was clearly inspired by Beiderbecke’s playing to incorporate Bix’s rhythmic elasticity, among other Bixian elements, into this arrangement.

If the term “swing” was being used as a verb in 1927, then I’m sure that Challis told the musicians that he was trying to write something here that would swing, and worked with them in rehearsal to try to bring out those swing characteristics in performance. He and they were only partly successful, but this arrangement/performance had definitely marked a large step in the direction of what ultimately became “swing” as a noun.

I do not want to leave the impression that swing was born with this recording or indeed with any one recording. The development of swing was an evolutionary process that had begun with pioneering jazz soloists, and continued until the next rhythmic revolution shook jazz, the advent of bebop. But the evolution of swing to a point where we today, when hearing a given recording, can say “that swings”, continued throughout the swing era.

That evolution was carried forward first in the work of the great arrangers of the late 1920s and early 1930s, including, in addition to Bill Challis, Don Redman, the Henderson brothers, Jimmy Mundy, Edgar Sampson, Gene Gifford, Sy Oliver, Eddie Wilcox, Benny Carter, Mary Lou Williams, Lennie Hayton, Eddie Durham, and Duke Ellington, whose influence on jazz arranging would continue for decades.

As the swing era began to gain steam and provide more opportunities for bands, a new wave of arrangers come to the fore, including Deane Kincaide, Joe Lippman, Bob Haggart, Larry Clinton, Jerry Gray, Paul Weston, Axel Stordahl, Ray Conniff, Billy May, Billy Moore, and Buster Harding, among many others.

Also in this group were several arrangers who were moving the idiom ahead in other ways, certainly harmonically. This group included Eddie Sauter, Bill Finegan, Gil Evans, Paul Jordan, and Billy Strayhorn. Their work in turn led to the advent of such writers as Neal Hefti, Ralph Burns, Eddie Finckel, Pete Rugolo, Tiny Kahn, Gerry Mulligan, Tadd Dameron, Paul Villepigue, Nelson Riddle, and Johnny Mandel.

The swing era was truly a golden age during which gifted musicians had the opportunity to work creatively for large and appreciative audiences.

Mike Zirpolo

Mr. Zirpolo is the author of Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan

Learn more about Bix Beiderbecke and “Clementine” here: The Bix Beiderbecke October 1927 Sessions — Introduction

Jean Goldkette

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