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Thread: The Definition of Swing Music

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    The Definition of Swing Music

    So, how do you define swing music? Can if be defined? Or should it be defined?

    In it's widest description (often used by DJs and event organisers) it can include:
    • 1910-20s Foxtrot
    • 20s-30s Swing
    • 20s-30s Charleston
    • 40s R&B
    • 50s R&R
    • Brat Pack Swing
    • Modern Neo/Electro Swing


    So for starters, that raises the question; How do you make it clear that you're referring to 1920s-30s Swing music? Do I have to say 20s - 30s Swing just to make sure there's no confusion?

    In my opinion, Swing isn't just a name for a variety of music, it also describes what that music does and IMO a lot of the above does not swing.

    So how to describe what I think of as swing? Well, I'm no musician so it's not easy. For me it's not as simple as the music fitting the 8 bar structure (apologies if that's the wrong terminology). Swing music has a swingy feeling which I can't describe. It makes me want to Lindy Hop, whereas other 'swing' music that doesn't have that feeling doesn't make me want to dance.
    Maybe there's a musician out there that knows what I'm talking about?

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    I'm not a musician but...

    This is Wikipedia describing what it is that makes music fit my personal definition of swing: "In music, a swung note or shuffle note is a performance practice, mainly in jazz-influenced music, in which some notes with equal written time values are performed with unequal durations, usually as alternating long and short." (from here)

    My LH teacher said that the triple step is best done to a swung note - the slow step done to a slightly longer beat and the two quick steps done (both) to a quicker beat.

    But this is my definition of swing music. Swing dance is something entirely different. As far as I understand it (and I may well be entirely wrong), swing dance is a branch on the genealogy tree of dance, starting with the Charleston and, in some forms, with a bit of interbreeding from the Foxtrot. It has evolved into LH, balboa, WCS, ECS, rock & roll...and of course it's one of the parents of MJ as well. I guess this is where the widest definition of swing music comes from - music you can do any of these dances to.

    (Although, as an aside, I only sometimes consider MJ to be a swing dance. It depends on the music and the leader...if you play me some jazz on the MJ floor then I'll dance a swing dance, but if you play me something smoother then I'll dance something else entirely...)

    (Except that I always do this Charleston-y kick at the beginning of some moves, which is very annoying when I'm trying to dance smoothly, but I can't stop it from happening )

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    [QUOTE=meghann;588566]
    I only sometimes consider MJ to be a swing dance. It depends on the music and the leader...if you play me some jazz on the MJ floor then I'll dance a swing dance, but if you play me something smoother then I'll dance something else entirely...)

    [QUOTE]

    Agree, I've been thinking modern Jive isn't actually a jive or swing dance currently.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by meghann View Post
    Although, as an aside, I only sometimes consider MJ to be a swing dance.


    Mike Ellard once told me that the best music to teach someone to Ceroc to is disco.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Don't forget Big Band music

    The other thing to consider is "Swing Dancers" as per selection below

    • Savoy Lindy Hop
    • Hollywood or Dean Collins Lindy Hop
    • Jitterbug
    • East Coast Swing
    • 40's Swing
    • West Coast Swing
    • Shag
    • Balboa


    what do they dance to ???


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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Minnie M View Post
    Don't forget Big Band music

    The other thing to consider is "Swing Dancers" as per selection below

    • Savoy Lindy Hop
    • Hollywood or Dean Collins Lindy Hop
    • Jitterbug
    • East Coast Swing
    • 40's Swing
    • West Coast Swing
    • Shag
    • Balboa


    what do they dance to ???
    Shag, balboa, 40s swing, savoy LH were all traditionally done to jazz of varying speeds. 'Jitterbug' doesn't really refer to a single dance style, it's more a generic term for types of swing dance around in the 40s (I once heard that it refers to what swing dancers look like when viewed from above). The others, I don't know.

    Today, LH, shag and balboa are done to almost as wide a variety of music as MJ (they don't work so well with slower songs though, and personally I'd find it strange to do them to latin).

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by meghann View Post
    Shag, balboa, 40s swing, savoy LH were all traditionally done to jazz of varying speeds. 'Jitterbug' doesn't really refer to a single dance style, it's more a generic term for types of swing dance around in the 40s (I once heard that it refers to what swing dancers look like when viewed from above). The others, I don't know...
    Jazz .......Interesting - we obviously go to different 40's dances

    Quote Originally Posted by meghann View Post
    ....Today, LH, shag and balboa are done to almost as wide a variety of music as MJ (they don't work so well with slower songs though, and personally I'd find it strange to do them to latin).
    is the best with none of that awful back charleston stuff etc.,


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    Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, Minnie, made her film debut, along with Mickey, in "Steamboat Willie" on November 18, 1928.
    That date is recognized as her official birthday.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Minnie M View Post
    Jazz .......Interesting - we obviously go to different 40's dances
    Actually it's far more likely that I just don't know how to classify music
    The definition in my head of jazz is very broad, probably too broad!

    Quote Originally Posted by Minnie M View Post
    is the best with none of that awful back charleston stuff etc.,
    Nooo charleston is awesome (even if I'm not very good at it)
    I love dancing fast in both LH and MJ, though.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by meghann View Post
    .....'Jitterbug' doesn't really refer to a single dance style, it's more a generic term for types of swing dance around in the 40s
    I think 40's dancing & Jitterbug is about the same and danced mostly to big band stuff, sorry

    Late 40's + early 50's music is a dilemma for me - difficult to separate R & B from Rock 'n Roll - as you can see from - this is the type of music played in Mike Ellard's swing hour, personally I call it swing


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    Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, Minnie, made her film debut, along with Mickey, in "Steamboat Willie" on November 18, 1928.
    That date is recognized as her official birthday.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Minnie M View Post
    I think 40's dancing & Jitterbug is about the same and danced mostly to big band stuff, sorry
    No need to apologise, it is confusing when lots of people refer to jitterbug as a specific dance

    Quote Originally Posted by Minnie M View Post
    Late 40's + early 50's music is a dilemma for me - difficult to separate R & B from Rock 'n Roll - as you can see from - this is the type of music played in Mike Ellard's swing hour, personally I call it swing
    I guess music is a constantly evolving thing so it's often difficult to assign a particular piece as an archetype for a genre.

    I'd be perfectly happy to dance either LH or MJ to either of those pieces (this is where I'd be dancing MJ as a swing dance) but with my ignorance of music classification, I wouldn't know what to call them other than fun
    Last edited by meghann; 30th-May-2011 at 03:21 PM. Reason: spellink misteaks

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by jim View Post
    Agree, I've been thinking modern Jive isn't actually a jive or swing dance currently.
    And I've been thinking that MJ is actually a swing dance.

    What defines a swing dance? By most of the definitions I've seen, MJ is a swing dance. However, MJ could also be described as a simple version of a Latin dance like the Cha Cha Cha.

    What MJ is, first and foremost, is a social dance. Stop trying to categorise it and go dancing. If they are playing swing music you are doing a swing dance, if they play Latin music you are doing a Latin dance - if you don't make friends and have a great night out, you've missed the point!

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy McGregor View Post
    What MJ is, first and foremost, is a social dance. Stop trying to categorise it and go dancing.
    Or at the very least, start a new thread as this one was meant to be about swing music!

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Gav View Post
    • 1910-20s Foxtrot
    • 20s-30s Swing
    • 20s-30s Charleston
    • 40s R&B
    • 50s R&R
    • Brat Pack Swing
    • Modern Neo/Electro Swing

    Anything before the late 20s doesn't swing
    anything after 1950 is unlikely to swing
    Most R&B doesn't swing
    Charleston is 2 beats to the bar so doesn't swing
    so only Swing swings

    Ok that's a rather simple take but it's not far off.

    We spend most of our time dancing to Jazz - partly through choice & partly because there is quite a lot of it played around here. A lot of the early stuff is hard to dance Lindy to because it doesn't swing - you can dance more of a Rock n Roll Style to it or use Charleston but it doesn't lend itself to Lindy. The straighter feel of the music does work for Balboa or Collegiate Shag though.


    The influence of Armstrong & Ellington in the late 20s / 30s gives Jazz of that period more of a swing & then Lindy works (if the tempo is slow enough!).


    What followed of course is what is now referred to as the Swing Era that lasted well into the 40s

    Much of the Trad Jazz played in the UK from the 50s does swing - Kenny Ball, Chris Barber et al use a lot of what Jazzers describe as a shuffle rhythm & much of that music is great for dancing.


    The American Big Bands of the 50s & 60s (and so also the music of Sinatra etc) is much "straighter" and has more of a quickstep feel. I'd say the same for much of the Neo swing



    If you go down the route of Louis Jordon etc, the music "swings" but the music has more of a two step feel (the mmm cha mmm cha ....)

    By the time you get to RnR the swing has all but gone


    None of this means that you should only dance to certain songs though - if the mood takes you then go for it.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by clevedonboy View Post
    None of this means that you should only dance to certain songs though - if the mood takes you then go for it.
    Not at all, I was merely trying to get help explaining why some music makes me want to dance and some music doesn't even though it is all categorised as 'swing'.

    Also, I wanted to understand why people play 'swing' music and I'm left confused thinking 'but this doesn't swing at all?'.

    I think we're getting a bit closer now

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Gav View Post
    Also, I wanted to understand why people play 'swing' music and I'm left confused thinking 'but this doesn't swing at all?'.
    That is one of life's great mysteries that I fear is unlikely to be solved

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Gav View Post
    Not at all, I was merely trying to get help explaining why some music makes me want to dance and some music doesn't even though it is all categorised as 'swing'.
    Several reasons, I'd suspect.
    The swing era was a period of massive innovation and experimentation in music - and while there's a lot of music which can easily be classified as swing, or Charleston, or bebop, or boogie etc there's a whole lot more where the definitions become blurred, and you can identify characteristics from several different styles in a single piece. The exact point where something stops being swing is very subjective, and difficult to identify.

    Here's a couple of links to illustrate that - both links are the Glenn Miller Orchestra, with Jeep Jockey Jump - one of the only Glenn Miller tracks that is universally acknowledged to swing like crazy. .

    If you listen closely to the first one, you should hear a very regular 'chug chug chug chug chug' sound giving the main beat. This is the rhythm section - typically drum, guitar (sometimes piano) and bass, and it drives the track. Listen closer, and you can start to hear all the subtle little syncopations and variations on that basic beat really give it the swung feel - you might not consciously register them, but without them, it would lack that essential swung feel. If you want to hear it to full effect, , which has one of the faster versions.

    Now listen to the second one - that whole rhythm section feel is lost, replaced by the drummer tapping out a swung rhythm on the cymbals. Half the excitement, and much of the swing is lost from the piece. And this is what a lot of people don't get - it's not the tunes that make swing music, it's those subtleties of rhythm.... and simply tapping out a swung beat with a tune doesn't make it swing.

    If I had a penny for every time I heard a version of "It don't mean a thing..." that didn't swing, I'd.... well - I'd be a few quid richer, at the very least.

    It's why I get frustrated with electro swing - much of the time, they take those tunes, great as many of them are, and put them to a club beat. If instead they started reproducing those basic rhythms with modern instruments, I think the results could be incredible.

    Anyway - to go back to the original question, I'll happily play most of the categories you mentioned at a swing dance (not so much the Foxtrot or Brat Pack) - but I always need to bear in mind what I'm playing, and who I'm playing it for. In the main, if I can, I prefer to stick to proper 30s / 40s swing, quite simply because when dancing Lindy or Bal, nothing can beat it.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Gav View Post
    Or at the very least, start a new thread as this one was meant to be about swing music!
    I think it's very difficult to separate swing and dance. When I've read up on definitions of swing music there seems to be a common theme of 'music that's played in a way that makes you want to dance'. There does seem to be a more technical definition of what makes a song 'swing'. But the objective of 'swinging' a song seems to be to get people dancing or at least wanting to dance.

    And once you agree that 'swinging' a song is linked to dancing to that song, it's just a small step to discussing the kind of dance that's right for a 'swung' song.

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy McGregor View Post
    And once you agree that 'swinging' a song is linked to dancing to that song, it's just a small step to discussing the kind of dance that's right for a 'swung' song.
    The answer to that one is sooooo easy - A dance that swings daddio

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy McGregor View Post
    I think it's very difficult to separate swing and dance.
    I think it's pretty easy. I've yet to hear a waltz that swings, but I've heard plenty of waltzes that I love dancing to. There's a huge amount of music out there which is great for dancing, but which doesn't swing.

    There's no need to redefine the term - if you do, it becomes meaningless - (as the WCS scene appears intent on proving )

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    Re: The Definition of Swing Music

    Quote Originally Posted by clevedonboy View Post
    The answer to that one is sooooo easy - A dance that swings daddio
    Fats Waller would have approved

    I'm sure you know this story, but it's always worth repeating...

    'In a Grenwich Village night club, Fats Waller had just finished playing and singing his way through a stunning twenty-minute set which included Honeysuckle Rose, Sweet Georgia Brown, I’m Just Wild About Harry, Basin Street Blues, Somebody Love Me and Blue Turning Grey Over You.

    Perspiring, laughing, loving the applause, Fats left his piano and walked over to the bar where he encountered a fashionably dressed woman.

    “Oh”, she said, “Just the man I want to see. I’m sure you can answer my question. Tell me Mr Waller, what is swing?”

    Fats reached for his drink with one hand, mopped his face with the other and replied.
    “Lady, if you gotta ask, you ain’t got it!”’

    Art Tatum

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