Can your band swing?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Thirteen Ball, Oct 5, 2004.

  1. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I depped for a non-contesting band at the weekend, who had quite a varied programme, one of the pieces being an arrangement of beyond the sea. (Bernaerts I think. It was certainly cheesy enough.) What surprised me was the complete inability of some of the players to produce a swing rhythm. It probably would have been fine except half of them could, half couldn't and the resulting oddments of rhythm here and there was a bit of a cacophony. (Oo-er.)

    I was reminded of hearing a military band play 'American patrol' a few months back, and they played every quaver straight as a die. They were all absolutely together, and the quality of the sound couldn't be faulted, but it FELT wrong without that big-band style. As Mr Sparke proved you can knock the two styles together with awesome effect if you know what you're doing (Graduation day being a case in point) But can you imagine 'Sing Sing Sing' played with straight quavers? Yikes!

    Is it that some players just can't latch onto the sort of 12:8 feel that four-beat swing has?

    Opinions appreciated.
  2. 2nd man down

    2nd man down Moderator Staff Member

    I think that brass bands that can swing properly are few and far between. Don't quite know why that is, it just is.:-?
  3. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    As SA bands go, we aren't too bad when it comes to swing - the biggest problem is getting the bass line right: it is often very stodgy, not moving on enough in the faster numbers, and not holding things back enough in the slow ones!

    Mick, my fellow sax-player from many years ago, used to often say of an number of ex brass band players who'd joined the band: "He couldn't even swing on the end of a rope!"
  4. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I'll try not to take offence, beng a confirmed meber of the bass players union. ;)

    Couldn't swing on the end of a rope! Belter!
  5. AndyCat

    AndyCat Active Member

    Never heard a brass band that can swing. Not any where near as well as even the most average amateur big band.

    I believe it's a combination of having:-

    a) a conductor
    b) more than one person trying to lay down a bass line (my biggest gripe!)
    c) the majority of brass band players never having sat in a big band and felt how far away from a 12/8 rhythm swing actually is.

    I play in a pro standard big band where 4/5ths of the trom section are brass banders really, yet we still swing. Put the same section in a brass band and we don't.

    As a tuba player, I can certainly play a swing bass line as well as many string bass players, whether in a big band, show or 10 piece, but find it almost impossible to do with a brass band, even if I'm the only bass playing!

    One day I'd love to hear a big band play Slaidburn or the Caliph of Bagdad, or maybe Harmony Music!

    No, don't think so, they stick to what they know!
  6. Mrs Womble

    Mrs Womble Member

    I've played for a few bands that have really tried there hardest to be able to swing, but it just didn't work! However the band I play for now are brilliant at big band style. We have different uniforms, and completely different band seating arrangement and it works really well.
  7. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Brass bands can't swing? No, brass bands DON'T swing as a rule. Just as they've learned one or two more classically orientated playing styles for the majority of their performances, they could learn swing style if enough time was dedicated to teaching it, but you would, I suppose need someone in the band (not necessarily the conductor) familiar with the genre. But believe me, I've played in amateur big bands (and I dare say I'm as guilty as any of them) where a number of the players think they can swing.....
  8. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    We all know how hard it can be to get 'traditional' brass band musicians to lay music rather than dots on the page. For some reason it seems to be extremely difficult to get a brass band to 'feel' the music.

    In my experience it's not just true of swing/jazz either. Put different types of classical music in front of them and they'll just try and play them all in the same style, however inappropriate.

    I know I'm generalising - before someone jumps on my back - but it is largely true. Maybe it's an education and experience thing? Maybe if brass players were encouraged to improvise more they'd be a lot less rigid? Just a thought.
  9. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    There are a few 'lead bricks' in our band too - but it is all down to experience. I've been playing in big bands since the age of 14 so swinging comes naturally to me and it is just a 'feel' thing, you can't ascribe a particular rythmnic variation to it (12/8, triples, etc.) it just happens.

    I guess it just shows how important it is for brass players to have a wide range of experience.

    Most big banders I have played with play straight music as well.
  10. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Certainly true. I think the thing I find is that players sometimes 'read' rests too much, certainly within a phrase, spoiling the 'flow' and 'feel'. This is particularly noticeable in swing. I've always said that reading notes is one skill, reading rests is another, and reading them together (i.e 'bar' and 'phrase' georgraphy) is a new skill altogether! But it's not a criticism of the players, after all, in the lower sections, the vast majority of us are amateurs so we can but keep trying to learn! ;-)
  11. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I have come across bands where the older players have the mentality "That's how we've dun 't since t'band wer' formed in 15BC and that's t'way we'll always do 't!"

    Swing styles are a late arrival in brass band music and some players are still struggling with the concept of fire. Until this changes it's an uphill struggle. I get very frustrated with people who don't want to at least try a different way - just for the sake of variety if nothing else.
  12. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Must admit, I've been lucky that in the bands I've played with or conducted, the 'that's how we've always done it' attitude has been rare, and they've certainly been prepared to try something different.
  13. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I'm with you on that. I'm lucky in the fact co-op seem to cope really well with swing and jazz styles. But contrary to a previous comment, I don't see the conductor as an obstacle to that. I think a large part the fact we DO cope is due to our MD, John. If anyone really FEELS music, one look'll at him with a baton in his hand tell you he does, and i guess some of that rubs off on us. ;)

    I think it helps if you've played other sorts of music. No offence intended but some brass players are rather traditional. (The "listen laddie, it's Opener, overture, cornet solo, in that order!" brigade.) I started playing classical piano, (Badly) then rock guitar (Worse) and eventually found my calling as a brass bass player!

    Some musicians in all types of music learn music mechanically and mathematically, and become technically brilliant. But there's always the 'jimi hendrix' type who doesn't have the faintest clue about the theory, knows just enough sightreading to get by, but does stuff that others wouldn't even dream of trying and gets away with it. Maybe it's that emotional link with the music that just can't be taught that makes something FEEL right, even when it's not exactly what's written?
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2004
  14. brass journo

    brass journo Member

    nice thread 13 ball - I always new you had an educated side!!

    I think, personally, that in general many players do not feel the emotions of music, full stop. Every piece of music we play should evoke emotion and understanding and following these feelings helps us undertsand and feel the music better, consequently leading us to undertsand the style of music and play it correctly.

    The fact that some bands do not 'swing' or play jazz correctly can go hand in hand with some bands playing one of Philip Sparke's test-pieces and not making the most or 'feeling' the hairs on the back of your neck raise up in the those magic two-bars in the slow movement.

    Music is about emotion and feeling - feel the music and you get a feel for how the style should be played and then you can do it. Alternatively, some banders could just jump out of the insular box they live in and listen to other genres of music and other groups and listen to how it should be done, then put this into their own music making! We can all learn a lot by listening to different styles of music, whether played by professionals or amateurs!

    ps: I agree - having an MD that really understands the music and 'feels it' so to speak is a bonus - we are lucky there!:D :clap:
  15. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Exactly. That's why I got into this lark in the first place! Certain arrangements of wagner pieces in certain churches have the same effect. (Hi carolyn! ;) ) My first ever brass band concert was watching Grimey play leeds town hall about a week after I first picked up a bass, (When brassed off was still all the rage) and they played londonderry air, with that crescendo in the middle that just brings tears to your eyes and they nearly took the roof off the place. The girl I was sat next to just passed me a tissue and said "overblowing like nobody's business." (!!!????!!!)

    If someone can't feel music like that, what're they in a band for?

    PS Educated side? Me? Don't tell the other basses, it'll ruin my reputation!! ;)
  16. backrowbloke

    backrowbloke Member

    Does it come down to players not experiencing different types of group and music?
    I've been lucky, and over the years although primarily playign with brass bands, I've had opportunity to play with some decent orchestras, big-bands, oompah bands (dont even think about me in lederhosen :shock: ) and theatre orchestras. In each group I learnt (or at least I hope I did) different styles, techniques. I think perhaps many brass banders only play in the band and never experience different groups.

    conductor - our MD played very much in the same groups as I did (and was there when we missed a theatre trumpet entry due to us playing chess, but thats another story :rolleyes: ) and tries to get our current band to play in the style the music requires, be it swing or orchestral.

    PS - I have a gripe with composers / arrangers who try to write 'swing' rhthyms - e.g. the 12/8 style....
  17. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Problem is, sometimes it's the only way. Especially if you're writing simple stuff. I used to arrange things for a junior band (When I was in it, as it transpires!) And anything remotely big-band stylee had to be written in 12:8 or 6:8 or it just caused confusion. Like anything else, it has to be pitched a certain level.

    Some Swing and Blues tunes like Feelin' Good and Sweet home Chicago are actually scored in 6:8 and 12:8 respectively. (Though I don't know if either has been arranged for brass) I think it's a question of tempo if it's a slow tune, like sinatra or robbie's 'One for my baby' writing it in 4:4 swing just seems to confuse. At quicker tempo it seems to work better the other way round in my experince.

    Before anyone jumps on me for it I know 12:8 and 4:4 swing AREN'T exactly interchangeable, but the desired effect can often be obtained that way. (Especially if traditional or junior players are involved.)

    TIMBONE Active Member

    I am very fortunate to have learnt to play in all styles. It was interesting that my band, (Parr, St Helens), had a positive comment from Steve Tighe in his remarks about our performance of "Facets of Glass" at the Fleetwood contest. He was referring to the last movement, which begins in a 'swing'(ish) style.

    There are many vague pieces of advice about being able to swing. Personally, I have two 'rules of thumb'. 1. Read phrases not notes. 2. Articulate as you would sing it in the bath! ie ba dap da da daaaaaaaa etc!
  19. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Basin street blues, right? ;)
  20. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Battle Creek can teach us a thwing or two! :rolleyes:

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