Why swing music?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by W.Rimmer, Nov 28, 2003.

  1. W.Rimmer

    W.Rimmer Member

    I've just been listening to "Listen to the Band" and "Big Band Special" on Radio 2's "Radio on Demand". Why on Earth do brass bands try to play swing music...especially on a radio network that broadcasts a highly professional and slick example of the genre? Their attempts to do so sound wooden and self-conscious. Jazz musicians cringe. To them it sounds comical. Listen to the contrast for yourselves!
    The BBC Big Band wouldn't try to play Zampa or Life Divine, they play the one style of music at which they are highly skilled. It is time we started to do the same. We need a more clearly defined musical identity to sell to the general public. An identity based on our own rich heritage.

    I expect I may be shot down in flames, but that is how I see it!

  2. Aidan

    Aidan Active Member

    agreed :D
    the vib is comical
  3. Keppler

    Keppler Moderator Staff Member

    Commence firing.

    I play music I like to play. That's why I do it. Not for any pretensions that I will "improve the movement" or because I'm supposed to or not supposed to play it.

    I think that "stepping into a defined box" would be taking several dozen steps backward.

    p.s. When I hear any of today's "pop" hits on radio, I cringe too.
  4. JessopSmythe

    JessopSmythe Active Member

    All depends on the band in question. Some bands can, some can't. Just like some bands do really well on set test pieces and crash and burn in entertainments contests. It does help a lot if the conductor has experience or at least an interest in a wide range of music.
  5. W.Rimmer

    W.Rimmer Member

    OK, but don't you ever share with me that feeling of wanting to die from embarrassment because you are publicly performing something that makes you sound tasteless and unskilled?
  6. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I agree that some brass bands do play swing badly, but there's no reason why it has to like that. As has been said already, there may be some "unlearning" to do, and new styles to be developed, but there is no reason why it shouldn't work, given the right personnel and good arrangements.

    Any group that is used to playing in a particular style is bound to be most comfortable when on it's own territory, but just as we as individuals can learn a new language and gradually come to speak more idiomatically, so bands can adjust. Yes, it can sound rigid and stilted, with the bass lines in particular very ponderous, but then you can come across a performance that really does work.

    I would venture to say that, even in the field of swing/jazz, there are so many diferent styles that a lot of players even in the top ensembles would sound out of place in groups from other traditions. With the number of players nowadays mixing brass banding with playing in other groups then they should be able to make the adjustment and carry the others along with them.
  7. Bones

    Bones Member

    I agree.

    Having played both idioms of Music, I do sometimes find it cringing.

    Howver, I have done a version of Coleney Bogey which was written for the ted heath band, and that was awful.

    Sadly in order to make brass bands more popular, we sometimes have to do these swing numbers to appeal to audiences. What then happens is that the original form of swing music denegrates.

    Where does the line get drawn between spoiling a form of music, but having the wrong instruments play in a style which is alien to them.

    Mind you the same could be said about Brass bands playing classical music.

    Interesting debate though
  8. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Trouble is, the recent additions to the brass band library of swing music have enhanced its repertoire. Some orchestral players might (sorry, DO)
    sneer at arrangements and performances of the classical repertoire, but bands have been doing that for a century and a half.

    I don't think it's a case of 'brass bands can't swing' (yet) it's more a case of brass bands don't (or won't) swing simply because maybe the demands of the contest season don't allow sufficient time for in depth teaching of that sort of style. I think that if time allowed, under the right sort of direction, we might see an improvement in the style of playing required from some bands but more importantly, as I said, it's nice to at least be able to have a GO at that sort of stuff if only to improve our own musical awareness, and provide a bit of extra variety in bands' programmes. After all, most of us have been littering our bandstand programmes with the likes of The Floral Dance for the past 27 years, it would make a bit of a change! Most band audiences (in my experience) appreciate bands who have a go at good arrangements of the big band genre, even if we fall short on 'artistic impression'!

    I personally think brass bands are nearer getting the style right for big band stuff than they are for arrangements of music from the baroque era, but I'm only too glad to have a go at that style too.
  9. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I would agree that many brass bands don't deal with "swing" idioms very well, however I see no reason for not trying. In fairness, I've sometimes heard/played with some so-called professional Big Bands who also struggle to cope with Swing (at least in direct comparison with outfits such as the Basie/Ellington Bands)

    Sometimes I think it's not so much a case of bands 'can't' swing, but more a case of they "don't know how to". In my experience, the problem is most often to be found with the person "in the middle"; if a MD has no experience of playing in that style, how can he be expected to direct others?

    Still, as I say, no reason not to try. When we play "Miller Magic" in the local park on a summer Sunday afternoon, very few of our audience are likely to say "Mmm, it's not really swinging, is it?"

  10. Keppler

    Keppler Moderator Staff Member

    IMHO I don't think I've ever performed something that makes me sound "tasteless and/or unskilled". I hold no illusions about my technical or musical standard, but I would rate myself as being able to discern a credible performance from one which should be left in the bandroom ( slash rehearsal venue) - It may not always be perfect, and sometimes doesn't work as well as it could do, but that's music-making.

    With respect, it seems to me as if you have a rather large chip on one of your shoulders which is lending toward these remarks.
    Some pieces don't work with the particular BB instrumentation. Some don't work because of a particular band's style or outlook. But to come out and suggest that brass bands shall never again play X genre is like campaigning against the semi-quaver - i.e. trying to remove an integral part of music from our repertoire.

    If you don't like it, don't play it, and don't listen to it. There are plenty who will, and who will enjoy it, and I'll take the opinions of 500 punters from the street over one soap-box-shouter any day of the week.
  11. The Cornet King

    The Cornet King Active Member

    Certainly no disrespect intended, but in the concerts when we have a "big band" style second half, it is these pieces that really seem to go down very well with the audience.

    I think more and more the audiences want to listen to something really upbeat and with the swing medium being highly popular with the older generations (might open a can of worms here!) i think it is a great thing for Brass bands to play (considering the average age of a concert audience).

    Our warmest receptions and ovations come after playing swing pieces and i believe we are certainly getting nearer to playing swing in a way it should be. :D

  12. W.Rimmer

    W.Rimmer Member

    This it the part of all this that really concerns me. I believe the idea that it is necessary to play some moronic stuff (Floral Dance etc.) or swing arrangements in order to win over audiences is false. If we cater entirely for the "play something we know" strata of the public we will become totally debased, and we aren't going to retain those people as a loyal audience anyway.
    Classic FM manages to attract a viable audience to a commercial station playing what is a minority interest music. Their musical genre is very clearly defined (so much so that they won't even play brass band recordings!) and they have attracted a large dedicated niche audience. I feel that if we lose the moron music and the stuff that doesn't work on our medium we could go the same way.
    My local park used to have a brass band on the bandstand every Sunday during the summer. There is now only one brass band performance. The other weeks they have big bands, folk groups, trad jazz bands, salza bands...groups that play one clearly defined type of music, and play it well. When the local brass band gets its chance it plays a hotch-potch of stuff, perhaps starting and finishing with a march, but with a load of Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra etc. played pretty poorly in between. It seems to me that the setting, a victorian bandstand in a pretty English park, would be best enhanced by very traditional sounding band music. Very evocative for the general public. Very British. A perfect back-drop for a stroll in the park. I'm sure if that's what they had been delivering in recent years the brass bands would still have the gig.
  13. JessopSmythe

    JessopSmythe Active Member

    If we went back, and I firmly believe it would be a backward step, to only playing the old "traditional" brass band music, I for one would be looking for somewhere else to play.

    Your comment about classic fm is not strictly true. They do play a whole range of music. You cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, claim that, for example the piano works by chopin are of the same genre as a mahler symphony or the strong more modern works of people like copland.
  14. W.Rimmer

    W.Rimmer Member

    I'm not saying that there shouldn't be any new arrangements or that there isn't scope for experimentation. Heavens forbid! I'm suggesting we should be more sensitive about rejecting things that make us sound duff and more sensitive about the musical identity we portray to the public.

    What Classic FM don't do is take the line of least resistance and play crowd pleasing pop, rock, swing, country & western etc. just to boost listening figures. Their boundaries are clearly defined.
  15. JessopSmythe

    JessopSmythe Active Member

    The subtle difference is sponsorship. Classic FM's air time is something like 35% advertising. Unless your band is lucky enough to have a pretty substantial sponsorship package, you have to cater to every audience to survive.
    As for suggesting that we avoid pieces that make us sound duff, that's down to individual bands and arrangers. What suits one band and shows off all their talents may sound awful played by another, regardless of their standard. Even two different arrangements of the same piece can have a totally different effect on the audience.
    One of my personal attractions to the brass band movement as a whole is the fact that we are one of the few groups able or prepared to play in a range of styles, genres etc and I try to choose which bands I play for with this in mind.
  16. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    I do agree, swing for Brass Bands is just wrong (despite writing a bit of swing in the very occasional brass band work! :? )

    I played Jazz for quite some time, playing lead trumpet for many well know jazz standards (Oh how I remember screeming out a few top G's!) and Brass Band jazz is cheesy, and drummers tend to swing with the band, rather than push the tempo on.
  17. shedophone

    shedophone Member

    Maybe we shouldn't get in to the 'classic fm' arguement, i could go on for hours... I know brass bands dont get much of a look in but, to be fair, unless the music is already in telly ads or the classical charts- will they really play it?

    Going back to the actual topic, i've heard a couple of bands who can really swing (Grimey for example have a real 'big band' quality at times),
    and equally some shocking 'swingers' :oops: .

    I don't think its a bad things that bands play swing music, audiences certainly enjoy it, and it can be a laugh for the player too, especially when they get to dance around and stuff!

    A bit like the Schneewaltz really....... :?

    Not to pick on percussion (much), but much of the style of the bands 'swing' playing is dictated by the kit drummer... The problem i have found is people pay far too much attention to the parts written for kit in swing/big band arrangements.

    Arrangers are not kit players and they do not realise that the rhythms notated are a frame- it only shows what the band is doing where, not really what you should be doing... Confused? :wink:

    (If you want to know more (composers/percussionists), Dave Hassell is the guy who knows it all... I'm sure he's written a book or two somewhere.)
  18. JessopSmythe

    JessopSmythe Active Member

    I still have to disagree. Swing music for Brass Bands is no more wrong than us playing an orchestral arrangement, or a pop tune or any other piece that wasn't originally written for BB. The fact it may sound different to the original due to the use of a different ensemble does not make it wrong. The simple fact remains that it is down to the band and conductor to decide. If a particular arrangement doesn't suit the talents or styles available in your band, then don't play it. If you don't like listening to certain types of music, then don't. Neither of these are a good reason for those that can play this music or those that like to listen to it to stop just because it was originaly played/heard in a different context.
  19. W.Rimmer

    W.Rimmer Member

    Oh no! Sounding duff and looking naff too! :)

    Does anyone remember the TV series "Brass" a spoof soap opera set in a 19thC Northern mill town? The signature tune and all the incidental music was "Dallas" style and played by a brass band for comic effect. When I hear swing music played by a band it has that same comic effect for me. Music that powerfully evokes a certain attitude and culture being played by a cosily familiar home-spun group that just can't handle it.

    It can't work without a rhythm section (piano guitar bass & drums working as a team), apart from all the stylistic unfamiliarity problems. And as for 4 tubas plodding away at the bass line...
  20. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    The trouble with swing, is, the cornet is just too damn nice - in jazz, you've got to be dirty, raunchy and loud! If it ain't loud and dirty, it ain't jazz. Of course I'm biased as I've played in a real big band and played with Tommy Smith and Joe Temperly (both sax players)

    Also, what about Jazz Improvisation? I think even 2nd section bands would have trouble trying to play an improvised solo, learning blues scales, be-bop scales, alto penataonic scales and so on as well as learning the rather complicated modal system and knowing which 'blue notes' sit in each chord and what modes you can play in a chord. Basically speaking, Mixolydian is the jazziest mode, with Phrygian coming a very close second!

    Although, as I was Lead Trumpet, I didn't get the solo's (2nd Trumpet get's the solo's in big band scores, usually) I was too busy turning purple taking things up a few octaves - something of which will usually be frowned upon in the Brass Band or the Orchestral scene!

    Jazz is about the performance, big band scores aren't really all that complex, nor do they have as much detail as a convensional brass band or orchestral score, the ability to harmonise on the fly, remember scales and chord voicing of the tonal and modal systems, having a feel for swing, etc, are all part of the jazz or swing experience.