It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing

One of the best songs I ever heard was a soundcheck of Hill Where the Lord Hides performed by my high school jazz band. That’s the problem and the beauty of jazz; the best version of any song only happens once. It doesn’t matter if every note is played exactly the same, sometimes it’s cookin’ and sometimes it’s not. There’s no way to capture it; the energy in the room when a song is hot simply can’t be recorded or reproduced.

Being a good jazzer isn’t just about being a good musician, it takes a certain zeal, an ineffable grooviness, to really make a tune cook. That’s the swing. You can memorize every scale, play every note exactly as it’s written with surgical precision,  but if you’re a square, it’s just not gonna have that groooove. It’s not something that can be taught either; you have it or you don’t, somewhere deep down, the rhythm that pulses with the beat of your heart. You think I’m being superfluous, turning music into some kind of metaphysical phenomena…

But I’m serious.

Even a nihilist can feel it, the energy in the air when a band is really cookin’ (not cooking, cookin’). It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time, when the right folks get together with the right kinda vibe in the room, it all comes together.

There’s an idea in literature: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The same thing goes for music; it’s not the notes being played, it’s how they’re being played. I could write a thousand page volume and never fully articulate the process, the sensation. It, whatever ‘it’ is, transcends definition and comprehension. But when it happens, you’ll know. And you’ll wish you could stop time, cause it only happens once. Kind of like your first kiss, but with a bunch of other people there, too.


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