Many musicians say that there is no such thing as swing music, there is only music that “swings.” And when you’re dancing to swing music, it’s really got to be ” swung” and that involves musicians who understand the structure of the music.
To use the words of the Newcastle University swing dance Society.
“Almost all music in the modern charts has no swing to it at all. The tempo of the music is kept by the drummer, and every beat is as important as every other beat. The main notes of the tune and the main words of the lyrics tend to be played or sung on the beat, and the beat is relentless. This is sterile for a good swing dancer. There is nothing there for a swing dancer to work with.
Good music for swinging to has “hits” and “breaks”. A hit is an excuse for a wild kick or the like, it is a note or group of notes that stands out from the rest by being louder, or higher, or sharper than the others. A break is a moment in the music when there is a sudden lull, perhaps even absolute silence. This is an excuse to do the opposite of dancing to a hit – to slow things down, makes smaller moves, and perhaps even come to a complete halt.
Other styles of music may also have these hits and breaks, but importantly, in swing, these features are predictable – a dancer can hear them coming, even in an unfamiliar piece – because they are signalled by the musicians. This means that the dancer can make himself ready for them and honour them when they come, rather than be surprised by them.
In jazz music, the tempo is not kept by the drummer, but by the bass player. The drummer is therefore free to do what he wants, perhaps coming in late or early, perhaps using a stop-start style…
To understand swing music you’ve got to feel it and live it. For the musicians it’s all about playing with time, which is the exact reason it’s so danceable. The musician gives the dancer time and space to play, to create, to respond. There’s also the space for each instrument to play within the framework of the melody and rhythm and create spots in the music where there long or short notes, where the musician can take advantage of the structure to bridge phrases.”
In order for an instrumentalist to play swing music and really make it swing they will need to have either studied jazz (or to have the most amazing ability to play by ear). Jazz musicians can play other genres e.g. Soul, (The Funk Brothers were originally Jazz Musicians) but non-jazz trained musicians will not have the ability to play swing and jazz and really make it swing, since they’ve never played with time. ( as opposed to playing in time e.g. the correct rhythm)
Any swing band leader who plays for swing dancers should know the rules…songs should be no longer than 3 and a half munutes(so you can change partners), vary the tempos, mainly four in the bar and play for the dancers, not for yourselves!