Excerpt from the book Max on “Swing” by Max Bacon (1934)
SWING. I cannot imagine a better name, for to me it conveys everything that is expressed in the ultra-modern rhythm. And before we go any farther, I want to pass this feeling on to you; because, until you learn what it is that we are to do, it is no use attempting to learn how it is to be achieved.
What, then, is this “swing”, which is the very essence of successful rhythmic playing to-day? Is it rhythm ? It is more than rhythm.
It is the very pulse of rhythm – that which beats within rhythm to give it life.
Unless the essential swing is there, the rhythm will cease to inspire: it may even cease to exist. Swing is a very elusive thing, but there is no mistaking it when you hear it. It is a sense of rhythmic balance which moves the whole band as one unit. It is a steady sweeping movement, like the swing of the pendulum of a grandfather clock. To and from: to and from.
That is swing ; and until a band get knack of swinging together, that band will not be a success. The expression of the rhythm is of the same type that you see in that super swing acquired by skilled skaters, dancing upon ice – large regular sweeps. Mind you, this swing is very difficult to acquire at first. It does not come all at once, even to the best musicians. I have often heard a bunch of well-known players get together for amusement and – experienced though they are – it will be quite a while before they begin to swing as a unit. In the same way, it sometimes happens that a band noted for its swing will lose it for a time. Lack of concentration, or over-tiredness is generally the cause.
But when once you get “into” the swing of the rhythm, you will find that you keep it, for the simple reason that a rhythmic movement, with its regular pulse, is the easiest to maintain.
What is the best way to acquire swing, you may well ask. First and foremost, it is a question of temperament: you must like it when you hear it and you must want to do it yourself. As you know, most dance drummers have become such because they were “drum-minded” ; they had in “in” them to become drummers. In just the same way, you must have it in you to feel that swing behind the rhythm. As I say, it is a question of temperament. It is, of course, partly what we call a gift. You must have the gift of a drumming mind. But it can most definitely be acquired to those who will.
There are several ways of helping yourself to get swing into your work. First and foremost, you must listen to those bands that are known to excel in this. Compare them with others and notice the difference. Then try and analyze their work and discover how this difference is produced. By this means, you will find yourself gradually “soaking your system” in swing until it enters your very blood and becomes part of you.
Having thus acquired it, the best way to produce it is to play easily. Do not be strained or forced. And to do this, you must, of course, have a certain amount of technique…..
Remember that the drummer has a very important part to play in swinging the band: and a poor drummer cannot swing a band, even if it is a good one. And the reverse of this is equally true.