Swing, Swang, Swung

I had the good fortune to be in the audience for Peter Appleyard's May 13 show at the Old Mill. Although the term "jazz legend" may at times be used a bit liberally, it is entirely accurate here: Peter is a Canadian jazz treasure and it was a pleasure to hear him play.

What struck me, while enjoying the show, was not only how fluid Peter is as a player at the age of 82, but how much the group swung. It shouldn't have been a surprise, I suppose - with John Sherwood on piano, Reg Schwager on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums, how could it not swing? But I'm not talking about any sort of run-of-the-mill, snap on two-and-four, 1930's-style swing. I'm talking about whole-body-moving, feet-can't-stop-tapping SWING!

There are a few musicians that stick out for me as epitomizing swing - that perhaps indescribable element that makes jazz FEEL so good. Two musicians in particular that I can pinpoint as being early influences are, happily, Canadian - Oscar Peterson and Rob McConnell. Over the years many musicians have been added to the list...but I admit that I didn't ever explore Peter Appleyard's music. Blame the arrogance of youth - as a university student, I always knew about this "old" vibes player, but figured he wouldn't have anything to offer a burgeoning trumpet player more interested in what was new and cutting edge.

And so last week's concert was a good reminder of two things: the importance of honouring, respecting, and listening to jazz masters, young and old; and the importance of swing. The two points are related, I think. No matter where jazz is going, it's coming from somewhere - either a "feel" or a musician that came before. Jazz over the years has either been an evolution (the dixieland of the 20's leading to the swing of the 30's leading to the bebop of the 40's, etc.) or a revolution of sorts (the avant-garde movement rejecting the conventions of swing, bebop, etc.). In particular, I think without that sense of swing, jazz couldn't exist. It's changed over the years as different musicians have incorporated, manipulated, altered swing into the feeling with which they play, but without that swinging base, there would be nothing to build on, play off of or rebel against.

So - next time you're listening to an artist that you really dig, ask yourself, "Does this swing?" I bet the answer will be yes.

What do you think? Whose music swings the hardest?

Josh

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