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Easy Swing, Fours and More, Medicinal Jazz

Easy Swing, Fours and More, Medicinal Jazz
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just played a gig, and one of the charts said the feel should be "Easy Swing." What does that mean? The bassist thinks he was supposed to play in two, but I think it would have said "In Two" if that was the case. I think he was supposed to walk, but he says the charts would have said "In Four" or "Walking Bass." Please settle our argument.

—Swingless In Seattle


Dear SIS:

Was it a hard tune? The arranger probably knew that musicians like you would mess it up, and he didn't want the audience to notice. "Easy Swing" tells you to play a hard song as if it's easy.

Such an elegant solution! With different instructions you'd flounder, but playing with an "Easy Swing" feel you'll sound like you haven't a care in the world—like the tempo isn't mm = 300, like there aren't a bunch of Coltrane substitutions, and like the rest of the band isn't vibing you.

Unfortunately, for some musicians that sort of blustery self-confidence just doesn't come naturally. If you're one of them, don't despair: You can get that same "Easy Swing" feel by pounding a couple of stiff drinks right before the count-off.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When we got to trading fours on a tune last night, it went like this:

sax—drums
piano—drums
sax—drums
piano—drums
piano...

The pianist bogarted my four! (I'm the saxophonist)

So what was I supposed to do? Play anyway, and try to play louder than him? Steal his next four?

—Jeff, Sacramento


Dear Jeff:

Fours are widely accepted currency in the jazz community. They can be saved or sold but are more typically swapped; this is the origin of the phrase "trading" fours. The same marketplace also includes eights and, among wholesale distributors, choruses. Musicians prefer to traffic in fours because they're the lowest denomination commonly traded; due to inflation the once popular twos—the pennies of the jazz world—are seldom seen today.

There's no reason you can't get your fours back next time you work with that pianist; just be sure to keep your eye on the drummer, who can easily render any trade invalid. To those of us supporting Fair Trade policies, drummers who drop beats are the discount brokers of the jazz economy: By undercutting their bandmates and promoting an inferior product, they're no better than your local Walmart.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

So the election happened and now a lot of people in the jazz world are upset. Can jazz itself be a healing force?

—Polly Cy


Dear Polly:

Absolutely! And that probably explains why the jazz audience is so small—they get better and move on.

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