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More Than 'It Just Sounds Good to Me'

A pliable set of sounds is at the heart of jazz. The main ingredients are a collection of principal instruments, in which an emphasis on percussion is virtually indispensable, and a personalized approach to the production of timbre and vibrato. In many cases these sounds have been developed within jazz by its musicians, as a consequence of their experimental spirit.

...It is as if the patterns of human speech that yield sense had been translated by analogy into an equivalent, subtle, complex musical rhythm, yielding swing.

Swing is a subject of eternal disagreement. Insofar as the disagreement stems from perceptions of subtle, complex rhythm, it seems genuine: the fine details of swing can be hard to hear, and invariably these details defy precise analysis and rational notation. But among jazz fans, a snobbish tradition sometimes makes the subject exclusive: if you don't already know what swing is, we're certainly not going to tell you. Accessible, musically rational qualities are sometimes ignored or belittled: Take the simplest swing rhythm, with none of the intricacies of sophisticated jazz-samba or jazz-funk rhythmic patterns (those based on duple rhythms rather than on swing), and someone will call that swing rhythm unfathomable. And the concept "swing" is sometimes used in a stylistically vague and almost perverse manner, so that "it swings" seems to mean little more than "the rhythm sounds good to me."

- From 'What to Listen for in Jazz'

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