Swing Guitar

Dedicated to pre-bebop jazz guitar.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

New Link: Nuages de Swing - Play-a-long Tracks

Here's a new addition to the links list: Nauges de Swing
This a french-language, Django-oriented site, and has really great play-a-long tracks. Click on the "Playback & Grilles" tab. There is a long list of tunes and you can click for the chords, or "grilles", or stream rhythm tracks as mp3's or real media.

The tracks are well played in the proper gypsy, "le pompe" style, and have some arrangment. There are breaks, and changes in dynamics, endings, etc. They're perfect for practicing leads over, since it has stuff for the soloist to respond to.

Be aware that the chords are in the modern gypsy jazz vocabulary, which is not exactly the same as the swing vocabulary. For example "Dark Eyes" (or rather "Les Yeux Noir") has the Bb in the 7th bar rather than A7. "Dinah" goes to the IV7 in the 2nd bar, etc. So just be ready for tunes with some slightly hipper changes. Still, despite the modern changes, this is a great resource.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Comments Welcome

Although I want to share my discoveries or understanding with you all, I'm definitely open to you ideas and perspectives.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Amplifying your Rhythm Guitar

Guys like Freddie Green and Allan Reuss routinely managed to cut through Big Bands using only an acoustic archtop guitar.

How'd they do it? - Well it helps that those bands existed in the era before amplification. Even with 9-14 horns, those bands had to play softly enough to hear Count Basie's or Jess Stacy's piano. The instruments of the day were designed to be much quieter - gut bass strings, calf skin drum heads, etc. So the question for us now is "How do we can that now?"

Today, most bassists play with amplification, often pianists have to use synthesizers, and drum kits are designed to keep pace with Marshall stacks. To balance properly, the rhythm guitarist has to be amplified as well.

The key to amplifying rhythm guitar is to keep the acoustic sound of the instrument in tact. Boomy and bass heavy sounds will muddy the sound, and moreover will be much, much more prone to feedback. The main choices are pickups or microphones. I recommend using a microphone because the sound is closest thing to sound of your actual guitar. You can use a piezo/transducer pickup if necessary, but the microphone will sound much more natural. A lot of guitar players I know who don't like to use mic, have had problems trying to use the wrong kind of mic in the wrong setting. Here are some tips on mic selection and usage:
  • Mic Type - Use a hyper-cardiod, small diaphragm condenser. For those of you who have no idea what that means, hyper-cardiod, just means that the mic captures more of what it's pointed at, and less of the other stuff around it. Small Diaphragm refers to the microphone element itself, and without going into excessive detail, Small Diaphragm mics are more sensative than a Dynamic mic (ala SM57 / 58), and not as sensitive (or fragile) as a Large Diaphragm (think big studio quality vocal mics). So a mic that is sensative (but not too sensative) and pretty focused on its target (capturing less of the drummer to your left or the sax player to your right) is the right tool for Rhythm guitar.
  • Internal Shockmount - Again without too much information, bascially that means the mic element is shockmounted inside the mic case, and thus it wont need one of those spider mounts to protect it from bumps. With an internally shockmounted mic you can move the mic, bump the stand, etc., without creating a really loud low boom. Your soundman and/or audience will appreciate it.
  • On / Off Switch - Having an on/off switch means that you can turn the mic off when you are finding your music, or when you adjusting your mic, or changing guitars, or most importantly when you are talking to the guys on stage. How much of the between song conversation do you want the audience to hear? Also, you can minimize fedback by only having the mic on when you need it to be.
  • Battery powered - All Condenser mics require power, but most PA systems already have phantom power. But for those occasions where the system does not have phantom or when you might want to use an "acoustic" guitar amp (usually these don't have phantom either), a battery-powered mic, will generally take phantom power, but use the battery when it needs to.
  • Proper mic placement - Clearly this can be a selective thing, but I've had the best results with the same position. Point the mic down at the bridge of the guitar, and position the mic 6 inches to a foot away from the top of the guitar. You can always experiment for different stages, instrumentation, etc., but that's a good place to start. What you don't want to do is place the mic closer than 4 inches off the top, and definately pointing into one of the f-holes. The "proximity effect" (which means that at very close range mics exaggerate bass frequencies - good for full vocals, not for natural acoustic guitar) will take over less than 4 or so inches away, and the most boomy sound comes from the f-holes (where the air is pumpin out of the guitar. Also - boomy = feedback city.
  • Stage setup - If posible, set up so that there are no other instruments behind you. Playing right in front of drummer will just cause the drums to bleed into your mic. Also, being right in front of the bass can be feedback inducing, because the boomy bass can bleed into the mic.
I personally use a RODE NT-3. It has each of attributes I mentioned and sounds superlative! When I started using it, I got compliments from the musicians I was playing with about how great it sounded. And its pretty cheap - under $200 street. I think a lot of other companies make something in the same style., though when I checked out the RODE, I stopped looking. I had given up on mic-ing my archtop guitar live, but once I found the NT-3, I knew there was only one way to go. It allowed me to stop compromising my on-stage sound.

If you absolutely must use a pickup, I recommend the K&K Archtop transducer. You could also try the Fishman bridge pickup, but I haven't tried that myself. The bottom line with pickups is that they'll never sound as good as a mic. After all, you don't listen to your guitar with your ear pressed up against the sound board.

Monday, July 18, 2005

(Re)Interpreting for Swing Era Harmony - Getting the chords right for Swing

If you've ever cracked a fake book to learn a tune, you might have noticed just how "hip" some of the songs are. Bebop has brought a host of new substitutions and complications, and moreover the basic default for harmony are unique to both early and later forms of jazz. To get the swing-style chords you will often have to de-bopify the changes, removing unecessary ii-V movements, and complex extensions. But at the most basic level you will have to reevaulate the types of chords used. Here's what I'm talking about:

I got these bebop-ed chords for the first half of "All of Me" from The Jazz Guitar Primer.
Also, be aware that I will replace the "code" with proper notation as soon as I can.

First, lets look at breaking the song into its most basic form:

C--- | ---- | E7-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | ---- |

A7-- | ---- |Dm--- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

E7-- | ---- |Am--- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

D7-- | ---- | G7-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

Now here is how the chords were playing the swing era:

C6-- | ---- | E7-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | ---- |

A7-- | ---- |Dm6-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

E7-- | ---- |Am6-- | ---- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

D7-- | ---- | Dm7--| G7-- |
//// | //// | //// | //// |

Using these examples here are some tips:
1. All regular major chords become major 6th chords. Hence the I chord "C", become "C6". Generally I and IV chords can be used as just major chords, and so these most often become 6th chords. In a modern, bebop context, these chords would be made to be maj7th chords. Maj7ths are rarely used in pre-bop jazz. V chords are often used as a dominant, so they would be 7th chords anyway. So for basic rhythm guitar work, swing players almost always play C6 instead of a simple C. Also, most big band horn voicings of the era have similar voicings.
2. All regular minor chords become minor 6th chords. Henece the Dm and Am become Dm6 and Am6. This also occurs mostly with i and iv chords (notice that A7->Dm6 is a V-i, as is E7->Am6). In later jazz, almost all minor chords become min7 chords. In swing, min7 are only used in a ii-V cadence (see next tip). Rhythm guitar and big band horn voicing again `also follow this mold.
3. Remove "extraneous" ii-V movement. Cadences at the ends of phrases often end with a ii-V - and that's one thing (like the natural Dm7->G7 in the Swing version). Adding them everytime there is a dominant chord classicly bebop, and really overkill for swing playing. The Bm7/E7/Bm7/Bbm7 movement in the bebop version above, can simply be E7. The Am7/D7/Am7/D7 is can just be D7. Two bars of the same chord is standard in the swing era, but in bebop it would be considered boring, unsophistocated and passe.

These tips work for any kind of 30's or 40's era jazz-based music. Gypsy jazz songs often follow these harmonic conventions, but be aware that some gypsy jazz adopted modern "hip" bop voicings. But for the tradition way of playing those, these tips will work. Also for playing western swing, these will work as well. Have fun.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Due credit

I wanted to point out that my inspiriation for starting this blog came from djangology.net, a great blog about Django-style guitar playing. Although I do some Django-style stuff, and since I come from a more "American" perspective, this blog could cover some of the more American Swing oriented subjects and style. But again, credit where credit is due. Thanks Djangology.

Essential Recordings Volume 1: Acoustic Chordal Solos

Here are some recordings of acoustic chordal solos that I consider essential (and are easily linked to at Classic Jazz Guitar).

Allan Reuss - Allan was the protege of George Van Eps, and when Van Eps didn't want to go on tour with the Benny Goodman band, Reuss took his place. He was the real pulse of the classic Goodman band. He is also reported to have taught Freddie Green how to play rhythm guitar. His chordal style is comes from the Van Eps school.
Arnold Ross Quintet f/Benny Carter - Bye Bye Blues
Lionel Hampton - Rhythm, Rhythm
Jack Teagarden Orchestra - Pickin' for Patsy
Coleman Hawkins - Stuffy
Benny Goodman Orchestra - Rosetta

George Van Eps
- Although he is now famous mostly for inventing and playing 7-string guitar, Van Eps was a fantastic 6-string rhythm and chordal player.
Adrian Rollini Orchestra - Somebody Loves Me
George Van Eps - Ain't Misbeavin'
Jess Stacy - Indiana

Carmen Mastren - Another great rhythm player, Mastren started out with Wingy Manone, but most famously he played with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and even did some arranging for the band. He later joined the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band during World War II.
Delta Four - Swingin' on that Famous Door
Bechet-Spanier Big Four - If I Could Be With You

Carl Kress - Kress' chordal style descended from extented Tenor Guitar / Banjo tuning. He famously recorded duets with Eddie Lang. After Lang's death in 1933, he partnered with Dick McDonough, until that guitarist's death in 1938. Kress also did duets with Tony Mattola, and later George Barnes. Here he is presented without another guitar player.
Edmund Hall All Star Quintet - Seein' Red
Edmund Hall All Star Quintet - Rompin' in '44

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What dancing can teach you about guitar.

Form often follows function. Movements look a certain way because they are done in a certain way. This idea can be used to your advantage.

A trick I learned from dancing is to watch old clips. It can take years to learn proper technique for dancing, and there are various styles to choose from. But, if you can match the look of the old dancers, often you will end up using their technique. After all - form follows function - the old dancers looked like they did because their technique was such. Match the form and the function can come with it.

I learned that my drummer, Josh Collazo, has done this same kind of thing in learning to play swing drums. I always noticed that he didn't just sound exactly right, he looked just like an old drummer from a clip. Well if was using the same technique, then it ought to look the same.

So for applying this to guitar playing - watch an old film clip of a big band from before 1945. Watch the rhythm guitar player and emulate his look. Pay attention to his posture, guitar position and arm position. Most often the guitar player will be sitting with his left leg crossed over his right, with his guitar sitting on that left leg, angled up, and his left arm strumming near the nech on 1 and 3, and by the bridge on 2 and 4. Don't take my word for it - go watch TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and check out the guitar player.

Further, beyond just swing rhythm guitar you can use this for any swing style. If you prefer to play gypsy-jazz style rhythm guitar, then watch some gypsies. Although related to American swing rhythm, gypsy rhythm has its own ideosyncracies. Watching someone play it right is often a lot better than reading a book or listening to a record without seeing the player. After all a picture is worth a thousand words.

Monday, July 11, 2005

GEAR: What I play. Guitars

It's often said that a poor workman blames his tools, and while it may be true that Django or Charlie Christian would sound like themselves on almost any instrument, having the right tool for the job usally makes it easier and allows you to do a better job. Since we're talking about a vintage style of music, that usually means vintage gear. But there are some other options as well - I thought I should let you in on my various gear choices. My pragmatic collection has a vintage piece or two, but is mostly new and was assembled piece by piece as cheap as I could get them.

2003 Eastman AR810CE - "Golden Age" (which means Blond) finish, 17" Cutaway Archtop w/Pickup:
My 810CE is strung with GHS White Bronze strings (14 / 18 / 26 / 36 / 46 / 56), and has some pretty knarly action (I'll update this when I get it measured). Because the guitar has a floating pickup, it does double duty for acoustic rhythm, acoustic solos, and electric solos. I generally use a mic, so all I have to do is roll up the volume knob to go from Freddie Green to Charlie Christian. The GHS White Bronze are not actually Bronze, but are magnetically active and still sound "acoustic" when playing acoustic stuff. Although a cutaway always reduces the acoustic quality of a guitar, this thing has no problem - it's still one of the loudest archtops I've ever played.
Eastman Guitars are a fantastic value for an archtop, but they would also be great at twice the price. Why? They are designed to be acoustic guitars first and foremost. Most luthiers are so used to making electric guitars that their great imstruments lack that acoustic cannon quality. Then again, most jazz guitar players don't play acoustic music - too bad for them. Eastman is really the only serious choice besides going vintage. Of course, like buying a used car, it can be problematic for the uninitiated. At least with an Eastman you know what you are getting.
I used this guitar on almost everything on "Crazy Rhythm" (except for "Dark Eyes" and "Comes Love") as well as all of the rhythm guitar parts on Jeremy Wakefield's "Steel Guitar Caviar" (and also the lead guitar on the tunes "Delaware Drive" and "Dark Circles").

2002 John Le Voi 12-Fret Petite Bouche - Vintage Finish, Short Scale, Oval Hole Selmer-style:
This guitar is a hybrid design, featuring the small, oval hole and body of the later Selmer-style guitars, with the shorter scale of the earlier Maccaferri-style guitars. Personally, I prefer the long scale style, but I got such an amazing deal that I couldn't turn it down, and I couldn't possibly get rid of it. The top has unbelievably figured bearclaw spruce, the back and sides superlative birdseye maple and the neck is flamed maple. I use GHS Custom Shop Gypsy Strings since they are cheap and last as long as any of the other brands I've tried. Gypsy-style strings are silver-coated copper, and are therefore very weak - they break, the windings come undone, etc. Also the GHS gauges are just slightly heavier through out. Mine start an .011. The guitar came with a dual pickup system - a highlander bridge and a macintyre feather. Both sound terrible - I have a feeling that's why the original owner who commissioned the guitar sold it. John usually puts in a Bigtone, but this customer wanted that combo - his mistake. Again, I mic the guitar, so I have few problems.
The guitar does sound superaltive and I used it on the "Crazy Rhythm" tracks 'Dark Eyes" and "Comes Love"

2005 Eastman AR805E - Sunburst, 16" Non-cutaway Archtop w/pickup:
This my newest acquistion, thanks to the fine guys at Eastman. I wanted a guitar just for acoustic rhythm work, and an 16" non-cutaway is the perfect guitar for that. 16" archtops aren't as full and round sounding as a 17", but since they have a bit more zing and cut, they sometimes work better in cutting through a dense band. Also this has a slightly wider nut width, which make Allan Reuss-style chordal work a bit easier.
As with all Eastman Guitars, it came set up with D'Addario Nickel 12's. I just got it last Thursday, so I strung it with what I could find, which were Martin 80/20 SP 13's. Even without bumping the E and B up to a 14 and an 18, the guitar is clearly the loudest thing I've ever played.
Although I was planning on just getting an acoustic, they only had guitars with pickups already on 'em in stock. They did send me a couple pickgaurds, so I'll definately be getting rid of the new Chuck Wayne-style gaurd.

Other guitars:
I have several other guitars, bu I don't use them for Swing playing.
1998 Ibanez PM20 Pat Metheny - That guitar is a great value in a compact, electric jazz box. I served me well for almost 5 years, and I used it for all the electric guitar parts on "Jammin' the Blues".
1996 Gibson Les Paul Standard - Another guitar that has served me well. It has the Fat 1950's neck on it and is strung with .011's. It's pretty beefy.
1999 Taylor 310 - I got this after playing for 6 years, and never having a regular 6-string acoustic. Go figure. Bad news is that I have absolutely no use for a dreadnaught guitar these days. I'd much rather have a Martin OOO or OM instead - I prefer Taylor, but I prefer Martin's in the small body range.
1995 Ovation Celebrity 12-string - The guitar that isn't worth enough to sell. I got this a long time ago, and since then I have rarely played it. It's hard to play, but I have used it on a few recordings. I would sell it, but I'd get less than $300 on Ebay. I'd rather keep it just in case I ever get a call for one.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Why new bands don't sound old.

This was written in response to question about why new bands don't sound enough like the original swing bands:

As a bandleader and musician who's tried SO frickin' hard to get that vintage sound, both live and in the studio, let me share a couple of things I've figured out - God knows I've still got more to learn.

1. The Beat - The "swing" feel of late 30's-early-40's swing is different that the modern jazz "swing" feel of almost all post-1945 jazz. The stacato 4-feel of Swing changed into the the more legato shuffle of post war jazz. All of the modern recordings outside of the "trad-jazz" scene have a modern feel. Even all the great swing soloist's 1950's recordings are all "swingin'" rather than "Swing". It's more than on(or ahead of) the beat vs. behind the beat, but that certainly is true. Three things are responsible for this:
- The ride cymbal/bop drumming: Swing Drumming (from watching Josh Collazo on every gig) involves four-beat bass drum, and four-beats on the snare or time on the hi-hat. Very choppy. Because of the flowing ride cymbal, the choppy four feel was smoothed out. Plus the bass drum left four-to-the-floor duty so it could be free to comp and drop "bombs". The beat lays back because of this, giving that slinky feel that a lot of "groove" dancers like.
- steel bass strings/legato bass: Listen to Walter Page, then listen to Ray Brown. Page goes "dunk-dunk-dunk-dunk" - very staccato, choppy. He's playing his gut strings as hard as he can to project over the (large) band. Now, listen to Ray, he's playing "doo-doo-doo-da-doo," each note blending into the next, very legato. Again the beat will lay back because of this. Guys can play either feel on either string, but steel strings allowed bass players to lay back so they were originaly responsible for the change in sound.
- lack of rhythm guitar: although I'm partial to rhythm guitar for obvious reasons, its essential to a 30's-40's swing feel. Bear in mind that Freddie Green chunked his whole life through the Basie band and "Corner Pocket" doesn't swing like Basie in the 30's-40's. Rhythm guitar helps to chop up the rhythm, but it can't change a whole band playing in a modern style. Oh, and electric guitars don't count. They just do not work timbre-ally.

2.Old vs. Modern instruments - Swing (ie the 30's-40's sound) was largely pre-amplification. The reference point for volume was an acoustic piano - The loudest a band could get had to take into account the maximum volume of a piano. As microphones, sound systems and guitar amps got better and louder, other instruments changed to keep up with their electricifed collegues. Drums in particular, are vastly different today. Today's drums and also cymbals are made to keep up with amplified music - they are decidedly louder. It is impossible to play swing drums on modern equipment. I did two gigs on drums, borrowing Josh Collazo's kit, and got compliments from the other guys on the gig. I go into Guitar Center and sound stupid on their modern kits. (pause for jokes about my drumming) A vintage kit, and one set up vintage (heads, cymbals, etc.) are essential to play the style.
All of the other variations with horns are responsible, but I think drums and bass are the two most important.

3.Isolated Recording vs. Room Recording - The sound of a live band is the combined sounds of all the instruments interacting together in the air and then reaching your ears. The sound of modern recording is all of the instruments mic'd individually, and interacting in the sound system artificially. Appearently the overtones don't ring out right, or something -on one level this is pretty audiofile stuff, most people can hear some difference. The organic vintage sound of Mora's Cd's (www.morasmodern.com), or Swing Session's, or my own Cd is due to room recording. Everyone is the same room, with all of the frequencies interacting organically picked up by one or two mics - just like they did back in the day.
The guy who recorded Mora's and my CD (who also plays trumpet with the Chicago Six) uses a MS stereo pair to get the room sound. If something needs a boost, he has everythig mic'd individually for safety, but 99% of what you hear is just the room sound.

I could write a book about this stuff, so I've had to simplify a bit, but I really find these to be the case. Most musicians don't really bother with the specifics of the genre, but that "Swing" feel vs. "swing" feel issue really prevades every musician. 99% percent of the musicians in this city (or any city) can't play or don't try to play with a real "Swing" feel.
There's a reason some of the same guys show up in the different bands. I find that Western Swing bass players are better for Swing than most jazz players, because they are more dedicated to the style. Hope that helps explain the discrepancy.

Rhythm playing position.

To get things going here's something I posted to the All About Jazz board:

To play Freddie Green style properly, try strumming like the old rhythm guitar players. If you watch any old clips (another trick I learned from dancing...) the rhythm guys played back and forth: Chunk 1 and 3 over the neck pickup and 2 and 4 more toward the bridge and snap your wrist slightly. All four beats should be stacato, with a slight accent on 2 and 4. It should NOT sound like, "boom-chick-boom-chick" unless your playing 20's or early 30's hot jazz. Swing should sound like "chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk".

Also, the beat should push slightly, and never be behind the beat. That's straight ahead jazz - not swing.

Give a listen:
2 beat: 20's-early 30's
4 beat: late 30's-40's

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Welcome to my Swing Guitar blog. My name is Jonathan Stout. I am the guitarist and bandleader of "Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five, featuring Hilary Alexander" and the "Jonathan Stout Orchestra."

I have played guitar for 13 years, but I've spent the last 5 years learning the art of Swing Guitar. This is a place where I can share with you the techniques, tools, tips and understanding of Swing Guitar that I learned, found or figured out over the last several years. Along the way we'll deal with playing techniques, gear choices and setup, understanding the music and the style, and other resources on the web, on record, and in print.

So, that begs that question? What is "Swing Guitar?" "Swing Guitar" covers all of the types of jazz guitar playing and players from the Swing Era (roughly 1935-1945) and later players in the Swing style. The style has several different facets - Rhythm Guitar - Single String Lead Guitar - Chordal Rhythm Solos - etc. Some of the guitar players we'll talk about are Freddie Green, Charlie Christian, Allan Reuss, Django Reinhardt, George Van Eps, Oscar Moore, Carmen Mastren, Eddie Lang, Dick McDounough, Carl Kress, Al Casey, Irving Ashby, Dave Barbour, and numerous others.

I'll be updating the links column as we go along, and we'll feature resources on playing, the gear, the original guitarists, and modern musicians and bands in the swing tradition.