I recently did a video of this for Northwest Guitars, and I may link it when it comes up. Three points to set this up: the first was running across the subject of “Can you swing quarter notes” on a long cold internet discussion, of which the entire consensus compared it to swinging eighths (for those not familiar, not playing straight eighth notes for Jazz tunes, and similar to blues shuffle eighths. The best description that I’ve seen for jazz swing eighths is to imagine an egg rolling end over end down a hill.) and why the entire premise was wrong and not a real thing. While it’s true that in Swing music, quarter notes have even time, I would like to offer a frequently told jazz story.
Both the legendary Count Basie band and saxophone great Charlie Parker came out of Kansas City. But the story goes that Parker auditioned for the Basie band, and the Count put a piece of music in front of all the people auditioning with two measures of the same quarter note. Other than a few people describing it as needing to be a “fat” note, no one telling this tale usually can describe why Parker, THE saxophone player for nearly all jazz-heads, couldn’t make eight quarter notes “swing” enough for the Basie gig …but it certainly does imply that there is a right and wrong way to do it, yes?
The third stop is that some years ago I took some lessons with Tim Lerch, an astounding guitarist of multiple styles, and a beautiful human being I feel privileged to call friend. I noticed that he had one unusual habit that I never asked him about (in fact this article is the first time I’ve mentioned noticing a tie-in, and I’ll see what he has to say reading this… I think my educated guess is right, but I’m not 100% sure without verification), whether practicing or on the bandstand, he doesn’t just tap his foot, he twists it, alternating right and left, 1 – 2, 1 – 2. And whether he was playing chords, single line melodies or what have you, in any rhythm, his phrasing always had a swing to it, eighths or no.
The simple answer is the back-beat. And it’s also important in blues, country, and most forms of rock (not everything, for example funk is all about the one)
In the army band and for music school I had the opportunity to play for some decent big bands, and learned the Freddie Green four quarter note to the bar comping style pretty solid. Though Freddie didn’t do this, if you watch a lot of other film of big bands from the era, you’ll see guitarists do an exaggerated alternating neck strum – bridge strum, 1 – 2, 1 – 2. Accent the back beat, the two and four: strum STRUM strum STRUM.
That’s Swing Quarter Notes: one TWO three FOUR. Tim’s (and many others) lines swing no matter the rhythm of the melody not only from perfectly “swung” eighths, but a stress on the backbeat. Try it, pull out a Real Book or other melody chart of a standard from the swing era, like “All of Me.” Rock you foot left and right as you tap quarters, of lightly pencil a mark over every beat two and four. Stress the notes on the two and four (and just the two and four, articulate the syncopations that tie over and triplets normally, …just “think” the two and four fatter right on the pulse 😉 )
I’m still working on getting this to sound natural in my own playing. I’ve found it’s not easy to do all the time if you’re freely improvising (and I admit that get a bit lost in the rhythms of my own phrasing frequently) and overemphasizing can frequently sound as “square” as not doing it at all. But I found not thinking too hard and rocking my foot tapping helps when I practice it. 🙂
Edit – Follow-up quote from Tim: “Nice piece CD, thats how I see it. Not just accent but also I like the 2 and 4 to be just a teeny bit late as well. Well, not late but on the backside of the beat.”