Swing vs. syncopation, and imagining enemy tribes where none exist

It’s nice to see someone else mention this.

“Swing” and “syncopation” are not the same thing.

Swing is when you dot your damned 8ths. Syncopation is stress on the off-beat, often through suspensions. It’s not that hard.

This can be like listening to people who can’t do math throwing around terms like “quantum physics” and “calculus.” Please stop. Or else at least please appreciate that these words actually mean stuff and are not just croutons on a hipster word salad.

And by the way, many forms of classical music are heavily swung and syncopated, Mr. “I Know Nothing Whatsoever About Music But I’m Going To Pretend To Be A Deep Jazzhead.” Yes, you can notate swing and syncopation in musical notation. They are not “beyond the page” and “can’t be defined.” They most certainly can, and are. Why do people turn into smokeheaded hippies whenever they talk about anything related to jazz?

Probably for the same reason they love pitting jazz and 800 years of half a continent’s art music from dozens of countries classical against one another. They want to make sure everyone knows what “tribe” they’re in. And they want to make sure everyone knows it’s the cool tribe. Not those other people over there, who aren’t cool.

Most of these idiots would fall over if they had any idea how much more music theory (and I mean hardcore stuff) the typical jazz musician knows versus the typical classical violinist. Every jazz musician — who “just felt it, maaaaaan” — I’ve ever encountered can spool out diminished 7ths, pentatonic scales, and mixolydian modes like an encyclopedia, while a significant number of classical violinists barely even know what key they’re in. To judge from them, it’s the classical types who “just feel it” and the jazz types who’ve got the theory down cold.

Believe me, no matter what you think you’ve invented, I can almost guarantee that someone else someplace did it first. And given that classical music (in its various incarnations from many cultures around the world) stretches some 1,000 years into the past … well, sorry to bust your bubble, but whatever the hell you’re talking about and however “revolutionary” you think it is, someone who is called a “classical composer” probably did do it first. It’s not because they’re so wonderful. It’s just because there’s so goddamned many of them.

1,000 years is a long time.

And jazz and classical are simply not enemies. They are not opposing tribes, no matter how much certain types of people would like to imagine. Over a century ago, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, and Debussy were listening to and playing jazz. And the biblical Adam of piano jazz, Scott Joplin, was classically trained. If this bothers you, too bad.

If you want to pit groups of people against one another, then I don’t care how revolutionary and anti-establishment you think you are, you are part of the problem.