Herman Matthews: The Swing Is The Thing
It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing
Howdy all. I’m sitting here at home after a very busy schedule of playing music and traveling and, well, doing that thing that we do. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was with one band, but I played with four different groups in the past six weeks. Catching red-eye flights and early morning flights. I’m not complaining. I love the challenge of playing with totally different bands and making everyone feel at home.
Which brings me to this column. When Duke Ellington wrote the song “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” he was basically saying if you can’t make it feel good, don’t even bother playing. Now everybody swings a little differently. As a drummer, you must listen to where the lope or the hump is in a tune. The bass player may have a different swing or feel to a groove, and I believe you must be a diplomat and listen to all that’s around you.
What is the perfect groove? Well for me, if you take the negative ends of two magnets and try to put them together, the feeling you get is groovin’. If you move that magnet slightly to the left or right it won’t work, but when it’s right on – the hovering you get from the two magnets – that’s a magical moment. That’s what I like to feel when I’m playing. Now those magical moments are few and far between, but when it hits, it’s like hitting a golf ball the right way for the first time – everything works right.
You realize that’s why you got into music and you start to shed a tear or two and ... excuse me while I get a tissue. It’s also
important that you know why you’re doing something. Why are you going to the ride, why are you doing the fill from hell? You must use the energy around you. As the little ugly green puppet named Yoda would say, “Use the force.”
The past year or so I’ve been playing with pop alternative bands and/or bands that use a lot of loops. The following are some groove variations that I’ve played. Now these grooves are played with a slight swing – some are sloppy and some are straight and clean. Listen to the tune and the feel. Listen to how the vocals, the guitar and most of the bass are phrased. All of you are making one big groove. Try to make it seem like you’re breathing the same way.