[Dixielandjazz] Tempo markings

Stan Brager sbrager at socal.rr.com
Sat Oct 22 15:19:22 PDT 2005


The reason I responded to your post was this statement regarding
compositions by Lu Watters:

"If Lu wrote the tune, wouldn't HE have had the best idea of what the tempo
should be?"

My answer is not necessarily. Surely, Lu knew the range of tempos for his
band and the circumstances in which he was playing - mostly for dancing. I'm
also certain that many of us are in general agreement with those tempos.
Yet, jazz gives the player a wide latitude over which tempos to play. If a
band leader decides that a much faster tempo is in order for his band and
his circumstances, there is nothing wrong with doing that (assuming that the
players can all comfortably handle the tempo.).

As jazz listeners, we have to throw away our preconceived notion that there
is only one tempo which is proper and to listen to listen with open ears.
And while we can note that the tempo is different than what we're used to,
that fact alone is not a reason to reject a particular performance. I've
heard "Stompin' At The Savoy" at danceable (Benny Goodman) pace, a faster
pace (Chick Webb) and also played largo (Hans Koller Quartet). They're all

Eric, I've also commented on your comments to my initial comments - see


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Eric Holroyd" <eholroyd at optushome.com.au>
To: "Stan Brager" <sbrager at socal.rr.com>
Cc: "DJML" <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Saturday, October 22, 2005 1:44 AM
Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Tempo markings

> From Eric Holroyd
> Web:  http://members.optushome.com.au/eholroyd/
> Hello Stan:
> > You have indeed opened a can of worms regarding the tempo of the times.
> Good!
> > My experience as a listener is that while the recorded tempo is often
> > considered the "standard" for a tune, it is not always the same as how
> > band will play a tune in front of the public.
> Could that be part of the point I was making?
> ie if they're playing for a 'Party Animal / Festival Crowd' it'll be
> but if playing for knowledgeable cognoscenti they'd play it slower...

Duke Ellington didn't care about the cognoscenti's thought about the
"recorded" tempo. He played at the tempo which was right for the moment and
not the audience.
> > Furthermore, musicians who  have recorded a work several times will do
> > at a faster or slower tempo
> > than their first recording. This is true for classical music as well as
> > jazz.
> And in both instances it may well be as a result of a direct 'request'
> the person footing the bill for a recording.

Yes, there are instances in which the tempos are dictated by the producer
but it's rare. I've heard more instances where the producer requested tunes.
Generally, a jazz musician has control over that aspect of the music.

> >
> > What's important is whether or not the players are comfortable with the
> > tempo which at which a tune is played.
> Surely not ALL of those bands I heard at West Coast festivals with their
> furioso' tempos were comfortable with the tempos at which their leaders
> kicked in a tune?

In the case that the band was not comfortable, I fully agree with you.

> I stand by my contention that he [Lu Watters] and Turk played the music at
a good dancing
> tempo with plenty of soul.

I don't disagree with you here. All I'm saying is that others can and do
play with plenty of soul at dramatically different tempos. The Hot Frogs is
a good example - Mike Silverman and Joe Ashworth had the chops to play
comfortably at any tempo. They usually had other members in their bands who
could do the same.


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