The above empirical observations indicate that a large fraction of jazz musicians play jazz solos with downbeats slightly delayed with respect to the rhythm section. Nevertheless, the question remains, whether these delays are an essential component of swing, as not all jazz musicians use them. To address this question, we adopted an operational definition of swing, that is, the performance of a piece swings if it is judged as swinging by expert listeners. Professional and semi-professional jazz musicians can be considered expert listeners, as they are trained and experienced in creating and evaluating the swing of a performance. For the study, we used an experimental approach, which we developed for a previous microtiming study on swing24. Manipulating the onset timing in MIDI recordings of piano jazz performances and letting expert jazz musicians rate the swing of different manipulations gives us the possibility to clarify whether different ways of microtiming have a positive effect on swing. In that previous study, we investigated the impact of random MTDs by amplifying them, deleting them, and inverting them. We showed that random MTDs, which are present in every human musical performance, did not enhance swing, which entails that these MTDs can be detrimental to swing. In the present work, we now focus on studying the effect of systematic MTDs.
To find out whether these downbeat delays are relevant for swing, we conducted an experimental study. In lack of a generally accepted definition of swing, we used an operational definition of swing (a performance swings if it is judged as swinging by expert listeners). This approach required introducing a number of simplifications. In particular, we used a quantized original version as a well-defined starting point for manipulating the recordings. Another simplification was to consider a solo instrument, a piano, playing on top of a quantized rhythm section. Moreover, we focused on pieces with many downbeat-offbeat pairs, which are prominent in jazz music, in order to study the role of their microtiming. As soloists sometimes vary their playing style within a piece or even within a solo, it was necessary and worthwhile to make such simplifications, in order to reveal general trends.
The question might come up, whether downbeat delays are specific for swinging jazz, or whether they show up more generally. We therefore also carried out timing analyses of latin music of various origins, e.g., The Latin Pianist by PG music37. We found that downbeat delays, where they occur, are very small, sometimes negative, and are mostly below the threshold of timing accuracy.
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