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The Swingle Singers
Nedim Nazerali
February 2, 2012
Great tribute to almost 50 years of Swingle Singers history

If Johann Sebastian Bach had lived in the present day, would he have been a jazz musician? This question has been tossed about by historians and fans for several years, and while there is no true answer, there are clear arguments on both sides. Those who say that Bach would have played jazz point to the linear style of his melodies, its recurring harmonic patterns (especially in the “Chromatic Fantasia” in D minor) and Bach’s love of improvisation. Those on the opposing side say that Bach was a traditionalist rather than a progressive and his genius was in the way he codified the Baroque movement in his music. They also point out that when Bach improvised, he would create a new piece with harmonic progressions devised on the spot, rather than—as Wynton Marsalis has quipped—start a casual jam with the viola player on “Ein Feste Burg”. 

However, the best argument for Bach as a prototypical jazz musician has to be the music of the Swingle SingersWard Swingle and a group of fellow studio singers discovered that Bach’s music lent itself to jazz styles with very few modifications. Consider Swingle’s arrangement of Bach’s “Badinerie”. Originally a flute solo from the second Orchestral Suite, Swingle added a jazz feeling simply by changing the figured bass into a walking bass line. Then, by adapting Max Reger’s realization of the string parts to the middle voices, Swingle accentuated the rhythmic propulsion by adding scat syllables that evoked a 1930s rhythm guitar. Then he added Bach’s intricate solo line on top and the piece sounded like a new jazz composition. 

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