Learn to Play Swing Music

A bevy of influences lead a violinist to western swing and hot jazz

In 1992, after a summer at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau in France, I went straight to North India, to a town called Brindavan, to study a style of North Indian classical music called dhrupad. That was the first time I started improvising, but I really didn't know what I was doing. My teacher was eccentric and very old-school: If I wanted to learn a rag that was only supposed to be played in the morning I had to get to his house before dawn so we could work on it. Learning this style of music meant learning how to improvise in a proscribed way. Often only certain notes in a specific order were allowed. Restraint was necessary to gradually build the music in volume and tempo. The idea of slowly insinuating the melody, hinting at it, and drawing it out subtly was all-important. I have since found that all of these ideas work well in swing improvisation.

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*This article appeared in Strings November/December 2002
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