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Jazz’s Own Sweet Time

Jazz drumming has no precedent in music history. It is an original way of putting together and playing drums and cymbals, which introduced a new kind of virtuosity demanding independent coordination of all four limbs. The swinging time jazz drummers keep—whether 4/4 or not—is profound because that pulsation arrives as part of the only Western fine-art music given to melody, harmony and counterpoint in which the statement of the very meter itself, however syncopated, is a lively and thoughtful aesthetic aspect of the music.

Today there is a stereotyped idea of swing as a very narrow thing, but the fluidity of jazz time is exactly the reverse. This has misled some to believe that jazz time is metronomic. Jazz time is almost never metronomic.

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Originally Published

Stanley Crouch

Stanley Crouch (1945–2020) was one of the leading American cultural critics of the late 20th and early 21st centuries—and one of the most controversial. A poet, educator, and aspiring jazz drummer in the 1970s, he became a writer for the Village Voice and an artistic consultant to Jazz at Lincoln Center in the 1980s. In subsequent years, he regularly wrote essays, columns, and reviews for a variety of publications, including (from 1999 to 2003) JazzTimes. He was the author of 11 books, including the 1990 collection Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989 and the 2000 novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome.