Pitch can be learned (more or less), taste acquired. But. . .swing? Can one learn that? My friend Clark Burroughs of the Hi-Lo's has a theory about what constitutes this rather elusive musical commodity. Rather too complicated to go into here. But probably the answer, according to Clark, is. . . No.
However! It apparently can be picked up osmotically if one is young and impressionable enough. Witness this blog's Monday Disc o' the Day. Its purveyor, Kurt Reichenbach, has chops and taste to burn. But where did he LEARN to swing like that?, which he decidedly does in great abundance even at whisper quiet levels of voice production on his first CD, just out, The Night Was Blue. I was also curious about how he had finally opted to become a graphic designer- singer hyphenate at his ever-so-slightly advanced stage of life. The seeming answer to question one came about rather naturally in the course of his response to question two in a phone conversation I had with him earlier today.
Reichenbach's father is one of two drummers on one of the most famous recordings of all time, 1962's Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba. Kurt was six at the time the recording was made, immediately prior to which the Reichenbach household in DC began filling up with Brazilian-grown recordings and songs which had otherwise almost never been heard before on the continent of North America. Most especially the compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
"And so," Kurt Reichenbach told me, "I began walking around the house humming these songs. They really got under my skin. I was so young that I automatically even began to learn them in Portuguese in their entirety. Of course," he added, "I can recall almost none of it now. But at the time. . .. Eventually, it even got so that I was even walking around the schoolyard singing and humming Bossa Nova. Again, before practically anyone else in this country except for Getz and Charlie Byrd and his band---my dad was his regular drummer---had heard this music. Finally, one day," he laughs, "one of my teachers phoned my home to alert my parents that I was going around singing all these strange songs at school under my breath in some odd language." Perhaps they even thought Kurt might have had an imaginary friend.
And so, if you want to get really technical about it, the North American debut of "Desafinado" wasn't on the lp of Jazz Samba, but instead on the playground of some public grade school in the nation's capitol.
I think Kurt learned his lessons in swing well. It might have helped that not only is his father a world-class musician, but that his brother, Bill Reichenbach, Jr, who co-produced Kurt's CD, is one of the most famous trombonists in the world today. Couldn't have hurt to have grown up around that either.
The moral of the story which is, I suppose, there's an answer to every question. Even to that hoary, age-old standby, "What is swing?" To which the answer usually is, "If ya gotta ask. . .."