Jazz 101: Acid Jazz, Drum ‘n’ Bass, Neo-Swing


Today we’ll be continuing our discussion of John Szwed’s “Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz“, with a brief look at three distinct sub genres of jazz.

We’re nearing the end of this article series, with only one or two more chapters left to cover. Once we’ve finished with John Szwed, I’ll be scouring the web for the next direction this series will take. Stay tuned.

Last time, we looked at the spread of Jazz throughout Europe. We saw how jazz had been in Europe from the beginning, and looked at some of the ways in which it was influenced by, and influenced the jazz scene in the U.S.

Now, we’ll turn our attention back to North America, and look at a few curious sub genres that popped up after the ’60’s and ’70’s. This was a time when jazz had already splintered as a genre, and many musicians were abandoning the jazz name. Still, others were ready to pick it up, reinterpret it, and make it their own.

Acid Jazz

There were a few jazz musicians in the 1970s who predicted and found an entry point for jazz into pop music. One of the big ones was Miles Davis, but even he was too early for it to be accepted by the record companies and the press.

Early in the 1980’s, there were some who saw the connections between post hip hop dance music and jazz. “The turntablists were like improvisers, building new tunes on old ones with new rhythms like beboppers, their samples something like jazz quotations” (p. 285).

This connection wasn’t lost in the UK, where Acid jazz got its start.

“Acid jazz was initially a British phenomenon, borrowing its name from acid house, a British variation on Detroit’s house music for dance clubs, and was often merely a matter of mixing into hip hop rhythms sampled from ’60’s jazz records or, in the sub genre called rare groove, mixing in rare funk tracks from minor record companies” (p. 286).

Drum ‘n’ Bass

By its name, you can probably take a good guess at what our next genre focused its sound around. “Drum ‘n’ bass is another English phenomenon, this one built on the love for the raw interplay of acoustic instruments in jazz rhythm sections and Jamaican dub music’s many manifestations in the UK” (p. 286).

Maybe it’s due to the love of jazz rhythm sections that inspired Drum ‘n’ bass players, that the sub genre began to sound more and more like jazz. In it, you can see allusions to many jazz greats we’ve discussed before. From Count Basie and Herbie Hancock, to Miles Davis and Sun Ra.


Our third and final sub genre took a different approach, one inspired by fashion and attitude as much as music. This was Neo-swing. “‘Swing’ in this manifestation is not swing music, but something closer to the early 1940s rhythm and blues bands, or jump bands as they were known to them” (p. 288).

This is our outlier, in more ways than one. Instead of coming from the UK, Neo-swing developed in America. It was “a West Coast initiative, part fashion statement, part mini-dance craze” (p. 288).

Rather than being inspired by the music itself, Neo-Swing was sort of like the hipster wave, except less successful.

Final Thoughts

It’s always so interesting to see the new directions that music can take. The paths are continually forged, abandoned, and reforged. With each new generation, we see old patterns emerging, and new ones forming. The changing of the times is unavoidable and exciting. And during lulls, we collectively hold our breath, as if waiting for a new sound to explode out of the ether, and capture us once again.

That about wraps up our discussion for today. Next time, we’ll take a look at what’s next for jazz in the 21st century.

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