Section I: Setting the Critical Stage: The Importance of Wondrich’s “Swerve” in Making a Successful Musical Hit
Hot and cool, while they are most often used to describe the weather, can also be used to categorize different kinds of music. David Wondrich distinguishes between the “hot” and the “cool” by introducing two concepts, referred to as the “drive” and the “swerve”.1 According to Wondrich: drive is “the quality that gives a piece of music momentum, that…makes your body want to move with the music…”; swerve is captured in the following description: “When Billie Holiday starts slurring her notes, bending away from the melody and then rushing ahead to catch it up, she’s working the swerve.”2 Really good music combines both the drive and the swerve in a way that makes it “hot.”
Introducing the “swerve,” Wondrich decides to bring Lucretius, the Roman poet, out of the annals of history. Lucretius’s description of the creation of the world is actually aptly appropriate for a discussion of swerve. Lucretius wrote: “At some uncertain place in space and time/They deviated from their given course/By just enough so you could say it changed”.3 Applying this quote to a piece of music, one could argue that the swerve can at times be so subtle that the listener is aware that there has been a change in the music, whether in tempo, key, or rhythm, but however small it may be, it is enough to attract her attention.
Wondrich uses a writing style that is easily accessible. Even when he uses technical terms, he explains them in a way that makes sense to a reader of almost any education level. For instance, on page 3, he explains the concept of a heuristic to the readers: “a simplified way of making sense out of a complex situation, of enabl…
9. Fitzgerald, Ella. “Blue Skies”. Blue Skies. Mendel Audio Archives, 1958.
10. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”, 00:00-00:20
11. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”, 00:20
12. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”, 00:20-01:32
13. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”, 01:32-01:50
14. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”, 01:50-03:12
15. Wondrich, 3.
16. Wondrich, 7.
17. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”.
18. Gable, Richard W. “The Politics and Economics of the 1957-1958 Recession,” The Western Political Quarterly, vol. 12, No. 2 (Jun., 1959), pp. 557-559 (published by: University of Utah on behalf of the Western Political Science Association)
19. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”
20. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies”
21. Cunniffe, Thomas. “Ella Fitzgerald: Blue Skies.” Jazz.com. N.p.. Web. 12 Mar 2014. .
22. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies,” 00:00-01:15
23. Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies,” 02:45