Can you play swing and straight 8th notes at the same time?

Ordinarily, no one wouldn’t ask themselves a question like this, since we all know that music either uses straight 8th notes or is uses swing 8th notes. Johnny B. Goode uses straight 8ths and Can’t Buy Me Love uses swing 8ths. Watermelon Man uses straight 8ths and Take The ‘A’ Train uses swing 8ths.

But what about when a song uses both swing and straight 8th notes?

Believe it or not, this occasionally happens. And it tends to happen during those time periods when there’s a transition into jazz or out of jazz.

One such time period was the 1960s, when jazz musicians, who were accustomed to improvising with swing 8th notes began using rock and latin rhythms, which tend to lean more toward straight 8ths.

The original recording of Kenny Burrell’s tune Chitlins Con Carne was recorded in 196__, and reflects one such transitional period.

Here’s the recording. Notice how the soloists tend to use swing 8th notes while the rhythm section plays with straight 8ths underneath.

I wasn’t sure which way to go with this when I played the tune for my Journey Through The Real Book video series on YouTube. I practiced it using straight 8ths, and then with swing, and decided that the bass line, which needs to be played evenly, takes precedence. I even spent a fun hour or so trying to play straight 8ths with my left hand and swing 8ths with my right, but I couldn’t quite keep it going!

The tune is fun to play, though, and uses a basic 12-bar blues chord progression.

Here’s my version. See if you can pick up some of the things I play and use them in your own interpretation.

Have fun, enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

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