Different styles of music often share much in common, including the same grooves. In this lesson, we’ll take a look
at offbeats and explore how they’ve been used in jazz and other genres.

Often when teaching jazz, I emphasize the importance of the “&” of beat 4. If your imagination fails, playing a snare or bass drum on this swung offbeat—which is also the pickup to the following bar’s downbeat—is a safe and reliable comping choice. Here’s an example.

We hear jazz drumming’s founding fathers utilize this rhythmic destination point among their other signature phrases and innovations. For example, Kenny Clarke might elongate the previous figure with an accent on beat 4 of the following bar.

In pop and rock music, the “&” of beat 2 is a structurally important part of many grooves and was commonly used in surf rock. Panama Francis, Gary Chester, Earl Palmer, and Hal Blaine also utilized this idea.

Here’s an example from the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Note the use of the “&” of both beats 2 and 3.

Is there something we can learn from that rock and pop rhythmic device that we can apply to jazz? Let’s first acknowledge that jazz was the popular music of the day during the swing era, and people danced to it as much as they listened to it. While figures that emphasize the “&” of beat 2 are prominent in some songs from that period, such as the Glenn Miller hits “A String of Pearls” and “In the Mood,” the rhythm section’s playing was pretty much quarter-note based. Here’s an excerpt from “A String of Pearls.”

And here’s an excerpt from “In the Mood.”

More modern jazz compositions, including “Killer Joe” and “Ping Pong,” employ what’s known as the Charleston rhythm, which emphasizes the “&” of beat 2.

Art Blakey, who recorded both of the previous tunes, is one of the few jazz drummers who played a swung surf-rock groove with accents on the “&” of beat 2. An excellent example of this phrasing can be heard on “The Egyptian” from the Jazz Messengers’ Indestructible album.

Jazz drummer Don Lamond also played this groove, and he would often use it in place of a traditional shuffle.

Peter Erskine is a two-time Grammy Award winner and an MD Readers Poll Hall of Famer who’s played on over 600 recordings. He is currently a professor at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and he teaches an online jazz drumming program at ArtistWorks.com