This article examines a number of different performances of jazz ballad melodies in order to investigate the nature of expressive timing used by jazz soloists. Three performances of My Funny Valentine and two performances of Naima, taken from commercial recordings by master soloists, are examined. Expressive timing is seen to be a kind of tempo rubato involving a flexibility of melodic rhythm over a steady underlying beat. A typical strategy used is to begin the melody "late" relative to the accompaniment, and speed up over the course of a phrase. This delay-accelerate strategy is modulated in a number of ways. First, the nominal rhythms of motives are modified so as to preserve their categorical identity; below the level of the motive there is more expressive freedom. Second, there is a strong tendency for melodies to align with the accompaniment at cadential locations, serving to clarify hierarchic phrase structure. Finally, notes belonging to the underlying harmonies tend to be displaced more than nonharmonic tones, a tendency which is more pronounced at downbeats. These rhythmic procedures are thus found to be related to musical structure in a variety of ways.
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