Feeling the groove: shared time and its meanings for three jazz trios

Doffman, Mark Russell (2009). Feeling the groove: shared time and its meanings for three jazz trios. PhD thesis The Open University.


The notion of groove is fundamental to jazz culture and the term yields a rich set of understandings for jazz musicians. Within the literature, no single perspective on groove exists and many questions remain about the relationship between timing processes, phenomenal experience and musical structures in making sense of groove.

In this account, the experience and meaning of groove is theorised as emerging from two forms of sharedness. Firstly, a primary intersubjectivity that arises through the timing behaviours of the players; this could be likened to the 'mutual tuning-in' described in social phenomenology. It is proposed that this tuning-in is accomplished through the mechanism of entrainment. The second form of sharedness is understood as the shared temporal models, the cultural knowledge, that musicians make use of in their playing together.

Methodologically, this study makes use of detailed investigation of timing data from live performances by three jazz trios, framed by in-depth, semi-structured interview material and steers a new course between existing ethnographic work on jazz and more psychologically informed studies of timing.

The findings of the study point towards significant social and structural effects on the groove between players. The impact of musical role on groove and timing is demonstrated and significant temporal models, whose syntactic relations suggest musical proximity or distance, are shown to have a corresponding effect on timing within the trios. The musician's experience of groove is discussed as it relates to the objective timing data and reveals a complex set of understandings involving temporality, consciousness and communication.

In the light of these findings, groove is summarised as the feeling of entrainment, inflected through cultural models and expressed through the cultural norms of jazz.

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