In MacGregor's rendition of The Art of Fugue, the Contrapunctus 2 sounds somehow like jazz. I read over the sheet music, and I couldn't find anything wrong with his playing. Am I missing something?

  • 2
    What is wrong with jazz?
    – Tom
    Aug 27, 2020 at 8:23
  • 2
    Bach is jazzy, even without jazzing him up. Aug 27, 2020 at 10:09
  • Can you perhaps cite a different performance of the same piece which doesn't sound like jazz to you? This performer, as you say, appears to be playing what's written...
    – AakashM
    Aug 27, 2020 at 11:15
  • This is close to an "opinion" question, but I'll throw in my observation that, while playing the Suites, I often see the origins of rebop. That is, melody, melody, melody, wham root note down an octave Aug 27, 2020 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


It is noteworthy even for the avid listener and musicologist alike that Bach was quiet avant guarde and risque for his day. His music, though cited as the benchmark by some of "modern" harmony and contrapuntal practice and theory, is quiet modal due to the era and sacral usage of the time. The application of modal scalar systems along with the imaginative and reinventive usage of basso profundo, florid counterpoint and of course his natural jest made Johann Sebastian Bach a man of Bop and Bepob way ahead of his time. Something that his son Karl Phillip Emmanuel Bach was also guilty of. Of course, jazz musicians of modern times feel uccustomed to his sounds, his embellishments, and the twelve bar returns. It only seems to be a natural progression from Baroque to mashup.


The only thing that “sounds somewhat like jazz” to me about Fuga II is the use of dotted eighth, sixteenth rhythms. This is a pronounced effect, following the straight, square rhythms in Fuga I. And you might think it feels a little like a “hard swing.” When we swing a run of eighth notes in jazz, we play the first of each pair of eighths longer than the second. Classical players will sometimes notate this as triplets (quarter triplet followed by an eighth triplet), but jazz players eschew such precision. A “hard swing,” especially in a big band, employs a shorter second note, but a sixteenth would be pretty extreme.

As an aside, Miles Davis described the swing rhythm as the loping gate of a lame dog.

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