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A Quick Note On Training Bands To Play For Dancers

October 29, 2012

Recently asked: Wouldn’t it be great to do an article on how to train modern Jazz bands to play better for dancers?

Indeed. I think such an article, if done right, would require me interviewing quite a few musicians and dancers and researching the thoughts of the original big band musicians and jazz philosophers. Until I can do so, I had a few quick notes on the subject.

First off, I’ve asked this question in some way to every band leader I’ve interviewed. Check out their responses below.

In addition to what those guys say, a few tips I think help a group get started:

1.

Short songs, around three minutes or under. Even the greatest swing bands in the world would tire a dance floor out with five minute songs where every band member gets a few solo choruses per song. (Concerning local bands beginning to play for dancers, this is usually the biggest problem that is easiest to fix that for some reason hardly ever gets fixed.)

2.

A range of tempos appropriate for the primary dance being done. This is trickier, because it requires some homework on behalf of the band. They should know that a dance floor of beginner Lindy Hoppers is going to have vastly different appropriate tempos and range of tempos than a dance floor of advanced Lindy Hoppers, which will be different than a Shag/Balboa event. A band will have to learn how to read the
floor. (A good rule of thumb is that beginners are usually there at the beginning of the night, the advanced dancers later.)

3.

Flow of tempos. The tempos should vary but flow from one into the other without too far of a jump. So, no constantly having bipolar tempos changes. It’s rough dancing to a band that plays 120 followed by 230 followed by 115 followed by 270. To a listening audience, the jump is no big deal. To a dancer, it has a subtly powerful effect on the night’s dancing.

4.

Rhythm section has to know their jazz rhythms and be solid at all their tempos. The rhythm section can’t be the weakest part of the band.

This is a weird analogy, but I think it’s a fitting one: A boat pulls a water skier over the water so that the water skier can use the momentum to surf and freestyle in the wake. If the dancer is the water skier, then the boat is the rhythm section. Imagine water-skiing behind a boat that surges with drops or increases in speed or bumps along the ripple of the water, rather than one that glides across the water with smooth momentum.

(See Jonathan Stout’s interview link below for more opinions on this point.)

5.

If the soloists can improvise in a *somewhat* predictable manner, it’s fantastic. By predictable I mean that they use clear phrasing, they reinforce the theme of the main melody, they use repetition and allusions and musical “alliteration,” and they attempt to create a narrative with their solo that a dancer can follow along to. A person who solos in a more modern style, with unpredictable tangents and rhythms, or a stream-of-consciousness style, can be very sophisticated and fulfilling for a listener — but if the dancer can’t in some sense follow it along, the dancer won’t be able to “process it” and dance with it. (Check out Illinois Jacquet’s famous sax solo on 1942’s “Flying Home” to get an idea of the use of narrative, repetition, and theme that a dancer can follow along with. Of course, we’re not expecting every solo to be this incredible. Enjoy this NPR documentary on Illinois and the solo here.)

That’s the difference between dancers and listeners: a listener follows the music with their ears, a dancer follows it with their feet. It’s much easier to follow along to something with your ear than with your feet. Musicians wanting to really play for dancers need to know this.

It might be surprising to musicians that expressing your music for dancers to express themselves to is intrinsically different than what most of them have been used to their entire lives; expressing themselves simply for listeners to listen to.

So, a good swing musician for dancers will look for the response to their music in how the dancers are dancing to it.

This is not saying a soloist can’t switch it up and throw down a challenge. But they can still keep the dancers in mind when they do so. For instance, if a soloist throws out a wild and tricky rhythm, we dancers love it if they repeat that rhythm a few more times in the course of their solo to give the dancers a chance to look for it and express it in their dancing.

6.

A small tip for Gypsy-swing manouche style bands: It’s best if they have at least one instrument — like a clarinet or a violin — that can resonate notes longer than a pluck, so that dancers don’t have a long night of interpreting the short plinks of picking guitars. Beautiful, but melodically repetitive (in my opinion) for three sets of dancing. Otherwise, having a good and appropriate range of tempos is a good rule for these groups to follow. Gypsy swing was one of the first forms of swing music that was primarily meant to be listened to; its home is often in break-neck rhythms or slow, minor-note ballads. So, these bands might need to pay special attention to tempos and song length if they are not used to playing for dancers.

So, there are a few thoughts. Below are the thoughts of band leaders I’ve interviewed here.

Paul Cosentino

Boilermaker Jazz Band
“Mainly just making sure that the tunes were not too long. Each solo generally should just be one chorus instead of as many as you want. You don’t want to kill anyone out there. Other than that, it is not too much different from playing a concert- change up the tempos so that it doesn’t get boring, pass the vocals around. It’s not too complicated if you just give it a little thought.”

In an interview I did with Jonathan Stout the bulk of the article was centered around this question, mostly focusing on the rhythm. A video interview I did with Josh Collazo, his drummer, explained a few things even more.

Glenn Crytzer

“Well, there’s no one single thing, it depends on the crowd and the night, but it definitely makes it easier to know what dancers are feeling when you know how to dance. Overall I think that the most important things are probably to have a good mix of tempos, to play arrangements, and to have the right style.

A lot of bands really don’t play anything that’s mid tempo because it’s, IMHO, the hardest music to swing on. I try to pick a lot of charts in the 130-180bpm range for our sets. Of course someone’s always going to complain about any band and say that there’s not enough mid tempo music because everyone has a different idea of what they consider to be mid tempo. I think live music generally feels faster to dancers as well because it has 10x the energy of a recording and so it’s more demanding of dancer’s energy at any speed. I usually try to keep a BPM counter and a metronome on the bandstand with me to make sure we’re hitting lots of tunes in the range.

Arrangements are another important thing when it comes to playing for dancers. Even if they’re simple arrangements it really makes a difference; I find it boring as a dancer to hear a band play head tunes all night. It’s a dance, not a jam session – a good band leader respects that. Honestly, it’s a giant pain in the ass to write arrangements and actually find people who can both play them and who also understand the style, but it’s essential and pays off so it’s worth it in the end.

The style is a tricky thing. About 90% of jazz musicians think they get it, about 10% actually get it. I try to only play with ones who do. Of course there are other more subtle details to this as well but I suppose those are my trade secrets. :)”

35 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Gamble permalink
    October 30, 2012 3:02 am

    Glenn says : “About 90% of jazz musicians think they get it, about 10% actually get it.”

    I think this is a huge point and applies to everything in this article. Almost everyone who’s EVER played for dancers, including some who have made careers out of it, think they have all this stuff nailed. Usually not so much. Every single item listed here is something even experienced dance bandleaders should check back in with regularly to see if they’re REALLY doing it, or just kind of tipping their hat to these ideas and moving on. Recording your own concerts can really help with self-honesty.

    Finally, on an unrelated note – It’s my personal opinion that there’s no “charleston rhythm”, and that the difference between 1920’s bands and 1940’s bands is a long stretchy continuum with a lot of side-roads, detours, and interesting exceptions. A lot of the most exciting music is from the early thirties, and there is no doubt that they have found THE SWING ;) and yet the rhythm section will still regularly use various 20’s patterns and schtick. Side-note to my side-note: I also frown a bit when people talk about “balboa music” as if that made any kind of historical sense. I think both of these terms may be a dancer’s instinct to simplify a complex set of phenomena, and express the stripped-down versions in dancer terminology. Not that it’s not a good starting point… just that the truth is, as usual, a lot more nuanced.

    -a guy who DJ’s a lot of 40’s music and doesn’t think it’s weird to play in a dixieland band

    • Bobby permalink*
      October 30, 2012 3:51 am

      Hey Michael,

      (1) Regarding “swing” — In light of your comments I realize the word is perhaps not suitable to getting the point across without confusion. Have updated it.

      Once Read:
      Rhythm section has to know how to swing. Really swing, and be solid at their tempos. (Assuming it’s a swing band and not a more Charleston-rhythm band we’re talking about.) The rhythm section can’t be the weakest part of the band.

      Now Reads:
      Rhythm section has to know their jazz rhythms and be solid at all their tempos. The rhythm section can’t be the weakest part of the band.

      (2) Regarding “Balboa” music — if you were referring to the mention of “Shag/Balboa” in the article above… I intended it only to relate to the *range of tempos* appropriate for Balboa dancers and is not meant to imply there is a “type” of Balboa music different from “Lindy Hop music.” I do however, feel there is a different range of tempos for a comfortable night of Balboa swing dancing than a comfortable night of Lindy Hopping.

      Whether there is a “Balboa type” of music or not is indeed a subject for a different article.

      (3) thanks, as always, for your valuable insight and taking the time to share it.

      • Michael Gamble permalink
        October 30, 2012 3:54 am

        Oh, I wasn’t referring to what you said at all! Just seemed like a related topic, so I decided to do some good old-fashioned shakin’-the-fist-in-the-air. Keep up the good work!

  2. October 30, 2012 3:06 am

    I got into a debate with my alto sax player over the use of the word swing, which has a broader meaning in the jazz world than the one we attribute to it. We argued for almost a half hour before Lucian pointed out that he was using swing as a verb and I was using it as an adjective. Something can swing, but not be swing. Someone more qualified than me should probably elaborate, but I thought the distinction important, given your point #4.

  3. Michael Gamble permalink
    October 30, 2012 3:30 am

    @Laura – Yeah, any sax player who didn’t, on their own, discover and fall in love with 1930’s-’40’s jazz is going to have a very different idea of “swing” and may generally be very difficult to communicate with. If they also play clarinet, you may be in luck LOL. I’ve had so much better luck with trumpet players, for some reason.

  4. October 30, 2012 9:05 am

    I’ve been lurking reading your blog for a little while now. But feel prompted to post. I play folk music (not tried jazz before), but music for dancing is a particular interest for me. I’ve always been told when playing for ceilidh/barndance (a) always play to the feet of the best dancers in the room (b) you can’t play dance music really well till you’ve at least tried to learn to dance (I think the person who said that was expecting me to take up ceilidh or morris dancing rather than lindy hop. lol!). I’ve been fascinated by how to play to make dancers respond to the music in a mutually beneficial way since I went to a workshop on ‘playing for dance’ and got told how the way you play, the ‘cues’ you put in give a signal to the dancers as to how to dance. e.g. to leap higher or travel further across the floor.

    And just to add to the ‘swing’ discussion in folk you can have a swung (dotted) or straight hornpipe.

  5. Elizabeth permalink
    October 30, 2012 1:20 pm

    Another great article by Mr. White. We are lucky to have someone who takes the time to explore swing dancing in such detail. Its history, style, music, social dynamics, and later resurgence, are all part of why we love doing what we do. Learning more about these aspects gives depth to our experience on and off the dance floor. Thank you for sharing your thoughts—and those of other figures in the scene–with the rest of us mere mortals.

  6. October 30, 2012 7:34 pm

    I think Glenn is definitely on the right track. I was actually a professional musician for 8 years after going to university for jazz and now I teach lindy-hop and balboa more than I play. I started writing a manifesto for musicians on this exact topic and if I could nail down one of the biggest points it’s the idea of arrangements and respect for the material of the time. So many younger bands just grab a fakebook and do what they always do and it always comes out as terribly bland music to dance to (and in my opinion, to listen to as well). Head, solo, solo, solo, solo, head out, count basie ending. Admittedly I’ve called this on a gig myself, but if you want to play for dancers (I think, one of the best gigs you can get) you have to get a lot deeper in source material and really play what was hot in that era. Arrangements with breaks, shots, solis (where horns play a feature melodic line together that’s not the melody), and solos that have some form and function to them other than showing everyone your awesome altered side-stepping. One day when I finish the manifesto I’ll send it this way and see if it can add anything to the discussion. As it it, great article!

  7. October 31, 2012 3:50 am

    One thing, with regard to the above, that I’ve been reflecting on lately is the difference between “making great music for dancing the lindy hop” and “making music great music for the modern lindy hop dances scene.”

    This dichotomy has always been present in our modern scene – 10 years ago we thought Gene Harris was great lindy hop music 5 years before that we thought Elvis was “danceable” (I put that word in quotes because I hate it). Over the last 10 years our musical tastes have grown closer and closer to the music that our dance was created to, but we still have very different taste in what we’d like to hear at a dance from what people 75 years ago would have expected and wanted to hear.

    My assumption is that we’ll continue to move in the “old timey” direction as we have been. If that happens then it’d be my guess that many of the things that we consider to be the most important aspects of a “good dance band” will change. Our focus will be more on authentic sound and style: real pianos, vintage instrumental tone, minimal amplification, large kick drums, thin cymbals, stylistic playing, good arranging, original music, and other factors that would make a band sound like a good dance band from 75 years ago, while our focus will be less on song lengths, tempos, and the variety of styles a single band can play – all important to us because of our growth out of a DJ culture but not so important during the swing era as those elements varied greatly.

    • Michael Gamble permalink
      October 31, 2012 4:16 am

      Yes yes, completely. I think a few DJ’s are “there”, meaning they’ve arrived at “music that was created for lindy hop/swing dancing”, and they reinforce that sound wherever they go. Now, at large events at least, the bands should feel ready to bring it; the age of novelty “danceable” sub-genres and side-genres is done, and we’re arriving at a historically-minded consensus. All that’s left is to embrace it with no backwards glances.

  8. November 1, 2012 3:16 pm

    Reblogged this on Generation: Swing and commented:
    This is a wonderful post about something I’m quickly learning to deal with.

  9. Tom permalink
    November 2, 2012 10:27 am

    As musician, as dancer, we share a language. The Jazz language. African Characteristics as the steady pulse or beat, the chase ( Jam, Battle ), building a circle of clapping, shouting support ( Riff section ) featuring a solo ( to foster the common spirit ), the collective expressing community ( Line dance ). As musicians, as dancers lets keep this concept in mind among musicians and towards dancers and vice versa. I don ‘t think Tempo and lenght are not of such importance as long as we are “in touch”. So yes, it all has a spiritual aspect. We all know those moments when the drive is in the air. It is hot, steamy, crazy. Time becomes irrelevant. Rare moments, but once you were part of this big interaction, you know: that ‘s it ! That is why we love this music, this dance.

    Thanks for your great blog, Bobby!

  10. Anders permalink
    November 5, 2012 12:38 am

    I think a big bonus for dancers is a band with good arrangements, as opposed to a group which relies on soloists or jamming. Arrangements with repeated phrases, breaks, bridges to add interest, or quotes from other tunes are all elements that the dancers can all pick up on and react to … making the tunes differentiated from each other.

    Of course not playing 8 minutes of crazy fast solos at a time and killing all those left on the dancefloor helps too… (i think the main reason this happens is a lot of bands are used to padding out their sets with long solos … which many non-dancing audiences will appreciate)

    …also a drummer who can actually play swing (rarer than you would think)… its much better to have a tight swinging rhythm section without a drummer than a bad drummer …

    anyway always good to share thoughts …. many a decent band are not great to dance to…

  11. November 5, 2012 9:27 pm

    I actually send out a “Notes to Bandleaders” to all new bands that play at my club. Here’s what it says:

    Rusty’s Notes to Bandleaders

    First of all, I want to thank you and your musicians for playing at Rusty’s
    Rhythm Club! I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to be able to
    support live swing music. I have been working hard to create a dance
    community that values live music and supports it with the almighty buck. I
    have successfully been running a weekly swing dance with live music since
    1998!

    I have observed that the following suggestions will make for a fabulous
    evening for you and the dancers:

    – Song Length:
    Suggested length 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Dancers may get winded and run out of
    ideas if the songs are too long. Lindy Hop is like sprinting, it’s easy to
    go fast for a short amount of time. Also, dancers enjoy dancing with many
    different people, and if the songs are too long, they’ll have fewer dances.
    If a dancer gets “stuck” with a bad, dangerous, stinky, etc. partner,
    dancing for a long song is a living hell.

    – Pacing:
    Keep it moving (no long breaks between tunes).
    Dancers love songs one after another. If there is a long pause
    between songs, dancers will stand around waiting for the next song. This
    brings down the energy of the evening.

    – Tempos
    Bringing the tempos up and down on a curve is best. Don’t go from a
    fast song to a slow song (people are sweating like crazy
    from the fast one, and then dripping all over their partner on the slow
    one!)

    – Set Lists
    The evening works best when the band leaders use a set list. It is helpful
    for our DJs to prepare their tunes for set breaks (this makes sure they
    don’t play something you are going to play!)

    The bottom line: You know you’re doing it right if the floor is packed!

    Use your own observation to feel if the energy in the room is high. Adjusting is easy to do.

    If you have any concerns or questions, feel free to ask me. I’ll be wandering around near the bandstand throughout the evening.

    Your performance is the most important element of the club! I thank you
    personally, and on behalf of the all the dancers who enjoy your music.

  12. November 5, 2012 9:28 pm

    I also offer FREE swing dance lessons to band leaders. Three have taken me up on it, including Bill Elliott, and they each said it really made them understand what I was talking about … especially the 3 minute song suggestion.

  13. November 6, 2012 6:14 pm

    Hmmmmmm. This is all very interesting and amusing to me. Please carry on.

  14. May 19, 2013 10:42 pm

    What has become the WEB page “How To Play For Dancing”

    was posted on line in 1992.

  15. May 28, 2013 11:52 am

    How To Play For Dancers: http://AboutDancing.info/HowPlay.html

  16. julius5 permalink
    May 31, 2013 8:16 am

    I remember asking an oldtimer (or maybe I heard it secondhand, maybe someone needs to talk to Norma) whether bands at the Savoy played three minute long songs like on the record. The answer was something like “Hell no, if Basie felt like it he would play One O’Clock Jump for twenty minutes!” And I asked “What did the dancers do if they got bored dancing with the same person?” And the response was something like “We went and found someone else to dance with! Or we started cutting each other on the floor!”

    I think the point I’m trying to make here is maybe, just maybe, dancers could change their paradigm to accommodate bands as well as vice versa.

    • Michael Gamble permalink
      May 31, 2013 1:26 pm

      That was, of course, COUNT bloody BASIE. My point being: sometimes the line needs to be pushed in one direction, and in other situations it needs to go the other way. If Basie showed up to play a 20 min. One O’Clock Jump, dancers had better bloody deal with it and be happy. And then there’s that awkward situation where dancers have a better grasp of the 30’s/40’s idiom than the musicians… THAT’s when it’s time to have a humble but frank chat about working on the music.

      • Bobby permalink*
        May 31, 2013 4:27 pm

        I totally agree that we as dancers should be making concessions for musicians, as well. I’ve been blown away by 9-minute versions of one o’clock jump that I love to dance to, and so I very literally sympathize with your statement. However, there are two aspects to the modern scene compared to the older scene that are underneath this, and convince me modern dance bands should still keep *most* of their songs short. (These may be interesting to mention as a separate post.)

        1. Live music scene versus a DJ music scene. Early jazz singles kept song length to three or so minutes, but dancers spent most of their dancing nights dancing to live bands. Thus, differing song lengths was the norm. For our DJ-based scene, three minutes is the norm. If we danced every night to a live band, then I would not ask musicians to keep most of their songs under three minutes. However, since we are a DJed scene, our norm, what are dancing is engineered for is the 3 minutes song. Dancing longer feels uncomfortable to a modern dancer — hence, they are less satisfied with bands that play multiple long songs in a row. If a dance band wants to get hired for dance gigs, I think this is an important place for bands to concede.

        (Aside: I had the painful duty of asking Craig Gildner/Medori Twins/Brooks Tegler — who were KILLING IT — to keep their songs shorter. They were on fire, and a small group of us were content to just stand and listen to it, but the mass dancers were not happy. Having dancers be not happy possibly means losing money the next few times we try to bring out a band, which our organization can’t afford. It killed a little bit of me to do it, but I made the call and asked those incredible musicians to alter their preferred playing style. (I personally thought it made the music generally better — one of the two main soloist was vibes, and vibes are an instrument that to me that can only solo so long before I start to hear only white noise. I apologize to any vibe enthusiasts — this is just my personal opinion.)

        2. Social etiquette these days makes dancing a full song with a partner the norm, possibly reinforced greatly by the 3-minute DJ song. Dancing etiquette in the old days was quite different in several ways:

        (a) Apparently, it was not a given you always danced the whole song. In the original comment above, Julius5 mentions certain people changing partners during a long song. One original dancer mentioned Dean Collins used to only dance thirty or so seconds before walking back off. And this happens fairly often in Bobby McGees footage, where many leaders walk onto the floor, dance for a chorus or two, then walk off. No one on camera seems surprised by it.

        (Aside: I actually noticed this is very common in modern day Urban dances, like break dancing (obviously, the tremendous amount of work it takes to break dance plays a role in that case) but also House dancers and more, who spend their dance nights “cyphering” — basically, in a jam circle — or in small groups of people dancing. They really bring it for half a minute or so, then hang back and watch as someone else does. But, the point being, it’s not necessarily the point in general dance culture to dance to an entire song. But it very much is in modern swing culture. )

        (b) It was not a given the partner would say “yes” when you asked them to dance. Frankie talks about how, coming up in Harlem ballrooms, the good followers wouldn’t even dance with him until he had proven himself on the dance floor in front of their faces. In Ken Burns’s Jazz, one dancer mentions how sometimes he’d send a follower out, and sometimes she wouldn’t come back. Basically, it sounds like there were not a lot of qualms about walking away from a dance partner.

        I wish people in the modern scene were allowed to say “no” and, simply, “no.” Instead, they have to tell the creepy guy, or the drunk girl, or the off-rhythm arm-yanker “I’m sitting this one out.” And then other dancers can’t dance with them, and the creepy guy, drunk girl, and off-rhythm arm yanker don’t get negative feedback that might help them change their behavior.

        There was a dancer in DC who did this pretty regularly. Some people thought she was mean for doing so, but I always told her how much I appreciated her sticking up for her right to refuse the dances she didn’t want. Even though a few people in the room thought she was mean, other people in the room were impressed, envious, and respectful. And she always had good dance nights.

        I’ve realized a lot over the last few years that sometimes being a nice person and being a good person are not always the same thing.

        So, er, thanks Julius5 and Michael for the very thought-provoking responses.

      • julius5 permalink
        May 31, 2013 4:31 pm

        Not sure if it’s intentional, but your tone comes across as aggrieved. I’d like to mention a few things. Firstly I did say ‘vice versa’ which I hope implies that bands need to adapt to dancers as well as dancers needing to adapt to bands.

        Secondly not all bands at the Savoy were Count Basie. Many non-swing/pop bands played there. Dancers didn’t dictate what the musicians should or should not do, because the dance was evolving with the music. If I recall correctly, the oldtimers have also said they danced whatever dance was appropriate for the music being played, if they felt inclined to dance. And if they didn’t know how, they made it up. (When jazz became bebop, I recall Frankie going up to Dizzy and saying that it was hard to dance to the stuff, so everyone’s got a limit somewhere!)

        It is only now, in the modern day, where dancers are trying to adhere to a perceived notion of authenticity, that we place demands on musicians to conform to the dancers. I’m as fierce about defending Lindy Hop as anyone else, but I would never, ever try to tell a musician how to play music unless they ask for advice. For me that’s basic etiquette, akin to not giving unsolicited advice to your dance partner.

        • julius5 permalink
          May 31, 2013 4:46 pm

          OK I will give Bobby a pass for business reasons at a venue. I’m sure he handled it as tactfully as he could.

        • Michael Gamble permalink
          May 31, 2013 5:00 pm

          Sure man, I see your vice-verse and agree. No need to get further into tone-analysis on a blog. :) For the record, I was grinning like a madman when I made that post.

          Bobby: many points for practicality. I think it’s a great point that a band being hired to play for a scene should fairly expect to be received/evaluated by the values of that scene as it currently exists, not how we imagine some past ideal might have been.

        • Bobby permalink*
          May 31, 2013 5:55 pm

          Hey Julius,

          By no means did I mean to come off as aggrieved. My intention was to mention that though I feel I understand and sympathize with the points you made — indeed, found them very thought provoking — after thinking about it further, I still hold to the point that if a modern swing band desires to play for dancers, then they should keep most of their songs short.

          This is of course looking at the situation from the business side more than the artistic side (which really, the original post is about — swing bands who want more dance gigs. And, which is the starting point to a much deeper discussion on the relationship between art and business in jazz history, but, anyway, not important there.) This takes me to your point about never telling a band how to play unless they ask for advice, which is similar to giving unsolicited dance feedback.

          The relationship between two dance partners on the social floor is different than the relationship between a promoter and a band. Since they are in an employment position, a promoter who hires the band has the right to make a request for what they desire from the performers. The band has the right to accept or deny that request.

          For instance, when I ask the band to shorten their songs, I was asking them because I was one of the promoters of the event. They could have said, “Not really. This is what we do.” And I would have said “Cool. I totally respect that.” Even though I respect that, it would mean that we might favor another band over hiring them in the future. For them, not being hired again, they might not think it’s a big loss, and would rather play gigs that appreciated their way of doing things. Instead, they shortened the songs, we hired them for a gig next year (not just cause they played short songs, of course), they seemed very pleased to play for us again.

          Another thing you said also struck me:

          “It is only now, in the modern day, where dancers are trying to adhere to a perceived notion of authenticity, that we place demands on musicians to conform to the dancers.”

          Based on the wording, I can see how modern dancers placing demands on musicians can be perceived as a sort of contradiction towards the authentic spirit of the dance. But I think this only applies if we look at the original crowds as “dancers” rather than simply the abstract idea of an audience.

          Savoy bands got hired or not hired based on how the crowds liked them. The original audience in this sense was a large group of people going out to dance, have fun, and yes, it also meant they evolved and created a dance while they did so. A small group of them would have considered Lindy Hop more than a portion of the night’s fun activities, especially in light of all the other activities — dancing other dances, socializing, drinking, etc.

          Oddly enough, I think a modern swing band playing a corporate swing-themed party is a closer approximation in spirit to the original era than a modern Lindy Hop event. Those corporate executives don’t know about our scene or the history of swing dance other than vague ideas of turning, kicking, and throwing people around. They only know that good swing music + a few cocktails + grabbing a partner and making stuff up = a good time. So, the demands they make on the band are probably, at the most, “play ‘in the mood!'”

          The modern dancer audience is a very specific audience who are used to dancing in specific circumstances. In order to be satisfied after a night of dancing, it helps greatly if we have THIS rhythm, and maybe THIS song length, and since we work really hard on musicality, we can really get a lot out of THIS kind of solo style.

          I think the root of the situation is this: When we strive for “authenticity” in Lindy Hop, we are striving to be authentic towards what we see as the spirit of what Lindy Hop meant to the artists of the original era when they were dancing the Lindy Hop the way they liked to dance it.” I think of Frankie Manning doing demos to Shiny Stockings — I think that experience is a major part of what drives what we think is ‘authentic.’ (It also is reinforcing of this belief that we never have dance nights where they play lots of different songs and expect us to dance different dances) So we try to direct our experience towards that, and ask bands to replicate that so that we can continue having that experience. You’re right. It’s not literally authentic. (The desire, I think, is to somehow capture something that is spiritually authentic specifically to Lindy Hop artistry, and leave behind the ‘unnecessary’ parts of it, like dancing a ballad three times during the evening. Man, authenticity is a dangerously convoluted idea.)

          But, all that said, what IS authentic about it is that in both the original era and the modern lindy hop scene, the audience will ultimately decide who gets hired and who doesn’t. Jazz musicians have put up with it (or not put up with it) from the very beginning of jazz. If jazz.

          Also, I don’t think it’s completely accurate to say dancers never “place demands” on the bands in the original era. For all we know, club promoters might very well have paid attention to the dancer’s wishes and relayed information to their bands. We even have instances in old flicks of dancers booing unhep musicians off of stage, or yelling praises when they really liked what was going on. And, there’s at least one, strange instance of note: Normal Miller discusses how the Whitey’s decided not to dance to Chick Webb on the night of the battle between himself and Count Basie as proof that Chick needed the Lindy Hoppers. According to her book, it worked.

          • julius5 permalink
            May 31, 2013 5:58 pm

            The ‘aggrieved’ comment was to Michael Gamble.

            I hate blogs. :)

          • Bobby permalink*
            May 31, 2013 5:58 pm

            Damn, um, Michael put that a lot shorter than I did.

            I’ve got to write shorter.

            Also, I apologize that this word press theme make the comments boxes so damn small with each new comment. I should try to fix that in CSS.

            And, in short, I seem to have lumped all of Julius’s and Michael’s comments into one poster in my head. My apologies, gentleman, for the confusion this may have caused.

            • Michael Gamble permalink
              May 31, 2013 6:02 pm

              Just replying to see how thin it will make me this time. Killl l l l l meee e e e e

    • June 7, 2013 12:45 am

      «Wouldn’t it be great to do an article on how to train modern Jazz bands to play better for dancers?»

      Here’s one written in 1992:
      http://AboutDancing.info/Articles/HowPlay.html

Trackbacks

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