All posts by dogpossum

You can exploit yourself!

I’ve just had a look at the latest Swingnation video podcast, because a friend said I was on it. Yes, this was a vanity watch.

It’s kind of interesting, but I think I’d have liked to hear a bit more engagement with the issue from the three blokes, as they have such wide-reaching experience as teachers, punters and organisers. I’m glad Mike Pedroza said he has a written document setting out his teaching terms: I LOVE LOVE LOVE teachers who have these. And I have very little patience with the ones who don’t, but who do have a long list of preferences RE food, or teaching hours, or airlines.

Teachers: GET A GODDAM LIST OF TERMS.

I’m also not sure Mikey understood the point of my post: this was just a brief overview of some of the areas I’ve been working on. It should not – AT ALL – be considered a comprehensive overview of setting up a dance business! But I will disagree with Mikey: this stuff isn’t very complicated. It’s just quite laborious. But if you’re not prepared to do a little work, you probably shouldn’t be setting up a business.

I also want to make it clear that there’s a difference between a legally binding contract and a written agreement. And there are also differences between Australian states, let alone different countries, so this post of mine shouldn’t really be considered a guide for setting up a dance business in America or France or anywhere other than New South Wales, Australia.
Here, mind you, a written agreement does have legally binding ramifications. It is, essentially, a type of contract. But the strength of this contract can vary, and your lawyer’s knowledge of Australian (NSW!) arts law will be key to determining how you write, discuss, and enforce this sort of contract. Which is why I recommended the NSW Arts Law Centre for Sydney people – they can give you advice about lawyers and contracts, and they provide samples for written agreements.

That Swing Nation ep reminded me of this great video of Shawn Lavelle discussing budgets for big dance events, which I watched when someone like Jerry posted it on Wandering and Pondering. There was some interesting discussion happening there, but I can’t remember any of it, nor can I find the link. Mostly because I’m sitting in someone’s lounge room on stolen wifi waiting for a ride to my next accommodation for MLX, at the end of the week after Sea of Rhythm. I’m also listening to loud jazz on headphones, sniffing some lovely vegan muffins baking, and carrying on half a conversation.

So, here: no coherent thoughts.

Anyways, I thought Shawn’s talk about budgets was really great. I’d been meaning to make a post covering those sorts of issues ages ago, but I’d just not ever gotten around to it. Mad props, bro.

I think that more people should run dance events. I really wish they would!

My original post was partly to make it clear to people that you have all the skills and experience you need to set up as a sole trader to run your own dance class, DJing business, or performance troupe. I think that a lot of dancers get into tricky or exploitative professional relationships because they don’t feel they are clever enough or experienced enough to set up their own legit business.

I am here to tell you: you are.

You don’t have to get involved with dodgy deals to become a jazz dance performer, teacher, DJ, or event organiser. You can exploit yourself!

Sea of Rhythm rambling

I’ve just had a LOVELY weekend at Sea of Rhythm, a new dance event held in Melbourne. Run by Rhythm Tap, a group who do the sort of tap that lindy hoppers like, the program was intended to bring together dancers who were interested in dances of the African diaspora. Not that the event was pitched like that. It was literally pitched as a ‘sea of rhythm’ event, where dancers would come and immerse themselves in rhythm-based dances for a weekend. That meant African (Senegalese) dance and drumming, lindy hop, rhythm tap, historic solo jazz dance – all the good stuff!
I’ve been to a few of these sorts of weekends before, but this one was different for a couple of reasons. The most important of which was that the teachers and performers weren’t just random people from around town. They were top shelf dancers and teachers. The other key reason for the success of the weekend, was that the teachers were all approaching dance from the same ideological position. They see dance as an embodiment of music, or more specifically, they approach all dance as rhythm first.

This approach to dance has become quite popular in the mainstream lindy hop community lately (and isn’t that a strange thing to write – ‘main stream lindy hop’), but it’s something the Swedes have been talking about forever, and they’ve been talking about it because they’ve always worked very closely with the old timers – Frankie Manning, Al Minns, Norma Miller and so on. And the African American dancers always put the music first. Lindy hop hasn’t been well served by that deviation into ‘smooth’ and heavily technique-focussed teaching in the early 2000s. That movement away from hot jazz, and that strange emphasis on ‘connection’ took us a little too far from the roots of lindy hop.

I’ve very interested in talking about ‘rhythm’ as a teaching tool. I think that it’s very useful for teaching beginners the essentials.

Bounce (that’s the beat, or the time of the song) teaches us how to swing and stay in time, but also teaches us how to find a common point of reference for our partnership, so we can stay in time together. It’s also a powerful tool for teaching people to engage their cores (and relax their upper bodies as a consequence), and to improve their fitness (because it’s physically more work). It’s also – I very strongly believe – the most basic way for two people to dance together. You can just hold each other in your arms and bounce on the spot, and you’re dancing. It’s also (to get a bit essentialist here – I apologise), quite primal to bounce up and down to music with another person. Watching Josette Wiggins tap this weekend, heavily pregnant, I kept thinking: that is the point of this. We know how to do this, right from birth.

I also have quite a manically obsessive hatred of dancing that rushes the beat. Especially since taking tap classes. It really, REALLY shits me to have people in class rush the beat and make a basic rhythm speed up. Teaching, we see beginners do that at first (because humans do), but everyone of them can stop doing it within half an hour of their first class. If I’m in an intermediate or advanced lindy hop class and people speed up, I want to SCREAM. Because the people who do this are the people who don’t bounce.

Tap dancers don’t bounce, but they do have a shared sense of time. Bouncing is kind of a cheat, because it makes it easier to feel and find that shared sense of time. Tappers have that sense of time in their brains and bodies.

Teaching ‘steps’ or ‘footwork’ as rhythms instead is very exciting. Straight away, the students learn that rhythms are central to what we do, not just an add-on to the shapes or ‘moves’. And lindy hop is special: the syncopation of the triple step is so important.
After the speeding up of basic rhythms, I really hate it when people flatten out a syncopated rhythm. I think it’s something to do with tighty whitey dancing: lindy bro leads are the absolute worst for rushing the beat and flattening out syncopation. I know that follows tend to be a bit more behind the beat, but PLEASE: TAKE CARE OF THE RHYTHM! It feels so naff – why are you rushing?
I feel as though this issue is related to the tension between hot and cool in African American and African dance. Be cool. I’ll need to think more about that, though, before I can articulate it properly.

Scatting is essential. Again, the Swedes have always done it, because the old timers have always done it. Norma Miller rants about it. And I’ve transitioned almost completely to teaching entirely without counts in class. It’s a joy. I scat all the time now, to the point that I can’t actually turn it off when I dance.
I generally find that ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8′ even with ‘ands’ in there simply aren’t complex enough tools for describing what happens in jazz dance. The beats don’t divide evenly into single beats or half beats. Just syncopation alone is far more complex. There’s a difference just between the timing of a stomp off and a triple step that counts can’t reflect. I find it much more useful to use sounds that sound like the way a movement feels. Which I guess is like reverse-engineering dancing to music. So if we do start with the music first, a musician plays a series of notes in a particular way, and then I find a way to make that sound visible with my body. Counts don’t really come into it.

I suppose what I’m really talking about is a profound ideological shift in approaching dance. From a very anglo-western, ‘scientific’ concert/performance approach, to a more ‘African’ or African American vernacular approach. From thinking about dance and music as things to be performed, watched and consumed, to things that should be created, participated in, enjoyed, eaten up and shared.

I wrote about ‘pavlov’s lindy hopper‘ a little while ago, where I talked about how watching other people dance does things to your brain: it fires you the bits of your brain that perform those movements. Particularly if you’re familiar with those movements. Dancers often talk about not watching dance clips before bed because it fires you up.
I suspect that scatting works this way. When we scat, we physically make the sound that the music makes, and that triggers something in our brains. So we move from just ‘observing’ or ‘consuming’ music, to participating in music. If dancing is a way to participate in music, then scatting is the natural bridge between the two. Or more usefully, it’s the olive oil that marries the flavours.

WHAT does all this have to do with Sea of Rhythm?
Well, I think that this is the HEART of what was happening. We know that tap dancing is a way for dancers to ‘join the band’, to make the sounds that they are dancing, rather than just ‘making sound visible’, they ‘make visible sound’. In the African dance class on the weekend, I think that this process was made very simple and clear.

We began by sitting in a circle, with our feet in, and this was called the ‘circle of life.’ Now, if you’re immediately made uncomfortable by that sort of talk, you might want to get a grip. It’s not so much hippy talk as a different way of talking and thinking about the role of music and dance in everyday life, from another culture. Anyone who’s been to a lindy hop class knows how important circle formations are to group dynamics. When I was tutoring, I’d make all the students sit in a circle, because it made it much easier to manage behaviour problems: people wouldn’t be able to sit in the back and dick around. They had to be right there, facing everyone, and accountable for everything they said and did. They had to be part of the group. And anyone who’s ever done a big apple (called or social) knows how circles make you feel. And of course, ring shouts make the roots of Africa so clear. All the tap classes over the weekend used circles as well – we’d stand in a circle and take turns doing step or a time step. And haven’t we all seen how a jam circle works? What it does to our brains and bodies to be leaning into a circle when the music is hot?

In our African dance class, we all sat in the circle of life, and our teacher was there, with us, part of that circle. Our teacher, but one of us. He explained what we’d be doing, and what his background was, and how things worked.
Then we moved to another part of the room, where the drums were set up in a circle. We all took a drum (or shared one), and began learning some simple drumming techniques. Our teacher would say something like ‘the rain is coming, gently’, and he’d tap a gentle tappity tap, and we’d just join in. And so on. The important points: he’d just begin, and we’d just join in. Then we stood up and started learning a routine. Our teacher would drum and we’d dance. I didn’t have any moments of feeling shy or uncomfortable. It was really fun, and we all felt really excited by this stuff.

I knew that this would be fun and exciting, but I didn’t quite anticipate what it would mean to have my teacher drum. He could vary the tempo, the length of time we spent doing each step, and how we felt. It was very exciting. And because we’d first learnt to drum the rhythms ourselves, it was as though we’d skipped scatting and gotten straight to the heart of it.

This was really the message of the whole weekend: we have to take care of the rhythm. It was also made very clear that we each had a responsibility to make the rhythms clear and sharp. Each of our teachers worked on us with this: our tap teachers, our African teacher, our solo jazz teachers, our lindy hop teachers. You have to properly understand the rhythm, before you can dance it. Or rather, you can only really understand the rhythm if you dance it.

This meant that the entire weekend the focus in all the classes wasn’t so much on ‘learning a move’ and then perfecting it, as learning a rhythm (or creating one!) and then figuring out just how many different ways you could dance it. Of course, the unspoken (and occasionally spoken) emphasis here was on individual personality and creativity, but in a collective environment. It’s quite an exciting approach, because mixed level classes suddenly become a real advantage: here is a room of people who are really diverse and different, which means you have a WHOLE ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE to inspire you, that you can suck inspiration from, who’ll fire up your creativity. How will you make this rhythm work with someone who’s never danced before? Or when I was was dancing with a pre-teen boy tap dancer in a beginner lindy class: how do I make this work with someone half my height and feeling weird about holding a grown woman in his arms?

I think it goes without saying that all weekend there was this absolute TRUTH that there is no distinction between ‘solo dancing’ and ‘partner dancing’. Even when we were dancing alone – or perhaps most when we were ‘dancing alone’ – we were actually part of a group, dancing together. This is where that whole thing about speeding up the tempo comes in: we were a group, so we all had a responsibility to take care of that rhythm and not speed it up or flatten out the swing or syncopation. Tap made this particularly clear, because we could hear the differences, and we had to bring everyone with us. It was a marvellous tension between uniformity and diversity. We had to be together, but we also had to be uniquely ourselves. We had a responsibility to contribute to the group, and to be responsible for our own actions. This approach meant that respecting each other was just taken for granted.

And the best part is that when we come back to our lindy hop, we can still throw down and do solid, hardcore lindy hop. No hippy stuff; just fucking hardcore lindy hop. All this stuff sort of fills in the backgrounds and body of our dancing.

It was quite a magical experience, really. It reminded me so much of the Frankie stream at Herrang. This is what it means to be a jazz dancer.

MRP

Leigh’s shared a video of the Melbourne Rhythm Project musicians and dancers warming up.

The thing that interests me about this aspect of the MRP, is that dancers and musicians get to work together in everyday spaces, not just performances or parties. They get to be a part of each others’ ordinary work and social activities. Which means musicians get to be a part of the particularly collegial work environment of lindy hop jazz dance, and dancers to be a part of musicians’ focussed work practices and group improvisation.
I think it’s this stuff that makes these projects special. It changes cultures of jazz dance and jazz music in everyday, ordinary ways. And vernacular dances and music are everyday cultural practices.
…the final performance on the night seems almost incidental to this important stuff.

Making a Dance Business: it’s not that hard, actually

I’ve started my own dance business, Swing Dance Sydney, and I’m looking into various legal and financial guidelines for running this sort of business.

So far I’ve discovered some very interesting things. The least surprising of which is that most Australian lindy hop teachers aren’t operating under safe or even legal conditions. Not that surprising, right? When I started looking at this stuff, I was a bit nervous, because I’d been led to believe that all this stuff is really complicated.
It’s not.
It’s really easy to set up your own dance business, and run it legally and safely, and there are lots of great free resources to help you.

Key areas to consider:

Business Name
Registering a business name. It’s easy. You need a tiny bit of money, a name, and a bank account. Boom. Done.

Business Structure
You’ll need a business structure: will you be a sole trader? An incorporated company? A non-profit? Each makes different demands, and some are simpler than others. There are advantages to some (eg non-profits have access to supercheap community venue hire; sole-traders are really simple to set up – the easiest), and disadvantages to others (non-profits are quite complicated and require AGMs, a minimum number of executives, etc).

Contracts and/or Agreements
If you are working with other people – ie DJs, a teaching partner, a venue, a visiting teacher, another teaching team in your school or business – you will need to have either contracts or agreements. These shouldn’t be verbal. They should be written down. A written agreement has quite a lot of power, and is really important for helping you keep track of who needs to be paid what and when, what you all expect of each other, who should be doing what work, and when it all needs to happen.
I already use written agreement with DJs: I write DJ briefs. I’ve explained why I take a professional approach to managing DJs in this post, where I make it clear that being a professional employer not only helps you run top shelf events, it also helps you run equitable events and secures diversity. In other words, if you don’t do things like a pro, we’ll be able to see it, because you won’t have any women DJs in your team.

A sample copy of my DJ brief:
Page 1
Page 2
I can send you and editable version if you like. And as you can see, I’ve cut out my phone number and the name of the event from this version. I try to take a light hearted tone in these things, because I’ve found DJs can get bloody huffy if you preach at them. I often add a ‘brown M and M clause’ to my briefs to check and see who’s read it. This is often a photo of a pony.

I also use a very brief brief :D with bands, where I lay out the basics. I sent this one last week to the leader of a band I’m hiring this week:

Hi [band leader name],
Just checking in to see you’re ok at your end for this gig.
Now that I’m past the big October weekend, I’ll start ramping up the promotions, so you may get a bit of spam on facebook – just turn off notifications in the event settings if you don’t want them.

Please let me know how many mics you’ll need, so I can sort that out.

We won’t have a sound guy, which will be a pain sometimes, but we can be casual at this gig, as it’s a smaller crowd. And there tends to be a lot of audience/musician interaction at these gigs as well, which is nice.

I’ll pay you $[pay rate] on the night, before the gig, and put a tab on the bar and in the kitchen for your drinks and food. The kitchen does good vegetarian stuff, but let me know if anyone needs vegan/wheat free.
Make sure you bring CDs to sell! We can handle that at the door for you.
And do let me know if you want some friends put on the door.

Just to double check the running order for the night:

5.30 venue opens, and we can do the bump in. I’ll arrive to do the set up.
6.30 we have a dance class, so we’ll need to have the band bumped in by then (you can eat dinner in this spot, or later or earlier!)
7.30 the class ends, so you can begin, though we can just pipe in some DJed music if you want to start at 8pm (we can be casual about timing)

8.10 band break 1 (if you start at 7.30)
8.30 band set 2
9.10 band break 2
9.30 band set 3
10.00/10.10 finish

10.30 the venue has a sound curfew, so we’ll need to have the sound finished by then.

Thanks, and see you in a few weeks!
Sam.

Sometimes when I write these, I feel a bit uncomfortable for being such a stickler for formalities. But over the years my experience with organising DJs and volunteers, working with venues, hiring teachers and sound engineers, and even just sorting out dance troupes’ performances at a regular dance have made me realise that you do need to set all these things out clearly. It’s when you don’t state things clearly that a) people fuck up, b) there are misunderstandings that make people ANGRY, c) you get screwed over, d) people try to bully you into doing stuff you don’t want to do. If someone objects to an agreement like this, I don’t work with them. Flat, that’s my rule: you don’t accept this agreement, it’s not on.
As an organiser, it helps me to have a summary of a negotiation or bargaining process, and it also helps all of us stay on the same page. I have had people try to renege on these deals, and I have had people try to bully me into not using these agreements, or into deviating from them. No. I won’t do that. There’s quite a bit of bullying in the lindy hop world, and I have zero tolerance for it.

It turns out that you’re legally required to have these agreements when you run businesses in the arts. UNSURPRISE.

The Arts Law Centre of NSW provides templates for agreements on their website, which is fantastic: it can help you figure out how you should word things so everyone is protected, legally.

Tax
If you pay people or deal with people in situations where money changes hands (that’s you, dance people), you’ll need to think about tax (income tax, GST, etc).
Most dance business won’t need to worry about GST. You don’t have to collect if it your net income is less than $75000 per year (ATO reference). So you don’t need to deal with BAS forms or any of that rubbish, in most cases. Easy.

Contractors, Employees, and their ABNs
If you’re paying people, they’ll need to be a) employees, or b) contractors. If they’re contractors, and businesses themselves, you’ll need to collect their ABN. If they don’t have one, you can have them sign a non-declaration of ABN form (technically a ‘Statement by a supplier (reason for not quoting an ABN to an enterprise)’ form: ATO reference.) This is cool, and applies to most of us doing day-to-day work in the dance world: if you’re a hobbyist (ie this isn’t your main job), or if you’re being paid less than $75 for the work.
But what if they’re a band, and you’re paying them more than $75? Then they’ll need to give you their ABN. If they don’t, you have to withhold (and pay!) up to 46.5% of the value of the pay – as a non-declaration tax! EEEK! So, bands: get an ABN.

Insurance, Workers’ Compensation and OH&S
If you are dealing with the public, you’ll need insurance. This sounds tricky, but it isn’t, really. You can organise public liability insurance for your dance school for $300 or less with one phone call, effective within 24 hours.
Once again, there are approximately one million great resources for dealing with this stuff.

Public liability
The most basic insurance you’ll need is public liability insurance. This protects you from other people’s legal action, and nothing else.

Accident Insurance
You can also insure your students against accident, for a reasonable rate (about $4 per student per year, which you can absorb if you’re a club and the students are paying annual fees). You can also insure your teachers against accident.

Work Cover and Workers’ compensation
Ok, this is where we need to kiss the unions right on their faces for a) all this wonderful stuff, and b) also providing fantastic information about doing the right thing by your workers.

Firstly, who counts as a worker?
Anyone you pay money to. So teachers in your school, DJs or bands at your dances, sound engineers at your gigs. And even, conceivably, volunteers who receive payment in kind (ie free entry). So if you’re running a party or teaching classes with someone, you need to think about this stuff.

If you are paying workers (whether employees or contractors), and you are paying all of them more than a total of $7500 per year, then you MUST have Work Cover.
[EDIT: this doesn’t apply to you if you’re a sole trader – only pty ltd companies need to consider work cover. If you have questions about this, give Work Cover a call – their numbers are on their websites, they’re very nice, and each state is different.]

If an employer pays workers more $7500 per year in total for all wages, (in this next bit I draw and quote directly from WorkCover):

…they are required by law to have a workers compensation insurance policy (Work Cover ref)

In the event of a workplace injury or disease, the insurance policy will provide the worker with weekly benefits, medical and hospital expenses, rehabilitation services, certain personal items (eg. clothing and spectacles, if damaged in a work-related accident), and a lump sum payment for permanent impairment.

An employer is a business (including an individual) that employs or hires workers on a full-time, part-time or casual basis, under an oral or written contract of service or apprenticeship (Work Cover reference).

Occupational Health and Safety
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your workers. These involve a number of things, summed up as a) keeping the workplace safe; b) educating workers about safety; c) documenting injuries, d) reporting injuries; e) actively working to prevent injuries.

So let me make that clear: if someone has an accident at your dance or in your class or at your event, you are LEGALLY REQUIRED to make a record of it.

After all this fun stuff, you’ve really only got two other important things to do: get a PR strategy happening, and make a business plan. Which are the fun bits!

8tracks: Live shows and radio transcripts

Live shows and radio transcripts from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

linky

Goin’ To Chicago Count Basie and his Orchestra (Jimmy Rushing) 95 1941 Cafe Society Uptown 1941 3:46

Fine And Mellow Mal Waldron and the All-Stars (Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Hinton) 79 1957 The Sound Of Jazz 6:22

Deep Trouble Les Red Hot Reedwarmers 179 2006 King Joe 2:55

Puttin’ On The Ritz Mona’s Hot Four (Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Webster, Cassidy Holden, Nick Russo, Jesse Selengut, Dan Levinson, Tamar Korn) 185 2009 Live at Mona’s 7:49

Washington and Lee Swing Shotgun Jazz Band 244 2013 One Drink Minimum 6:02

Lady Bug Picnic The Palmetto Bug Stompers (Seva Venet, John Rodli, Washboard Chaz, Will Smith, Jack Fine, Robert Snow, Paul Robertson, Bruce Brackman) 220 2009 Live @ D.B.A. 4:41

Shake It And Break It Sidney Bechet & The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street 219 1940 Radio Broadcast 1:53

Blues (My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me) Wilbur De Paris and his Rampart Street Ramblers 153 Dr. Jazz Vol. 7 5:35

Savoy Blues Kid Ory 153 1953 Kid Ory Plays The Blues 4:28

The Minor Goes A-Muggin’ Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra 188 1944 Carnegie Hall V-Disc Session April 1944 3:53

For Dancers Only Jimmie Lunceford and his Harlem Express 177 1944 Live at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri 2:23

Flying Home Woody Herman and his Orchestra 231 1944 Woody Herman and the First Herd. Vol 1 Live in 1944: Woodchopper’s Ball 3:08

Everybody Rock Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 187 1939 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 3:19

Stompin’ At The Savoy Glenn Miller’s G.I.s (Peanuts Hucko, Mel Powell, Bernie Priven, Joe Schulman, Ray McKinley, Django Reinhardt) 162 1945 Glenn Miller’s G.I.s in Paris 1945 2:53

Honeysuckle Rose Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) 215 1938 Yacht Club Swing 1938 Jazz Archives no.40 3:44

C-Jam Blues Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 185 1949 At The Hollywood Empire 3:23

Roll ‘em Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Gene Krupa) 1937 Benny Goodman: The Complete Madhattan Room Broadcasts (vol 1: Satan Takes a Holiday) 5:18

Tempo de Luxe Harry James 130 1940 New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln, 3:19

Main Stem Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 216 At The Hurricane 3:00

Two O’Clock Jump Harry James and his Orchestra 187 1943 Harry James: Complete Jazz Series 1942 – 1944 3:59

Loose Wig Freddie Slack and his Orchestra 154 1944 Freddie Slack and His Orchestra 4:20

The Harlem Stride Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 199 1939 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 3:29

Well, Git It! Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra 259 1943 Well, Git It! 2:35

Stompin’ At The Savoy Benny Goodman Sextet (Johnny White, Powell, Bryan, Spieler, Johnny DeSoto) 153 1946 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra: Stompin’ at the Savoy 3:47

Stealin’ Smack’s Apples Glenn Miller’s G.I.s (Peanuts Hucko, Mel Powell, Bernie Priven, Joe Schulman, Ray McKinley, Django Reinhardt) 175 1945 Glenn Miller’s G.I.s in Paris 1945 2:36

I Simply Adore You Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) 165 1938 Yacht Club Swing 1938 Jazz Archives no.40 2:35

Ain’t Misbehavin’ Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra (George Washington, Dexter Gordon,Luis Russell, Charles Mingus) 142 1943 Louis Armstrong and his Sensational Big Band ‘On The sunny side of the street’ Live in ‘43 5:11

Topsy Count Basie and his Orchestra 190 1941 Cafe Society Uptown 1941 3:37

Moten Swing Count Basie and his Orchestra 125 1959 Breakfast Dance And Barbecue 5:17

big apple

I will write a post about the Big Apple Contest we ran at Jazz BANG quite soon.
We had to teach classes and train the big apple caller and choose music and plan an entirely new competition format and do all the things. It was epic.
But I am a bit ill, so I am too tired.

But I will say this: Lance Benishek is a top shelf human being, and he made it all possible. Without him, we wouldn’t have done ANY of it, and then we wouldn’t have discovered my new most favourite thing. We wouldn’t have introduced our students to their new favourite thing, and we wouldn’t have discovered all that old newspaper stuff about the big apple in Australia.

Lance, you are awesome.

Jazz BANG bands: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet

music

I have to write some posts about the music at Jazz BANG.

The weekend was quite full on for me, as I overcommitted myself and failed to follow the first rule of event management: delegate, delegate, delegate. But even though I was utterly exhausted by the end, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My cheeks cramped from smiling by Sunday. People came with such a willingness to lol and learn and have fun, such a determination to be delighted by each other, I was quite overcome by the good will. I think some of the good vibes came from people’s willingness to try something new: no one else had run such a large scale solo jazz weekend, and Sydney hasn’t hosted a big event in a while, so it felt new. Though, for Sydney people, it was really just like a particularly big Little Big Weekend. The local volunteers and managers are such freeking NINJAS they just fronted up as per usual, and pounded out a top shelf event like it was nothing.

I feel the music was the most successful part of the weekend. We used four bands and four DJs, with only one DJed late night party. I put quite a lot of thought into the live music program, and hand-picked bands and musicians I thought would do a great job. It was a bit of a financial risk to hire so many bands, but I think it really paid off. The event felt more professional and top shelf, and I think we really took the social dancing element to great heights. Jazz BANG was pitched as a solo dance weekend, but I wanted to make the parties feel like places where you could dance however you liked, so I needed bands that really welcomed dancers onto the floor and made it easy to DANCE.

I tried to present this idea of dance and music as one thing in all the promotional material, in the class program, in the structure of the weekend, and in the way I worked with the DJs and musicians. I wanted to work with band leaders not as interchangeable blocks to be bought and paid for, but as active participants in the project. Hence this promotional image: JazzBangLogo-smaller

I feel weird claiming credit for the bands, so please, let me make it clear: I see my role in these things as bringing the right people together. I look for people who have the right skills, the right passions, and a willingness to work with other people and try new things. More specifically, I look for creative people who really relish creative partnerships that are challenging and interesting. Then I just try to put them in a room together, and ask them to make people crazy with fun.
All these people just rise to the challenge. I love, LOVE it when I can see their brains fire up, and their skills and passion take over. People take my weirdo suggestions and just go nuts. I mean, I told Lennart my sneaky political goal for the weekend was to convince people that solo jazz and lindy hop are really the same thing, working together, not separate disciplines. And then he did some stealth politicising. I asked Marie to draw on her chorus line experience to develop an exciting set of classes strongly rooted in historic dance, and she came through like a GUN. I asked a bunch of musicians and dancers to just talk about why they think Basie’s band was important, and then just let them go. And they did AMAZING things!

And of course, then I ask a couple of hundred people to come join in. And they DO! They all turn up saying YES! Let’s TRY THIS! And then they engage! They really ask questions, and demand to be challenged, and thoroughly test out these concepts and ideas. Then they take these things as just beginning points, and go on and do really fucking wonderful stuff on their own, in their own cities, with people in other cities, with other dancers. It fucking thrills me. And they do it with such a sense of fun and enthusiasm, I’m just overwhelmed. I think that jazz is wonderful: the way it combines improvisation and structure, all wrapped in a light, joyful, exciting enthusiasm.

I just feel so excited about being able to work with such talented people! It’s such a pleasure – it’s so exciting! I feel my own creative juices fire up, and I come away from these projects really inspired and excited. Not just about dancing, but about music and running projects, and generally doing all sorts of creative work. I’m just SO LUCKY!

Anyways, enough of that hippy feeltalk. Let’s talk about the first band.

Friday evening: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet (Brad Child (sax), Jim Pennel (guitar), Peter Locke (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass), Andrew Dickeson (drums). And with guest trumpeter Eamon McNelis from Melbourne.)

I wanted a small, swinging combo for the Friday night, because I wanted to kick off the weekend with a ‘friendly’, accessible band that made people think ‘this is going to be FUN’ right from the very first moment. I wanted songs that would be ‘easy’ to dance to, that invited people onto the dance floor. So I wanted stuff that was built for lindy hop. No djank, no street jazz, just solid swinging jazz. And that’s what I got.
That gig was co-opting our regular fortnightly social dance, which always includes lots of beginners. So I wanted a beginner-friendly band (ie swinging, classic jazz, not pre-jazz or anything too hot), and I wanted a band leader who really understood how swing works. Andrew Dickeson was that man. He responded with enthusiasm to my ideas about playing for dancers, so I figured this would be fun.
I wanted a band made up of Sydney’s more experienced musicians. The guys who play around town a lot, and tend to get overlooked because they’re occasionally over-exposed. I’d seen Adrian Cunningham pull a brilliant performance from some of them at Rug Cutters’ Swing earlier in the year, and I had a feeling a strong leader with clear set of goals could really pull the best performance from them.

These guys are experienced, skilled, professional and really bloody good. They’re great to work with (focussed when they’re working, easy going off-stage, and respectful, but still with lots of lols and a good sense of humour.) They just needed a clear set of goals to really focus all that. I’ve worked with these musicians a few times, now, and I’m really happy with their work. At some point, though, I’ll get Peter Locke a real piano to play, because he has MAD skills. And I also managed to convince Eamon McNelis to come to Sydney and sit in with the bands. This guy is my favourite Australian trumpeter, and I just love him in a band. He has a talent. A gift. There’s something about the way he adds an energy or depth to the feels of a band. It’s like he is really THERE, 100%, and his presence just pushes the other musicians, says “Hey, fuckers, got jazz? Bring IT!” and then they all go nuts.

This band was many people’s favourites, and when we got to the second song, my pre-event nerves just melted away. Yes, I though, this is going to work. I can trust these guys to pull this off. They did a really great job, to the point where people actually complained that they didn’t play long enough. At one point they had everyone in the room up and dancing. EVERYONE. To something like Moten Swing or something similar. The energy in the room was just fantastic, and Andrew had hit just the right song in just the right way at just the right time. I’ve seen really good DJs do this, but I’ve rarely seen band leaders respond to the dancers like this. It was the perfect way to start off the weekend.

Andrew put a lot of thought into that gig, and really worked with my suggestions and preferences. I don’t like telling bands what to do, because, ultimately, if you’re going to micromanage a band, you might as well get a DJ. But there aren’t that many bands in Australia who really understand how to play for lindy hoppers. They think they do, but they don’t. Playing for dancers requires a great deal of empathy, observation, and responsiveness, and not all musicians are up for that. I figure being a band leader is like being a really good DJ or MC – you have to have your finger on the vibe, and be able to respond to what’s happening at a moment’s notice, or to pre-empt changes or direct the flow. With a gentle touch. This is partly why people love Gordon Webster’s band: he’s good at this stuff.

Anyway, Andrew sent me a set list on the Friday day. I received it sitting on the train with Lennart and Marie and Bec and a couple of other dancers, so of course we all had a look and a discussion. This is what Andrew sent me:

First set
130 Undecided
160 It Don’t mean a thing
120 Squeeze me
150 Lady Be good
130 Don’t get around much any more
190 Caravan

Second Set
140 Moten Swing
170 Sheik of Araby
130 I let a song go out of my hear
190 Take the A train
120 Do nothin’ til you hear from me
150 Things ain’t what they used to be

Third Set
140 Honeysuckle Rose
170 Brand new suit
120 Confessin’
180 Lester Leaps in
140 Swingin’ the blues

If I remember rightly, they actually finished off with something faster and upenergy that resulted in a really exciting jam.

I showed this text to Lennart who pointed out that you can’t really tell just from reading a set list what it’ll sound like. This is, of course, the challenge we face when dancers work with musicians. We don’t have a common language for talking about music. Or, we do have common words, we just don’t use them in the same way. But I figured, heck, I have to trust the band. I have to delegate. Not just the physical work, but the creative responsibility as well. I have to trust other people not just to do their job, but to say YES and try stuff, come up with creative ideas that I couldn’t ever imagine, let alone do. And as Lennart himself says with a naughty grin, “We will see what will happen.”

I’d sent Andrew quite of lot of instruction before the weekend, something I really HATE doing, because it feels really bossy, and I always think it cramps a musician’s style to give them too many constraints. But then I really needed this gig to work, because Jazz BANG was a big, high profile event, and my professional reputation is based in large part on my approach to music and bands. So the bands were, to a certain extent, representing me. And I also needed the bands to really make it easy for dancers to have fun. And nobody likes it when a dance floor’s empty and a gig bombs – it’s no good for dancers or musicians.
So this is what I’d sent to Andrew:

Andrew,

Regarding the songs the band should play on the Friday night….
What do you have in your book that you really dig at the moment? I’d prefer working with what you’re digging, because funsies.

So far as tempos go, because it’s a mixture of new students (who’ve just come for the class), and experienced people who’re there for the whole weekend, we’ll need a mix of tempos. Below is info based on my experience DJing a lot over the years. I hope it translates to musician talk properly :D

For us, 120bpm is slow and beginner friendly, but kind of draggy. 140bpm is easy and comfortable. 160bpm feels like fun. 180bpm makes us work a bit hard. over 200bpm is fast.
So if you’re playing for two hours, you’d work the tempos like this (if you wanted to play a very safe set):

first set:
– begin at 120bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 180bpm
– 150bpm
– 170bpm
– 140bpm
– 190bpm

second set:
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 180bpm
– 130bpm
– 150bpm
– 190bpm
– 150bpm
– 120bpm
– 150bpm
– 180bpm
– 140bpm

It’s best to end a gig on a moderate tempo (about 140bpm) with lots of energy, so everyone can join in.

We call this ‘working a wave’, where you move up and down tempos in a gradual way. Bands can get away with more dramatic drops and increases than DJs can. But it’s a good idea to avoid going from really fast (eg 220bpm) to scary slow (eg 110bpm), because 110 reminds people that they’re tired. If you went from 220bpm to 140bpm, people’s energy stays up, but they still get a rest.
110bpm is often a real dead zone for lindy hoppers, as it’s harder to dance lindy hop that slow, but it’s not slow enough for blues dancing.
Experienced dancers make all tempos work, but newer dancers really struggle in the 90-120 and 170-250 zones.

As a general guide, 150bpm is average jogging tempo, and most new dancers aren’t very fit. Most experienced dancers are like runners. They can dance at 150 for 6 hours. But they like adrenaline, so they really enjoy the spike up into the faster tempos. And slower tempos give new dancers a chance to get on the floor and experienced dancers a chance to really work the rhythms.

As the night goes on, the average tempo can creep up. But it’s best to vary the tempos, so people feel inspired.
You can do one or two very slow songs (eg a blues at 80bpm), but one is really enough.
No latin rhythms, please.
We like to avoid crooners too (the only Sinatra I like is Sinatra with the Dorsey band.)

Sam’s black list:
Songs I’d prefer you didn’t play:
Fly Me to the Moon
In the Mood
Moon Dance
String of Pearls

We don’t really dig on boogie woogie, and jump blues can have mixed results.

We love Ellington. We love him bad. We also love Basie, Hamp, Webb, Lunceford, Slim and Slam, Django, Bechet, Kid Ory.

What if a jam happens?
A jam is where dancers feel really excited by the band, and see a couple feeling the feels bring their shit. They form a loose circle around that couple, clapping, and then other couples take turns coming into the circle to show off.
Faster songs usually stimulate a jam.
They rarely look at the band when they’re jamming, but at those moments, they are _really_ listening.
When the song ends, if they really feel the feels and want more, they’ll turn and look at the band and cheer and stay in the circle.
If they’re done, they drift away.
The best jams only last one or perhaps two songs, or a total of about 5 minutes max. After that people who aren’t showing off get bored and tired.
It’s best to follow a jam with a nice moderate tempo (but high energy) song (about 140bpm) so everyone can get back on the floor, and you can take advantage of the energy and excitement generated by the jam.

For us, the best dancing happens when the band feels the feels and is really responding to what’s happening on the dance floor. We hear the musicians get excited, and we feel it, and it makes for great dancing. So it’s important you guys like the music you’re playing.

Hope that helps!
Sam.

As you can see, I am prodigious emailer. So props to Andrew for working through the whole thing. He really took the advice on board, and then responded with some clever insights and suggestions. I don’t feel ok reproducing his correspondence here, but you can assume that it was clever and useful. He knows his shit. We were also talking about the workshop with the musicians and teachers together, and I think that helped feed this set on the Friday.

And you can also see that my advice RE tempos is informed by my DJing. I make a very safe recommendation about flow and waves, which I really hesitated to do. I don’t like to micromanage like that. What’s the point of hiring professionals if you then proceed to tell them how they do their job? But on the night, the band actually went with the vibe of the room, the way they were feeling, and the way the whole thing was working as a night. So while all this correspondence seems quite antiseptic, on the night it was quite exciting and organic. And it was a very successful band gig. I’ve worked with a lot of bands now, and some of them think they know what’s what, but they end up playing what really amounts to a wankfest on their part that leaves the dancers cold.

Andrew’s band did not leave anyone cold. Not even a little bit chilly. Shit was hot.

It was fab to then hear Andrew talk about music in the musician/dancer session on Sunday. This reminded me a bit of the way we’ve structured teachers’ workshops in the past: we have the guest teachers teach general workshops on the Saturday, moderate a workshop about teaching for dance teachers on the Sunday, and then we have them teach total beginners how to lindy hop on the Monday. We get to see the process, hear the thinking behind it, and then ask questions and get a practical workshop to explore the concepts ourselves. I guess, ultimately, it’s like hearing the rhythm, scatting the rhythm, and then dancing the rhythm.

Jazz dance, you’re the best. You’re even more challenging and interesting and fun than doing a Phd. I’m so glad I gave up academia for you.