old and new

My new CD has another version of Jive at Five for my collection.
I love this song more than anything. I love the way the rhythm section stomps along (hello Freddy and Jo – guitar and drums – and bass-player-whose-name-I-do-not-know). I love the featured muted trumpet. I even love the wandering saxophone. And the piano? Lovely. My favourite version (which features all these things) is a 1939 jobby, by Count Basie (and orchestra) of course. It trucks on in at 175pm.
I DJ it very rarely, in part because I have been afraid of ‘higher’ tempos until very lately (we had an epiphany last week – quicker transitions. Yes, yes, we knew, we had been told before. But now we Know). And it’s ‘lowerenergy’, and I tend to prefer playing faster stuff only if it has ‘highenergy’.
But things have changed, now, so I will soon play it every single time I DJ. Every. Single. Time.
I never tire of this gem.
I have also played a version by Jo Jones from this album, which is wonderful. Jo Jones (whom I wrote about here) was Basie’s drummer for ages. And rocks). That’s a great song, but it’s 4.07mins long, and has a big fat bass solo in the middle which goes down like a ton of bricks with dancers. Especially since the whole song is 182bpm. It is still a mighty track, made even more wonderful by Jo’s spoken introduction: “you hold up five fingers in each hand” and the chunky drum intro. The trucking rhythm section is emphasised (not surprising, considering Jo is a drummer, and this is his band), though the piano still gets in there… but with more vigour, and I think it’s all in a different key (again, I’ll have to think about it) – taken down a bit…?
But this new Basie album has another version of Jive at Five on it. It rolls along at a ponderous 147bpm, which kind of kills the sprightly, uplifting feeling of the original (sounds corny, but it really is uplifting – it makes you feel like trotting along on your tippy toes… well, that and stomping along with the rhythm doods).
But it’s a neat track, with a trombone solo substituted for the sax solo (I think it’s substituting – I can’t remember – something’s different there, anyways. I’ll have to have a look), some nice additions and embellishments to the original version. It’ll be a good track to play for noober dancers.
I have embarked on a Grand Scheme of late – playing newer ‘more accessible’ (ie hi-fi, or slightly slower, or simpler) versions of great old school tracks, then (over a series of gigs – not during the one song!) substituting the ‘originals’ and fading out the newer versions. This has worked a treat with songs like Viper’s Moan, where I started with Mora’s Modern Rhythmists’ version, then used the Willie Bryant version (which is vastly superior – I am currently obsessed with Bryant and his band. This is some HOT shit). Similar stuff has happend with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra’s version of C-Jam Blues (though I am thoroughly sick of that song, and wouldn’t play it again unless I had to), with other DJs (obviously echoing my sentiments) pulling out alternative versions.
I really like C-Jam Blues, but my preferred version is a Duke Ellington version from 1941 (the Blanton Webster era) which sits on 178bpm and rolls along. The LCJO version rocks – it’s live and very exciting – but it sits on 143bpm, and while the energy really builds in this top-notch contemporary reworking of a great song – it kind of loses the original energy of the faster version. There are some different things going on in the rhythm section too, and the neat violin solo in the third phrase has been replaced by a trumpet, which, while cool, isn’t quite as cool as the original. But that could just be the gypsy jazz in me showing.
I don’t play it very much, but Sydney Bechet’s version of Stompy Jones would be a good way of getting to Ellington’s (fabulous) version. Interestingly, Bechet’s version sits on 216bpm, while Ellington’s is about 199bpm. Ellington’s is vastly superior, in part because he’s using a whole orchestra, while the Bechet version I most prefer (Bechet and his New Orleans Footwarmers) uses a smaller group (5 or 6 or something). One of the neat things about the Ellington song (as I discovered reading Gunther Schuller’s Swing Era) is the layers and rhythms (layers of rhythms?) going on in his version.
The Ellington version I prefer is a 1934 job, while Bechet’s is from 1940. I could talk about Bechet and revivalist New Orleans jazz, and the way the rhythm section works in each, but I can’t really be bothered.
One of the side effects of listening to all this stuff with an ear to dancing is that I’ve become obsessed with rhythm sections – with the way each note is played in terms of tempo and timing and accent and emphasis, rather than in terms of melody or tone or pitch. I guess it’s because it’s difficult to make those things visible in your body, when you’re essentially working with a percussive instrument.
I’d never really thought about all this rhythm stuff when I was singing a lot at school – then I was all about pitch and stuff.
I’m also fascinated by the idea of polyrhythms. Which I need to learn more about.

The Count Basie Story – Count Basie


This lovely thing came in the mail today. Recorded in 1957, 58 and 1960, this is a collection of Basie’s big hits re-recorded by his ‘new testament’ band. It’s interesting stuff.
I’m not usually such a big fan of new testament Basie, but I do find him useful for DJing, as it’s a nice cross-over point for old school scratchy fans and hi-fi kids. This CD is great because it’s such good quality, is an interesting idea (especially in reference to Basie, whose earlier band(s) had such different sounds to his later big band(s)). If you don’t think about the ‘originals’, this is one sweet album. I know a few DJs/dancers who’d love it.
I’ll go through and listen to each song in comparison to the ‘original’ or earlier recordings and let you know what I think.
I don’t doubt that this will give me some useful fodder for my sets at SLX… now, if only I could figure out how to reinstall my bpm counter after the Great Reinstallation of 2006, prompted by the incredible CRAPtitude of itunes 7.0. BPM counter tips for mac would be very welcome.

sigh…


There are so many things I could say about this clip.
I could start with the fact this is ‘traditional’ Korean music and costume, matched with ‘traditional’ beat box and breaking (with some seriously old school moves in there – a real grabfest for anyone who’s ever watched a fair amount of break dancing). And then I could go on to talk about how this is a peculiarly Korean way of moving and dancing – these are not African American dancers, nor do they dance or move like black Americans. This is Korean dance… or a Korean appropriation of a black American dance and musical form and costume and…? And then, that this is a Korean appropriation of a classical piece of music, in a hip hop context – how wonderful!
Then I could talk about the beauty of the round performance space – the perfect jam circle, with the viewer invited to take up the empty space and join in – to become part of the jam. The inclusion of the musicians in this circle only emphasises the way dance and music are inextricably bound.
And then, of course, there is the use of editing, focus, pans, cuts, etc etc to exaggerate and emphasise certain aspects of the choreography – to speed up fast parts, to add staccato to jagged movements, to highlight small movements which might otherwise be lost. The use of a constantly moving camera to heighten that sense of movement, which – if you’ve ever stood at the edge of a jam circle, digging what you see, or perhaps considering coming in – is exactly how it feels and looks. As part of the audience, you move with the dancers and the music. This is more than call and response, it is cooperative meaning making at its most pleasurable. And do I need to mention the use of video ‘screens’ in the shot to emphasise the presence of the musicians, in the face of such mesmerising physical display?
And if I had more time, I’d talk about the use of light, the use of colour, and what all this means for an art form that is so heavily inflected by discourses of skin colour and shade…
Sigh.

Duke Ellington’s House of Lords

Ok, so a little while ago I crapped on about Bluesology.
Today I’d like to crap on about House of Lords, which I have on acomplete centennial something or other collection (well worth the (massive) cost – it truly is a ‘complete’ collection… well, for that one label. whatever that may be). It’s live, recorded in 1966 and it’s five minutes and thirtyfive seconds long. It’s also 136bpm and I classify it as ‘groovy swinging’, which means that it has the tsi-tsi-tsii high hat sound and rhythm section, but trucks along – not that sort of formlessly swingingly groove that irritates old scratchy fans. Because it’s Ellington, it really cooks. And it really feels like it’s trucking along – grooving, but rocking. Chunky but still palatable for the smoothy types.
So, anyways, the thing I like about it is a) it’s live, and b) you can hear Duke laughing – no, chortling – away in the solos. The band are really enjoying this stuff, and it’s really rolling along – you feel like it’s going somewhere. Kind of makes me feel like this is the type of stuff Oscar Peterson would do if he had more guts. Guts as in, if his music was a little more visceral.
I’d certainly like to dance de lindy hop to this song. Which sounds as if it’s really just drums/percussion, piano and bass. And groaning adn chortling.
Matter of fact, I wonder if there aren’t two pianos in there – could it actually be Peterson? Or maybe it’s Basie? I’d hazzard the former, though I don’t think they really worked together (actually, what would I know).
Dang! I just NEED to rush home and look at the liner notes!
At this point I really wish I could insert a sound clip so that you could all listen along with me, but of course, there are copyright problems there. Maybe I need to get into that streaming radio action?

Duke Ellington: The Duke: The Columbia Years 1927-1962 [BOX SET]

Duke Ellington: The Duke: The Columbia Years 1927-1962 [BOX SET] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED]

It finally arrived, and I’m now one happy ducky. As you can probably tell, I’ve been bingeing on Ellington a bit lately. I now have quite a few excellent albums, and of course, there are plenty more to get. Ellington is one of those artists who continually surprise you with excellent music. His career was so long, and he did such diverse work, there’s always something for everyone.
This collection is neat because it offers some excellently remastered old faves (I’m especially happy to have a decent quality version of It don’t mean a thing (1932)), but also some more recent stuff – especially some nice 50s stuff which I didn’t have. I’m still not sure I feel entirely comfortable with the heavy duty high hat action in this stuff, but you can’t deny the standard of musicianship in some of these amazing recordings. The quality isn’t always better (I have some heinous Blanton-Webster Ellington stuff), but you get some great music.
Personally, I’d much rather dance old school, to that late 20s, 30s and some 40s stuff (depends on who and what it is, though – I adore Hampton, and he tends to sit in that later moment – 40s and 50s), but I do like to DJ across the board. And when you’re not dancing – you’re DJing – it’s easier to handle the 50s stuff at a dance. Pity the dancers, though…
Well, actually, most dancers don’t really mind – beginners are certainly the least picky in regards to specific eras, and most of the more tolerant experienced dancers would simply rather we played goodmusic than stuck religiously to one era… unless we can DJ well within that era.
As a DJ, I do actually like to play a wider range of stuff, if only to save my brain having to deal with balancing the levels of all-scratch, all the time.

Duke Ellington and his orchestra 1949-1950

Duke Ellington and his orchestra 1949-1950.
A chronological classic, so we’re listening to a comprehensive overview of a particular period, but not truly excellent quality. I picked this sweety up a few weeks ago (again from caiman.com, via amazon – fabulously quick delivery and cheap) so as to secure myself a whole album’s worth of stuff like B-Sharp Boston, a song Doz got me onto.
It’s neat stuff. I wasn’t really all that aware of Ellinton’s more mainstream stuff from the late 40s/early 50s – I have a bit of it, but it’s stuff on compilations or overviews of his career, so I’ve not listened to it in isolation. I also have to say that I’m always distracted by the earlier stuff – I am passionate about very late 20s and early 30s (1928-1931 mostly) Ellington – and find it difficult to move past songs like Flaming Youth and Rockin’ in Rhythm. Which is probably why I find it difficult to DJ a lot of later Ellington – I simply don’t know it as well.
…that’s actually an exaggeration – I do play quite a bit of early 40s Ellington. And love it.
So anyway, back to the early 50s Ellington.
I like this stuff. When it’s not veering off into artyfarty stuff, there’s good dancing action on there. I think I like Joog Joog because it manages to use that big vocal sound Ellington liked for his stage shows with accessible ‘swing vocals’ – so you get the singer from Creole Love Call (sorry, I’ve forgotten her name, and I don’t have it in the laptop yet) teamed up with someone poppier, and you get a rockingly good pop song.
So, as far as DJable music goes, this is a goody – a few I’d happily play for dancers (and have – and had them go down well), plus some arty stuff purely for your own listening pleasure.
Two thumbs.

the wrong sort of bounce

I’m sitting in my office listening to some straight-ahead swinging Ellington on headphones, watching a young African dood kicking a soccer ball around outside the Muslim prayer room. He’s jogging back and forth at about 140 bpm and I really want to be out there with him, running about and having fun, rather than stuck in here waiting for students to come avail themselves of my office hour.
Off behind him there are a couple of fatties smoking and chatting. They should be kicking that soccer ball too.
Watching this guy jogging about on the concrete in time to Joog Joog (currently favourite song – 1949 from the chronological classics Duke Ellington 1949-1950) reminds me of how lindy hop – jazz dances – are all about that relaxed, ground-eating, bouncy jogging motion. It’s about bending your knees, sinking into the floor and pushing up again. It’s about loose limbs, being strong in your core, getting into the ground…
And it doesn’t work to groover swing (Jersey Bounce, Ella, 1961 Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie)) – it encourages the wrong sort of bounce.

jealousy is green

ACharleston.gif
…and if you take care to compare this image with the one in the previous post you’ll see why.
– and just to make it absolutely clear, check out the littlest charlestoner* in this clip:

*that makes is sound like Frida is a little dolly. She’s not, she’s a ravening beast.
Zachi, however, is a sweety. A sixty-metre tall lanky young 20s sweety.

the tyranny of distance: audiences and performers/texts in high and low art forms

Laura has asked an interesting question here on a previous post:

…I would like to ask a question about “the everyday”, in those CS quote marks – is consumption of canonical or high art an everyday activity, and if it isn’t what is it? Posted by: Laura at August 7, 2006 03:30 PM

I think the man to answer this question is right up there in the cs canon (or at least the audience studies canon). Take it away Henry Jenkins
I skip about a bit in the next part of this post (I’m a bit distracted, so I can’t really take time to formulate a sensible argument)…
I think the key point (in my approach, anyhoo) is not so much the nature of the actual text or practice, but the way it is institutionalised, commodified and ‘valued’ by various cultural and social forces.
I’ve been looking at this issue in reference to dance (of course), comparing the way ballet and vernacular dances like hip hop or breaking are approached by audiences.
[In an aside, the discussions on wikipedia’s project dance (esp the talk pages) – people want to capitalise the names of specific ballet choreographies, but aren’t so sure about how to capitalise vernacular dances like lindy or hip hop].
I’ve also noticed that the way swing dancers – DJs in particular – approach jazz is quite different to the way the genre is approached by jazzniks. One of the clearest and nicest illustrations of how different groups imagine jazz lies in the way Bennett’s Lane puts on gigs (Bennett’s Lane is a well respected local jazz venue – devoted to ‘quality’ jazz). They are very strict about noise during performances, and do NOT allow dancing. This is such a strange and bizarre contrast to the way jazz functioned socially in the 20s, 30s and 40s – it was pub music. It’s also a serious contrast to the way I experience and enjoy jazz at the Laundry in Fitzroy on Saturday afternoons: it’s loud, it’s full of smoke and drinkers, the band members will get down off the stage and kick audience arse if they give them trouble. They don’t care if we dance, and there is – as a consequence – a really exciting and dynamic relationship between dancers, musicians and audience at these gigs.
But at Bennett’s Lane (and other venues around the place), there’s a definite positioning of jazz as ‘art’, which must be ‘appreciated’ from a distance, rather than enjoyed with the body, up close and personal. There are quite culturally specific ways of demonstrating appreciation going on. Just as Jenkins noted that Checkhov fans used different language to describe their interest in theatre, there are clear differences in the way certain groups approach jazz and music.
Here’s a quote from chapter one of my thesis about the relationship between audiences and performers, audiences and texts in dance:

Considering dance, whether vernacular dance or performance dance, as a public discourse, allows us to analyse it for ideological content, for the ways in which identity markers such as class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age and so on are represented and valued by a particular community of people. Reading vernacular dance as everyday discourse encourages us to see social dance as an exchange of ideas, and as a site for the negotiation of identity and social relations between individuals and groups within a community. I draw clear distinctions between vernacular dance traditions, where dance occurs in everyday spaces, between ordinary people, and concert or performance dance traditions, where dance is relegated to particular ‘dance spaces’ which are separate from the everyday spaces of a community. Ward makes this distinction: “there is a categorical divide between dancers and the audience in performance dance …that does not exist between dancers and spectators in social dance, where those roles are interchangeable” (18). I read this dynamic relationship between the roles of ‘spectator’ and ‘dancer’ in social or vernacular dance as a clear example not only of call-and-response, but also of the ways in which readers participate in the making of meaning in textual interpretation. (pg5)

Later on I add this:

The word ‘vernacular’ in a discussion of dance refers to the everyday or ordinary, common dance of a particular group or culture. Vernacular dance is distinguished from concert or theatre dance through its positioning in everyday spaces, rather than existing only as a formalised, and usually choreographed, performance of a particular dance on a concert stage. Vernacular dance is intrinsically participatory and happens in all sorts of spaces, both public and private. It is also necessarily mutable and reflexive, responding to the cultural needs of its performers. (pg9)

I wonder if one of the key differences between ‘low’ and ‘high’ cultural forms and practices is this issue of distance – there is (in Western culture …?) a divide between the audience and text/practice in high art forms, whereas the ‘low’ forms encourage close proximity between audiences and texts – you have only to consider the Big Brother website and voting system to see how particular industries and textual forms encourage audiences to get close to texts. If only so that they can be more easily targetted by advertisers.
It can’t be an accident that high art forms like ballet and opera have trouble keeping audience numbers up, and that various marketing strategies that aim to make these sorts of forms more approachable to wider audiences are at once endorsed, yet also regarded with some suspicion by those sections of our community which have a vested interest in maintaining social heirarchies.
…there’s a good article by Joann Kealiinohomoku on reading ballet as an ‘ethnic’ dance that examines how race and class work in high and low art form (and in anthropological approaches to ‘culture’ and ‘society’): Kealiinohomoku, Joann. “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance.” What Is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism. Eds. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. 533 – 49.

I am John Travolta

In our house The Squeeze is convinced that BB is not only foul, but also immoral. He leaves the room if it’s on. I don’t care much either way, in fact I’m watching it now. I’d prefer it if it was unedited, and just a bunch of people in a room with no ‘tasks’ – just like watching a bunch of sharehousers who’re on the dole. No money, so they can’t afford to go out. No imagination, so they don’t go do free stuff. Eeeexcellent.
But I do have a problem with the new program ‘Honey I’m killing the kids’. Ostensibly a program committed to ‘helping’ parents with overweight kids, rather than focussing on positive reinforcement for the parents and children, I suspect the tools are guilt, guilt and more guilt. Nice. I won’t be watching that.
I’ve watched very little telly lately – beyond the eternal Buffy and Angel (seasons 4 and 2 respectively) – but I have my eye on tonight’s OC. Nice.*
In other, more important news, I have a John Travolta obsession. I am convinced, when I’m dancing, that I am the man. It doesn’t help that I think I’m funny when I strut it, Saturday Night Fever style. It’s particularly unhelpful that lindy is built for strutting. Or, more importantly, blues dancing is built for strutting. A keen balboa fan was asking “you’re into this blues stuff – what’s the deal? I just don’t get it,” and of course, the only response is: “strut. You need to strut. Either take it incredibly seriously, or incredibly unseriously. But strut.” It’s true. Blues dancing is all about strutting.
*NB Willow now has an ibook. An oooold one.