Category Archives: music

Jazz is fun

I had a little ramble on Leigh’s fb page today. So here it is, where it should be, on my blog, not someone else’s fb page.

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Hey, I have to share this photo of our class last night. This was a group of about 40 people, most of whom had never really heard jazz or swing before. It was really exciting when a student asked us to explain who the song we were dancing to was by, and what it was called, because he wanted to go and buy it so he could listen to it again. Right then and there, someone was interested enough to stop a class and ask for details so he could own that music himself.

I love jazz music for its own sake, but jazz dance really is a direct route to jazz love.

I get esp cranky at the implication that jazz is something you sit politely and quietly to or watch. Art should be something anyone get involved in. Whether you’re sitting and listening or up and dancing. Jazz is wonderful because it invites engagement – musicians improvising, audiences shouting out in reply, dancers making it visible.

….there’s something really wonderful about a room full of people discovering jazz for the first time. And the truly magic part of a beginners’ dance class is that this group of people are actively taking hold of jazz and using it, exploring it, figuring out how it works in a practical way. For the very first time! And with such enthusiasm! They learn about swinging timing, about the beat, about phrasing, about breaks, about improvisation in a very relaxed, fun way, by moving their bodies.
It’s kind of the opposite of an institutionalised ‘art’ practice – it’s about taking a music and seeing how useful and practical it can be. Does it make me move? Is it fun? Will it make me happy? Can I work with this? It’s a very rigorous, demanding engagement with music which makes _everyone_ both an art user and _maker_ – audience and creator. And it happens in an ordinary space (the Petersham Bowlo :D), by ordinary people, saying “Hey, musicians, what have you GOT for me? Step up!”
These guys don’t have any time for music that doesn’t bring the feels or the energy, or _something_.

….the creative stuff is wonderful, but the best bit – the bit that makes jazz worthwhile – is that it makes people laugh out loud, talk really loudly, and actively engage with everyone in the room in creative play. It just brings the good goddamm feels.

All this to a recorded song. When it’s a live band. Well. That is just wonderful. There isn’t anything better.

Milenberg Joys

Here are four bands playing Milenberg Joys. They all have quite different styles.
This is an interesting set of bands because they include some of the bigger name/most popular musicians of the moment, but each version has a distinct style, even though the bands have some members in common.

The Hot Jazz Alliance

The ‘Hot Jazz Alliance’ recording their debut album at ‘HiHat Studios’, April 2014. Michael McQuaid – clarinet, Jason Downes – alto sax, Andy Schumm – cornet, Josh Duffee – drums, John Scurry – banjo, Leigh Barker – string bass.

This is the most recent, and the band is pretty darn good. All the musicians have great projects on the boil, and they’re all Australian (Melbournian!), bar Josh Duffee and Andy Schumm. I have mad feels for John Scurry’s playing. I like this version a lot, but there are times when the band feels a bit square. You can see the drummer Josh Duffee has moments where he’s kind of pushing them to let go a little. This feel is probably because they’re playing in a studio, on camera, as they’re all usually a little rowdier in person. Except Michael McQuaid, who is very rarely rowdy :D This is very definitely ‘recreationist’ and has a very solidly ‘authentic’ feel.
The Hot Jazz Alliance have a new album coming out soon. Keep an eye out – it’ll be great.

The Milenberg Joys – Dan Levinson’s New Millennium All Stars – Hot Steamed Jazz Festival 2012

Dan Levinson’s New Millennium All Stars (http://www.danlevinson.com) play at the 2012 Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex CT (http://www.hotsteamedjazz.com/)

Dan Levinson – Reeds
Andy Schumm – Cornet
Matt Musselman – Trombone
Gordon Webster – Piano
Molly Ryan – Guitar and Vocals
Rob Adkins – Bass
Kevin Dorn – Drums

I think of this as a very New York combination of musicians. Again, great stuff. But also a bit more into the ‘swing era’. At first the drumming annoyed me with all the hihat action, but then I understood. Webster is of course a dancers’ favourite (though I feel he might just have passed his apex), and this solidly swinging style makes for great lindy hop. I can’t really understand how that crowd of greybeards can just sit there, utterly still while all this is going on onstage.

“MILENBERG JOYS”: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at MONTEREY 2011

Clint Baker (cornet), Marc Caparone (cornet), Howard Miyata (trombone and euphonium), Mike Baird (clarinet), Dawn Lambeth (piano), Katie Cavera (banjo), Paul Mehling (bass), and Jeff Hamilton (drums)

This is a much rowdier performance, partly because of the instrumentation, but also because this is midway through a megajazzfan party, so they’re all warmed up. I think of this grouping as more San Francisco inspired, probably because of Clint Baker’s presence. Baker has been doing a lot of work with SF dancers over the past few years, including mentoring musician-dancers. When I listen to this, I think of that ‘new orleans revival’ sound that was big in the 50s. It has an old school vibe, but it swings pretty seriously. There’s different stuff happening in the drums again. As busy as the previous performance, and nowhere near as sparse as the first clip.

“MILENBERG JOYS”: THE EARREGULARS AT THE EAR INN (Oct. 21, 2012)

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Lopeman, reeds; Rob Adkins, string bass.

This performance is different again. The Ear is a New York restaurant bar that squeezes a very good band into a tiny space, and the crowd may or may not listen to them at all. But you can be sure they bring the business. This performance has a chilled vibe again, but they bring the shit, and they’re really digging on each other.
Note the lack of drummer, but presence of bowed bass! Nerdgasmic!

While we’re talking strings, it’s intresting to see which bands use banjos v guitars. The first is definitely a banjo outfit (though John Scurry is a JOY on guitar as well), the second uses guitar, the third banjo, and the final guitar. The replacement of banjo with guitar is usually a cue to dancers that we’re going to hear a more swinging, later sound. Same goes for replacing tuba with bass – the bass replaced tubas in a lot of bands. All four instruments have different aesthetics, styles, and modes of playing which affect the ‘feel’ for dancers. If there’s banjo + tuba, you’re thinking more uppydowny, and if there’s guitar + bass, you get a little deeper in the pocket, more lateral momentum and a ‘swingier’ feel that makes you get into your swingout like Frankie.

You might have noticed that two of these videos were filmed by Jazz Lives. Michael Steinman is a generous, thoughtful jazz fan and author, who’s written about his approach to filming jazz in his post Expanding the community. I recommend his site. Just nail your wallet shut before you start browsing.

How not to write a review, or anything really.

This review of Pokey Lafarge’s show in the SMH is the worst review ever written by anyone about anything. It’s completely useless, and doesn’t offer any helpful information about the band or the gig.

The first three paragraphs are poorly written rambling messes using every cliche ever (and inaccurate when it comes to Lafarge’s music and influences). The descriptions of the band’s clothing are strangely devoid of awareness of what’s chic atm. This is the most interesting part of this band – they’re perfectly positioned to cash in on the popularity of this ‘retro’ fashion vibe while still being ‘true’ to their own style.

Nor is this band hardcore recreationist, as the review suggests. They play and perform in a decidedly modern way, with modern twists on traditional folk songs and hits. And Pokey’s new album is perhaps even less ‘recreationist’ than the earlier ones. Their vibe reminds me a lot of what St Louis friends tell me about their city: a sort of creative tension between history and change.

This was a professional, well-choreographed show with a really well planned set of music that works the energy room very powerfully. The musicians are all well-seasoned, most of them involved in other popular and professional bands and acts. The merch, website, and PR for Pokey Lafarge is really impressive, they play ‘proper’ venues, and this band isn’t by any means a ‘small’ or hokey old time act any more (if it ever was).

This is what makes the Pokey Lafarge band so much fun to see live: they combine old school influences with an exciting contemporary edge. Feels old, but isn’t.

[addendum:] I’d add, that while CW Stoneking (who the author compares this act to) is actually dead serious about what he does (and a super odd person), Pokey and his band do this show with a wink and a nod. They understand that this _is_ a performance, and that playing these old timey roles requires a bit of self-reflexivity. [/]

Just like John Hammond: promoting jazz in a digital environment

My previous post led to this discussion on the facey, which really caught my interest. I’ve quoted other people without their permission, so do let me know if you want it deleted, you peeps.

Hetty Kate (Tues 7 April 4pm)
That’s quite a rant, however a few nice pics, a nice video, a schtick, a costume and a cute name doesn’t mean you’re actually any good. Though it does make a bookers job easier.

Sam (Tues 7 April 4.16pm)
It’s a mega rant. Having those things does make a booker’s job easier (and a dance event organiser’s – which is a slightly different role), which I guess is my point. I guess with all these things you can fake it til you make it, right?

But I actually feel quite sad when I come across fantastic musicians (especially the older ones) who don’t have any online presence . Makes it really hard for me to discover them, or chase them down after a gig. Maybe I should start a side business – ‘Dodgy Sam’s Dodgy Websites for Jazzniks.’

Hetty Kate (Tues 7 april 4.17pm)
haha, well the older musicians came up in a different environment..

Hetty Kate
lucky bastards!

Sam (Tues 7 April 4.24pm)
Totes. But they gotta get on it, if they want to develop a new (or continuing) audience. It’s a shame, because the older doods have mad skills that many younger musicians could really benefit from working with. The dance scene is particularly respectful of elders, and we really dig seeing younger and older people working together.

Hetty Kate (Tues 7 April 4:24pm)
agreed!!

Bruce (Tues 7 April 4:46pm)
You can have the best product in the world, but if its not marketed properly no one will know about it!

Sam (Tues 7 April 5:09pm)
And I guess that’s the difference between the very olden jazz days and now. In those days bands travelled endlessly, and were gigging endlessly, so the word of mouth talk was strong. And there were magazines and general news stories (because this was mainstream music then) talking up bands and musicians all the time.
But today there are fewer opportunities for jazz bands and musicians, fewer gigs, and small audiences… though part of me thinks that olden days’ musicians had it a bit easier because they were pitching to the mainstream (ie a bigger market), and modern day musicians need to work a bit harder to convince people to try something new (old). But there is the internet, which makes reaching niche audiences easier.

Now I want to post a link to that fascinating post someone hooked me up with a while ago (I think it was Andrew?), where Steve Albini argues that the internet is good for niche/indy music (Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry – in full (Monday 17 November 2014)
I’m not 100% convinced by his largely personal anecdotes, but it’s an interesting provocation. The internet is an opportunity for niche music and musicians. How else could I get hooked on the Dry Throat Fellows?

…although playing and recording music professional has always been about networks. I’m reminded of a line I read in an article about Black Swan Records. Though they were explicitly designed to record and sell to black artists and audiences, they actually sold in the Asia Pacific region, because segregation happened in our part of the world too.

So getting your product to the right market – getting your music to the right ears – is still a matter of having a savvy promoter with the right contacts and a clever understanding of who might dig what you do. John Hammond, anyone?

I am (obviously) interested in the way specific communities of interest use digital media. That was my doctoral research. Now I’m thinking about jazz musicians and how they use (or don’t use) digital media. I guess I’m especially fascinated by the tension between ‘pre-digital’ media and cultural practices operating in a ‘digital’ world.

How do I find new bands?

This piece is really a companion piece to Make it Easy for me to hire your band, where I talk about the sorts of things I need bands to have to make my job easier. Basically, they need an online presence and a name. Or, in other words, they need to make it possible for me to a) find them, b) hire them, and c) promote them. And I buy a lot of music, because I’m also a DJ.
I don’t mind (I quite like) hunting down bands and musicians, but I have only limited time and resources.

In this post, I talk explicitly about how I find new music by musicians today.

Jeff James asked in

Whats the best music mapping tool to find new swing jazz bands? (28 March at 10:36)

And of course I had a one million word reply.
You know, my responses are always long because I type quickly, and because I spent 10 years in higher education learning to write and think quickly. It’s just a job skill. It helps if you can read quickly too :D
Anyway, on track.
This was my reply. I’ve used the facey links here, because they’re a useful way of demonstrating how it’s useful for musicians to have a facebook presence, so they can be tagged and see who’s talking about them and where.

Mostly my brain. :D

I use Bandcamp for new bands, particularly American and European bands  
As a bandcamp member, I then follow a bunch of people who are dancers or DJs, and their purchases pop up in my feed, which then gives me ideas about what to buy. I can also check out the ‘supporters’ of a band I like, and buy what they buy.

I <3 Bandcamp

My other way of finding out about new bands is to see what bands a particular musician I like is playing in. eg Gordon Au turns up in lots of great bands.

I might find good musicians by seeing who's in a band I like - eg Gordon Webster‘s band for the ‘Live in Rochester‘ CD included Aurora Nealand, Jesse Selengut, Gordon Au, Dan Levinson, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Naomi Uyama. I then google those musicians to see what bands they’re in, then I hunt down those bands on google, then follow links from their sites to their cd releases.

If you start with that list of musicians in Gordon’s band, you can find:
Aurora Nealand: Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses, the New Orleans Moonshiners
Gordon Au: The Grand Street Stompers, New Orleans Moonshiners
Matt Musselman: Naomi and her Handsome Devils, Sly Blue, Glenn Crytzer‘s bands,
Jesse Selengut: Tin Pan, Mona’s Hot Four
Dan Levinson: the Bix Centennial All Stars, Janet Klein and her Parlour Boys, David Otswald’s Gully Low Jazz Band, Dick Hyman, Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, Jeff Healy, Terra Hazelton
Cassidy Holden: Cassidy and the Orleans Kids, Luke Winslow King,

If you add Adrian Cunningham (who played on Gordon’s Live In Philadelphia album) you can follow him to Crytzer’s band with Musselman, Naomi Uyama’s Handsome Devils and the Baby Soda band.

…and then you can follow each of those bands to other good bands. That will give you a good overview of New York musicians. Mona’s Hot Four, for example, will lead you to Tamar Korn, which leads you to the Cangelosi Cards and Gaucho. Gaucho will help you find San Francisco musicians. Cassidy and the Orleans Kids will help you find New Orleans musicians.

I do the same with Australian musicians, but I’m finding the older generation (ie these guys’ parents or grandparents) are rubbish at using digital media, so it’s really hard to find their recordings. Unless you stalk the Sydney Jazz Club gigs, and look at their CD stall.

I was hiring a guy called Paul Furniss for a gig recently, and gave him a googling to see what I could find out about him. This led me to some great youtube videos, which helped me find some good bands and other musicians. Then I had to email the guys who ran their website and order a CD by mail. Laborious, but worth it.

And then, I see who the bands are in the dance videos on youtube. That’s how I found the Hot Sugar Band. I also see which bands are playing at dance events, and keep an eye on musician friends like Laura Windley, Eamon McNelis, Leigh Barker, Hetty Kate, Justin Fermino, etc etc etc.

I’m kind of a serial collector of musicians: GET ALL THE BANDS.

Make it easy for me to hire your band

This piece is really a companion piece to How Do I Find New Bands, where I talk about how I use digital media to find modern jazz bands. In this post, now, I’m going to talk about the sorts of things I need bands to have to make my job easier. Basically, bands need an online presence and a name. Or, in other words, they need to make it possible for me to a) find them, b) hire them, and c) promote them. And I buy a lot of music, because I’m also a DJ.
I don’t mind (I quite like) hunting down bands and musicians, but I have only limited time and resources.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while. But today I just had a bit of a spit on the facey because I wanted to actually reach some people.
This is a post about musicians, and how they can get gigs with dancers. It’s also a post about how to present yourself as a professional in the music industry.

Hey, musicians. It makes it much easier for me to promote your band if it has a name and a ‘shtick’. Five creative guys having fun is a good thing, but it’s not going to sell tickets to the average punter. And having a name and shtick is a good way to give your project focus and impetus. Which punters can connect with – it’s a way in.
Also with the hi-res photos, a short bio, and a website, please. If you have youtube videos, you’re winning.

Playing your guitar in your lounge room is art. Playing gigs where people pay you is business. Unless you actually are Django, your name alone is not enough to sell tickets. Particularly if you want to draw more than just the same five retiree jazzniks to your gigs.

Examples of bands/artists doing it right:

Hetty Kate (Melbourne, Australia)
website: http://www.hettykate.com/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hettykatemusic
shop: http://shop.hettykate.com/

Promotions, presence and networking.
Good, clear site, bio, pics, sound files right there.
Hetty Kate brings a good stage vibe too – she’s an entertainer. She wears good outfits, she talks to the crowd (nothing like a little witty banter to let the audience in), and she’s really present when she plays gigs. She looks at people. Jazznicks, I’m sorry, but your faded ‘gig blacks’ aren’t going to cut it. Buy a decent suit that’s comfortable and looks nice. If you’re not into suits, wear something you dig. Just show you care enough about this gig to make an effort. And punters will care enough to pay for a ticket.

Hetty Kate is also really good at networking. Or, in human words, keeping in contact with other humans. You don’t have to shmooze – in fact, it’s much better if you don’t – but it’s humans who give you gigs, so make friend with them. It’s in your interests to travel interstate and overseas to play gigs, so you’ll need a far-reaching network of professional ‘friends’.

And the best way to keep these relationships is to: a) Have a simple email address, phone number, and business card. Spread them widely, b) stay in contact (drop an email occasionally, say hi at a gig), c) Return favours and do favours (ie be a decent person, so people will help you out and stay sweet on you), c) Don’t be a dick. This last one is important. I know far too many male jazz musicians who are sexist dicks. I won’t hire you. Most of the dance event organisers in Australia are women too, and they won’t hire you either. And unlike the jazz music scene, the jazz dance has more women than men, so if you’re a sexist dick, you will not get gigs.

Naomi Uyama and Naomi & Her Handsome Devils
website: http://www.naomisdevils.com/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NaomisDevils
bandcamp: https://naomisdevils.bandcamp.com/

Professional musicianship and leadership.
We’ve heard all these musicians before, but this band has a distinct sound and clear leadership. They’re also pretty bloody hardcore on stage. There’s no fucking about being idiots, or screwing around with stupid in-jokes. When they get on stage, they are ON STAGE, and they bring some serious shit. They are good musicians, and they don’t patronise dancers. They recognise that lindy hoppers today are serious music fans and know an awful lot about good music. Dance event organisers and DJs often know much more than jazz musicians about what makes good dancing jazz. And this band are more than willing to accept that. They have a woman dancer leading them! Win!
They also have a website with all the info and assets (pics, etc) that I need to do my job properly. So I don’t need to hassle the band with a string of email requests.

Most importantly, they have a clear, strong leader who kicks heads and takes names. I know who to contact if I want to book her (and I’d love to!) Naomi a visible leader on stage, she dresses the part, she has serious presence, and she makes sure the band’s book is full of the right songs, played the right way for dancers. I’ve no doubt she uses her contacts as a dance teacher to secure gigs, and she stays in contact with them, figuring out which gigs are right for her band, for her, and for their reputation.

Tuba Skinny
website: http://www.tubaskinny.tk/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tuba-Skinny/198301143539894?fref=ts
bandcamp: http://tubaskinny.bandcamp.com/

A clear, coherent ‘brand’ or vibe.
The website is pretty basic, and it takes content directly from bandcamp, but it does the job. It has a bio, photos, and links to music!
More importantly, the band has a clear ‘brand’ or identity, which makes it easy to promote them. I don’t have to waste a lot of space explaining who they are and what they do. And what they do, they do 100%, from the songs in their book, to their clothes they wear on stage, and their presence on stage. This band identity is real, it’s who they are, and it’s what they do. They busk, they’re street jazz, and there’s a consistency right across their whole vibe – from their shows, to their recordings, to their look, their song choices, and their musical performances. This makes them easy to sell. The realness of it makes them easy to connect with, emotionally and creatively, as an audience.

This band has also worked extensively with dancers, both on the street, and for dance events. They respect what we do, and we respect what they do. So they are solid gold from a promotional perspective.

You need (if you’re actually running a band rather than screwing about):
– Band name.
– A website (even a tumblr or wordpress will do) with your email contact details right on every single page. Your phone number is also helpful. A website makes you look legit.
– A facebook page (where are you playing? What are you recording? What music do you play/love? What other bands, venues, and pages are you ‘friends’ with – who is in your network? What is your scene?).
– Sound files (complete songs) online.
– Youtube or vimeo clips are great.
– Hi-res photos of your band, taken by a pro, that are on your website.
– A short (1 or 2 paragraph) bio for your band (the musical/creative mission or vision, where you’re based, what you do), and for each member (who they are).
– And sell your music online, via downloads. So people outside your tiny local scene can give you money. Use a third party like bandcamp so people can find you.

Why a band name?
So I can say “Harlem presents: Sam and her Fancy Fiddlers!” rather than “Sam and Mike and Fred and Harry and Sheilah and a drummer if we can get him” on my 14cmx10cm postcard.

So you can develop a band ‘identity’ that helps people know what to expect when they buy tickets to your gig.

You can change the members at will, and it doesn’t screw up the PR copy (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts).

To give your band FOCUS. Your name should reflect your vibe: what music do you play? Are you rowdy jazzpunks fighting the man? Are you 100% Benny Goodman recreationists? Who ARE you?

A name shows me you can keep your shit together long enough to cooperate with a group of other musicians for a whole gig. And that suggests you’re easier to work with, and I’m more likely to hire you. I have zero interest in loner mavericks.
If you have a clear goal for your band, a clear focus, you will present as a ‘package’. You will do better music. You will work as a band not as a bunch of loner ‘artists’*. Yes, music is art. But it’s also business, and bills have to be paid. Get it together.

*wankers

Double Dutch Divas

link

I’m reading through Kyra D. Gaunt’s book ‘Games Black Girls Play’ again (!!) and there’s a fun bit about double dutch, or skip rope with two ropes.
There’s a section where Gaunt goes to jump with the Double Dutch Divas (or Shout Sister Shout). She talks about two things that were really interesting: a) call and response, or crowd participation, and b) how to get into the ropes.

One thing I’ve always disliked about predominantly white, middle-class, or mainstream staged performances (of any kind), is the lack of support the audience gives, or can sustain, when someone is singing or performing. Even when invited, they don’t seem to understand that clapping encourages a better performance – it gives life to the moment – which gives positive feedback to the performers during the performance. All those in the room who were not turning ropes or jumping have their eyes turned to the center action, while their bodies are vibing to the beat. Our mouths generously shout alrights, umphs, andyeahs though not to distract her focus or detract her from the moment (p 172 Games Black Girls Play.)

I’ve written about call and response and audiences in Live music: listening or doing, and about call and response one million times before. But I like the way Gaunt talks about this group of older women using call and response to encourage each other, and to include everyone.

At last, it was my turn. I was thirty-seven years old and there was no question that I was a black girl, with our without knowing how to double-dutch. Since I knew I would be entering the ropes sooner or later, I had been watching how Lady Di, Faith, and Spirit entered them. When I was a kid, entering the ropes was always my stumbling block….
Lady Di got into the ropes effortlessly. It seemed she and the others didn’t even think about it. But there had to be a ‘rhythm method’ that protected them from getting hit by the oscillating ropes. I watched Di put her hand out in front of her body as she moved up to the perimeter of the ropes and felt the gaps between them. Her whole body moved with the action – reminding me of the young girls rocking back and forth toward the ropes before they entered (p 174 Games Black Girls Play.)

This section really caught my attention, because I’ve always felt like going into a jam is like getting into a skipping rope. You have to find the rhythm, put it in your body, before you get in there. And I’m always pretty strict about when I go in – I need the general vibe of the jam to be right. I don’t want to cut someone else’s lunch, especially if they’ve been getting ready to get in for a while. I want to match the feel of what I do with what’s happening in the song (I don’t just mash my favourite steps on top of any old part of the song). It really feels like getting into a skipping rope.

I always think it’s a shame that so many lindy hoppers today don’t use the jockey step before they get into a jam.

Watch the couple behind and a little to the right of the dancers in the jam (the man is wearing a pale hat and pale trousers and a dark shirt) from about 0.44. They’re doing a sort of step-tap rhythm, which is a sort of jockey:

(Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in Day at the Races)

The ‘jockey’ is named for that idea of ‘jockeying’ in place – “…probably relates to the behaviour of jockeys manoeuvring for an advantageous position during a race…” (from my computer’s dictionary).

This gets your body and brain ready to dance – it puts the rhythm in your body. It also signals to everyone around you that you are getting ready to dance – you are literally jockeying with the people around you, looking for a good position (musically and physically) to get into the jam.

Any old how, just thought I’d plop this all in here while I’m thinking about it.

My dance work, right now.

Who wants an update on the things I’m doing right now in dancing? Yeah, we all do!

Late last year my teaching partners and I decided to relaunch our weekly dance classes as an independent business. We used to teach with a big dance school, Swing Patrol (which is run from Melbourne), but we wanted a more local focus, and to have greater creative control over our projects and direction as an organisation. And business.

So in 2014 we announced Swing Dance Sydney (boring name, right? But it gives good googles), and then on the 14th February 2015, we launched our new business with a party. Right now, three months in, things are going very nicely.

We were, obviously, nervous about the new plan. Despite the fact that we’d been running our classes successfully for three years and had lots of experience with other dance stuff. I was particularly nervous, as I’m the general manager for the business (which is registered in my name). I do have a lot of experience running dance events and projects (you can see them all here), but it’s still a challenge, right?
Anyhow, I did a lot of research into tax, registering a business, labour relations and so on (you can read a bit about that in Making a Dance business and The business of lindy hop), and discovered that going legit isn’t that difficult.
I’ve actually found the whole process really empowering – it’s made me feel confident and capable. There is this idea in the lindy hop world that not declaring your teaching/DJing/event income, or not getting proper insurance, or not registering a business name is a way of saving money or fighting the man or whatevs. But I’ve discovered that you don’t actually lose money, and you do actually safeguard your business and your own body (insurance!) If you are teaching for someone else, friends, you MUST discover whether they have work cover for you. They are breaking the law if they don’t, and you are missing out on important insurance that will cover injuries, etc.

So what does my business do?

1. We teach dance.
We teach weekly classes in lindy hop. We also teach solo dance, but these are on hold for the moment as I hunt down a new venue. We miss the solo real bad!

swingingatthepbc

Though I’ve listed the classes first, this is only one part of what we do. And I’d like to rework the business ‘brand’ or identity to reflect the broader interests of the people involved.

2. We run irregular parties with live music on a Wednesday night called Swinging at the PBC.

I adore these. We have run 5 already, and have another planned for the 8th April, and I’m looking at one for May for Frankie Manning’s birthday. I began just by using visiting bands, but now I’m branching out, and using this as a chance to foster relationships with local musicians.

We teach in a licensed venue (the Petersham Bowling Club), which has a fantastic approach to live music, to servicing and participating in the local community, to environmental responsibility, and to fostering creativity. That’s us, that last part. They let us put on bands whenever we like, and they help us promote them. They are also really great people that we love working with. Most importantly, the venue has a bistro, an outdoor area (because bowling), and a good vibe – it feels friendly.

I am currently very keen on running social dancing in proper social spaces. I know it’s great to have heaps of room or a great floor in a studio or hall, but in those spaces there is nothing to do but dance. If you’re not dancing, you feel like you’re missing out. Or you’re just plain bored. There’s nowhere to escape the music and talk. This vibe encourages the idea that you have to say yes to every dance, that if someone says no to your dance invite you suck, because heck, isn’t that why we’re all there?
In a proper social space, you make it clear that dancing is only one of the things we do here – we also talk, we eat, we drink, we take a breather outside, we play pool or pinball, we lean on the bar and people watch. Because it’s the Peebs, it’s also totally ok to sit and read a book! If someone does ask you to dance, you can say “No thanks, I’m just enjoying this nice cool beverage,” or “Sorry, I’m waiting on a pizza!” or even, “Hey no thanks, I’m not dancing tonight – just chillin’.”

When you get used to hearing people say no thanks to your invites, you get used to the idea that it’s not all about you. People have all sorts of good reasons for not dancing. And you have to be ok with that. Especially you, men: you’re not the centre of our world. But you women, you can also be ok with the idea that if you’re not dancing, you’re still ok. You don’t have to dance (or be a ‘good dancer’) to be having a good time at a party.

We already know how to be in a pub or a bar or a restaurant, so we don’t have to teach people how to beahve at a social dance in these spaces. When we use a proper social space, we make dancing more accessible to ‘non-dancers'; we encourage people in, and we embed our culture more comfortably into the wider community. This whole approach undoes the weirdo shit that encourages ‘rock star’ dancer behaviour, makes it easier for women to enforce their own personal limits and bodily autonomy, and encourages dancers generally to think of dancing as just one of the things we do, not the most important thing. And, most importantly, it makes our dance scene more accessible for musicians.
Incidentally, I’ve noticed that having a smaller dance floor makes for better floor craft – our students keep their feet under themselves, are less likely to kick you, and are better at judging the end of the ‘string’ (ie the amount of stretch or distance between partners). A big or uncrowded space makes you less economical in your use of space, right?

These parties attract between 60 and 90 people, cost $15, and run 6.30-11pm.
The early night is good for a week night, the smaller crowd is good for socialising (in this smaller venue), and I approach these events as regular, and so contributing to the infrastructure of the local dance scene.
You would dress neat casual, you’d come for dinner, you’d expect to talk and hear very good music.

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3. We run monthly DJed parties (first Saturday of the month) called Harlem.

This is a collaboration with another organiser/teacher friend, Sharon Hanley who runs Swing Time Australia. We decided to run a regular DJed night because we missed DJing together (we used to DJ at her fortnightly event Swing at the Roxbury), and we missed it!
We decided to have a DJed night (rather than live music) because we wanted to DJ. I was keen to have an event with decent DJed music that focussed on classic swinging jazz. There are two other regular DJed events in Sydney, but the music is patchy at one, and the other is more a neo-swing/rock n roll event. I feel that it’s important to play the original music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s because Count Basie is important. Duke Ellington’s band is important. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is important. It’s also cheaper (and less risky) to be our own DJs.

This event is also run in a licensed venue that has a restaurant. The space isn’t tiny, but the dance floor isn’t enormous. The space is a ‘mixed use’ space, with chairs and tables and a dance floor (and a great piano!), and it’s near public transport and has parking. And it’s not a shitty, grotty divey nightclub.

Again, this is a regular event. People have asked if we’ll be running it fortnightly, but, to be honest, we’re both busy with other projects as well. And I figure this way we leave a space open in the calendar for someone else to run something – diversity is important! Sharing the workload is too :D

These parties attract between 70 and 100 people (I expect this to get larger), cost $10, and run 8pm-midnight.
This is a slightly larger crowd, but not enormous. A ‘ball’ in Sydney can attract between 150 and 200 people, so we’re actually at the higher end of the scale. A really big cross-scene event can attract 700 people in Sydney, but we aren’t targeting the whole neo-swing/rock n roll/lindy hop/vintage cross over crowd.
We are encouraging vintage wear for Harlem, a slightly dressier vibe than the PBC gigs, and you would again come for a drink, perhaps dinner, and a night out, talking, dancing, socialising.

4. We do private classes, wedding privates, and corporate gigs.
For the money, and to offer extra learning opportunities for students. But we don’t promote them aggressively.

And that’s what Swing Dance Sydney does now. I’ve been looking at running a larger weekend event (Jazz BANG), but I’m still sorting that out.
I did consider running a big evening dance and workshop day for Frankie’s birthday, but I’ve since moved on from that idea. I figure it’s more important to consolidate the Swinging at the PBC nights as proper party nights, and to use our venue in a more concentrated way. It’s a good space, it’s super cheap to hire, and it’s well serviced.

In my previous role as and event organiser and administrator for Swing Patrol, I ran about 5 huge events every year. While they were fun and successful and everything, I began to feel they were big events for the sake of big events, and that the focus (financial, energy, creative, etc) on these resulted in neglect for regular social dancing. In other words, these big events became THE thing, and the focus of the whole organisation was on its hierarchy. It positioned the school as THE organising body, discouraging dancers from thinking of themselves as organisers and trying their own smaller projects. Even more simply put, the only model for ‘a dance event’ was a huge big thing that required the machinery of a big organisation to work. And this leviathan replaced or overshadowed other, more sustainable smaller projects. Really, though, as a keen social dancer, I want to be able to social dance every week, if not multiple times per week. A big, expensive dance every couple of months doesn’t meet that need.

I feel that regular, smaller scale events or parties do more to develop the social dancing skills and culture of a dance scene. Its social and cultural infrastructure. This is what vernacular dance IS. It is everyday, ordinary dancing. Emphasising less frequent big events makes social dancing seem like a ‘special’ or unusual thing, and makes most dancers’ experience of lindy hop be a pedagogic, or formal-class type experience. Boooring. This also tends to result in centralised power and status. Teachers become the most important and powerful people in a scene. Dancing becomes ‘rare’ and ‘special’ so it becomes the only focus for a party or ‘dance night’. And this power dynamic is conducive to abuse. Sexual harassment, bullying, exploitation of workers and so on thrive in this sort of environment.

Into the future.
I have a few other plans up my sleeve. In fact, I’ve always got far more plans than I do time or energy.
I’d like to expand my work with bands. This is proving tricky, as it’s expensive to pay bands. The social distance between dancers and bands (we just don’t move in the same circles here – we don’t socialise together!) also makes it difficult to initiate collaborations. Hence my interest in properly social social dancing events and spaces.

I’m doing more DJing this year. I’ve neglected it lately for my organising/administrative work, and I MISS it. I miss the music. I miss fussing over music. I miss the creative challenges and satisfaction of DJing for a crowd. My skills got rusty and I got mournful for it. So I’m back in the game. Harlem is a key part of that. But so is traveling more overseas (because my health finally allows it!)

I’m seeking out interesting dance events.
I’ve been dancing for eighteen years now, and I’m not satisfied by dance events which just slap a couple of dances on the end of 4 hours of chalk-and-talk workshops. I want interesting, creative programs of events.

I think dance events should think more like arts festivals, and offer a more interesting program. As per my thinking about regular social dancing spaces, I think dance weekends need to offer programs and spaces that are more social, but also more creatively interesting and challenging. I want musicians involved. I don’t want teachers to just throw a stack of moves at me in class. I want mixed-level classes that push me to learn new ways of learning. I want to social dance during the day. I want to go to interesting cities. I want events that offer me new ways of interacting with teachers and students and DJs and bands.

This new thinking about dance events is pushing me inexorably towards alternative funding sources. So I’m looking into grants and public funding sources for dance events. I’m not keen on kickstarter or pozible for funding – I want to see what sorts of state, local, and federal funding sources are available.

Feminist work?
I used to worry about being a woman lead and a woman lead teacher. Now I just couldn’t give a fuck. It’s so normal to me now, I just get on and do what I do. I’m also a woman DJ. And a woman event organiser. And a woman website designer. And a woman thinker and writer and reader. I figure it’s much more powerful to treat all this as normal. It’s much more frustrating and confounding for idiot sexists if I just do not accept (or even acknowledge!) the premise of their attacks.

I think of it this way: if you are up and dancing, you are automatically winning. Doesn’t matter how much your dancing sucks. And if your critic is sitting on their clack or crying and shitty about what you’re doing, you are winning twice. You are pwning them. Ha ha, suckers.

I am also thinking that a revised approach to ordinary social dance spaces is part of a feminist project. Because it undoes that teacher-centred, lead-centred, can’t-say-no power dynamic which is fucked up and bad news. Not only do we need to skill up women and remind men to be grown up humans, we also need to construct socially sustainable social spaces that make it easier to be the best we can be.

For me, personally, it’s very satisfying and stimulating to work with other women in an international community that is so male-dominated in so many ways. I really enjoy my professional relationships with women and men in the Sydney dance scene (and overseas and interstate) too. I think that for me, it’s important to be feminist by doing feminist things. I’m a woman too, and I think that it’s important to skill me up too. And to find ways of working that are creatively and personally satisfying. Fighting the good fight is really tiring. So I try not to have to do it in my everyday work. This means that I just say no to working with dicks. It also means that I have to fight an instinct many women have – that we should feel guilty about feeling good and confident.

I’m also very conscious of the fact that I am lucky enough to be able to think this way. I am a white, middle class woman living in an affluent city in a wealthy country. I have access to opportunities that many people do not. And I try to remember this, and to do my best not to let my own pleasure and satisfaction come at the expense of others’.

So, that’s what I’m doing these days. I hope you’re doing dance work and dance fun that you find exciting and stimulating and deeply pleasurable too!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Hey, happy International Women’s Day, friends. In previous years I’ve listed women dancers (2011, 2012, 2013, and in 2014 I was distracted). This year I’ve been too busy to do daily posts, but I did write this on the facey today:

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Happy international women’s day, everyone!

IWD has a nicely worker-centred history (https://unwomen.org.au/iwd/history-international-womens-day), and it’s about celebrating the achievements of the ordinary women around you.

I’m lucky enough to get to work with many, many _extra_ordinary working women in the lindy hop and jazz scene, so I’d like to say THANK YOU to them for be inspiring and encouraging and occasionally mighty fierce!

Thanks to Laura, Bec, and Alice, my co-teachers, who pull out great material and fun, challenging classes. Thanks to Sharon, who said YES to our new Harlem project.
Thank you to Ramona for showing me just how exciting it can be as a woman whose body is an instrument and a source of joy.
Thank you to Marie N’Diaye, for showing me how a fierceness of intellect and of spirit can make for the gentlest and most beautiful dancing.
Thank you to Sylvia Sykes for saying ‘lead or follow?’ when I asked her to dance.
Thank you to Loz for being _determined_ to dance and inspiring me.
Thank you to Lexi who simply expected me to run a business of my own.
Thank you to the women who come to our dance classes and overcome shyness to shake it like queens on the dance floor.
Thank you to Sugar Sullivan for correcting her gender-specific language in one of my first Herrang classes, and saying “Because anyone can lead.”
Thank you to Naomi, Loosha, Justine, Alice, Kat, Manon, Allie, Loz, Fatima, Leru, Superheidi, Bec, Barb, Shaz, Sarah, Naomi, Giselle, Tina, Heather, Mary, Christine, Kate, Kate, Kate, Michelle, Di, Sharon, Peta, Georgia, Jen and the many, many other women DJs who challenge me to bring the shit.
Thank you to Claudia for backing my mad schemes.
Thank you Sarah and the other women who spoke up about sexual assault in our community.
Thank you to Justine for the wickedest sense of humour and solidest DJing and managing skills.
Thank you to that shy young trans girl at fair day who wanted to know about lindy hop but was almost too shy to speak.
Thank you to Marie at the Chicago studio for answering all my emails. Thank you to Hetty Kate for marrying humour and a wicked sense of fun with the best music of all.
Thank you to Eleonora, Jan, Jenny, Elizabeth, Liz, Nurani, Nicola, Julie, Amanda and all the other venue managers who answer all my questions.
Thank you to the women musicians I haven’t met, and won’t, but whose music makes me dance til I drop. Thank you to Lexi, Tina, Kerryn, Megan, Cheryl, Kara, Karen, Leigh, Peta, Sharon, Trish, Trish, Kate, Kate, Cheng, Marybeth, Justine, Olivia, Becky, Sarah, Melinda, Mel, Trudi, Sandy, Vivi, Bethany, Tania, Luna, Fiona, Alice, Lauren, Evelyn, Sing, Sophie, Emma, Nikki, and all the other hundreds of women who organise dance events.
Thank you to the women dancers I meet all over the world who immediately make me feel welcome.
Thank you to the women jazz dancers who came before us and invented this thing.
Thank you to Shorty George’s unnamed partner in After Seben who actually did the swinging out.
Thank you to Norma for demanding “Where’s your swing out?!”

Thank you most of all to the hundreds of women who work at the door of dance events, and who tidy up afterwards, who move chairs and arrange tables, who arrive early to set up, who host visitors, who make sandwiches and beds, bank money and count out floats, figure out how to manage events for the first time on their own, chauffeur guests, design flyers and send emails and answer questions and make all this possible, every night of the week, all around the world.

Since I wrote this, I’ve thought of one million more women I want to thank. Thank you to Anaïs for that big brain and that wonderful dancing. Thank you to Kira for showing me burlesque can be empowering. To women DJs I missed. To the formerly male-identified dancer who chose our dance last night on mardi gras weekend to come out onto the dance floor as a woman. Gaby and Anaïs and Marie the women dancers who are putting together chorus line projects. The women who come social dancing for the very first time. The women who ask me to dance because they want me to lead. The queer women dancers who’ve come out recently in the lindy hop scene because they feel safe and proud of who they are. The older women who come dancing and rock it on the dance floor with the finest young men they can find. Women band leaders like Laura and Naomi and Hetty Kate and Georgia who bring it on the stage. Nicole who kept a public record of her physical transition. The women who are more than happy to just rock out solo style on the dance floor. Those fierce, ambitious women dancers who move on to teach internationally because they are so determined to be GOOD at this…. there are just so many. So many of them! I can’t even begin to name them all!

In my everyday work in the lindy hop community, I deal with far more women than men. Though men have most of the higher profile spots (playing in bands, teaching guest workshops), women by far provide the bulk of labour in the lindy hop community. In Australia, they are most of the volunteers, they are most of the organisers, and they are most of the DJs. They’re often also most of the dancers. Despite this, we are encouraged to compete for male dance partners, and discouraged from leading and dancing with other women. Lindy hoppers very rarely point out to each other that most of the labour in the lindy hop world is provided by women, and we tend to privilege the male dancers from the swing era. This last point prompted my Women’s History Month posts in the past, and of course my Women Jazz Dancers site.

I think it is important remind ourselves of all the different forms of labour that go into a jazz dance and jazz music community. I hear some men argue that the real ‘art’ of jazz or authentic ‘artistic life’ can only be defined as living form music and dance, as a dance teacher or performer. But that is just complete bullshit. I’ve written about that in Heroes of Jazz and Other Visible Mythologies.

In the simplest terms, there can be no jazz at all without all the invisible labour provided by women. There can be no jazz dance performance or party without a woman to work the door, to clean the floors, to cook the food, and serve the drinks. There can be no jazz musicians working endless gigs without a woman to care for their children, wash their clothes, cook their food. And if these women are not in their lives now, they were there when they were children and young adults studying their art.

Art is not the product of individual creativity and genius. Art is the work of a whole community.