Playing jazz music in the age of COVID

So we know that musicians need/want to work. And we also know that their work (and creative practice) involves risky behaviour. So how do we make sure musicians minimise risk, for themselves and their audiences?
The best model is really to have musicians develop safe work practices, then peer-pressure their colleagues into doing things the safe way. Then as a group presenting these safe methods as a solution to employers.

Because the laws of each city and country vary, and advise given is varying, musicians need to take the facts about covid spread, and adapt them to produce their own working model.
I think that sex workers are a great parallel. They know that STIs like HIV/AIDS are a real risk in their work. But they also know how to minimise risk. They’re good at hygiene. They set boundaries with clients. They’re good at disclosure when necessary. But all of course, only if they work within a safe workplace, and aren’t disempowered by their work being criminalised. If they are empowered by legal protection, they can set rules that minimise their risks, without having to also worry about police (arrest or blackmail/’protection’.)

In the case of both sex workers and musicians, we know that abstinence isn’t a good option :D Both groups want to and need to work in their chosen industry. We can also assume that both groups are specialists in their work and workplaces, and can develop safe (or harm minimising) work practices.

So if we work with this as a model, what can musicians do to minimise the risk of getting and spreading covid?

We know how to prevent the spread of covid, and it has parallels with HIV/AIDS:

  1. Wear an effective prophylactic
  2. Know how to use and dispose of prophylactics properly
  3. Practice good hygiene (washing hands, and washing hands properly; cleaning tools properly)
  4. Avoiding disease-specific transmission.
  5. Being able to set rules and then enforce them, even with bullying employers or clients.

In terms of a musicians’ work:

  1. Wear a mask. And it has to be an effective mask that still allows them to do their job. So while a sex worker could choose to wear a hazmat suit, they go with condoms and dams instead. Similarly, musicians must choose which type of mask does the job, but doesn’t impede their work.
  2. Know how to put on, wear, and then remove and dispose of masks without touching them. This takes training.
  3. Regular hand washing. Not dumping spit from a brass instrument onto the floor. Cleaning instruments regularly and properly. Not sharing mics. Keeping mics clean and stored correctly. Wiping down mic stands. Not touching audience members or other musicians.
  4. Understanding that covid spreads via respiratory droplets, which are spread by snot and spit in the air (as aerosol transmission) or via surface contact (wiping your nose, shaking hands, then than person touching their own nose). So this means not touching your face while you play gigs. It also means keeping 1.5m from other people, and having the right ventilation.
  5. This is the most important one. Once musicians have some good processes and rules in place for themselves and their groups, they then present them to employers as a list of solutions that they take as a requirement for a gig. They’re in a good position to do this atm, as venues are desperate to make $$.

When you write it out like this, you can see some obvious challenges. eg not touching other people in your band? Hard. So perhaps you develop a ‘bubble’ (to use NZ’s powerful language), and you only play with people who are inside that bubble. Any new people who come along to sit in with your bubble must take additional precautions.

None of these things are set out as ‘rules’ in government guidelines. But they take what we know about the virus and minimising risk, and then apply it to this specific case.

But once we have these sets of industry-specific guidelines (‘safe jazz’ vs ‘safe sex’), we need to communicate them to all the musicians, and we need individuals to adopt and enforce them themselves.
Peer pressure! Because jazz is so male dominated, and so dominated by straight white men who are already very good at enforcing hierarchies and specific behaviours, they could actually be really good at this. At this stage, though, I’m seeing jazz musicians normalising unsafe behaviour by talking about what they’re currently doing, by teasing or shaming musicians who do stricter harm reduction.

So, musician friends, how are you minimising risk while playing at the moment?
Here are things you’ve listed already:

  • 4. DOING OUTDOOR GIGS
    This is a good one. But does wet weather contingencies (eg awnings overhead) maintain the harm reduction of not having walls or ceilings?
  • 1 and 2: WEARING MASKS
    Another useful one, but it’s being applied inconsistently.
    – Some of you have said that the audience have to wear masks, but only if they’re not eating or drinking.
    – Are venue staff wearing masks?
    – Are musicians wearing masks? And then, more importantly, are they wearing effective masks (ie clean and effective), and
    – are they _not_ touching or contaminating masks?
    – Do they dispose of masks correctly?
    – If you’re wearing masks while traveling to and from gigs (which Chris has illustrated), are these same guidelines being applied?
    Good options:
    Venues provide masks for musicians, punters, and staff. They are a requirement in booking the gig.
    Bands provide masks for the whole group.
    Bands spend time before the gig refreshing training about how to use a mask safely – eg how to put a mask on or take it off if you’re playing sax :D And when that’s impractical, how to use a mask while traveling together to gigs.
    Disposing of masks safely is super super important. Are they being chucked on the floor of the band’s van like an old coffee cup? Or disposed of properly.

…and so on. You can see where I’m going with this.

THE most important part will be having high status, high visibility musicians practicing safe jazz, and then being really cool while they do it. :D

BOO a cancellation

Hi everyone,

I’ve decided to be responsible and cancel the party on the 21st March:

———

Dear friends,

I’m very sorry to have to write this to you, but I have decided to cancel this party on the 21st of March.

As we all know, the COVID-19 virus is moving into our communities. It is spread through ‘respiratory droplets’* (drops of wet stuff from our mouths and noses), and through physical contact. The best way to prevent its spread is to avoid transmission through direct contact.
That means: not touching lots of people or blowing respiratory droplets onto them.

While our government have not yet asked us to stop gathering in large groups, it would be responsible to remove another opportunity for us to germ on each other :D

It’s a very great shame, and I was looking forward to hearing the band, seeing you all, and dancing like a fool. But I think – this time at least – it’s best to be sensible.

*I know it sounds like a great name for a dance troupe, but: too soon.

Jazz fandom in Australia failing again

I’m part of the AUSTRALIAN JAZZ LOVERS fb page, all-caps because ok boomer. It’s generally a pretty unpleasant place to be, because it’s sexist, racist, homophobic, and generally full of shit.

I did notice recently that members of the group’s community had booked two women from the Shake em Up Jazz Band for the Australian Jazz Convention (an event that was first held in my own suburb of Ashfield, Sydney in 1948). But even that couldn’t convince me to go to this whitest of white man events.

I was really surprised to see this on their page today:

The logo for the 2019 Australian Jazz Convention shows a line drawing outline of seven musicians. It seems wrong that, especially when two women musicians from New Orleans were special guests, all the musos shown in the official logo are men – no women in the band. I didn’t notice on the badge – too small – but it was obvious to me on the large posters in the Albury Club on New Year’s Eve.

(link)

There was nothing but shitposting for this comment. And because I am bed-ridden and bored in the Swedish winter, I responded. Of course.

Ken Farmer wrote at one point in the thread:

Ken Farmer But it IS gender specific. I’m sure the artist didn’t think, ‘I’ll be gender specific: men only’, but has done this without thinking. This is culturally imbedded prejudice, stuff that happens without thought and is usually not noticed. It takes time to change, and we must all try to notice, and remark on it when we do.

And I agreed. And I pulled out this reply:

Agree.

To do an old school textual analysis of why the figures in this image ‘read’ masculine:

  • The figures’ ‘hair’, even in silhouette looks ‘short’. This isn’t _always_ a masculine trait, but it is _commonly_ associated with men and masculinity in white Australian culture;
  • The musculature of the figures, particularly around the shoulders, reads ‘masculine’ (broader than a woman’s), another characteristic which isn’t _always_ masculine, but is often used to denote or depict masculinity in white Australia;
  • One of the figures is wearing a brimmed hat, more particularly, the type of hat that men wore in the ‘jazz’ and ‘swing’ eras, and is preferred by fans of this type of music. It’s also coded ‘masculine’ by white Australian culture, but also be a wealth of images depicting ‘jazz’ culture and masculinity;
  • There are no vocalists or singers in the image. In the modern jazz world most women participate in jazz as singers. Again, a gendered and not particularly great trend (because women and girls are discouraged from playing instruments by various social factors). But it does suggest that because there are no ‘vocalists’ in this image, singers and vocalists (women) are not important enough to draw in a logo.

As someone points out elsewhere in this thread, it’s a common trend for an (inexperienced) designer to use iconic photos as source material for a simplified human image. The repetition of this theme – that we can use iconic photos of humans playing instruments, all of whom are men – repeats the idea that ‘all humans who play jazz are men’. It’s not said explicitly, but it’s implied through this repetition. The point that no one has commented on this before, and that so few people are supporting Ken’s original observations suggests that the primary audience for this image accept this normalised idea of jazz = masculine.

It might not seem important to not have figures clearly identified as ‘women’ or ‘girls’ or even anyone who is not an adult man. But a logo is, literally, an abstracted image designed to represent a whole brand. In this case, the logo is intended to be a quick way to identify a flyer or picture or film or website or facebook group as ‘about the australian jazz convention’.

We can make further observations about the logo and what it means by where we see it in context.
The Australian jazz scene (particularly this part of the jazz scene) is predominantly older, white, and dominated by men. If you keep an eye on the feeds from various Australian jazz fan pages on fb, you’ll see that 99.9% of photos of musicians, comments by fans, and fb posts are by men or featuring women. There are only very occasionally pictures of women. A recent post about ‘banjo women’ was notable because it was so unusual to see women – _older_ women! – featured on the page, let alone playing instruments together in a group!

I was actually stunned to see the women from the Shake em Up Jazz Band featured in ads for the event. They are a hardcore feminist jazz band, who also have serious jazz chops. They are incredible musicians and hardcore professional arse kickers. Frankly, I was surprised to see them associated with an event like this. I last saw them in the Swedish countryside at a huge jazz dance event, where they spoke directly about dealing with sexist old white men in the jazz world.

But. These two rare images of women in jazz on this page, and associated with this event made me consider this event as something I might like to go to.

However, the responses (all of whom are by men, but three) in this thread have reinforced the event’s image as not only male dominated, but also actively sexist.

This particular comment was openly sexist and derogatory to women and girls, and the lack of condemnation for this comment by other posters further suggests that this place (this event) not only devalues women, but supports and endorses sexist and sexualised derision of women.

At a later point in the discussion, a woman noted:

I’m not sure who Shaye or Marla are/were but presenting an image of Jazz as all male certainly perpetuates the myth that only men can play it.

And I replied:

For your listening and viewing pleasure, these two artists are part of the Shake Em Up Jazz Band: https://www.shakeemupjazzband.com/

This band draws on some of the best and most influential modern new orleans jazz bands for its membership. All of whom are women. They are truly incredible live – see them if you can.
They are also openly feminist, and engage with issues of race and ethnicity, motherhood and professional musicianship. Their album ‘A woman’s place’ makes this very clear: https://shakeemup.bandcamp.com/album/a-womans-place

They write in the notes to that album (source):
With A Woman’s Place, New Orleans-based Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band pays tribute to women composers and lyricists. We put this album together with the intention to celebrate these artists and their contributions to the music we love and play daily. The album title, an abbreviation of bassist Vivien Garry’s composition “A Woman’s Place is in the Groove” suggests a more inclusive history of jazz, reminding us that as progenitors of early 20th century music the legacy of women extends well beyond performing, but also includes arranging, composing and influencing this music since its earliest days.

Lovie Austin and Lil’ Hardin Armstrong were both pianists with formal music education who were integral to the Chicago jazz scene of the 1920s. Hardin played piano and arranged for both King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and Louis’ Hot Fives and Sevens. She contributed some of the most memorable tunes of those sessions, two of which are presented here: “Skid-Dat-De-Dat” and “My Heart,” the very first recording made by the Hot Five in 1925.
Cora “Lovie” Austin, perhaps best known for writing the Bessie Smith hit “Down Hearted Blues,” can be heard on recordings accompanying many of the great early blues singers, notably Ethel Waters, Ma Rainy, Ida Cox, and Alberta Hunter. Austin’s own recording unit, the Blues Serenaders, included various prominent Chicago jazz musicians, among them New Orleanians Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Jimmie Noone, and Tommy Ladnier. Represented in this album are “Charleston Mad” and “Traveling Blues,” a variation on the New Orleans warhorse “Weary Blues.”
The Boswell Sisters (Martha, Connee and “Vet”) who are well-remembered for their seamless and intricate vocal harmonies, are represented here with their original “Puttin’ it On,” which features compositional elements such as shifting tonalities, tempo changes, and contrasting sections that make Boswell Sister records so enthralling.
Lyricists are also represented on this album: Lucy Fletcher contributed the lyrics to Clarence Williams’ “Sugar Blues,” while vocalist Alberta Hunter is credited with the music and lyrics to “The Love I Have for You.” Both Lovie Austin and Lil’ Hardin accompanied Hunter in Chicago during the 1920s.

Ragtime composer May Aufderheide, who wrote “The Thriller,” “Blue Ribbon Rag” and “Buzzer Rag,” among others, is represented here with “Dusty Rag,” a tune known to many revivalists through Bunk Johnson.

“In The Gloaming” is the oldest tune on this album (1877). Meta Orred wrote the lyrics of this tune, which were originally a poem. The music was composed by Annie Fortescue Harrison.

Elizabeth Cotten is better known to folk music audiences, though her song “Freight Train” has made its way into jazz performances throughout the years, including a recording by Preservation Hall. Represented on this album, “Shake Sugaree” was written in her later years with the help of her grandchildren.

Although we know little about the life of blues singer Geeshie Wiley, her name is familiar to fans of early blues and especially among collectors of 78 RPM records. “Last Kind Words Blues” — with guitar accompaniment by Elvie Thomas — is one of only six sides she made for Paramount Records between 1930 and 1931. Adding to the allure of the original performance is the fact that only three copies of the original 78 record are known to exist.

Rather than being the impossible task of an exhaustive survey of early 20th century American female composers and lyricists, this album is much more intended to be a celebration of these songs and the women who created them, and more could be said and learned about each of these songs and artists.

We hope you enjoy listening to A Woman’s Place as much as we enjoyed making it.
– Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band, 2018

Buy more drinks, or fund jazz in new ways?

The Unity Hall Jazz Band had the longest running jazz residency in the world.

Their host, the Workers’ Bar and Restaurant in the Unity Hall Hotel, has just announced changes to their monthly program. Now the Unity Hall Jazz Band only play two weeks out of every four in the month. The third is given to the usual monthly Dan Barnet Big Band gig, and the fourth week has just been given to rockabilly bands.
This is not good news.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to one of the younger band members, who was worried about the gig, and more concerned about the band leader, Gary Walford, who’s been leading the Unity Hall band for all the forty seven years of this residency. The venue owners had told the venue manager to increase the earnings at the bar, or the band would be cancelled.
My friend asked me what we could do, and I suggested the usual call-round to dancers to encourage them to spend more at the venue. I had no hope for this ploy. It never works. And I have no shortage of reservations about promoting drinking in the local community. Particularly when alcoholism is a real problem in the jazz musician community.

But I’ve been thinking about this issue.

All over the world, free weekly live jazz gigs get cancelled because there’s a lack of income over the bar. Before they get cancelled, there’s a push to have dancers spend more at the bar.
And then the gig gets cancelled.

We know that lindy hoppers are a bad market for bars, because they don’t drink, and they don’t eat. Because they’re up and dancing, and lindy hop is too tricky if you drink more than a drink or two. At least the way people like to dance it here in Sydney. And the scene generally tends to be people who don’t drink much. Good news for our livers and our domestic lives. Bad news for pub economies.

We also know that bars will book bands specifically to help people have fun and spend money at the bar. If the people don’t have fun and don’t spend money at the bar, the band gets cancelled.

We also know that keno, pokies, and other automatic gambling systems (specifically not social things like bingo) bring heaps of money into a venue (if you have a licence).
And we also know that bands distract people from gambling.

So big corporate venues (who are also members of clubs Australia and have gambling licences) are more likely to encourage gambling, because they make money.
-> there are studies all about these things, and evidence to support this.

So I’m thinking:
– Encouraging dancers to spend money at the bar won’t work, as they don’t spend enough to compete with the pokies and keno. And there are no good consequences to pushing for cultural changes that see dancers increasing the amount they drink;
– Encouraging mixed dancer/drinker audiences won’t work either, as neither bring in as much as a gambling clientele;
– We need another income stream for venues.

I’ve been wondering if venues like the Workers, even though they’re all about money and gambling rather than music and socialising, could be encouraged to apply for grants.
Ironically, there is funding available from the Office of Responsible Gambling in NSW to subsidise arts/live music projects in community venues.

So the venue could apply for grants money, or the group as a whole could do it.

I’m not the first to have this thought about live music venues in Sydney. Our live music culture is at risk, mostly because the venues in which it is played and enjoyed are struggling. And even though they’re not applied in Balmain (home to the Unity Hall Hotel) and the inner west (home to most of Sydney’s lindy hop), the lock out laws haven’t helped with Sydney’s night life.
Fewer gigs, so bands move south to Melbourne or north to Brisbane. The decline in arts funding nationally and in NSW has seen younger jazz musicians going overseas for work. Last year’s ethically dubious redirection of funding from successful applicants to Opera NSW by the state minister, and the Liberal party government signalled not only a general decline in funding, but a deliberate redirection of funding away from community arts projects, and towards high arts projects.

Of course, this government funded approach to paying for live jazz runs contrary to the free market, small-government-advocating capitalist ethos. The Liberal party is doing its best to deconstruct arts funding. And to promote gambling (and gambling revenue). The welfare state, the state that fosters the arts, and public funding for creative thinking in the arts and sciences, has been steadily undone by previous and current governments. And with a newly elected Liberal government in NSW, things won’t be getting any better.

While jazz is no longer vernacular music, a free, afternoon live band gig in a pub is certainly community arts practice, engaging ordinary, local people of all ages. And there is a connection to be made between the NSW state government’s dependence on gambling income (taxes) and the decline of ordinary, community arts practice. Gambling, it seems, is not only destructive to families and small business, it is also dangerous to community arts practice and community social spaces.

And that’s as far as my thinking has gone.

Kate Wadey’s Presidential Holiday is very very good

Kate Wadey is a gem.
Based in Sydney, she is a jazz singer in the proper sense. Informed by history, but not constrained by it, she’s one of the few modern jazz vocalists that I really, truly enjoy. No, I love her singing. As a person, she’s warm, interesting, clever, and engaging. As a vocalist, she’s warm, interesting, clever, and engaging.

Last night I saw her sing with her band Kate Wadey’s Presidential Holiday, and I danced every single song in the first set. Which is a big deal, as I haven’t been dancing as much as I like lately. But the band came in with a lovely, accessible dancers’ favourite at a comfortable tempo, and then continued, moving up and down tempos, in and out of classic swinging jazz styles. And i danced every one. Then I put the band break to good use, and had a drink of water and a nice sit down.

What made the band so great?
I think it was the combination of voices in the band. Sam Dobson on bass has been anchoring the younger generation of Sydney jazz bands for a while, and in this band he set down a swinging beat that managed to rein in even the overly enthusiastic OG drummer Ian Bloxsom. He has that type of playing that melds into the whole sound of the band, not pushing forward, but you’d miss it if wasn’t there. Just right for lindy hop. Andrew Scott, band leader for the Corner Pocket Trio and other good swinging combos, plays piano, and that is also nice. But the real business is the relationship between Kate and Chris O’Dear on saxophone.

They’ve recently done a show of Billie Holiday and Lester Young music, and you can really hear that influence in their musical relationship. It’s not that they’re trying to be those two icons, it’s more that they’ve paid attention to the way the two musicians worked together, call and response, combinations, echoes, conversations. Kate and Chris are both talents to watch, but together, they’ve developed a mutual sensibility that really makes you _listen_.

I think that’s the most interesting part of Kate’s style: she draws you in. She’s really present in every single note, really singing every single note to _you_, to the band, to us all. And we can’t help but pay attention. What is she saying to us? We need to know. If she was a dancer, she’d be present in every single step, committing her weight, playing with time and rhythm, but right there, giving every single beat her whole attention. There’s the delay and stretch of a very good blues dancer, but with jazz sensibilities. As a singer, she fills up the room, and you can’t look away.

For dancers, it invites us into the music. What does this mean, here?
When she sang My Baby Just Cares For Me, an almost too-tired standard in the dance world, suddenly it became interesting and new. I wanted to know _what_ her baby cared for, if it wasn’t Lana Turner or shows or clothes. And then, Kate added a note of… was it smugness? that he cares for her. The tone is just perfect. She moves us from that that confidence of a woman with a man who loves her, to an almost-feeling of sorrow. Perhaps he’ll leave. After all, she asks, ‘what is wrong with baby, that he just cares for me?’ The song builds, with Chris taking turns, adding clever notes of humour as he picks up the riffs from other standards, and by the end of the performance, we are all dancing.

I was too busy dancing to take photos or record any snippets but that last vocal number. And I’ve been listening to it over and over since I got home last night. I’ve never thought so much about the lyrics. I’ve never realised that balance of pathos and love. But I think that’s the talent of a good vocalist: we find new meaning in old standards.

Kate’s band doesn’t have an album (yet), but she does have a solo release, which is just lovely. Watch out for her recording of ‘Sit right down and write myself a letter‘. It features some of Australia’s best musicians (Eamon McNelis!), but Kate’s vocals gives Fats’ hit just a little more melancholy.

linky

Echoes of Sophiatown

I’m a bit lax in promoting this, but the South African Echoes of Sophiatown project is VERY exciting.

I saw a documentary film about Sophiatown years ago, and the music and dancing (YES, lindy hop in South Africa in the 1950s!) has stayed with me. I still DJ songs I heard in that film, and some of the vocalists (MIRIAM MAKEBA) are unparalleled, now or then.

Sophiatown was a neighbourhood in Johannesburg where musicians, artists, activists, writers, dancers… _people_ lived and worked. In the 50s it was bulldozed by the white government. Much of the creative work these people did was unrecorded because apartheid.

Now South African dancers and musicians are raising money for “A transcription project to pay tribute to the South African jazz musicians of the 1940s and 50s.”
This means that living musicians are transcribing and recording some of the best jazz in THE WORLD. And they need some help.

Every dollar you can spare will make a difference. They’re only aiming for $12000, and they have a month to go. Which means that if we all chuck in $5… they’ll have enough to do the job properly.
AND some of the proceeds will be used to benefit the families and artists who originally recorded this music.

Check the Indigogo here.

DJing band breaks: my rules

So far as skills for playing band break sets go, I usually have a few rules:

  • Don’t go into the hardcore high-energy territory. Keep the vibe bubbling along, but never quite climaxing. The band should be the peak;
  • Don’t get too low energy – keep the room bubbling along;
  • Play something with a ‘building’ energy just before the band goes on (like that brilliant version of One o’clock Jump), so that the band go on stage to an amped up, excited crowd;
  • Don’t play songs the band will play. So this means introducing yourself to the band, getting a set list, and getting an idea of the type of music they’ll play;
  • You’re not the star here, your job is to be the support act for the band, warming the room for them, keeping the dancers interested, and generally helping the band have a good gig. So don’t show off, don’t do any stunt DJing, don’t be a jerk, be on time, be easy to work with, MC if you have to, keep you eyes on the band and be ready to play with zero notice;
  • Introduce yourself to the sound engineer, the MC, the band leader, and the stage manager. Be helpful and useful, and do a soundcheck if you can;
  • Don’t play hi-fi stuff, especially not hi-fi 50s bands like Basie’s, because no modern band will sound as good;
  • Complement the band’s style, but don’t echo it too perfectly. eg SSAS often play a lot of Ellington, so I try to stay away from the Ellington favourites;
  • Don’t go nuts on tempos; keep the music accessible and don’t tire out the crowd before the band comes back;
  • Don’t play anything too crude or too memorable. A band break DJ is just filling in music, keeping the vibe going while the band literally take a break. So don’t outshine the band.

And finally, all this holds true if the band is good. If the band really sucks, then you follow all these rules, except you play really good songs that give everyone a chance to dance.

what even is 32 bar chorus v blues phrasing?

Swinging jazz is really formulaic and predictable. This is mostly because of the constraints of the recording industry: the 3 minute pop song is all that fitted on one side of a record. Which makes it great for improvising with. Live music is very different, and was very different.
This is partly why dancers should dance to live music: it’s less predictable, and you really have to pay attention, in case someone adds something.

This predictable formula is also why peeps get so shitty with DJs who play awkwardly phrased songs in comps: you have to really work hard to ignore the structure of a standard swing song.

I actually like to sit down and draw out the structure of a song if I’m thinking about choreographing or using it for a routine. It really helps me understand to see a ’32 bar chorus’ written out – that’s 16 lots of 8. Which is 4 phrases. You can teach that in an hour. My ‘thinking brain’ likes me to do this to help me become conscious of some things in a song. Especially with tap. But my ‘dancing brain’ gets confused and flustered if I try to count or think about the markers of phrases and choruses consciously, so when I’m dancing (esp social dancing), I don’t think ‘here comes the phrase!’ I listen to the music, and let the musicians tell me when a phrase is over or a chorus is beginning. eg a solo might go for a phrase, or a particular musical theme might go for a chorus.

The shim sham is 4 phrases (3 basic phrases + an added phrase), and that helps me think about the relationship between dancers and bands in the olden days. A dancer would get up and do a chorus, then bow out.

You can also hear it in a standard swing ‘pop’ song: the main ‘story’ of the song is in that chorus.
A really standard pop song will play 4 choruses, with some intro or outro stuff or perhaps a bridge or something somewhere.

If you’re listening to a nola type song, or something like Fats Waller’s Moppin And Boppin, you can clearly hear the choruses, with a final shout chorus:
– there’s an intro-type bit with drums (Fats shouts out “You want some more of that mess? Well here tis, Zutty take over – pour it on ’em!”) and then Zutty plays about 3 phrases (2.5 really).
– then the band kicks in with the main ‘theme’ of the song for a chorus, with everyone playing together sensibly.
– then there’s a chorus with lots of solos

– round about halfway Slam Stewart does 16 phrases (a chorus) on the bass with some humming.
– Then Zutty Singleton does a chorus on the drums.
– Then there’s a final chorus where everyone joins in, which ends up feeling a lot like a ‘shout chorus’. A shout chorus is a big, exciting end part, where all the musicians get crazy. If I’m DJing, I know that if I hear that shout chorus, I need to get my next song sorted.

Because it’s Fats Waller, that ‘starting sensibly then getting crazy’ vibe is a clever play on the predictable 32 bar chorus structure: he takes you on a journey.

All of this feels really nice and balanced:
– 4 choruses plus a shout chorus at the end and an intro at the beginning.

This is the structure that makes swinging jazz so nice to lindy hop to: it’s predictable. It means a dancer can step up with a band and take a chorus and know when/where to come in.

I’ve been doing some work with a band lately where I have to MC/narrate stuff during a song, and while I know all this with my brain, in the moment I get a bit flustered, so I watch the band leader who cues me with a nod. A band that plays head arrangements (vs using sheet music) develops a nonverbal language of nods and so on that cues each other in. There was actually a whole language of nonverbal cues that big bands used to use, but of this language isn’t used any more and is lost :(

Ways to learn this stuff:
– with paper and pen;

And, much more usefully, with your body, so you can turn off your counting brain and let it work on choreography or being creative:
– Dancing the shim sham to different songs. You figure out which songs are blues phrased pretty quickly :D And you realise why Ellington was so wiggedy wacked.
– Calling the freezes, slow motions, and dance! in a shim sham. It feels really natural do to it on the phrase, but a whole phrase at 120bpm is boring, so you do it at half way points.

Why should DJs play standards/favourites?

At Jazz BANG on the weekend, we set up a little story about jazz history and music. The band would play a song in a particular style, and the dancers would dance to it.

I just said to Andrew something like “Make it feel like this, in the 30s, swinging properly,” and I gestured 4 beats to the bar with even emphasis. And he figured out (because he is a genius) that I meant a standard 32 bar chorus type structure (ie 4×8 to the phrase) in swinging timing.
Then he played a standard – Honeysuckle Rose: https://www.facebook.com/sam.carroll.545/posts/10155437058953483

And because we all know Honeysuckle Rose (because it is a standard/favourite), the dancers could dance to it, even though they’d never heard the band play it before. Then when they were done (after about 4 phrases (or 16×8 or 32 bars), they’d leave the stage, and the band would play a final phrase or chorus to finish up.

And we did that about six times.

It’s only because we have a shared vocabulary that this could work. We had a shared set of jazz standards – the songs that DJs and bands play over and over – and a shared sense of timing and swing. This gave us the language to do an improvised performance.

So this is why DJs should play favourites. Not Lavender Coffin, so much, but Honeysuckle Rose, Jive at Five, Flying Home, Shiny Stockings, Tiger Rag, Sweet Georgia Brown, etc etc etc. It allows us to do improvised art over a shared structure.
Then end,
By Sam.

Some notes to bands about playing for dancers

I work with bands quite a bit for dance events.
The type of music you play and how you play it will depend on the dancers. Are they dancing balboa? Blues? Lindy hop? If the organiser has just said ‘swing dance’, then they usually mean lindy hop, with a sprinkling of balboa.

There are really two main issues for dancers:
1. How fast is the music, and
2. How long is the song.

1. Tempo
150bpm is about a jogging pace. So remember that when you launch into your favourite speedy song ? Experienced lindy hoppers with good technique can handle 5 minutes at 180bpm, but mere mortals… not so much.

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):

Balboa, however, is a much smaller dance. So they like to start at about 180bpm and can dance… well, they like to go fast.

Lindy hoppers can really vary. As I said, experienced dancers with good skills at a big event are very comfortable anywhere from 110 to 240bpm. Brand new dancers are also happy to do any tempo, but have zero stamina. The pickiest are people with moderate skills but plenty of opinions ? Their comfort zone is 120-160bpm.

2. Song length:
No more than 10 minutes. Seriously. I’d keep it to 5 minutes to be honest.
Here’s the thing: while sitting down audiences really enjoy each musician in the band taking a solo, that’s not how dancers work. They’re not sitting quietly and listening; they are right there with you inside the music. So my usual rule for bands is: only take a solo if you have something to say. A band is not a democracy; we don’t all get a solo just because we turned up.
And bassists and drummers? Soz, but your solos are the least danceable, so keep it to a phrase or two max.

So what do you play?
Lindy and balboa are members of the swing dance family. So play swinging jazz. Like Basie said, four solid beats to the bar and no cheating. Think mid 30s – mid 40s. You can stray into the 50s, but think Basie’s big band, and Ellington.
If your band is a ‘dixie’ or NOLA recreationist band, then that’s a different kettle of fish.

So far as instrumentation goes, the best options are:
– bass. Upright, not electric. You need this.
– drums, but lay off the high hat. Think like Jo Jones: fill in around the bass, don’t push the band forward
– guitar. You are Freddy Green. Think rhythm section.
-> you can do without guitar, but for my money, the best dance bands has this rhythm section.

– trumpet
– trombone
– reeds
-> it’s all good. If you want to impress dancers, they’re easily pleased by a muted trumpet or a big clarinet high note.

Some other things:
– At the end of the song dancers will pause, then thank their partner, then they’ll turn and clap you. So give them a breath.
They’re unlikely to clap a solo, because they’re dancing. Unless you are incredible. Then they will.
– If you engage with the dancers, they’ll engage with you. So don’t stare at sheet music all the gig. Look up, make eye contact, smile, and if you see something you like, make like a jazzer and let people know! Yell out, or applaud, or echo what they did rhythmically on your instrument.
It’s also ok to stop and talk to people during breaks. Dancers are so curious about musicians and their instruments – they’ll be shy and awkward, but so so interested.

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.
You want to come in with a nice, friendly song. Right in the comfort zone. 140bpm is your friend. Nice and swinging, not particularly sexy.

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.