“What made Basie’s band so great?” Musicians and dancers explore the answer together

We did a superfun session at Jazz BANG that got dancers and musicians talking and demonstrating together.

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(This is Kat Galang’s photo from the session. She has a really good eye for catching the feels of a situation. Look at that first year Con student having his mind blown by lindy hop. <3 )

The session was described like this:

"This is a combined stream workshop, with all participants working with Marie [N'Diaye], Lennart [Westerlund], and musicians led by Andrew Dickeson, dummer and teacher in jazz history at the Sydney Consevatorium of Music. “What made Basie’s band so great?” In this session, musicians and dancers explore the answer together.”

We also invited Thomas Wadelton to join the session, bringing his talent and teaching experience as a top shelf tap dancer to the mix. On the day itself, we also invited Georgia Brooks, talented vocalist and dancer to jump in. Andrew brought two of his students with him to pretend to be Freddy Green and Walter Page.

The session was fantastic. Andrew explained how the Basie rhythm section worked, and then they demonstrated, piece by piece. He also explained what Jo Jones did on the drums that was so important, and how Walter Page approached assembling a rhythm section like this.
Then Marie explained what she liked about this feel, Andrew invited her to show us what the groove felt like, and she did.
Then Lennart talked about why the band was important to dancers, talking about the old timers’ opinions of the band.

Then Lennart and Marie did a bit of lindy hop to the band and we squeed.
Then Thomas explained what he liked about this rhythm section, and more importantly demonstrated with some tapping. That bit was exciting, because we could see and hear how Andrew managed the band (telling the guys when to play and when not to to), making the tapping + band work as one unit.
That was extremely exciting.

At this point I got excited and asked Georgia if she wanted in, and at first she was shy and they realised: nicest people ever and she was in. Andrew was all “Yeah! More the merrier!”
We took a moment, I spoke to Marie and Lennart, and Marie had a plan for demonstrating why boogie woogie and non-boogie swinging stuff feel different, so she spoke to Andrew about the plan, we got the whole crowd up on their feet, and then there was a great bit:
the band demonstrated a boogie rhythm, and we all dance to it (solo of course)
then Georgia joined in and they played a proper swinging song and we all danced and it was amazeballs.

I was sitting near some of the musicians from the Squeezebox Trio who’d come to watch, and they had a moment of “DANCING! HOW?!” and then they just relaxed and got it.

It was all very exciting and interesting. My favourite part was seeing how the musicians and dancers took my very rough plan and made it work. Andrew and his students had prepared some very good material, and Lennart and Marie (even at the end of a long, tiring weekend), just came through like guns. I think my other favourite bit was seeing Andrew and Thomas deciding they were bffs in rhythm.
I loved seeing Andrew manage that band in real time. Because my favourite part of jazz is that it’s improvised, and musicians and dancers are actually really excited and stimulated by new and unexpected things, and that’s what gets their creative juices flowing. For me, I was quite excited by my role as organiser (though I wanted to take a very light touch, and to let them do the coordinating and managing, I had to keep an eye on time, and make sure everyone had a chance to talk and demonstrate). It felt really stimulating and exciting to see just what might happen that we didn’t and couldn’t plan for. I like to embrace Lennart’s ‘we will see what will happen’ approach to events, and while it’s a bit scary and challenging for someone as control-freaky as me, it’s also exciting and wonderful.

I would LOVE to do more like this, and the feedback from the attendees was a) they wanted more dancing in that session, b) they wanted more of these sorts of session.
I am 100% in for that sort of plan, the only barrier being cost. Having musicians in the class means you have to pay five people for a workshop, not just one or two. Which makes that session cost as much as a live band. Which is expensive. But if I can find a way to absorb the cost, I will. Because it was THE BEST THING I’VE EVER DONE.

It wasn’t the first time I’d organised a band-in-dance-class session. We did something similar at the Little Big Weekend with Leigh Barker and the New Sheiks (who are part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project with Kieran, Ramona, Thomas and other great dancers). But the focus there was a bit different, and we really drew on the way that band works together as a group, and the less traditional, more unusual work they’ve been doing with dancers. This session with Andrew and Marie and Lennart and Thomas was a bit more historically focussed and traditional, which was a really nice complement.

It was really good to have the two different sessions to compare. They were both about how musicians and dancers work together, but they took very different approaches. Leigh’s work is very much grounded in historical authenticity, but the approach the group takes is much more contemporary, in everything from funding to working and labour practices. Which makes sense, because this isn’t 1940, no matter how much we may wish it was.

The final point from all the musicians in both sessions is that working with dancers brings something new to playing. But Andrew said something that I thought was quite cool: he said (and I paraphrase) that playing for dancers who just dance through the same steps in the same way each time is really BORING. And he’d rather they just didn’t. And I agree: if you’re just going to dance the same way all the time, why are you dancing lindy hop and not ballroom dancing? You’re certainly not listening to the music, and you’re not responding to each partner as a unique person.
This point dovetailed nicely with the points Marie and Lennart made all weekend: first you take care of the music, and you take care of your partner. There’s no ‘correct’ way of doing anything (this foot could go here or there, it doesn’t matter), but you must take care of the rhythm. If the rhythm isn’t tight and present, then you’re in trouble. Each of us gets to the rhythm in a different way, and our bodies are all different, so the way we move will be different, and our visualisation of the rhythm will be different. Cherish that.

I think it’s a bloody good motto for dancing and life: take care of your partner, take care of the music.

I’ve continued this thinking with a post about Count Basie and his influences over here. This post is a product of some discussion on facebook about Basie (and my previous 8tracks post), and really has grown out of this Basie session at Jazz BANG. It does of course, also develop the theme of innovation, improvisation and impersonation – step stealing and cultural appropriation/transmission in vernacular music and dance culture. And we all know how obsessed I am with THAT stuff. Love love love.
I think that that whole philosophy as change-is-good guides everything I do in dance. I am so NOT interested in just doing things the same way all the time. It’s so BORING. I like change. It scares the pants off me, but I love it.

Avant Garden 8tracks

Some songs I like at the moment, many of which are a little odd, structurally or melodically.

Avant Garden from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

linky

Photo from Shorpy.
Watch for the Slam Stewart incidences.

Snafu 1946 Esquire All-American Award Winners (Louis Armstrong, Neal Hefti, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Billy Strayhorn, Remo Palmieri, Chubby Jackson, Sonny Greer) 4:14 The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 03)

“C” Blues 1941 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Ray Nance, Juan Tizol, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 2:53 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 12)

Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Joe Keyes, Carl Smith, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Claude Williams, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 3:00 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 01)

Honeysuckle Rose 1939 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Johnny Martel, Ziggy Elman, Ted Vesely, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Bus Bassey, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 3:04 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 01)

Jack, I’m Mellow 1938 Trixie Smith acc. By Charlie Shavers, Sidney Bechet, Sammy Price, Teddy Bunn, Richard Fullbright, O’Neil Spencer 2:49 Charlie Shavers and The Blues Singers 1938-1939

Honeysuckle Rose 1935 Mildred Bailey and Her Alley Cats (Bunny Berigan, Johnny Hodges, Teddy Wilson, Grachan Moncur) 2:57 Mildred Bailey: A Forgotten Lady 1935-42, Jazz Archives #90 (158602)

Don’t Tetch It! 1942 Una Mae Carlisle with Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer 2:21 Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1941 – 1944

Flying Home 1944 Teddy Wilson Sextet (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Edmond Hall, Slam Stewart, Big Sid Catlett) 4:56 Teddy Wilson: The Complete Associated Transcriptions 1944

Deep Forest 1940 Earl Hines and his Orchestra (Walter Fuller, Milton Fletcher, Ed Sims, George Dixon, John Ewing, Ed Burke, Joe McLewis, Omer Simeon, Leroy Harris, Bob Crowder, Jimmy Mundy, Claude Roberts, Quinn Wilson, Alvin Burroughs, Billy Eckstine, Budd Johnson) 2:31 Classic Earl Hines Sessions 1928-1945 (Mosaic disc 05)

Take It 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Georgie Auld, Pete Mondello, Bob Snyder, Johnny Guarnieri, Mike Bryan, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) 3:13 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03)

Gotta Be This Or That (Pt. 1) (Alt Tk-2) 1945 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Vince Badale, Al Cuozzo, Tony Faso, Stan Fishelson, Trummy Young, Eddie Aulino, Chauncey Welsch, Ray Beller, Aaron Sachs, Stan Kosow, Al Epstein, Danny Bank, Charlie Queener, Mike Bryan, Slam Stewart, Morey Feld, Red Norvo 3:30 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 06)

Sweet Lorraine 1946 Metronome All Star Band (Charlie Shavers, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Bob Ahern, Eddie Safranksi, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, June Christy, Sy Oliver) 3:13 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 08)

Beginner lindy hoppers need to learn to swivel immediately*

swingout

I am insanely busy.
So of course, here is a post. Also I am tired, so these words = rubbish.

I find teaching with a few very good, very clever and observant follows teaches me so much about teaching and dancing. I am so lucky to get to work with such great dancers and teachers.

This is what I’ve been thinking about swivels lately, after an intensive two months working on the ‘Frankie 89′ choreography Lennart and eWa taught us in Herrang.

Swivels are not styling, they are a powerful movement that makes swinging out at higher tempos possible. Relatedly: do not drop your triple steps.
Frankie taught follows to swivel right from their very first class. I know some teachers don’t do this, because they think that swivels are ‘too hard’. I think a lot of people think lindy hop is really hard. But it’s not. As Lennart says, “It is really a very simple dance.”

Doing more work with old timers this year, and with people who worked closely with old timers, I’ve realised that their approach is fundamentally different to modern lindy hoppers’. Modern dancers are recreationists, and are (for the most part) trying to reverse engineer lindy hop. Old timers invented lindy hop. And old timers were social dancers. So lindy hop is pure function.

What does that mean?
If you approach all lindy hop in the simplest terms, it makes a lot more sense. A swing out is really just two partners sometimes being together, and sometimes being apart. Now what’s the simplest, most efficient and practical way to handle that? Use a little turn – a slingshot. Just like launching a rocket into orbit, and then out into the solar system. A swing out is just a circle where you let go half way. A swing out open to open is just a stretch and then a little turn in the middle to redirect the momentum.

I feel quite strongly that you don’t ‘add styling’ to your dancing. Your ‘style’ should just be a natural consequence of your movements (of you, your body, the way it works, and the way you use it). Your arms swing in charleston because you bounce, you bend a bit at the hip in your athletic posture, and you allow your upper torso a bit of rotation/torque. Your fingers are ‘alive’ and not floppy, because you feel feels.

With this in mind, then, swivels must have function. A function that’s aesthetically pleasing, but effective function none the less. If you treat swivels as ‘just a fancy way of walking’ – two steps with a bit of shape – then you get down to a) the rhythm of the step, and b) the function of the step. I’m all for swivels on the spot as well, but traveling swivels are a key part of most dancers’ repertoires as well.

I’m avoiding digressing into talking about how followers’ movements are led by the leader here, ok? I know we could have a discussion about whether followers should take a step for every step a lead makes, but that’s going to get us off track, ok?

So how is a swivel a powerful way of moving? What makes the swivel more awesome than just walking? Yes, yes, we know they look fabulous. But we’re trying to stay on track, right?

I like to teach swivels this way:
Imagine you are doing the twist, 1960s style. Your weight is evenly distributed between your hip-width feet. You are wearing skiis, so don’t let your skiis tangle or cross.
Now, as your feet point to the right, shift your weight to the right. As they point left, shift your weight to the left.

Boom. Swivels on the spot.

Remind yourself to bounce/pulse while you do this – you need the bounce, because bounce is your body preparing to move. Each bounce is like a little spring coiling – it’s stored energy – and that stored energy is released when you take a step.

So now, instead of just shifting your weight while you twist, take an actual step. Right, left, right left.

BOOM. Traveling swivels.

You need to: bounce; wear skiis (for efficient alignment for the sake of your knees, but also to ensure a nice clear line of energy from the ground to your core and back again); use athletic posture (you know – jump up in the air, then land with slightly bent knees, arms out, a bit of bend at the the hip, etc etc); make clear weight changes.

Once you have all this happening, your swivel becomes a very powerful step. Powerful in terms of energy and muscle power, not symbolic feminist energy**. The bent knees, arse out (hip bend), relaxed arms, open chest, clear weight changes, bounce, etc etc makes this posture and way of movement super powerful and strong. Each step/swivel becomes a little power-push, just like a sprinter leaping from the block at the beginning of a race.
You really, REALLY need this power when you’re dancing fast. It’s one of the ways the follows feed energy into the swing out cycle. Add that to the way a bit of stretch on one/two works, a very efficient 3&4 (the turn/circle in the middle – triple step to add power and aid travel!), and you have this fantastically powerful little engine.

All of this makes for great biomechanics.
But it has also made me a much better teacher for follows. I tend to favour talking about leads, because I am a lead. This makes me cranky because it makes lindy hop sound lead-centred. But once you understand that follows really aren’t passive at all, that the way follows move contributes importantly to momentum, suddenly you have tools for talking to follows in class.

Sam’s moment of personal growth: understanding following empowers follows, makes this leader a better teacher and a better dance partner.

I often say (stealing an idea Naomi Uyama used in a class) that follows have a responsibility to keep the rhythm for the lead. Ramona says that each partner has a responsibility to ‘take care of the beat’. Lennart says you need to ‘make friends with the music’. Steven Mitchell grunts “MM! Yeah!” I like to have partners bounce together on the spot before they start dancing, because it’s a way of reassuring your partner that you can find the beat (as well as a way to connect with your partner and the music).

These concepts all tell you that maintaining energy in your dancing is the responsibility of both partners. A science teacher friend in my practice group noted that swing outs can’t be 100% relaxed low impact. The stretch or ‘tension’ (in the sense of stored energy) has to be fed into the cycle somehow. If you let go earlier (5), if you lead by moving your body, you need to have 1 and 2 be much more powerful to feed the energy in. A powerful swivel helps follows contribute energy, a bit of stretch before leading in lets the leads contribute energy. Just like Frankie. This energy, then, is coming directly from your core: it’s built into the coiled spring of a vertical bounce, and it’s managed by strong glutes pushing, and a stable core.

This is where my knowledge ends. I just don’t know enough about biomechanics to say more. And I suspect I’m a bit full of bullshit, really.

But I find this approach really important for the way I then think about social power in following. It’s patently ridiculous to think of following as ‘passive’. A passive follow would be a dead weight. An active follow is engaging their muscles and actively contributing to the energy in the dance. Even if they never do a single jazz step or ‘variation’.

So following in lindy hop cannot be passive.

This then upsets the idea that a lead ‘controls’ the partnership. Nothing a lead tries will work properly if the follow isn’t actively contributing to and maintaining energy and momentum. The lead may think that a move has ‘worked’ under these conditions, but they won’t actually be leading.

*Teach your beginner students to swivel right from their first class. Skill them up. Give follows power. Don’t be afraid of lindy hop.

**But why can’t you think of swivels as a symbol of powerful feminist mite?

Reclining On A Rug

I’m delighted by people’s suggestions that they’re taking up lindy hop because they want a dance where ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’.
Because the sorts of things that male jazz dancers did in the 20s and 30s aren’t ever quite as retrosexists imagine they were.

busy as fuck

I would like to write a post about anti-semitism, and why it’s important to address it, but I have a big event on in 3 weeks and I’m fucking crazy insane busy. And this is the sort of post that needs thought and care.

Why am I still harping on about this?
Because every day I’m moderating comments that get the lines about how this was just a joke, and we should get over it.

A most recent comment:

They probably took the ILHC as a friendly gathering, in where you could be irreverent and everyone takes a healthy laugh and ignores it.

That shit is scary. Scary scary scary.

misandry on the 422

I get onto the 422 to Newtown at 5pm, and take a seat next to this skinny little hipster guy. He had a bad case of massive-balls, so his legs were spread pretty wide, but I figured my big, wide feminist load practicing land-and-expand would ensure an equal distribution of seat. So I pull out my book and start reading.

But skinny hipster bro was resisting land-and-expand, and my wide load was falling into the aisle. So part of the way down King Street, I say (politely, because it’s never a good idea to pick a fight on public transport), “Would you mind moving over a bit please? I can’t quite fit on the seat.”

Now hipster bro had obviously been boiling away in silent rage all that time, and I hadn’t noticed. He says “No! I can’t move over any further!”
I smile and wait.
He leaps to his feet and shouts “Well, alright, if you’re going to TAKE OVER anyway!” and he waits for me to move so he can leave the seat.

This is where I allow myself a little smile. Poor little hipster bro, frothing in impotent rage, thwarted by my wide load, trapped against the bus window. And then I get up and out of his way, and sit back down.
He’s still boiling, because, as he backs away, he yells something about there being “Lots of other seats!” and as he lowers his (skinny) arse into one “See? Here’s one!” and I smile, because my wide load and me now have a seat to ourselves.

I did think to myself, as I walked up King street later, that he’d missed a prime opportunity to throw a fat-shaming “Your arse is too big for this seat and I!” comment. And I was also surprised by just how unthreatening or undisturbing I’d found him. He was too little, too skinny, too fashionable to frighten me. I knew I could probably take him in a fight if it came to it, and I definitely knew I could bring the verbal smack down. But I’d just used my most politest request, and my least threatening smile.

crank

If you think I’m up in the crank states, I assure you: you ain’t seen nothing yet.

I’m going to address an issue which is sufficiently abstract and pedantic that it may be too persnickety even for the pages of CRANK: the energy economy of pretty much every popular science fiction TV series or film makes no sense at all.

Mike gets jiggy with it in Crank. Buy it. You will be ENRAGED.