Playing for Swing Dancers

I’ve been playing gigs for dancers since I started playing professionally, but in the past few years a very active community of younger swing dancers has emerged and I’ve been playing a lot more. I’ve been fortunate that the bands that I work with also happen to be made up of swing dancers (some quite good!), and so I’ve been picking up on a lot of what dancers are looking for from the bands they book to play their events.

I’ve only performed with Laura Windley a handful of times, but she has a unique background as a singer, dancer, and event organizer that makes her advice on this subject worth listening to.

I’ve been seeing a bit of this lately with some local bands who would like to play for swing dancers – bandleaders who contact local organizers to promote their events or about being hired, but have very little experience playing for dance events (or playing for swing dance events specifically, as opposed to ballroom events or more general dancing) or had past experience playing for dancers but haven’t kept up with trends in music in the swing dance community. Several people have written blog posts about playing music for dancers and I agree that the music is the most important aspect and that feedback should be considered, but I want to focus on relationships and communication.

Laura notes something similar to what I see all the time – excellent jazz musicians who don’t play in a stylistically appropriate way when playing jazz from he 1920s and 1930s. I guess I was lucky in that my undergraduate jazz teacher (Dr. Tom Streeter) made sure that the jazz band was regularly performing swing music and performing it correctly. A lot of jazz programs tend to emphasize modern jazz (nothing wrong with this, per se), and sometimes a student’s interests will pull them in one direction and leave a hole in their stylistic knowledge.

There have been great swing bands that lost gigs because they insisted on featuring their soloists for umpteen choruses and the songs ended up being 10 minutes long. If you have never danced to an uptempo song for 10 minutes, try running for 10 minutes and see how winded you are. You want the dancers to be exhausted at the end of the night, not in the middle of the first set. The guidelines and norms are there for a reason, and the reasons are generally practical.

Selecting the tempos of the tunes and how you put them together is very important for keeping dancers on the dance floor. Too many fast tunes in a row and they will start sitting out tunes. Too many of the same tempos in a row gets repetitive. One dancer/musician I once asked about it said that he likes to put dance sets together in groups of three – medium, fast, medium. When you repeat back to another medium tempo you want to have a slightly different tempo or groove to help provide variety.

But there are exceptions. This past weekend I performed for a Balboa dance weekend. This particular dance is done to faster tempo tunes, so we ended up playing more faster tempo tunes than we might have otherwise. James, the bandleader was very careful about tempos both dances we played, frequently double checking with a metronome. He had also arranged one chart to exactly fit the length of time needed for a dance competition.

Needless to say, in addition to being an excellent ragtime, stride, and swing pianist, James is also a swing dancer. The two dances we played went very well because he understood exactly what the dancers wanted and was organized so that the band was prepared to do it.

Again, I’ve been lucky that I get to rub elbows with some dancers and musicians who are plugged into the swing dance scene at a national level and gotten to tag along to perform at events around the south east. It’s been an invaluable help for those times when I’m the band leader on a dance show or even if dancers show up to one of my regular big band gigs. If you’re wanting to break into this scene, check out Laura’s post.

Weekend Picks

I’ve got a couple of interesting gigs this weekend for folks around western North Carolina. Tomorrow, Saturday September 2, 2017, I’m performing with the Blue Ridge Bones at the Hendersonville, NC Apple Festival. We’re playing at the courthouse stage from 3:30-4:30.

Sunday, September 3, 2017 I’m playing with Rick Dilling’s Time Check Big Band in a tribute to Buddy Rich concert at the Isis Restaurant and Music Hall. We’ll be playing two sets starting at 7:30.

In the mean time, here are some interesting music related links for your weekend surfing.

In Bb is an interactive project using YouTube videos in the key of Bb. Try it out.

Here’s an fMRI video of someone singing “If I Only Had a Brain.”

Have you ever wondered what Ravel’s “Bolero” would sound like played by 4 musicians on a single cello?

Asheville Amadeus 2017

This week is the second (I believe, might be the third) annual Asheville Amadeus festival. The Asheville Symphony Orchestra teamed up with several other local organizations to celebrate the life and music of Mozart. There are talks, chamber music, sing-alongs, even a local brewery puts out a limited release beer called Wolfgang 1756 annually for this festival.

The most exciting part of Asheville Amadeus for me this year is the participation of the string students from MusicWorks! Asheville with the Asheville Symphony Youth Orchestra. The Asheville Symphony Orchestra is bringing in Midori in for a week long residency and she will be giving our violin students a master class too.

If you’re around western North Carolina this week looking for some Mozart related activities, consider attending some of the events around Asheville.

Stan Kenton Christmas 2016

The Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be performing our annual Stan Kenton Christmas fundraiser concert this Friday night, December 16, 2016, at 7 PM. The concert will be held at our usual location, Trinity United Methodist Church (587 Haywood Rd., Asheville, NC 28806).

We will be performing most of the charts on Stan Kenton’s “Merry Christmas” album, as well as several additional Christmas big band charts at this concert. The performance is free and open to the public, but we will be taking a collection to raise money for the Bless the Schools fund (which helps out Asheville City Schools children in need) and the Asheville Jazz Council (a 501c3 dedicated to promoting jazz education, performance, and composition in western North Carolina).

It has been a couple of years since I had a new Christmas arrangement of my own for this concert. Last week I put the finishing touches on a new arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. We’ll be playing that chart, as well as a few others by me at this show.

If you get to come, please come up and say hello after the performance.

AJO at White Horse Black Mountain, 12/10/16

The Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be back at the White Horse Black Mountain (105c Montreat Rd., Black Mountain, NC) on Saturday, December 10, 2016. For this show we’re pulling out the holiday book and will be playing holiday classics in a big band jazz style.

I’ve written a few of the charts we’ll be playing and am working on an original big band arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and hope to have it completed in time for this show. It will be a trombone section feature because, well, all charts should be trombone section features.

There is a $15 cover charge. If you make it to our show, please say hello on set break or afterwards.

Low-Down Sires at Piedmont Swing Dance Society

low-down-sires-drawingI’ll be performing this Saturday, September 24, 2016, at the Piedmont Swing Dance Society’s dance in Winston-Salem, NC. If I understand correctly, the dance will be at 7 Vintage Avenue in Winston Salem, NC. For more information and to register for the whole dance weekend, visit https://piedmontswingdance.org.

It’s short notice, but if anyone wants to try to meet up for an embouchure lesson or just to hang out, let me know.

Patriotic Concert July 3, 2016

18461977735_51e17e6dfd_zThis Sunday, July 3, 2016, the Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be performing our 2nd annual Patriotic Concert at Trinity United Methodist Church is west Asheville, NC. We’ll be performing a mix of patriotic music in a big band jazz style along side big band jazz from the WWII era, focusing on bands such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. The concert starts at 3 PM and is free and open to the public. A goodwill offering will be taken to raise funds for both the Asheville Jazz Council and the Asheville Buncombe Christian Community Ministry‘s veterans charity.

For a preview of some of the music you might here, you can watch four of us on WLOS Channel 13 here.

Smokey Mountain Brass Band Sunday, March 6, 2016

Here’s another weekend performance for me. This Sunday, March 6, 2016, I’ll be conducting the Smokey Mountain Brass Band in concert at Weaverville Methodist Church, in Weaverville, NC. The performance will feature a variety of music ranging from Clarke’s Cousins (with Bill Ross and JP Carney as the soloists) to Hymn of the Highlands by Philip Sparke to Hymnsong of Philip Bliss by western North Carolina composer David Holsinger. The performance starts at 3 PM and is free to attend, although we will be collecting an offering.

If you’re in the area this Sunday please come out and check out western North Carolina’s only British-style brass band.

History of Jazz Concert Series – Jazz of the Roaring 20s

Low-Down Sires DrawingThis Sunday, March 6, 2016, I’ll be performing again at a very neat concert series produced by Russ Wilson at the Isis Restaurant and Music Hall in west Asheville, NC.

The Jazz Age was a period in the 1920s, ending with the Great Depression, in which jazz music and dance styles became popular, mainly in the United States, but also in Britain, France and elsewhere. Jazz originated in New Orleans as a fusion of African and European music and played a significant part in wider cultural changes in this period, and its influence on pop culture continued long afterwards. The Jazz Age is often referred to in conjunction with the ROARING TWENTIES.

The next show in the HISTORY OF JAZZ series presents two bands (from Asheville, North Carolina) carrying on the tradition of this great music. The Low Down Sires and The Firecracker Jazz. These 2 bands play the uninhibited, freewheeling Jazz of King Oliver, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton.

THE LOW DOWN SIRES:
The Low-Down Sires are dedicated to the lost sounds of early jazz, inspired by the compositions and arrangements of Joe “King” Oliver, Edward “Kid” Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, and other giants from the storied origins of the art form. Their raucous style predates the smoother sounds of big band swing and the intellectualism of modern jazz and transports you to the streets of New Orleans and the barrelhouses of early 20th century Mississippi river towns. Their performance style is at once hard hitting and intimate, fitting in easily well at bars, back-porches, swing dances, and street corners.

THE FIRECRACKER JAZZ BAND:
With jubilant vigor that spills from the stage to the streets, FIRECRACKER JAZZ BAND revitalizes the energy of the roots of Jazz. In paying homage to the pioneers of early 20th Century Jazz, including that of Dixieland and New Orleans, the Firecracker Jazz Band carries the torch that was once lit by such greats as Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong & Bix Beiderbecke.

A show not to be missed. Tickets are $15. Downbeat is 7:30pm
Isis Restaurant and Music Hall
743 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 575-2737 –  isisasheville.com