How To Create More Awesome Live Bands To Play For Your Lindy Scene.

Recently, I went into the studio (Soundworks Studio, to be exact) and recorded 10 tracks with my lovely band. The choice of songs and the tempos/feels of at least 8 of the pieces were chosen specifically for the purpose of Lindy-Hopping.

I started Lindy-Hopping in January 2011, and providing music for lindy-hoppers in the February/March of that year. It wasn’t a far stretch really, given some of the music I had already been performing, and it seemed like a great way to incorporate a new-found love of Swing Dancing, with my soul mate and long-term lover, the Singing of Jazz Music.

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Recently, there have been many programs on the BBC about the Swing Era, the development of Jazz Music and dancing, and the 1920s-1940s, which have been rather wonderful. There has also been a great deal of discussion in my local dance scene (and beyond) of what makes music good to dance to, what we should (and shouldn’t) be lindy-hopping to, and why.

These discussions fascinate me, and I have been able to partake in some of them, whilst hearing about others second-hand.

What jumps out firstly is the passion with which people speak their opinions – as a musician, as a dancer, and as a passionate individual, I love this! It is a far better place to come from than indifference. I love the fact that Swing Dancers are so clear about what they love and that they will try and express why that is, even whilst recognizing that it is, to an extent, subjective, and will vary through personal taste.

But the ideas I am toying with at the moment do not come from my lindy-hopper brain, but my musician’s (and scene-builder’s) one.

In our scene, we don’t have a great wealth of local live bands that play specifically for dancers.

Even whilst typing that, it seems like a ridiculous thing to say, as we have a VAST amount of live music in Leeds: a regular trad Jazz night every Tuesday with a different band each week, at least 4 big bands rehearsing/performing regularly (mostly weekly) in the area, the music college students and alumni who study Jazz Music at a degree level and beyond, and numerous city centre venues who regularly put on live music for us. In fact, I know literally HUNDREDS of musicians who are more than capable of playing the music required/desired by swing dancers.

And yet, I say it again – we don’t have a great wealth of local live bands that play specifically for dancers.

I would say there are perhaps 3 Leeds-bands who regularly play for dancers at swing events in Leeds: Myself, the Leeds City Stompers, and Louis Louis Louis.

Let’s start with me.  (Because I like to think I’m special 😉 )

The reason I work hard on my dance sets is because I dance. I understand what is required from a band for the scenes I play for/dance in, and I pick my tunes, write my arrangements and choose my tempos accordingly. More importantly, my love of the music is why I dance. And dancing to live music is what I love most of all.

LCS also have the benefit of a dancer in the ranks, so although I can’t speak for David, I would imagine there’s a similar thing going on there…

Then we come to the Louis’ – I love this band. Their energy is unlike any other 4-piece that I see in Leeds, and I have regularly booked/suggested them for dance events. They can play pretty up-tempo, and perhaps a touch too fast/long for some, but they are incredible musicians playing fun, energy-filled music, and they make me smile.  And, as they are still new to playing for dancers, the more opportunities they have, the even better they will become.

And there in lies my point.

I have noticed, in many situations and from many dancers, that the first move on discovering/discussing a potential new band for events is ‘are they danceable?’ sometimes followed with discussions on how to (verbally) direct the band in the ‘right’ direction.

Now, don’t get me wrong – obviously, you want the band to play music you can dance to, and there are very obvious (and objective) points to make sure are covered: time signatures, tempos, song lengths, swung rhythms… but there are other factors at play here too:

Back in the day, (the day in which we all wish we could have danced), the musicians and the dancers developed this swing thing together. The music and the dance grew together and there was a constant dialogue between both parties – they were both reading from the same page, if you will.

We don’t have this luxury any more. I had played music in Leeds venues for YEARS, I had been to jazz gigs/venues almost every night of the week whilst at LCM between 2004 and 2007, and I had even played a regular gig on the same night at the same time as Lindy Fridays (our regular Lindy class) in the same building (about 20 metres away) and I had NEVER seen Lindy Hop. It wasn’t even introduced to me by a musician, but a non-dancing, youtube-trawling, barman!

As I said, I know hundreds of talented musos more than capable of playing what we, as dancers, require. One reason they don’t? They don’t have the chance. Most of them don’t even know that there is a Lindy Hop scene (and are shocked when they are introduced to it) and so playing for dancers is not a skill they develop. Instead, we’re taught to master our instruments, focus on music for the ears, push boundaries and take the art form further (in directions generally away from dancing).

You can’t expect bands to play perfectly for dancers from the get-go if they haven’t experienced what it’s like to play for dancers. The same way you can’t expect dancers not to make mistakes when they are learning to dance to the music.

Imagine, if you will, the roles reversed:

A group of dancers wish to book a band. Before the band accept the booking, they want to check that everyone will be dancing ‘correctly’ to their style of music – no one is to drop a beat or miss the 1, and NO ONE is to dance Rock and Roll or Jive, because they are a Swing Band for Lindy-Hoppers. The band will judge all the dancers on the floor regardless of their experience and will dictate whether you get to dance to their music again; you only get that one chance. The Saxophone player might even stop playing if he doesn’t like the style of what he sees.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But yet the opposite is commonplace.

My question is why, when the music and dancing developed together, is it now skewed this way?

I know that Swing Dancing, though obviously still developing in certain aspects, is no longer a hugely evolving art form, like it was in the 20s-40s.  I also recognize that great dancers and established scenes require that same level of experience from their musicians to have the best time that they can when dancing to a live band. But we have to face facts: many of us don’t have those musicians. They moved on; they learned bebop, or Fusion, or other progressive Jazz genres, where perhaps the dancers didn’t (or couldn’t) follow… And though there are some still out there playing ‘our style’, they’re probably geographically quite far away from us, or too far out of our regular price bracket to have visit as often as we’d like.

So, as dancers, we have to nurture the musicians in our scene the same way we nurture our beginner dancers. Give them a chance to learn-on-the-job: no one can be perfect without practical experience.  Time to throw in one of my favourite teaching analogies here, just for good measure: You could memorise the Highway Code word for word, and have a full understanding of the mechanics of a car, but that doesn’t mean you’ll pass your test first time without driving experience…

Playing for dancers is a different skill, I know this – I’m practising it as often as I can! So let’s help other bands learn it too. 🙂

If a band actively want to play for your scene, then not only is that a great sign that your dance scene has a great reputation, or potential for one, but it can only lead to the betterment of that band in playing for dancers, whatever their experience. Obviously, pick your bookings carefully – I’m not advocating booking a newbie band for your international camp! But little dances, smaller events; give them a chance! Being a ‘scene builder’ should be inclusive; it’s not just dancers that you want to encourage – our musicians are important too!

In my opinion (as this whole post has been), but also one I know is shared among some of my peers, it is better to dance Swing to live swing music than a recorded track – it does heaps for your dancing, and is the closest we will ever come to those joyous days back in Harlem when this whole thing kicked off. And isn’t that really what this is all about; the relationship and interplay between the 2 improvised art forms?

The truth is, no matter how much you may want to only dance to the BEST live bands (the same way you might want every dance to be with the best lead or the best follower so it can be the most awesome dance ever), you can’t always have it that way.  We have to accept that even the Skyes, Fridas and Gordon Websters of the world started off as beginners, new to Lindy Hop, and they had to practice to be as highly-regarded as they are now in their respective fields. And I would bet that Mr Webster did so by throwing himself into it and playing for dancers as much as possible – and that he was allowed, and encouraged, to do so by his local dance scenes.

Not all musicians have the luxury (or bodily coordination!) to learn Lindy; they need to be introduced to our dancing, and how best to play for it, a different way. Let’s invite them in and give them a chance to do so!

Tessa 🙂 x

* Photo by the talented Jonathan Wootton, Serenity Studios.

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20 thoughts on “How To Create More Awesome Live Bands To Play For Your Lindy Scene.

  1. Awesome post Tessa and as a ‘musician’ and dancer I totally agree and love the idea. The only problem is that these great jazz bands new to Lindy hop charge the same (if not more) than Lindy bands and for not as good an experience, is there a way to get bands who are awesome at what they do to realise they’re ‘newbies’ again when it comes to Lindy playing? Also how do you get over the criticism of others when you do it as an event organiser? Still love the idea and will make sure new committee reads this for next year, although you’ll always be our favourite 😉

    • Thanks Joe! Good to know there’s favouritism (in my favour) at work in the Leeds Uni SwingSoc. 😉

      I’m not sure that it’s always true that the jazz bands you mention always charge the same/higher, and I guess financials are always difficult – particularly when you’re considering bands with many members – musicians need to pay bills too! But I guess those truly passionate/willing to play (or learn to play) for dancers will accept their need to develop the skills and enter into a friendly discussion. (I know I certainly did/have done/do) – Of course, they can only do this once they’ve known the joy of playing for dancers. Perhaps the best option would be to make an effort to go and dance to the band at an event that you don’t foot the bill for first: get the whole process started without any financial consequences!

      In terms of criticism from others when you’re an event organiser – that’s a really tricky one. I don’t think the criticism will ever really stop until the attitudes change and people understand that ‘developing the scene’ includes the bands too. I don’t suppose that will ever truly happen, but one can dream! It would be nice to have that kind of nurturing scene for both dancers and Musos though.. 🙂

  2. A mighty fine read. Although while I concur and all that, I can’t help but feel a little envious that you have such a thriving live Jazz culture in Leeds compared with Hull (or at least one in Hull that I’m aware of)… Hull has always had an amazingly vibrant underground music scene thanks to venues like the Adelphi (that I’m pleased to say I have been a part of), but it does tend to centre on the alternative (as well as the hideously mainstream) rock stylings that dancers just can’t dance to, and the Jazz that we do have tends to fall into the undanceable freeform bebop category or the Frank Cleveland orchestra who, while marvellous, are prohibitively expensive for us to put on. I know this means that I’m probably missing the point here and that we should be nurturing the talent that we do have and moulding them into the dance band acts that will dramatically improve our scenes, but I can’t help but feel that we just don’t have that many likely candidates in our locale. I like being proved wrong every now and again though, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to actually find some suitable talent to mould in my own image… I’ll thank you for it if it ever actually happens!

    As an aside, we have booked bands in the past and given them very specific remits concerning what Lindy-heads require, namely don’t play too many fast numbers, and if you do, whatever you do don’t make them too long, as once you start a dance with someone you’ve practically entered into a contract to see it through until the bitter end. We’ve then felt considerably frustrated when they completely ignore us and play 15 minute renditions well over the 200 BPM mark, afterwards deeming it an unqualified success as everyone was dancing and appearing to be having a wonderful time. Naturally, they can’t hear them chuntering under their breaths about how they wish they’d slow it down and how bloody awful five minute drum solos are to dance to, etc. I think there really is no telling some people. They just do what they do… and we should just learn how to Shag properly in order to appreciate it.

    • Thanks for the comments, Bruce!
      And I know we are very lucky in Leeds to have such a large amount of musicians and live Jazz going on. Though I think the first step of the nurturing talent and getting more bands to play what the dancers want is to actually go to their gigs (danceable or otherwise) and if there is anything swingable, and it isn’t inappropriate to do so, have a dance (maybe start towards the end of the tune in case it’s a fast one and has the potential to go on for 20 minutes!). I guess Pave would be your best bet there. And the Hull Jazz Festival, when it’s on.
      As I said, I think a lot of musicians have never been introduced to Lindy before and so they aren’t able to be passionate about playing for it/sticking to the ‘rules’ as it’s so out of the ordinary for them to have dancers at a gig! The first step, surely, has got to be to show them the potential of playing for dancers, and see if they like it. That’s what happened for me – I remember being shocked that, after a few weeks of lindy classes, about 12 dancers turned up to my weekly (duo) gig and danced. They obviously only danced to certain songs, so eventually, I stopped playing my waltzes/Latin numbers when they were there (or did so when they were tired from a quick number), and learned to tailor my tunes.

      Along that similar line, and as a point to your second paragraph, because they’ve never seen it, a band may well take the line of ‘people were dancing – we’re doing something right – keep doing it!’, so quick songs, where the dancers have lots of energy, excite the musicians, and so tempos are kept up and songs extended. As strange as it may seem to a dancer, the musician-brain sometimes doesn’t equate the physical energy needed to keep dancing with the speed/length of a song: if a tune is quick, we tend to want to take more solos to develop our ideas and really explore the composition! It’s only when the band have more of an understanding of the physical exertion of the dancing that they will put the dancers needs first (which is why I think the a lot of the best dance bands are lead by a dancer).
      Perhaps you should start booking your own band a bit more too! 😉 x

      • “The first step, surely, has got to be to show them the potential of playing for dancers, and see if they like it.”

        I think this is REALLY important. If the bands we like aren’t interested in playing for dancers, we’re kind of stuck, right? Or if they aren’t interested in improving the way they play for dancers.

        So how to get them interested in opening up this two-way street… Money and fame? Actually yes, now that I think about it. Appreciation from adoring fans can go a long way.

      • That is true, Rebecca (although I think any musician choosing the ‘Jazz’ route has probably come to terms with the fact they’re not going to be famous or rich! 😉 )
        – what I actually think would do it is the kind of musical appreciation that comes from playing for dancers. It’s different to any other kind of audience, I find, as great dancers react the same way to one’s musical ideas as great musicians do. And I think it’s THAT experience that will draw in the best musicians for the job, and entice them enough to make the efforts needed to improve for the dancers.

  3. Hey, I did SAY I was missing the point. I do it quite a bit if it gets me out of getting out there and actually doing stuff. You are right, of course. And us musicians just love playing ridiculously fast, slowing it down to danceable tempos can actually feel to us on the stage as though we’re boring people rigid. Maybe that’s why I don’t book us more often… that and my crippling modesty of course.

  4. Thanks Tessa, good to hear a musicians perspective, I’m going to wade in with my opinion as you are so welcoming for debate and opinion 😉 From the organisers perspective it is crippling to hire a band that the dancers don’t like.

    1. We are paying the band for their service and they are almost always highly accomplished musicians who have great skill. They charge us circa £500 for this (from my experience) and this is modest when you think of their travel expenses, rehearsal time, the time it takes for them to work the night (travel, sound check, play etc) and the price per head that each member receives.

    2. We then charge dancers for the dance – usually a pretty modest fee of £5-£10 a head. This price quite rightly buys the dancer the right to have an opinion to the service we are providing them and they are paying for. They came to dance – if they don’t like dancing to the band we hired (for whatever reason) they tell us, either by not dancing or actually telling us or both. They have this right – they paid for the dance. They are not saying the band are not accomplished musicians, just that they don’t like dancing to them.

    3. We, as organisers, then feel bad because we have spent the majority of the takings (if not lost money) on something that was not appreciated. So we want to do better next time…. we research a bit more and seek out bands that have more experience playing for dancers…. it’s only natural to want to do the best job you can and to want to improve the service you offer.

    4.I think the idea of seeking out and nurturing new bands is a fantastic thing. And going to the gigs they are already playing is by far the most feasible way of doing this because it is the only way to get around the issue of money. What band wants to play for free to learn the skill of playing specifically for dancers? What dance organiser wants to pay between £200 and £1000 for a band to help develop their skill in playing for dancers when they can hire a band for the same price who have already practiced this skill?

    5. We absolutely would love a more diverse and wider pool of good bands to dance to but achieving this goal is really hard and I honestly believe that seeking out new talent via going to the bands gigs where dancers are paying an entry fee of circa £5 on the off chance that the band may have a potential interest in playing for dancers and talking to the band and fostering that interest, is a great idea, and one of the few feasible options.

    6. You are absolutely right, it is definitely no co-incidence that almost all the best dance bands have a band member who dances.

    7. There is nothing better (IMO) than dancing to truly great live music from a band that knows how to play for dancers. My all time favourite night has been dancing to The Carling Family at the swing crash festival in Italy and I still wait for the joy of dancing to Gordon Webster’s band live.

    • Hey Vicky,
      Not at all – I love getting the balanced sides of discussions! 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to respond, and I think all your points are great and really interesting. (Particularly the way number 6. starts! 😉 )

      I know that the financials are always going to be a tough one…
      This is all, of course, the idealistic approach (I’m a dreamer, what can I say!?) but I guess if we, as dancers, have done what you outline in your points 4./5. and got the musicians interested, then an environment where both dancers and musicians are aware that the point is ‘mutual development’, the out-lays could be discussed accordingly and perhaps the situation in your point 2.(and 3.) would be a less likely one..?
      Perhaps we could have a ‘band practise’ type social event, where bands who are really enthusiastic but not greatly practised in the skill (I know of a couple at least) would get a reduced fee, the dancers pay a minimal amount to cover it, and it would be mutually beneficial. Or else, we could frequent places like the Leeds Jazz Club in Armley a bit more fervently, where the cost of the band is not our problem, but we have the space (and encouragement) to get up and dance, if the music takes us.

      I guess it’s easy to forget how lucky I was in my first few weeks of Lindy-Hopping that Jo and yourself (and the other LFs crew) were so encouraging for both my dancing and singing – it was what made me so passionately want to do all this! It’s not something that I think is particularly commonplace, but having benefited so hugely from the support you guys gave me, I would love it to be the norm. 🙂

  5. Thanks for starting this conversation Tessa. Great there is opportunity for such open and honest debate in our city.

    I had an idea for how this could work (particularly with the dance establishment here in Leeds)

    In Ghandhi’s words “be the change you wish to see…”

    In my experience this is the best enabler for a change in attitude/behaviours you’d desperately like to see happen in the world.

    Like baking a really tasty cake, those who run dances usually try maximise their tastiness/attendance by mixing in good DJ’s, hiring renowned teachers, and (sadly perhaps) booking popular bands for dancers. The more spot-on the ingredients, the more dancers will rave about the event and the more popular/tastier they will become).

    If the superb Teapot & Twirls events here in Leeds, co-run by accomplished dancer & musician (don’t blush Tessa) were to pilot such an approach; to invest in an up and coming band, eager to play for dancers (adding a more risky ingredient to their already tasty cake) and demonstrate a real return on that investment i.e. a new superb dance band & increased popularity for the event, I think other dance organisers could be desperate to follow your path to success.

    It sounds like just this kind of thing has worked already for the “Wednesday Night Hop” in Mountain View, California (from one the reply you received on Facebook).

    Admittedly this does mean some risk for your event as the pilot (which is a big ask. I imagine we’re all nervous baking with untried ingredients) but your passion for the cause may overtake you!

    If that’s too much risk at the moment, then as a smaller step you could blog about the live bands you’re seeing who might be the next big thing for Lindy dancers & based on your stamp of recommendation dance organiser might well give them a chance.

    Even if not you could likely inspire other like minded types to share about the live bands they’ve seen and recommend for dancers.

    I’m likely being very idealistic here, but I really hope you can become the change. Become an example for those potentially more nervous bakers amongst our dance organiser and make us an even tastier cake!

    Good luck with the cause. I look forward to dancing to some new live music somewhere in Leeds soon!

    x

    • Got to love a cake analogy! 🙂
      And thanks for the reply, Jo.
      The Californian ‘Wednesday Night Hop’ you mention rings no bells at all – where was this reply? I’d be interested to read about it… x

  6. Hi Tessa,

    I think there’s a fairly simple solution to the “too fast and too long” dilemma – teach some of them to dance! It doesn’t have to be much (actually less is probably more) as they will then realise that dancing fast is exhausting and difficult, especially as a beginner. I know you dismissed this option at the end of your post but I’ve found it to be the most effective method by far in my interactions with bands.

    This happened with a student band we have in our scene, who used to play super fun, super fast New Orleans trad jazz type stuff – still do when playing for a regular audience. After they’d taken some Lindy lessons for two months or so they played for us at an extremely beginner-heavy dance, and their music was still super fun, but a lot more manageable speed wise. There was an instance when we booked them and had told them our requirements, but they still played very fast about 6 months before that. It took learning some Lindy Hop to get it to sink in.

    Also, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to disagree that dancing to live music is necessarily better – a good live band is better than a good dj, but a bad live band is a lot more frustrating than a mediocre (or even bad) dj, as you will probably have paid more for the event if there’s a band. Plus, a dj can vary their style easily, whereas a band will at least sound somewhat samey the entire time. It may not be in the original spirit of the dance to dance to recorded music, but that’s what the scene these days is based on – though you might be interested in Ali’s project “Stompin’ at The Summerhall” here in Edinburgh as she’s also trying to bring back more live music: https://www.facebook.com/groups/401746513247093/?fref=ts

    • Thanks for your comments, Kat. It’s really interesting to hear everyone’s opinions on this. 🙂

      I definitely think that getting musicians to understand what dancers are after by teaching them to dance is the obvious solution! But I think this has to come secondary to getting them interested in the whole thing in the first instance. If there is no ‘dangling carrot’ in the first place, what would make musicians want to take up dancing? And by that, I don’t mean financial gain – I mean the thrill of playing for an audience who appreciate the music in a completely other, but very complete, way.

      Similarly to how it would benefit dance bands to put a lot of time into research the types of dance/original music styles/eras, people are only likely to do all that stuff once they’ve had a taste of prize. And they will only get to do that if they’re given a chance in the first place.

      With regards to your last point – I can understand where you’re coming from. I guess my position comes from the fact that I’m a listener/musician first and a dancer second, so even if the band aren’t great for dancing purposes, I will still love to watch and listen to the interaction between the members. (This is, of course, making the assumption that ‘bad band’ equates to ‘not wholly suitable for dancing’…) I am totally able to appreciate the frustration for a dancer though! 🙂

  7. Oh, I’ve come to this late, thought of all my ideas then realised that everyone has said most of them…

    The two things with regards to the hundreds of musicians in Leeds (assuming that the ideal band to lindy hop to would be a Chick Webb/Count Basie/Benny Goodman tribute band) is are they actually capable? Just because they can play Miles Davis doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to play proper swing (See Jools Holland’s drummer : http://blog.straycat.me.uk/?p=307).

    The musicians that have come through the music collage tend to want to play that kind of jazz, whatever it’s called, bebop or whatever, I dunno, the post 40s type where you get to do what you want without regard for the audience (or dancers). As an ex-college of music student said to me the other day when we were discussing this, “Oh they all swing when they’re playing, but not THAT kind of swing”.

    I have to disagree that there are hundreds of musicians in Leeds who are more than capable for playing for lindy hop, partly for the reasons that you state, perhaps which could be summed up as how ‘jazz’ is taught at college? And even if they could, do they want to? I think some of those progressive jazzers tend to think of swing and new orleans as not as sophisticated as what they play. It seems virtuosity can be sometimes put before feel. And taste… There does seem to be a bit of a craze for gypsy jazz these days, which I really like and seems to work for lindy hop but it’s so fast! And it’s played slowly, it’s not really gypsy jazz… What’s fun for the musicians isn’t always fun for the dancers…

    I wonder why you hardly see any good authentic swing bands around. Think the Shirt Tail Stompers at Good Night Sweetheart were the first I’ve seen (not seen your band Tessa so can’t comment!). I used to think it was because they had to have 17 members but Louis Jordan and Louis Armstrong’s bands only had 5-7 in them.

    When it comes to Leeds City Stompers playing dance events, it’s seems to be a happy coincidence that people can dance to what we play. I just play the songs I’ve been busking and gigging for years (before I started dancing), Martyn plays along. And afterwards people say it’s easy to dance to – I’m as surprised as anyone! Actually we do slow a couple down and try not to get over excited, I tend to think, can I dance at this speed when I’m playing? I am genuinely surprised that we work for lindy hoppers and have never tried to promote us as a lindy hop band as I spend most of the gig wondering if people are having a good time…

    The reversing the roles thing isn’t quite realistic as the dancers are paying the band to play for them. If a band was paying dancers to perform with them I’m sure they’d expect them to not miss a beat! Or do any rocknroll (if it was a swing band…). I think the overall point about nurturing bands is valid, but I think the bands who want to do this are going to have to learn the hard way, like we did, for not much money! (I’m with Joe on this one)

    I’m all for musicians being paid (drugs and girls don’t come cheap). When I started out I went to open mics, played gigs for nothing, playing in the street for below minimum wage… But once you find your niche, your venues, promoters and (possible) some following, people will pay you to play. If you’re lucky. If I remember rightly, a few lindy hoppers used to come and watch our band, discovered they could dance to it and we eventually got booked for a swing event. I guess it was kind of an organic way of it happening, which I’m sure is they way it worked in the 30s, if dancers couldn’t dance to your band you probably wouldn’t get booked again. It’s not really fair on dancers to pay for a band that aren’t appropriate for the dance. And a guess it’s up to the ‘scene builders’ or whoever to be responsible in this regard.

    BUT I think giving bands a chance to play for dancers is a great idea (I’m with other Jo on this one) . And I think this could totally work in a local band/local lindy hop scene cross over kind of way. It could make for an interesting night, 3 bands, vaguely old school, 1/2 hour sets and the dancers vote for who they like the best. And it could influence the bands in a dance direction. Or it could make them decide it’s not for them. I’m excited already!

    • Thanks for the comments, Dave. It’s really interesting to hear your thoughts. 🙂

      I think the point you (and I think I too) made about the LCM alumni and Bebop/other progressive Jazz is a true one – we do tend to be focussed on that, as music for the ears rather than the feet (though I think describing it as “doing what you want without regard for the audience” may ruffle a few feathers..!) but I stand by my statement that many of those people are capable of playing the swing we want – you’re right, they mostly just don’t want to. And part of that is because they don’t know the benefits of it – that was certainly the case for me. I had never thought of playing for dancers as I had never played for dancers.

      It’s true what you said – some things that are fun for the musicians aren’t fun for the dancers, and vice versa. But I have found that the joy found in playing for the experienced dancers is in the way they appreciate the music and how they react to it. Really great dancers react to what they hear in a very similar way to really great musicians, and it’s that appreciation that I think is something more musicians should get to experience – because it’s that appreciation that will potentially ignite their desire to play more for dancers.

      It’s not necessarily about persuading every Jazz Musician to play Swing for lindy-hoppers – they wouldn’t go for it anyway – it’s about showing them the benefits and seeing who is willing to then put in the work to improve for those ends. But my point is that you’re unlikely to get anyone wanting to put that work in without knowing the ultimate aim. It’d be like someone wanting to learn how to Swing Dance and being told they could only dance with a partner once they’d done enough theoretical practise and research on the subject – very few people would stick it. They need to know what the great light is at the end of the tunnel!

      I appreciate I’ve tried to simplify all this and have deliberately steered clear of talking about financials (which quite a few people have mentioned) because I don’t want my points to be overshadowed with talk of money (however naive that makes me..) but what you said about the way you started getting booked for Swing Gigs is really interesting – and feeds into my point that, as dancers, we should be searching out and listening to live music in non-dance situations (The way that you guys were ‘discovered’). That way we get to show musicians the dancing, but don’t have to take the risks of paying money on ‘unknown bands’. I just think it’s strange that so many of my musician friends either play or go to gigs all over the city and, until I started Lindy Hopping, no one had ever heard of it, let alone seen it!

      My aim is just to start bridging the gap between my two areas of interest: they are so close, I find it strange that the two worlds often seem so far apart, and with totally different mindsets. Hopefully, this post gave a different point of view. 🙂

    • – as I spend most of the gig wondering if people are having a good time…-

      I can assure you that we do.

      What we also need is the chance to test our dancing against bands we come across. I’ve got a few bands i’d wanted to try dancing to, but they always played in venues where i couldn’t.
      I have also turned down invites to go to 1930’s big bands because they were sit down affairs and frankly, it’s frustrating to not dance to dancing music.

      There’s a real segregation between dance events and normal nights out. you either go out and listen to a live band with other non-dancers, or go to a specially put on dance event where 99% of people are dancers. Even for blues and balboa where you don’t need much room, the two sets rarely mix. That’s a big missing opportunity for practice and outreach for dancers and musicians alike.

  8. What a great discussion! So many thoughts on this…

    I co-lead a band of my own and have coached other local bands to play for dancers (to clarify, I was a dancer and organizer first, then became part of a band, then co-leader of another band) – I scoped them out at a gig where I showed up to dance, they expressed interest in playing for dancers, and I pointed out (both in email and in person discussions) how they could tailor their awesomeness to be a great dance band – they were willing to learn, and I think that’s the biggest factor. There are other bands around here who say they want to play for dancers, but then have no idea what they are doing, don’t play repertoire that really swings, they just want a GIG. They aren’t willing to modify what they are doing in any way and they don’t understand why we don’t hire them. The ones that are willing to have that dialogue have become more than just contacts in an address book, we have a great working relationship and mutual appreciation.

    We also have the issue of an abundance of jazz musicians who were trained almost exclusively to play bebop and modern styles of jazz. It takes a lot of time and effort to find those musicians who have experience or an interest in playing older styles of jazz. In some cases, we’ve slowly molded certain players into embracing and executing swing music – it’s a delicate thing, those musician egos. But it took a little encouragement, sharing music, making carefully placed suggestions, and we continue to improve.

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