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Author Topic: Danceability  (Read 3983 times)

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Offline Pan

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Danceability
« on: May 28, 2008, 03:59:15 AM »
Hi all

I was recently playing a gig on a small seaside village on the countryside here in Finland. I doubt that many of the locals there had ever heard much country blues music before. However they seemed to enjoy the music, and later on during the evening, started to dance on it. This is not something that very often happens to me, as my audiences usually prefer to ignore me by just sitting down and talking over the music  :P, so I was mildly surprised and very pleased to their reaction. It seems that usually, if a drum kit isn't thumping the quarter note beat, the music isn't considered danceable, so I was pleased to notice that I was capable of pulling this off with just my guitar and me. Some heavy foot stomping helped occasionally.
This situation was rewarding and eyeopening in another sense also; I quickly found out, that I had on certain songs, allowed myself to do some slightly rubato or slowed-down bits, to get away with difficult passages and so on. But if people are dancing, you really have to be on your toes, to not mess up the rhythm!

Anyway, as more people started to dance, I realized I had to slightly adjust my setlist to meet the situation. Usually I try to avoid similar tempos, rhythms and keys during consecutive songs. But if a couple gets on the dance floor just as you are finishing a fast song, it would seem like a bad policy to start a slow song, or vice versa. So I figured I had two choices, 1) to continue and extend the song in hand by repeating or adding instrumental breaks or sung choruses, or 2) to follow up with a song with a similar tempo and rhythmic feel.

Here's where I need also to thank you guys. If it weren't for Weenie Campbell in general and John Miller in special, I wouldn't have had songs like the traditional / Leadbelly ?In the Pines?, or Sweet Papa Stovepipes? ?Mama?s Angel Child?, up my sleeve. Those two waltzes were much appreciated by the audience.

I am curious how you see the issue of ?danceability? when you figure out your setlists? I usually try to build my sets so that the tempo slightly accelerates as a whole during the night, but I must confess that I haven't given danceability much thought before. Personally I have two left feet, so if you enjoy dancing, I?d also much appreciate your opinions from this point of view.

Also what types of rhythms or dances could or should be included in a country blues type evening? I?m aware of the threads discussing waltzes and Buck-Dance and so on, but I?d like to hear your take on how to gather a song list with these things, how to respond on these kind or situations, and so on.

Cheers

Pan


Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2008, 05:10:48 AM »
Don't believe all that stuff about blues being miserable music.  Most of it was conceived for dancing. Son House, Robert Johnson, etc. played regularly for dances.

Many years ago, I once saw Roger Hubbard turn up in a local pub and start to play his National - with no amplification.  A group of people (who doubtless wouldn't know what country blues is) spontaneously got up and started dancing between the tables!
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2008, 05:59:00 AM »
If you play bars, you gotta get 'em dancin' or at least wanting to!  Half hour versions of one chord songs, (I believe its come to be known as trance blues or somethin' like that) work well in a pinch. I think about it for my ragtime pieces too. Is it danceable? Trying to do serious listening Blues in a bar setting can be really self defeating and depressing.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Johnm

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2008, 11:30:49 AM »
Hi Pan,
I really like the story of your gig where people began to dance unexpectedly.  I would say that's a real indication that you are doing something right in your playing of the music.  Dancing as a response to music-making is always most appreciated by me when it happens in contexts like the one that you described, where you didn't expect it.  I remember playing at a retirement community many years ago when I was in college, and having an old fellow grab the woman next to him and start dancing as I was playing "Somebody Stole My Gal".  It was particularly cool because both dance partners were blind, though they may have been regular dance partners for all I know.

I think playing for audiences who are not aficionados of the style of music you play, and may not even have heard it before, is often a real advantage.  Non-"knowledgable" audiences tend to be more open-minded than aficionados and to judge the music on its own merits, whereas aficionados sometimes tend to be comparison-obsessed and concerned only with how the rendition they are hearing doesn't measure up to the original.  What fun!
All best,
Johnm

Offline oddenda

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2008, 03:35:42 AM »
Dear Y'all -

Of course blues is dance music... what do you think went on at house parties, jukes, barrel houses, drink houses?! Besides drinking, f**king, and fighting, that is. It is W.E. (White Existentialists) of a different culture who have turned the music into sit-down and pay attention music. All forms of African American music have been music to dance to, sacred or secular. As P.P. says, it isn't all about how miserable my life is for whatever reason; blues lyrics tend to deal in the main with relations between men and women, the good, the bad, and the ugly. If "Woe is me" were all it was about, it sure wouldn't have lasted THIS long out of sheer boredom! Having in my younger days danced my proverbial tail off to Eddie Kirkland and his band, or even Peg Leg Sam and just his harp, I can vouch for the purpose of the music. Of course, being White, I probably danced badly, but I DID get into the spirit of things and that's my point. The dance aspect of blues is often lost today, but not always - most festivals will have folks up and moving if the music is good, at least in my experience... it should be encouraged! Similarly, jazz is/was music for dancing - Dizzy Gillespie felt that people should be able to dance to his bands of yore. Go on, don't be embarrassed - just MOVE.

yrs in terpsicore,
     Peter B.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2008, 06:57:54 AM »
I agree in the main however there must also have been a sit down and listen tradition running on a parallel track. A good deal of blues is slow and contemplative in nature, and seems to be more focused on a display of nuanced playing and singing. Skip James come to mind as an example.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline oddenda

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2008, 07:42:42 AM »
O -

          Well, have you ever been to a juke or a country supper or a Chicago blues bar [or a sanctified church or a gospel "program"]? Slow dancing also was a part of the whole shebang (no pun intended!), even with Skip James. The sit-down-and-listen tradition is much more recent one that has resulted from the movement of the player out of his or her "natural" context and into an "unnatural" one - the festival, the concert, the White club, the school room. Context uber alles, I always say!! W.E. have created the more sedate venue/performance style, beginning in the 1940s at Cafe Society, or The Village Vanguard in NYC... certainly not the case, say, at The Celebrity Club on 125th St in my experience. Movement and "song" have gone together since well before The Middle Passage. Any African musicians I've seen always involve both in their performances.

yrs,
     Peter B.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2008, 09:27:29 AM »
Yes to Chicago Blues Bars and Sanctified Church Services, no to country suppers other than ones in New England which don't apply. It seems to me we may have a slight divergence of intent vs. effect.
Was Blind Lemon Jefferson Trying to get people to move when he sang on the streets? Undoubtedly people did move and had he been sighted I'm sure he wouldn't have leapt up and shouted "Hey cut out that dancin"!"  :P but did he view himself as someone who made dance music, listening music or both?
My guess is probably both. Also it seems to me that many Blues players were often playing in "unnatural habitats" as on the streets where any and all manner of response could occur no? In just about every photo or film of a Blues performance I've seen the number of dancers vs. listeners is pretty much split down the middle. Well, maybe the ones sitting out were worn out from dancing. ;)
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline eagle rockin daddy

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2008, 09:37:38 AM »
"Now we're going into that old Seabord stomp.....swing your partner, promenade....

yas, yas, yas it sure is dance music.  I'll never forget at one gig, I was playing Rev. Davis' How Happy I am, and this beautiful lady put her hands over her head, started clapping, shaking her hips and dancing!  I almost dropped the guitar, except I had a strap thank god.  It's great when that happens, and a real compliment to your playing IMHO.

thanks for the story.

Mike


Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2008, 12:37:23 PM »
There are several challenges in getting people to dance to this music.  One is that "dance music" these days is not expected to be played by some mo'fo with a guitar or whatever... it's expected to be played by some dork with one ear on his headphones leaning over a turntable THUMP THUMP THUMP or a full band.  So the audience usually doesn't expect to dance to this music, even if we were playing a boogie.

Another one, something I've heard from folks, is "we don't know how to dance to that."  Well, when I'm out playing at a farmer's market little kids that are 2 years old will just start wobblin' and jumpin' to my music... So I don't think anyone needs to "know how" to dance to blues -- perhaps the best way for the audience to lose their adult inhibitions and go back to that innocent stage of not caring what they look like and just responding to feel is to get shit-faced.

As for white folks not being able to dance well.. It's pretty hard to shake what you ain't got -- but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

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Offline Pan

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2008, 02:14:07 PM »
... little kids that are 2 years old will just start wobblin' and jumpin' to my music... So I don't think anyone needs to "know how" to dance to blues --

Hi Coyote Slim.

I've noticed the same thing, and it always makes me feel really good   :) -at least until their parents try shush them down in order to not "disturb" the man playing the music  :(

Pan

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2008, 11:21:06 AM »
Pan:  I'm already disturbed.  'S why I play the blues!    :D
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

Coyote Slim's Youtube Channel

Offline Pan

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #12 on: October 01, 2008, 12:04:43 PM »
Pan:  I'm already disturbed.  'S why I play the blues!    :D

 :D :D :D

Offline oddenda

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2008, 01:22:15 AM »
For an accurate representation of blues reality, go to the film about Maxwell Street (And This is Free), the one that includes Robert Nighthawk. Pictures ARE louder than words!

Peter B.

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Danceability
« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2008, 08:58:39 PM »
Peter B. -- good point.  Most films of blues folks playing in their natural settings -- like the Maxwell street  footage -- show the audience swaying and dancing, regardless of whether the music is considered to be "in strict metre" or whatever.

So what's that mean to us?  The only people I know of who dance with abandon to whatever music they hear are either children like I mentioned before or hippies...  Now, personally, I don't like the "hippy dance" -- flailing around with the arms going every which place, spreadin' that patchouli stink everywhere.. but there must be a common thread here:  original blues audiences drunk on whiskey, children naturally loving dance, and marijuana making folks not care that they're actin' a fool.
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

Coyote Slim's Youtube Channel

 


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