Friday, January 7, 2011


Blues Union: BFX Edition

I had a phenomenal time at the dance - there were so many great dancers from all over the country, and the energy was really high. I felt like I could take the dancefloor anywhere and everyone would be right on board.

-I Just Want to Make Love to You - Etta James
-Lord, Don't Move the Mountain - Angela Strehli
-Another Man Done Gone - Irma Thomas
-Saving All My Love - Miss Tess
-Last Call - Ronnie Magri & His New Orleans Jazz Band
-Backwater Blues - Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns
-Creole Love Call - The Baby Soda Jazz Band
-Burning Fire - Otis Spann's South Side Band
-Blacklash Blues - Nina Simone
-Night Time is the Right Time - Ray Charles
-Blues in the Night - Ledisi
-My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More - Alberta Hunter
-Sittin' & Crying' the Blues - Willie Dixon & Memphis Slim
-Paris, Texas - Greg Slapczynski
-Muddy Water Blues - Paul Rodgers
-Red Mud - Chris Thomas King
-Tin Roof Blues - Lake Village Ramblers Jazz Band

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Editing Music

I always feel bad about editing music ... it seems like cheating somehow, or lying. Or like I'm butchering a work of art. But I'm getting over that, and here are the reasons why:

1. Jazz and blues are adaptive art forms. They are not meant to sound the same every time you play them. Therefore changing a recorded track does not seem like sacrilege.

2. My job as a DJ is to provide danceable and accessible music. I edit tracks in order to make them so, especially if the song is one I really want to share, but has a section that makes it hard to dance to. I also edit songs to remove overly offensive/taboo material. This does not happen often, as there are few things I choose to censor.

3. I only edit songs that can be edited. Read: a song is successfully edited if a casual listener or someone who does not already know the song cannot tell where the break is. Having said that, here's a challenge. This song has a section cut (36 seconds, to be exact). I challenge you to give me the timestamp of the break, without listening to the original:

*I realize retrospectively that my player doesn't have a timer on it. If you care enough, find a stopwatch. Or count phrases or 8-counts in. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

From a self-admitted traditionalist

Here is a response prompted directly by Justin Riley's thoughts, and indirectly by BFX being just around the corner. I have to admit, to me the dance scene is a fascinating anthropological bubble of a society, and this split between "fusion" and "traditional blues" is an interesting manifestation of a divergence of culture. Here are my two cents (I suggest you read Justin's note first):

You talk of traditional blues dancers doing historical reenactments, that it's virtually a Ren Fair. Though trad dancing does borrow much more heavily from a vintage aesthetic, the culture has indeed changed with the times. So has the dancing. And the type of blues music which is played. When I DJ, I DJ almost entirely blues music, but I make a point of playing a lot of contemporary (and local artists). Yes, it's still blues, and often because of that (or the specific style, such as New Orleans jazz or delta blues) can have an older feel to it - but the context is contemporary, and that makes a difference. Blues music is not a dead art we are reviving - it is a living, breathing art form with a rich history.

Another assumption I am inclined to disagree with: "In the 1920s, no one was looking at how they were dancing in the 1840s, or trying to dance to music created 80 years ago." What about argentine tango? What about ballet? Hell, what about the waltz - one of the oldest partnered social dances. And what do you know - it's still being danced today. Does that make it invalid? We identify a past age by the new things it brought into a culture, not by the ties it chose to keep to the past. When blues and swing first started appearing (in back rooms and jook joints), the majority of people were still doing other, more traditional dances.

You talk about an ongoing cultural, creative and artistic movement within a larger context (I assume you mean of this society, and potentially globally). That's awesome. I'm all for it. I realize I'm a minority who is more stuck in the past than I have any right to be. I can't help it - the music I grew up with, identify with and that moves me to my core happens to be blues. And jazz. It's where my heart is. But I feel like I'm an anomaly, and I'm grateful that there are enough anomalies out there for me to be able to indulge in that. At the same time, I'm glad there is progress, movement, new ideas and new inspirations, because indirectly (or directly) I will be inspired by that energy.

The statement that strikes me as most false is that we lack an all-american dance form. Lindy hop and blues dancing, born out of jazz, are the essence of the all-american dance. Jazz historian Frank Tirro says: "jazz is an American phenomenon. It was born here in the United Sates, and it has not renounced its citizenship. It was first performed by black Americans newly released from bondage who expressed their God-given talents and their beliefs about freedom, identity, and art through their music. Jazz is still a profound manifestation of freedom, talent, achievement and identity." Born out of this uniquely American music was a uniquely American form of movement, inherently tied to a culture that carried influences from many places, but melded them into something recognizable different - something in my opinion truly American.

There are complaints of elitism and exclusionism in the trad blues dance scene ... and I can't fault anyone for complaining. I think a lot of dancers take themselves way too seriously, and get personally offended when someone disagrees with them or their preferences. It's dancing, people. It's supposed to be fun, and create community. But on the flip side, don't get offended if an event decides to go for a certain type of aesthetic, and your music request was denied. Do your research, let your money and attendance speak for you. If you don't like the music played at an event, don't attend it.

We seem to agree that terminology is an issue. What you are talking about is, in my eyes, no longer blues dancing. But fusion is a misnomber too. I'm intrigued to see what people will come up with. I also have a feeling that it will grow organically ... most movements do, shaped by people's preferences. So in some ways, it doesn't make much sense to dictate too strong a path if you're only one person - people will make it into what they need it to be, which is great.

Here's where I'm at right now: neither traditional nor forward-moving dancers rooted in blues are "wrong." It's just a question of where their preferences lie. Arguing that seems silly, and counterproductive. In the end, we all just love to dance. It seems like there is a separation of a culture happening, a diversifying, if you will. That's not a bad thing. What we all need to realize is that one form or style of dance does not invalidate the other - both can exist. It's also possible to enjoy both. Though I am a traditionalist at heart (jazz and blues music is what speaks to me and makes me want to move), the creative forward motion of taking our culture in a new direction is healthy and energizing, and I can still draw inspiration from that. It just so happens that I am happier returning to the roots. Personal preference.

Thoughts? Opinions? Clarifications? Corrections?