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News and Views '10/'11 # 2
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Allen Hall
MN Prince of Snark Darkness

Joined: 26 May 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 9:10 am    Post subject: News and Views '10/'11 # 2 Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

News and Views from the Hall LindyJazzMobile
‘10/’11 Installment # 2


Table of Contents:
1. Book Review: “This is your Brain on Music”
2. Cowtown Jamborama: Omaha Nebraska
4. Dancing in St. Louis (briefly)
5. Poll: Worst Leader Characteristic
6. Jazz Definitions
7. Dance Sayings: Plus Editorial Comments
8. Coming Attractions

BOOK REVIEW: “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC” (Déjà vu alert: This review will be reprinted in a future Fruit o’ the Loon” as I believe it may be of interest in people who do not dance nor have an interest in jazz.)

This is the most important book about music I have ever read, because it explains, using scientific studies, why musicality is a uniform characteristic of all human societies, and why that should be so. The book even suggests that music (oral song and rhythm, etc.) were the proto-sounds which paved the way for the human behavior of using the spoken word i.e. language. Further, a consensus of world scientists agreed that the most important human invention was oral language. So, it might appear that our ancient humanoid ancestors sang and drummed their way into speaking, after which came structured language, religion, rationality, jingoism, politics, war, poetry, science-fiction, Sunday morning political food-fight TV programs, and railroad box-car tagging (not necessarily in that order).
The well-put sub-title of this book by Daniel J. Levitin, is “The Science of a Human Obsession”, Music is as much a uniformly human obsession as is some kind of spiritual belief, more sex than is reproductively necessary, and desire for chocolate. The book claims that “music is organized sound.” Sounds good to me as a basic definition, but some organized sound is not music. Amplifying the basic definition, the book describes music made from the altered sounds of waterfalls, trains, and jackhammers is music, provided it affects humans emotionally. Music is designed to reach human emotion, just as language is designed to reach the human intellect and describe the real (whatever “real” means) world. Music is organized from sounds; sounds are composed of the following elements, “loudness, pitch, contour (the shape of melody), duration (or rhythm), tempo, timbre (the sound of an instrument with its characteristic and identifying overtones), spatial location and reverberation.” Music can be interesting or not. One of the characteristics of interesting music is “surprise”. Indeed, jazz has been described as “the sound of surprise”, with syncopation and “swing” being two surprising elements of jazz. In addition, sound which does not change is not music. It is boring. And so, I claim that interesting music is constantly changing organized sound which is, at once, familiar (as we will see), effects emotions and contains some surprises.
The book points out that music and dance are inextricably linked. It has only been in the last 150 years that people have been made to sit quietly and listen to music. Brain sensory and motor areas light up when music is heard. Music with no discernable rhythm is usually not emotionally interesting to humans, and, notably, only humans and Psitticine birds respond to musical rhythm with corresponding body rhythms of their own. About half of all sitting music audience attendees respond by patting their feet, or otherwise respond with rhythmic motion—the rest are, you can be sure, responding rhythmically in their brains, but suppress body movement because of social or ethnic prohibitions, or because they are congenitally incapable of appreciating rhythm—you know who you are. An interesting study supports the thesis that watching music made is more emotional than just listening to it. The study showed that people who watched musicians play but could not hear the music were able to emotionally respond to the movements made by the musicians, thus adding to the emotionality in the sound of music proper.
The book makes the point that the earliest instruments were probably rattles and drums—and were played rhythmically, and, most likely accompanied by dance. Today, children, being uninhibited, naturally respond to music by dancing.
The brain lights up when music is familiar, less so when it is unfamiliar. Young children imprint on the structure of music they hear, just as much as they do on the structure of the language they hear. Both the language and the music become native to them and forevermore, they recognized those sounds as familiar, and they respond emotionally (as the best music composers are want to make us do) to music which is familiar, pleasing and surprising. As we know, music can make us sad, pensive, alert, excited, horny, sleepy, or cry uncontrollably. Of course, situation plays a part; I once sat through a funeral for a young child, and was only reduced to tears upon hearing a particular melodic section of one hymn played. My crying was sudden, unexpected, and completely involuntary, and I was unable to suppress it.
Interesting, indeed, is the section of the book which examines music’s value as an aphrodisiac, or as part of a sexual display of fitness—the aural counterpart of the vision of the Peacock’s tail, an expensive and useless body appendage for anything other than attracting amorous Peahens. Several are the salacious musical theories which link music and sex, and I will not give them away here. Find them for yourself.
The author reinforces the theory that perfection of physical artistic ability requires 10,000 hours of practice. Therefore, talent may play some part, but stick-to-itiveness means much much more. Gushing over a musician’s talent is, in effect, gushing over his or her perseverance at practice.
The section which reveals the scientific studies that explain the various parts of the brain involved with music and their effects are well beyond my understanding, but I can assure you, this book, as promised, is a scholarly text about what happens in the brain when music is heard. If you are inclined to want to know that—this is the book.
Furthermore, and most important, the author is a rock musician, a musicologist, a neuroscientist and a man who writes clearly and without professorly artifice. So, almost everyone with an interest in this subject, can read and comprehend his writing.
I am both powerless and too lazy in this short review to reveal all that this book has to say about the effect of music on humans.

Four nights of dance and a potpourri of live music in Omaha, for their 8th CTJ, a relentlessly fun event. In order…
Thursday it was Rockabilly. “Big Sandy and his Fly Rite Boys” (two guitars, bass and drums) who is on tour in the middlewest. Big Sandy is not my favorite Rockabilly guy, but, in truth, I don’t have a favorite. BS&hFRB play an unusual assortment of RB tunes but without the normal great energy found in those bands, and Big Sandy’s patter to schmooze-up the crowd was mostly disregarded. What can I say—dancers dance, then chat with their partners, and move on to the next partner, and, all the while, they are mostly refractory to announcements from the band. Assuredly, Big Sandy’s tempos were daunting (mostly 200 and up), but, what the hell, we were having nice weather, with nice people, in a nice park, in a nice pavilion with a mostly smooth concrete floor, and it was free. Ya gotta go a ways to beat that for a start of a great weekend of dance and music.
Friday it was Big Band, the “Stan Harper Big Band”, a local eleventet (with excellent male vocalist) which played liken to a full big band. I remember this band from last year, and especially remember their leader/tenor saxophonist. He was BAAAAAAAD!, and he still is, with a commanding strident tone, great chops and engaging improvisational musical ideas. They played the Lindy Hop standards using fresh charts, and, on one number, the sound of their three man reed section (alto/tenor/bari) playing the same melody line gave me goose bumps—shades of the Woody Herman Four Brothers band. Your’s truly is unlikely to hearing more pleasing music for dancing any time this winter. Big crowd—I’m guessing over 200, and some excellent dancers. Huge J&J contest—looked to be about 20-25 couples. Generous oak floor with a dandy surface, but more about that later
Saturday it was New Orleans Jazz, “The Southside Aces” from St. Paul, a septet (trumpet, trombone, clarinet and standard 4 pc rhythm section). They played well a wide assortment of danceable jazz, delightfully mixing musical genres and tempos. Another big crowd. Only five pairs competed in a couples (any style allowed) dance contest. Rudy and I hung in to dance for 4 hours, except for contest time—Whew! Don’t know how long we can keep this up, but it’s, for sure, plenty much fun.
Sunday it was Jump Blues., “Grand Marquis” from K.C., a quartet of vocalist/reed player, guitar, bass and drums. They played a wide variety of musics, and not all just jump blues, which, incidentally, is weak without a piano/keyboard player doing bounce rhythm. The venue was the second story room of The Mattress Factory” with has a wide-board soft pine floor which was a bit sticky.
The traditional corn-on-the-cob eating contest, this year set at 8 minutes, was close with Andrew Thigpen notching a one cob win at 17 ears of corn. Andrew went out too fast and faded near the end, but held off several determined opponents. The champion looked a bit green and bilious, but he adored the peals of audience applause and the carnie slum prizes. A quartet of beautifully dressed lovelies (the four lady instructors; Casey, Mea, Gabby, Kim) dined delicately on one cob of corn each. Two wee girlettes competed in the under 3 years of age corn eating contest. One of them won.
A disquieting word about the main venue for Omaha’s Lindy Hop and the Cowtown Jamborama. It is, and has been for years, the 1928 vintage Eagles Club, but we learned the building is for sale. There seems to be bad news and good news. Bad first: 1. Social/fraternal clubs are falling on hard times what with a recession in effect, and an aging and shrinking club membership. 2. The club is near downtown and the ground beneath the club may now be worth more than the building. The good news is that $900K seems a bit much for that building on a corner site in a tired part of town.
This a very nice venue. The Eagles Club second floor ballroom has a massive curved, yet attractive, finished wood ceiling. The floating floor of “old” Maple, (long/narrow boards), has always had a good dance surface—we have been there often enough to make that statement. Many years ago, the present floor was removed from an Omaha amusement park pavilion when the park was torn down, and then installed in the Eagles Club. That pavilion was reported to have been one of the first steady venues for the Lawrence Welk Band. Did I, perchance, hear the wispy strains of an accordion, or see imaginary bubbles, and the faint outlines of Polka dancers off in the corners? No, but I thought about that, as I have always appreciated dancing in a venue with a colorful history.
P.S. Lookie here! One of my favorites, New Orleans ace swing B-3/pianist with his trio will be a long way from home by playing Omaha’s best Blues joint on Dec 29, ’2010. This is not good, as that is when we are usually in New Orleans.

We danced at the Atomic Cowboy on a well-worn pine floor which, inexplicably, danced beautifully, to an eclectic assortment of DJed music, including one great Big Band cut of the Tonight Show Theme, with a mixed-experienced group of about 20 dancers. Free and free water, but drinks are expensive. 4140 Manchester Ave. music 8-11.

The only other regular Lindy Hop venue I know of in St. Louis is on Saturday night at The Monday Club, 37 S. Maple Ave. Music 8-11.

1. B.O.: He smells like an old wet goat.
2. Pug-Ugly: With lots of warts.
3. Hyperkinetic Mess: Every body part randomly moving all the time
4. Failure to Communicate, a.k.a. won’t hold eye-contact plus noodle-arm.
5. Congenital Arhythmia, a.k.a. a lamentable nervous system disconnection between ears and feet.
6. Huge Feet, size 14 and up. I wear size 13s.
7. Hyperhidrosis, a.k.a. He sweats like a burglar after one dance.
8. Clashing Clothes Colors, e.g. He wears a bright orange shirt, red tie, and green trousers
9. Immovable Object, He lead with his feet figuratively nailed-to-the-floor (The immovable base, a k.a. the double-door refrigerator leader).

BIG BAND: Nowadays, an aggregation consisting of two musicians.
CHANTEUSE: A singer with an accent and no “time”.
DOWNBEAT: The magazine that would have you believe that all jazz musicians are working.
JAZZ: The only true American art form beloved by Europeans.
MELLOPHONE: An instrument best put to use when converted into a lamp.
PERCUSSIONIST: A drummer who can't swing.
PERFECT PITCH: The ability to pinpoint any note and still play out of tune.
SIDEMAN: The appellation that guarantees a musician will never be rich.
UNION REP: A guy who thinks big bands are coming back.

1. “The beatings will continue until the swing-outs improve.” Anon
The Swing-out is Lindy Hop’s signature move, and it’s difficulty is an impediment for entry into the dance, but because of the Swing-out’s protean variations and stylistic manifestations, it is one of the charms of Lindy Hop. A consensus of Lindy Hop teachers held that installing a serviceable Lindy Hop in a beginner would take 7 weeks of once a week lessons, plus at least one hour of practice between lessons. The necessary dynamic counter-balance for both leader and follower are formidable, as is timing and proper partner positioning and clearing. At fast tempos the Swing-out becomes less a dance move and more an athletic move. A confession is in order. I was dancing for a year before I would dare to lead anyone but Rudy in an eight count move. I wish now, that someone had beat me until my swing-out got better. The truth is, I could still use an occasional remedial beating.
2. “Isn’t it time for West Coast Swing to drop “swing” from the name of the dance?” Anon
It’s clear that WCS arose directly or indirectly from the primordial swing dance indelibly referred to as “Lindy Hop”, but so too did Imperial, Jamaica, Jump, Rock, Bop, Carolina Shag, Hand Dance, Jive and Steppin’, and none of them has the word “swing” tacked on the end of their names. On the other hand, “East Coast Swing” is known in some areas as “Jitterbug”. I believe the name Jitterbug would be preferable as East Coast Swing is done everywhere, as is, West Coast Swing. Furthermore, I think any specific dance identified by the sole word “Swing”, is a misnomer. I prefer “swing” to be a word to denote the generic group of dances that arose directly or indirectly from Lindy Hop, and, to be fair, the other dances which preceded Lindy Hop, and which employed, as a predominant move, one which went seamlessly from open position, to closed position, to open again. If I was the International King of Swing Dance, I would rule that the only use of “swing” in dance, would be the generic meaning .

1. Dancing in Dayton Ohio and Surrounds.
2. Something else, but who knows about what, where or when.

Allen Hall, Lindy Hopper
September 28, 2010 In damp cool Dayton Ohio weather, while parked in Mom’s Backyard
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 4:41 pm    Post subject: Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

I think you deserve a more positive moniker Allen....
~ Shawn

Ask not what your scene can do for you;
Ask what you can do for your scene!

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Allen Hall
MN Prince of Snark Darkness

Joined: 26 May 2004
Posts: 495
Weekly Avg: 1.0115

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 5:33 pm    Post subject: Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

You are too kind, Sir. From one extreme to another, from the sinister snark of the upper middle-west to dancer of renown internationally. My head is spinning.

Allen Hall
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