Why don’t jazz musicians dance anymore?
I know… this sounds like a ridiculous question. Jazz musicians don’t dance!!! But let’s go there anyway, and see if they once did.
The whole issue of dancing musicians popped into my mind as I read Bob Lefsetz’ newsletter this morning. If you haven’t yet read his music industry/pop culture newsletter, you can find it HERE.
Lefsetz was discussing sensational success of the K-pop group BTS, and how their fans know all their complex dance moves. This got me recalling the origins of jazz, in the “second line” marching bands of New Orleans:
Second line marching bands
I’ve read old interviews where musicians recalled the how, around the year 1900, the musicians in New Orleans marching bands would proudly wear their fancy uniforms and perform choreography, as part of their marching routines. They would rehearse their dance moves to perfection and informally “compete” against rival bands. Yes, the music was jazzy and the musicians danced!
Lest you think that this was an isolated phenomenon, let’s go back to the Swing Era of the 1930s and 40s, when jazz was popular music.
Check out this 1935 movie clip featuring The Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. Just like today’s rock and pop bands, the musicians are swaying to the music, standing up, and yes, performing worked-out choreography:
Jimmy Lunceford And His Orchestra
If we look back at the biggest musical stars in popular music, many of them danced and moved animatedly around the stage. Elvis, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Prince, and now BTS. Even The Glenn Miller Orchestra did this when they played “In The Mood!”
I’m not suggesting that all jazz musicians begin doing the jitterbug while they play “Stormy Weather” in concert. But if we want to understand why jazz isn‘t as popular as it once was, perhaps the lack of visual interest can provide a clue or two.
Once upon a time, dinosaurs roamed the earth. And once upon a time… yes… jazz musicians danced!!!
Good luck with your music. Enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”
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