The Office

Why Musicians Can’t Dance

There is a strange phenomenon in the world of musical arts, and that is the mysterious inability for musicians to move their bodies in a graceful manner in response to music. The closest I’ve ever seen to a dancing musician was a guy playing the ukulele while singing and riding a unicycle (incredibly, he didn’t even have a music degree!) While this is a quite impressive feat, it doesn’t really count, does it? I’ve really never met a musician who could truly dance. Like Rodents of Unusual Size, I don’t think they exist.

Point of proof: Myself.

When I was very young, my family once visited a rather sketchy “Native American” village, where ornately attired participants demonstrated a “traditional” ceremonial rain dance, and a few of us tourists were invited to try our hands (or, feet, as it were) at it. I gleefully took my place in the circle, and much to my delight, after only a few steps it actually started to rain – in reverse! A veritable torrent of rain drops began sweating out of the earth and bursting skyward! “What did you do?!!!” the feather-clad emcee screamed in a thick Brooklyn accent, as he proceeded to hurl himself head-first into a replica tee pee.

“I just danced!”

My Native American Tourist name is now “Tears From Earth.”

If pointless arrhythmic pitching and yawing to and fro, with no obvious rhyme, reason, or pattern, is ever considered “dance” — then I’m Friggin’ Fred Astaire (yes, “Friggin’ Fred” was his given name– look it up on Snopes!).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tackled on the dance floor by a frenzied crowd of people, with someone inevitably crying, “For the love of all that is holy, somebody grab his tongue before he swallows it!” Indeed, this has happened so often that I am actually learning to like it. Needless to say, I’m now forced to wear a medical alert tongue stud which simply states “Trying to dance – please do NOT administer CPR.”

Other than secret Government experiments performed in the 50’s (leaked recently by Edward Snowden – who also can’t dance, BTW, and is therefore forced to try and get by on his good looks and Government secrets), there’s been no serious investigation into this chronic affliction. The experiments were eventually terminated because the sight of musicians trying to dance was freaking out the lab rats, prompting PETA to organize large scale demonstrations that eventually lead to “rat’s rights,” clearing the way for them to eventually take their places in society and congress (but, I digress). No one seems to know the cause, but, to be sure, many musicians have taken it upon themselves to try all manner of ill-advised pharmaceuticals to fix it. And failed. Even today, the world’s finest minds are still hard-pressed to explain this phenomenon.

But they never asked me…

My own life-long struggle with this situation (known by those in medical fields as Tuleftfeet Syndrome, abbreviated 2-LF), has prompted decades of introspective consideration on the subject. As such, I have concluded that, along with a natural 2-LF predisposition, we musicians suffer from a general lack of dancing experience. Unicycled savants aside, we obviously cannot be dancing and playing at the same time, so while civilians are dancing and honing their steps, we are the enablers allowing them to do so at great personal cost to ourselves. In other words, we facilitate our own demise and no amount of outside training, coaching, or solitary practice regimen, can overcome this lack of experience. Alas,  we continue to flop around desperately like gaffed tuna on the deck of a ship. It is, sadly, a lost cause.

The Good News

The most recent issue of the American Journal of the Science of Terpsichore (Oan Lee/Joe King Publications) contained a groundbreaking article, “2-LF: Tripping Over the Light Fantastic” that has caught the attention of a much broader demographic than the small community of researchers focused on Tuleftfeet Syndrome. The article is making the rounds of large networks of enterprising music agents, wealthy art patrons and protégé-seekers worldwide, and rapidly turning the world of music on its ear.

The article posits that there is strong statistical and anecdotal evidence that symptoms of 2-LF begin to appear at an extremely young age. Using the time-honored practice of pseudo-logical if/then assumptions, the very presence of these symptoms would indicate a strong predisposition towards musical talent. Extrapolating that line of reasoning, severe affliction could be an indicator of savant-like musical talent!

Like the shot heard round the world, this single article has spawned a fledgling industry of scouts and talent agents, devoted to locating and nurturing the next generation of musical prodigies. As of this posting, most major music schools are already networking with various “Jack N Jill” styled dance schools all around the world in hopes of getting the jump on the next Chris Potter (terrible dancer – practically born with a saxophone in his mouth!) Specially trained preschool “croppers” identify specific dance patterns (or lack thereof) in young children and report them immediately to the national 2-LF databank. Letters of recruitment to the parents generally follow within days.

The article goes on to state that when properly diagnosed in early childhood, steps can be taken to match 2-LF victims with qualified specialists (band directors, piano teachers, etc.) Putting the right tools in the hands of 2-LFs and cultivating a healthy focus on musicianship early on can, theoretically, keep these dance floor menaces on the correct side of the footlights, and reduce the chance of them doing greater harm to the general public.

Knowing if you have 2LF

In the interest of the public welfare, below is a short listing of sample diagnostic criteria for A2-LF (Adult Tuleftfeet Syndrome) copied from the original article:

6 Signs That You, or Someone You Love, May Have 2LF:

  1. 1. “Actual” dancers smirking, pointing in your direction, and mimicking grand mal seizures to thunderous laughter.

  2. 2. Counting out loud while dancing. (Example: “1,2,3, oops -1,2, Sorry! Um…1…1,2…wait a minute…can we try that again?…I’m lost.” *

  3. 3. Choosing only dance partners with attractive shoes.

  4. 4. A detached awareness of one’s surroundings, and a fixation on those shoes.

  5. 5. Distinct indications of extreme wear on the toe area of your partner’s previously attractive shoes by the end of the dance.

  6. 6. Accepting cash, meals, drinks, or livestock in trade for musical performance.

* Actual transcripts from 2LF sufferers. Tragic!

There are, obviously, many, many more diagnostic criteria – the above is just the tip of the iceberg.  Likewise, there are additional criteria for diagnosis of 2-LF in children, but this is best left to the professionals. It is recommended by the TS Foundation of America and Other Places That Are Not America that all children be screened for 2-LF before entering preschool.

If you, your child, or somebody you know displays any of the above symptoms, please don’t wait. Take him or her to a music teacher, musical-care provider, or specialist in dance conversion therapy immediately. In many cases, denial is as harmful as the disease itself.

Classic symptoms of 2-LF and undiscovered musical talent:

Recently released archival footage of a musician trying to dance. *Warning* Content may not be appropriate for all ages.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Next Post: Why Dancers Are Great Musicians


The Office

Just a “Gig”-olo

How Far Are You Willing To Go To Play Professionally?

In an era when modern tastes and technologies are undermining live entertainment at an astounding pace, today’s jazzer needs to be more adaptable than ever just to get by.

One day in the early 1980s, I got a call for a gig. The sweet young voice on the other end of the phone shyly asked if I could play with a pianist for a couple hours for her wedding. It sounded pretty standard.

“Sure, I can do that. $100.00 bucks for the both of us “(remember, this was the early 80’s).

“That’s wonderful. Can you play flute?”

Primarily a saxophonist, my flute chops were less-than stellar, but what the heck, it would be a challenge.

“Sure, I can do that” I said with some hesitation.

“Wonderful, now… I have some Elton John songs I’d like to hear – a whole set if possible. I have sheet music.”

This triggered a somewhat queasy feeling in my stomach and I thought to myself what am I getting into here? Maybe I should consider bailing on this one.

“Bring what you have and we’ll do the best we can”, I replied.

Then, the kicker.

“My fiancée and I met while working at a charitable event. We were both dressed as clowns. Can you wear a clown outfit?”

Wear a what?

“I’m not sure I’m the best guy for this job. I think you’d better call the union.” I politely gave her their number and hung up; my artistic integrity intact and untarnished.

Had that call come today, I would have been noting in my calendar, “6 p.m., bring floppy shoes and green wig.”


10 years later, I was playing a one-nighter on a popular Mississippi river boat that catered mainly to retirees (or in this particular case, the parents of retirees); one of those lazy Summer river cruises where TAPS could be heard every 10 minutes followed by a loud splashing sound. After our one-hour set with an appreciative audience, the house band began setting up to take over for the evening. Since we had a couple of hours to kill before escaping at the next dock, we decided to hang around and see just how lame the house band was. After all, it was a less than plush iron mud hopper, distinctly bereft of any of the luxuries you’d expect on a “real” cruise ship. “I’ll bet the band is the captain’s son-in-law’s country band” I thought to myself. “This should be gooood!

Then, as they filed onto the stage, I recognized someone – the trombonist. He was a nationally well-respected musician who had played and recorded with everybody; the consummate “musician’s musician,” and everyone in the band could flat-out play! At the break, I asked how they ended up in – well, this place – he simply said, “Hey, it pays the bills.”

blog gigolo boat pic copy

Hardly lacking evidential experience, I submit one more – a shorty:

Sometime later, I was playing a festival when I spotted a very non-Latino lead trumpeter I knew from College, playing in a make-shift mariachi band. He was sight-reading from a book and quite smartly attired in a rented outfit, complete with sequined white pants and a tasseled sombrero. Not able to resist, I quipped “Nice outfit.”

“A gig’s a gig” he said.

mariaci suit

A Gig’s A Gig (It Don’t Mean A thing If It Ain’t Got Ka Ching!)

Indeed, “a gig is a gig,” and to be a working musician today means taking the work that’s available, not the work you want to be available. The “joy of music” has become the “joy of playing” and, in particular, the joy of getting paid to play.

Except for a very few elite players (and, umm… yeah, I’m not one of them) it’s a standard assumption these days that a musician must oftentimes leave his or her artistic statements at the door (or boat ramp) and be prepared to take anything that comes along. Or stay home.

The desire to work in ones’ preferred musical idiom has been taken off the table as a possibility in most cases, and the only thing that fills the void and keeps a lot of us going is the joy of playing our instruments, regardless of genre or venue. In many ways, we have become the proverbial choice-less beggers.

But, So What?

While crossing-over into other musical styles is hardly a new phenomenon, the necessity of doing so to maintain steady work is. This new generation of players knows very well that the opportunity to play at all is better than…well, not playing at all. They know that they can’t always pick the style or venue, and they are much better prepared musically and mentally for whatever comes their way. They have learned that there is usually (with some caveats, of course!) some amount of musical pleasure to be derived from nearly any musical situation. It’s always a challenge to play well, no matter what you are playing.

So, are all those music lessons and years of high-powered education wasted when you gig with a 3-chord blues band? Of course not. Where do you think you got the ears and facility to play 4 hours of blues in E? Same goes with country bands, ethnic bands, wedding bands, etc… If anything, a jazz education prepares you for anything and is therefore never wasted!

Armed with a jazz background (and chameleon-like stylistic sensitivities), today’s jazz player’s can competently hear and play almost any style of music, making them musical omnivores ready to devour whatever gigs come their way.

And It Doesn’t Stop With Just Playing

To stay exclusively in the jazz arena, top tier jazzers have crossed over (or, more like “crossed across”) into the educational realm with clinics, websites, videos, online lessons, etc…. With jazz clubs drying up, internet piracy, and other modern challenges, it’s the logical direction.

Many lesser-known players are joining in as well, with fully functional websites and youtube videos of varying quality, ranging anywhere from really bad to pretty darn good (but that’s a subject for a future post). With the field getting so crowded, is it the “wild-wild-west” or a new “jazz age”?

blog web lessons copy

So, the next time the audience yells “Yakety Sax!” don’t say “Not on my ax!” Even though it does have a nice rhyme to it.

Stay tuned.