Friday, May 20, 2011

fodder for a charleston choreography

Jennifer writes:
Thank you so much for your great blog! I'm wanting to choreograph a girls solo Charleston routine, but I've kind of hit a wall in terms of finding a song. I like Yam Brown by Bob Hunt's Duke Elington Orchestra, but I'm just not sure. Do you have any recommendations for a 2-3 min. charleston-ish song?
That recording of Yam Brown is really good--great janky feel from the banjo, great Bubber Miley-style trumpet solo at the start. The thing that makes this track really good for a choreography is all of the changes--it shifts mood several times, as if different characters were talking to each other.
A while back, my friend & sometime co-conspirator Jenna choreographed a fantastic routine to a recording of Shake That Thing by Vince Giordano's Nighthawks (check it out). What makes it so engaging is how she used the different voices in the piece as inspiration to create different characters in the dance--she and her troupe even have names for some of the characters. Without that sort of texture in the music, I think it is much harder to hold an audience's attention for 3 minutes. 2 minutes maybe, but 3 no. So Yam Brown is really good in this respect.
You might check out other Duke Ellington tunes like Demi-Tasse and Downtown Uproar, both off The Duke's Men: Small Group Recordings, Vol. 1. You might not be interested, but I would really like to see someone do a routine (partnered or solo) to the version of Caravan on the same album. One of my favorite Ellington compositions.
Here are some other suggestions:
  • South Rampart Street Parade - Bob Crosby and his Orchestra - South Rampart Street Parade - 3:34 - 225 bpm. It does sound like a street parade--a bit march-like for your taste, maybe--but it has lots of character.
  • Jitter Bug - Cab Calloway - The Early Years 1930-1934 - 3:12 - 230 bpm. More of a swing feel than charleston, but it's very driving and energetic. Actually, this would probably make a better partnered group routine than girls solo charleston.
  • Lawd, Lawd - Cecil Scott and his Bright Boys - Harlem Big Bands - 3:13 - 215 bpm. Great rhythm, though certainly a novelty tune.
In terms of contemporary bands, you might check out these:
  • Six Feet Down - Tuba Skinny - Six Feet Down - 3:25 - 235 bpm
  • I Can't Dance - The Smoking Time Jazz Club - Quarter Note, Vol. 1 - 4:14 - 210 bpm
  • Jada - The Palmetto Bug Stompers - Live @ DBA - 4:34 - 210 bpm
Picking a song for a choreo is a little bit like picking someone to go with on a two week long camping trip in the back country. The most important thing is definitely finding a tune that you find fun & interesting, because you'll be listening to it a LOT. In fact, you'll probably be sick of it by the time you've got it choreographed and taught to your girls. Don't worry about that though--even if you're sick of it for a while, you'll come back sooner or later and make friends again, and be glad that you took the trip together. Whatever you pick, let me know how it goes, and send video once you've performed it. Good luck!
P.S. If you're having trouble finding a song that's the right length (or just slightly too fast), you can always trim it down. If you're not familiar with sound editing, have a look at Audacity, a software program for editing digital sound. It's free, easy to use, and has lots of fancy features.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much! I love all of your recommendations, especially "Six Feet Down" and Shake that Thing." Jenna's routine is really awesome! After listening to Yam Brown a few more times, I like it a whole lot more, too.

    In the end, I'll probably go with "Lawd, lawd" and edit out the solo. It's my first time choreographing, and that song seemed pretty manageable. I'm also a sucker for handclappping :)

    Thanks again! I'll let you know how it turns out.