As I head further on my tap dance journey and my personal mission to become the best dancer and teacher of this art form that I can be, one lesson keeps sounding out around me:
Know. Your. Music.
Now, confession time, I’m no expert in music. I can read music. I have a GCSE in music, for which I wrote some questionable compositions, but I definitely know I do not know enough. I don’t think I will ever know enough because I don’t think I will ever know enough about anything. A while ago though, music started pushing itself to the forefront of my development and the more I thought about it the more the universe seemed to be reflecting my realisation. As tap dancers we are musicians and our art grew out of jazz. Therefore any tap dancer worth their salt knows that they need to know jazz.
As part of my teacher training with the American Tap Dance Foundation we had lessons devoted to jazz music and I realised I knew barely anything. When we took master class with the legendary Brenda Bufalino I realised I knew nothing. The greats, without exception, the greats knew and know their music. Inside and out. The know the melodies to hundreds of different songs, they know what tempo they want and how to ask for it. They know if they want a fill, if they don’t, how long they want a vamp, if they want a shout, the pick-up of a tune…they know their music.
And so should you.
Learn From The Masters
Watching Brenda Bufalino command a class with a live pianist was an extremely useful lesson in seeing how the greats know music. I remember standing mesmerised by her command of the music and the musician, her pulling out a fake book (or was it a real book I can’t remember right now) and flicking through the pages, knowing the melodies to all the tunes and I made the decision there and then to commit to knowing my music better. The very first assignment on my teacher training was a music one. Expand your horizons and find new jazz tunes you can teach to. I listened to a lot of jazz to find tunes that filled my criteria, and had the right structure, tempo and feel that I needed for my lessons. For every tune I know, there are a hundred others. And for every tune I know there are a hundred versions; Erroll Garner’s Summertime sounds nothing like Charlie Parker’s, but they are both beautiful. Type the name of any standard into Spotify and you’ll receive hundreds of results. The fact remains though, know your music!
When I logged onto my Operation Tap class a few months ago Anthony Morigerato was teaching the Advanced Professional class a combination to Miles Davis’ On Green Dolphin Street. What was the first exercise of that class? Listen, listen, listen to the tune until you can sing the melody off by heart.
Travis Knights’ Tap Love Tour Podcast back in November had an episode with Dr Barry Harris entitled ‘A lesson For the Dancers’, what was that lesson? Know your music. In fact if you listen to Travis, he has been on a jazz kick for quite a while now for his own development.
Committing To Development
I feel like I’m only at the beginning of my journey into jazz, and that’s despite it always being a genre of music that I‘ve loved even since I was a teenager. I know I’m on the right path though; I’m learning. That’s how I know that Sarah Reich chose to improv to On Green Dolphin Street at the TDFUK tap jam. I’m challenging myself to know more though. So each week I’m choosing a jazz artist and I’m committing to listening to their music for the week.
This week I’ve chosen Charlie Parker, who will you choose?