Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jump Alley- Blues Meets Ballroom Dance

On September 26, 2009 I saw the Jump Alley band at the new Woodard Properties community center. The UVA ballroom dance club sponsored the event and the music was geared toward ballroom dancing. The style was a mixture of jazz, swing, and blues. The space was a fairly large room that smelled of fresh paint and a general “new” smell. The room was not crowded. In the center the dancers were dancing what appeared to be choreographed ballroom routines and onlookers crowded around the outside edge. It felt more like a show with music and dance than a concert with music to dance to.

The band was made up of a white woman playing the keyboard, a white man playing the trumpet, an African American man playing the drums and a white man singing and playing the bongo drums. The bongo drums were played only during specific songs and added an island feel that did not coordinate with the jazzy brass sound. The band members were older, in their 40s and 50s. This was a mature band and unexpected for a college crowd. Their website lists the band members but with black and white pictures from years past. The band members on the website ( do not resemble the band that I saw a few nights ago. The website attempts to bring an old time nostalgia that the band did not really have in person. The website makes one expect a scene from the 1920s but the result was more of a 1920s sound and an outdated look. The mixture of race and sexes created an interesting dynamic. The one woman played what I consider a typical role as the keyboard player. She was not central in the band and is married to another member. The band had a lot of dynamics going on: racial dynamics with the black drummer and white members, gender dynamics, and relationship dynamics. These dynamics affected the look and feel of the band. The mixture of races and genders separated them from their 1920s counterparts. Like I mentioned earlier, the band did not look like it was straight out of a different era but sounded like it.

The audience was an all white audience and had slightly more females than males. Most were in couples and doing traditional ballroom dances that required a variety of steps and knowledge. The audience did not actively participate by clapping or responding but danced to the rhythm. All audience members were in semi-formal attire and heels.

The music played that the dance was a mixture of blues and swing. The brassy notes of the trumpet contributed to the bluesy sound. The most memorable song was “Roll Out the Barrel,” a folk song, and had an old fashioned feel. There was a sense of nostalgia enhanced by the traditional style of dance. The dancers and band attempted to transform the space into a bluesy club setting but I do not think they succeeded. Mostly the old fashioned music and dancing juxtaposed to the new space crated a discord between the music and the setting.

The instruments also created an upbeat rhythm. The upbeat, fast pace of the music was geared toward swing. The sound had an older feel, circa the 1920s and 30s. It was interesting because the band was predominately white playing what is considered “race” music. They adapted the style and were a throwback band of sorts. Their age suggested that their parents may experienced the musical age they were interpreting. They were engaged with the audience but the audience and the band did not really match. The audience seemed to require something different than the band was providing. The audience wanted a more ballroom oriented dance but the band played blues and swing. The dance the ballroom dance members did, did not seem to match the style of music. It was unclear to me if the club members were performing a dance they had rehearsed to other music and adapting it to the music of Jump Alley.

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