David Byrne and Dancing to Jazz

DavidByrne.jpgThere was an interesting article about David Byrne in today’s (January, 30th) Wall Street Journal. Yes, I get much of my information about the current music scene, or at least a portion of it, from the WSJ. Perhaps it says something about me, I’ll admit to being almost 50, but I will argue that I’ve never been mislead by this particular source.

At any rate, Byrne, the former front man for The Talking Heads, has recently released two albums, “The Knee Plays”, a collection of interludes that he wrote for the opera “CIVIL warS“, and “Live in Austin”, a concert CD from his 2001 tour. Although Jerry Bilek and other close readers of this blog know that I’ve been a big fan of that band since 1977, my senior year in high school, this post is not about Byrne’s impressive history of creativity.

Rather, I want to talk about his 1983 trip to New Orleans. He commented, “It was inspiring to hear great music that people were dancing to…”, including jazz classics, New Orleans funk, and vintage TV scores. He lamented that “jazz had been removed from the dance hall” and become “concert hall music”. He concluded, “It’s as if you were being scolded and told not to dance, and I thought that’s betraying part of what music is all about.” I thought it was a great perspective on jazz music, funky dancing, and barriers to expression.

Speaking of Jerry Bilek, and other crazy commuters, like Brian Kenknight of Fine Groove, he also talked about being a bike rider in New York City. Apparently, it’s become much easier since he started back in the ’70s. He doesn’t want to preach about the moral or political correctness of riding a bike, however. Byrne says, “I’d rather advocate something on the basis that it’s fun and feels good.” I appreciate that statement too.


  1. I am a former bike rider. No, I didn’t have a HOG or anything major like that, but I did have a Honda 125 cc two stroke that could do seventy right after a tune up, and heading downhill.

    What happened to dancing at a jazz event was the great caliber of music and musicians. No one I knew wanted to miss even one syncopated polyrhymic
    polymelodic moment of the jazz fusionists like John McLaughlin, Chick Corea,
    Stanley Turentine. Then, they went back to Miles and the Bird and then back, back to the big bands and Duke Ellington and the great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong. Al Hirt was a New Orleans favorite trumpet player.

    Dancing is now the art form we look to in the ball room dancing competitions, with be bop and all. It’s what the back up guys and girls do
    for top performers.

    Hup, I gotto go.

    I think Northfield has to make up it’s own dance and then send it around the world. Come on Northfield, you can’t rely on Jesse forever!

    January 30, 2008
  2. Jerry Bilek said:

    Gotta love David Byrne. Listening to Remain in Light as I type. It’s nice to find out one my musical heroes is a fellow biker(that’s a bicycle with pedals Bright, no motor, 1 cc).

    The cold weather actually improves the riding conditions in the Carleton arb. And I am much happier now that Mike was able to get my ride working like it’s 1991.

    January 30, 2008
  3. I know, Jerry, I figured that out when I went back and re read the post.
    But, you’ll be happy to know that I have been a big bike person, back in
    Chicago, I road a 10 speed to work every day for six years. Then, up and down a lovely bike path between Lake Michigand and Lake Shore Drive
    as often as I could. It went from Hyde Park to Down Town and beyond.

    I was also a part of getting a bike path set up in Indiana Dunes, procuring railroad ties and all that jazz. 🙂 let’s see that weas late 80s.

    I am also a huge fan of David Byrne. I saw him up in a north suburb of
    Chicago in an outdoor venue, Rosemont I think, when he was playing guitar as he leaned backwards enough that his back was parallel the stage floor. I didn’t see strings, but I hoped he was using them! HIs band was one of the few that can exactly dulpicate the sound of the album, toilet drain and all.

    I have the last six months of Billboard magazine and they have a good site
    on the internet as well..to Ross.

    Also, I wanted to add that my description of why dance has faded is just one element of the history of no dance, and that there are more factors that
    I will leave to the intrested to ponder.

    There’s a lot Northfield doesn’t know about me; that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

    January 30, 2008
  4. Ruth Sylte said:

    There’s been — and will be — lots of dance in Northfield

    Of course, there’s always the formal class offerings at local dance studios and arts organizations. But it’s the other offerings that I really enjoy.

    ArtOrg has been running a splendid Winter Concert/Dance series. The past two weeks, we’ve had wonderful, danceable bluegrass/old-time and cajun. On Feb. 15, it’s a night of waltzes, polkas, tangos, etc. It will be capped off by an Art Prom in early April. See http://www.ArtOrg.info for more information.

    There was a ’70s rock’n’roll dance on Dec. 29 with three great local LIVE bands. I thought there was a Winter (Contra) Stomp scheduled as there was last year, but haven’t heard anything. There will be a St. Urho’s Day dance (a family-friendly event) on March 15. Every Monday night, there are waltzes, polkas, etc. played by live muscians (not recordings) at the Eagles — with a great wooden dance floor for those who can’t sit still.

    Dance can be an “art form”, but that can sound so stuffy and unappealing to some — and the social dance forms are so much MORE than that. Dance is a fabulous form of social interaction and teaches communication and basic etiquette/courtesy in a way that other activities never touch. And it’s great exercise.

    Some of the happiest “concerts” I’ve been to have been where people could not stop themselves from getting up and dancing in the aisles. My ancestors would have chalked this up to the influence of the “devil’s music” because they thought that great music had the power to make people dance. I assure you, it does.

    Oh — and gentleman — there is something incredibly compelling about a guy who handles himself well on the dance floor, whether he’s got a regular partner or not. It’s a goal worth aspiring to and working towards — and will almost guarantee an active social life, no matter what your age or social station. One of my favorite dance partners recently passed at away at the grand age of 94 — dancing until the end and never lacking for friends or company. It’s never too late to learn.

    January 30, 2008
  5. We have videos of the bands that are part of the 12-week Friday night series up on the ArtOrg website. We just put up three videos from Peter Diggins–they are really cool!

    January 30, 2008
  6. Bill Ostrem said:

    How well I remember hanging out in a friend’s basement and listening to the Talking Heads’ “Fear of Music” album. That must have been around 1982 or so. Later I bought the “Speaking in Tongues” album with “Burning Down the House,” which has that great instrumental bit at the end with the synthesizer.

    I’ll be speaking about biking and walking at the Rotary lunch today at the golf club. I’m having some circulation problems in my hands and feet that are putting a crimp in my winter biking. Perhaps the problem is not enough exercise! Following the birth of our baby my main exercise has been going up and down the stairs carrying baskets of laundry.

    My wife influenced me to take up ballroom dancing when we were dating. If I, a shy Minnesotan of Norwegian descent, can learn to dance anyone can!

    January 31, 2008
  7. Jerry Bilek said:

    thanks for the link Bill. Great story, looking forward to seeing the bikes. I think Mike’s bikes might have a couple in the spring. really cool looking bikes.

    February 6, 2008
  8. Holly Cairns said:

    I’m reading Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music and it reminded me of LoGroNo. Synopsis: Musical ability is innate, just as is language, etc.

    Why do we assign validity to certain sounds, when there is an infinite range of possible sound? Good read.

    Here’s the part that reminded me of LoGroNo:

    We hear vulnerability in unlikely places and it brings us closer to the artist. David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) is generally known for is abstract, arty lyrics, with a touch of cerebral. In his solo performance of “Lillies of the Valley,” he sings about being alone and scared. Part of our appreciation for this lyric is enhanced by knowing something about the artist, or at least the artist’s persona, as an eccentric intellectual, who rarely revealed something as raw and transparent as being afraid. pg. 244

    April 2, 2008
  9. Let me have another go on this one. I think I was high on air last time I posted. Hahaha.

    Dancing to Jazz is the real topic. Should we just listen to jazz. Or is it proper to get up and dig it with our muscles and sinewy parts. Great jazz and jazz fusion are so wonderful to hear ,and live, of course, it will be different every time it is played by the good ones who are inspired as they play. It’s a shame to miss that cerebral enjoyment by distracting the ear with dance, but I say,
    Hey, if it feels right, go with it, and make your dance a jazz dance, not some
    predetermined fox box of a movement. Even my dog can play squeak toy sounds in rhythm with the great jazz players. Honestly.
    Also, there is a terrible stigma placed on men in this country and women in other countries, if they do dance. This should be against the law, except for the fact that I am against any more laws being made and think that we need a law that will help eliminate many of the laws now on the books.

    There are so many laws now, no one knows what they are until it’s too late.

    So dance, dance, dance before that becomes illegal again, too.

    April 3, 2008

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