Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why don't people dance at jazz shows?

Lately, my son and I have been taking in a local jazz jam on Saturday afternoons. I've gone a few times to this jam and played. When I’m there with my son, he and I hang out together, orders some fries, and dance. He loves music and part of the way he shows that is by dancing. When he really likes the music, it's often hard to get a stop dancing.

Many of the musicians at this jam are friends who know my son. My son is eight years old and has autism. I don't try to hide anything about his condition, nor have ever felt embarrassed about his behavior. Most of the musicians love it when my son is there and are excited to see him dancing. He dances and stops and watches them play. Some of them play right to him, as if playing their solo just for him. Many of them say it's the best kind of feedback that you get from an audience member. Some people at the jam (who I don't know) have come up to me and said how happy my son looks and how much they enjoy seeing my son and I out taking in some music. It's often easy when you have a child with special needs to come up with reasons to stay out of the public eye and keep your child close. Our trips to the jazz jam are part father-and-son excursion and part therapy for my son where he interacts socially.

The interesting thing is how many people seem to enjoy seeing my son and I dancing, but don't get up and dance themselves. In Miles Davis's autobiography (which I read a long time ago) he mentions that people used to dance all the time at bebop shows. He asks why people don't dance at contemporary jazz shows. I guess part of it has to do with critical mass (a father and son dancing isn't enough to get the ball rolling and make dancing seem appropriate in the moment). But I also think part of it has to do with nature in which jazz is viewed, as almost a bookish art form to be studied and maybe admired, but not involved with in a casual matter. (The same thing could probably be said of classical music. When was last time he saw somebody dance at the symphony?)

With that, here are two video clips of some of my favorite dancing.

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