I subscribe to a mailing list called Tango-L where tango dancers can debate tango issues of the day. Some folks were debating the merits of dancing to live music and it quickly devolved into a flame war (as many discussions on Tango-L invariably do). I decided to post my first-hand observations on playing live music at milongas.
A band can't be all things to all dancers, but it can try to be many things to a lot of them.
The next day, Gary Barnes of Australia (no relation) asked:
First, do you think there is anything that evangelising tango dancers
(like myself) can do (or not do) to encourage musicians to follow the
roots, or to help them find the joy of playing for dancing? Or is it just luck?
To get a band going, you really need musicians who are devoted to the style. A Bandoneon is the heart of a tango band, but they are few and far between in the US. In my opinion, accordion is good enough. (Purists may disagree with me, but I am an accordionist and there's nothing they can do about it).
Even though my band has been together for 5 years, it pretty much sucked for the first 3 or so. [Note to self: don't write about the band sucking on its website] I started it with jazz and folk players who were more intersted in having fun (and a weekly paycheck) than the music. They didn't have the tango passion I had, and it was quite frustrating. One by one, I met players who were interested specifically in tango, and now we have a quartet of folks who are passionate about it. Working with the best freee-lancers in town gave me a great sound, but it wasn't truly tango. We need players who are passionate about the music! (BTW- we have an open spot for a dedicated, professional level pianist who wants to move to Minneapolis)
I also found that the bass is almost as important as the bando, especially when you don't have a piano. Tango bass technique is different than straight classical and has almost nothing to do with jazz or folk bass (i.e. it's all bow). The guy I'm playing with now (Rahn Yanes) is a classically-trained player, but needed about a year to become "fluent" in the tango idiom. It's kinda like how you can teach a professional dancer all the steps, but it'll take them a long time before they look fluid and unforced. It's the same way with learning tango music.
But when it comes right down to it, if the band is having fun and is willing to learn from the masters, you will have a good dance band.
If you want to encourage a tango band to become a dance band, here are a few things:
Gary goes on to ask: Second, in developing your skill in arranging, was listening to old recordings important?
Yes! About half of my arrangments are straight transcriptions of the masters: mostly D'Arienzo, Canaros DiSarli and Troilo. The other half are "original" arrangments (if there can be such a thing) where I arrange a standard to my liking. The act of listening and transcribing each note is the best way to learn the internal logic of a tango.
I've heard it said that the best way to learn a Bach fugue is to write it out in longhand. Transcribing a classic tango serves a double purpose for me: I learn an arranging style from an old master and my band gets 3 more minutes of danceable music!
Posted by bbarnes at June 4, 2007 5:48 PM