Music for Class: Jazz with a Twist

Danny Buraczeski's rhythmic music suggestions for jazz class

There's a distinct signature in Danny Buraczeski’s movement. Sure, it’s classic jazz, but the torso twisting, sometimes angular, often musically syncopated details provide his own spin on a foundational technique. "Jazz dancers are essentially stylists," says the Broadway dancer turned JAZZDANCE company founder, who is now a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “As a teacher, what elements of style do you have to offer your students? That’s the key to jazz technique itself."

Several forms influence Buraczeski's riff on jazz foundations. He says that his own footwork takes ideas from the way tappers use each plane of their feet to create sound, and Doris Humphrey drop swings inspire his use of the released torso. Ultimately, he sees that each jazz combination is driven by the ebb and flow of the music, which he uses as an outline for exercises and choreography. "My whole class is based on rhythm and speed, syncopation and polyrhythm," he says.

It's important to Buraczeski that each class includes a history lesson, tuning into the backgrounds of the music and the artists who made it. "Jazz is really about America—its society and history," he says. "I'm trying to introduce the students to their own heritage." DT

 

Artist: The Dick Hyman Trio

Song: "Misterioso"

"I want to start the beginning of class with something not rhythmically complicated. This version of the song is more regular and melodic than the original and great for opening roll downs. It has a nice, weighted feel that helps dancers sense a connection to the ground.”

 

Artist: Brandon O. Bailey

Song: "Superstition"

"I found this artist on NPR, which I listen to for new music all the time. This is a fantastic harmonica cover of the Stevie Wonder song. It’s so earthy yet up-tempo. With my Jazz I students, I like to use some funk because there’s no ambivalence about where the downbeat is. We deconstruct syncopations because it’s crucial that they understand jazz’s African-American polyrhythmic influences."

 

Artist: Milt Hinton

Song: "Jon John"

"I have about 35 songs that I use for pliés. I’ll use one track for a couple classes and then change it. Doing the same exercise to different music allows dancers to explore different principles within the exercise specific to the sounds and feelings within each song. This is what I’ve been using lately, but I’ll change it up with anything from Ella Fitzgerald to Stevie Wonder."

 

Artist: Blind Boys of Alabama

Song: "Hush"

"This is great for swings because there’s such a rhythmic and soulful rise and fall in the music, so that dancers can also rise and fall when they change their weight. At this point in class, I’m trying to get them to use all the sides of their bodies and not ignore their backspace and diagonals. Plus, this gospel music is so rich emotionally. I like to see how the music influences them, whether it’s this gospel song, true swing music or something more contemporary."

 

Artist: The Manhattan Rhythm Kings

Song: "Happy Feet"

"I like to stick to a stock of introductory combinations for my first-year class. This is all about the 1920s and the Charleston. It lets students actually become the music and hit every accent. And that’s the fun part about being a dancer." 

 

Photo: SMU students in Buraczeski’s Umbra (by Kim Ritzenthaler, courtesy of Southern Methodist University)

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