MC Shoehorn is a performance artist who creates music with his feet and dances with his horn. Michael "Shoehorn" Conley combines body rhythms and sophisticated jazz forms and concepts into an entertaining spectacle. A specialist in sax and tap dance, he is also a multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer, utilizing a variety of wind and percussion instruments, original material and songbook classics, and music from around the world. In addition to his shoes and horn, he uses the Tappercussion(TM) Mark VII e-tap (TM) MIDI instrument to add percussive sounds like drum set,steel drums, sitar and marimba. Whether playing as a sideman with performers and performance troupes such as Wanderlust Circus Orchestra, Fools in Paradise marimba band, Baby Gramps, Rhys Thomas, and Leapin' Louie Lichtenstein or playing solo at a country fair, this one man can fill a stage and hold an audience.
Shoehorn is an internationally recognized tap soloist, featured in the Emmy-nominated PBS TV documentary JUBA:Masters of Tap & Percussive Dance, and has toured Russia and Austria with other leading tap artists, including Savion Glover and Jason Samuels Smith. He performed in The Elegance of Tap, the Comedy of Tap (with Bill Irwin)and Tap Treasures and Tap Masters at Tap City, the New York City International Tap Dance Festival. "The man they call Shoehorn not only plays the alto sax amazingly well, he also does some expert tap-dancing as he plays. That's some serious multi-tasking." Stan Hall - The Oregonian
MC Shoehorn School Show Book Mr.Shoehorn for your school assembly! Shoehorn provides a highly entertaining yet educational presentation sure to be a hit with your students. Tap dancer and multi-instrumentalist Michael “Shoehorn” Conley has worked his whole life to embrace cultural diversity, starting with his experience as an exchange student in Peru, and continuing through his studies of jazz saxophone and rhythm tap, Spanish, Japanese, and other languages, and his interest in peace and environmental awareness, as reflected in his recordings and performances. His work illustrates the connections between races and nations through rhythm and song. Tailoring each show to grade level, Shoehorn can break down musical forms which constitute American musical heritage and place them in context with amusing introductions and utilizing various instruments. He is also a forceful advocate for the under-appreciated art form of rhythm tap dance, with personal connections to some of the overlooked masters of the dance, most of whom suffered from discrimination which denied them more prominent careers in 20th century show business. "Tap dance is a vital and important component of our musical heritage which influenced the rhythms of modern jazz in a profound way", he says, citing lore from masters such as Charles "Honi" Coles, James "Buster" Brown, Steve Condos, the Nicholas Brothers, Jimmy Slyde, Pronce Spencer, Jeni LeGon, and others. Shoehorn also pays homage to important musical figures the children may never have heard of, such as saxophonists Sydney Bechet, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker, as well as folk artists such as harmonica master Sonny Terry. Also available: musical ensembles and "Jugglemania with Shoehorn" improv & groove tap, sax & music STUDY ADVANCED/INTENSIVE STUDY.Want to learn Jazz/Rhythm Tap? Sax? How to play an instrument and tap dance at the same time? How about Improvisation and/or Theory? e-tap? JAM! Shoehorn is available for residencies, workshops, masterclasses and group lessons.
MC Shoehorn is a performance artist who creates music with his feet and dances with his horn. Michael "Shoehorn" Conley combines body rhythms and sophisticated jazz forms and concepts into an entertaining spectacle. While specializing in sax and tap dance, he is a multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer, utilizing a variety of wind and percussion instruments, classic and original songs, and an ear for music from around the world.
Shoehorn's Hatband - Shoehorn in a quartet with piano, bass, drums
Shoehorn's Hatband consists of Shoehorn backed by a trio of piano, bass, and drums. The players are all trained jazz musicians who jam and experiment with Shoehorn's material, from originals to grooving vamps, world music covers and standards from various eras of American music. Equally adept at old blues songs, classic showtunes, cooking Latin numbers and improvised vocabulary with funk and rock roots, it is an entertaining show band you could dance to.
This group is featured on Shoehorn's 2008 studio recording, titled Cafe Cirque, available at www.cdbaby.com/cd/shoehorn2
Trio Calzador - Latin/Japanese/Gypsy Swing with guitar
Trio Calzador emphasizes Latin and Japanese styles with a hint of gypsy swing and funk. It includes guitar and bass with Shoehorn's usual array of tappercussion, reeds and vocals. This group made a CD in 2003 titled Trio Calzador. Featured with Shoehorn are guitarist Toshi Onizuka and bassist Skip Elliott Bowman.
The disc is available at www.cdbaby.com/cd/shoehorn
- Shoehorn- tap dancing musician
"SHOEHORN" Tap dancing saxophonist
ONE-MAN SHOW or Bandleader, Soloist
Background: Shoehorn tap dances and plays the sax at the same time. He does this at festivals, theaters, clubs, weddings, schools, corporate, and casual events, mostly around Portland and the Northwest, but also as far away as Japan, Australia, Europe, Singapore and Russia and Toronto. He started as a street performer in New Orleans and gained experience jamming with performers in various genres, from rock and blues to world music and jazz and circus artists.
Shoehorn has performed in at least 30 countries. He is now a bandleader and solo performer with many different ways of presenting his basic ability of tapping and playing sax at the same time. People find this ability remarkable and often comment on how musical it is when they had expected a gimmick. He has recorded and released five CDs, each offering a new angle on his music and a range of textures from guitar and spoons to jazz piano trio to the Flamenco-flavored fusion of Trio Calzador. Being a synthesist of styles and techniques, he improvises on his originals and many jazz and pop tunes and enjoys collaborations with other artists. Shoehorn sings in English, Spanish and Japanese, and plays tunes from around the world as well as standards from the USA. He occasionally raps in the "RAPTAP!' style he developed.(WBRT 1994 CD) He also has pioneered the use of MIDI and analog electronics in tap dance (e-tap) since 1983 and utilizes the MIDI Tappercussion Mark VII etap.instrument on most gigs and and his recordings, all of which have featured at least one electronic tap tune. He also provides musical back-up and services for variety performers. He can perform anything from a 3-minute walk-on to three hour-long sets.
For his one-man multi-media show, "Shoehorn's Saxovision" Shoehorn adds spoken word and other elements to his standard multi-instrumental tap dance performance. (See press/reviews)
Performance Options from Shoehorn - President of shoehornmusic
Shoehorn’s world-famous solo act-
tap dance and sax plus e-tap*, harmonica, clarinet,
and the one-man-drum-circle!
Shoehorn's "Saxovision" The solo act plus Spoken-word, Voice-overs, Tributes, Singalongs, Costumes, Lighting, and even more Instrumental "Characters" -no joke!
quartet with piano, bass, & drums
Trio Calzador - with Spanish guitar & bass
Shoehorn’s Vaudeville Lounge -
Hatband plus special guest performers
Jugglemania with Shoehorn
A Downsized Circus!
Shoehorn VonTap Family-
I perform with my young daughters in our musical variety show.
Shoehorn School Show
Book Shoehorn for your school assembly!
Shoehorn provides a highly entertaining yet educational presentation sure to be a hit with your students. Tap dancer and multi-instrumentalist Michael “Shoehorn” Conley has worked his whole life to embrace cultural diversity, starting with his experience as an exchange student in Peru, and continuing through his studies of jazz saxophone and rhythm tap, Spanish, Japanese, and other languages, and his interest in peace and environmental awareness, as reflected in his recordings and performances. His work demonstrates not only American art forms, but also illustrates the connections between other races and nations through rhythm and song.
Also available: musical ensembles and "Jugglemania with Shoehorn"
improv & groove tap, sax & music STUDY
STUDY.Want to learn Jazz/Rhythm Tap? Sax? How to play an instrument and tap dance at the same time? How about Improv and/or Theory? e-tap? JAM! Shoehorn is now accepting private students. Group lessons can be arranged.
Dancer and saxophonist Shoehorn is an internationally recognized tap soloist, featured in the Emmy-nominated PBS TV documentary JUBA:Masters of Tap & Percussive Dance, and has toured Russia and Austria with other leading tap artists, including Savion Glover, Sarah Petronio, Brenda Buffalino, Tappage, and Jason Samuels Smith. He also performed in Tap Treasures and Tap Masters at Tap City 2004, the New York City International Tap Dance Festival.
Shoehorn's Vaudeville Lounge played 5 sets at the Beaverton Summerfest July 17-18, featuring special guests Nancy King, Toshi Onizuka, Baby Gramps, TJ Yale and Artis the Spoonman. They were also featured at the BITE Festival in Portland on August 15th, with guests Roxane Butterfly on tap, vocalist Shirley Nanette, eccentric guitarist Baby Gramps and unicycle champion Rob Brown.
The man they call Shoehorn not only plays the alto sax amazingly well, he also does some expert tap-dancing as he plays. That's some serious multi-tasking. Stan Hall - The Oregonian 5/31/02
SHOEHORN-TAP DANCE AND SAXOPHONE
Michael Shoehorn Conley is a very unique entertainer. He simultaneously creates music with his feet and dance with his horn. He performs this organically, with no set routine, improvising on standards, blues, rock, world music and his own compositions.
Inspired by Gene Kelly and John Coltrane, it's clear that Shoehorn is operating on his own concept in tap dance, which he refers to as Tappercussion (TM), a term he also uses for his electronic tap ("etap" TM) instruments. Besides shoes and sax, he features clarinet, harmonica, percussion, and "etap", xylophone or vocals.
Shoehorn's music reflects his personal investigations and interpretations of cultures he has immersed himself in, including Latin American, Asian and European flavors and the variety of his native USA. He also draws deeply on nature for inspiration and validation, carrying his sax to the mountains and seaside.
Shoehorn, performing tap and sax simultaneously, was featured in Emmy-nominated JUBA: Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance on PBS TV. Director Lane Alexander called him "the discovery, the hit of the festival".
Shoehorn went to Russia in April 2002 with an all-star cast of tap dancers, including Savion Glover, Brenda Buffalino and Jason Samuels-Smith,performing in a series of concerts in Moscow and St.Petersburg for the Tapparade 2002,Festival.
Shoehorn has recorded five CDs as a leader including Cafe Cirque, the Blue Monk, Trio Calzador, the Shoehorn Swing, and World beat Ragtime, released on his own imprint, Kutsubera Music. He is a BMI composer and a member of American Federation of Musicians Local 99.
Shoehorn and Trio Calzador were featured on OPB TV's Artbeat October 23rd & October 26th, 2003
Shoehorn's Vaudeville Lounge was featured on Artbeat in September, 2004
Shoehorn leads several groups, including Trio Calzador, a world-jazz outfit with flamenco guitarist Toshi Onizuka, the VonTap Quartet, with piano,bass and drums, and the larger ensemble with rotating cast called Shoehorn's Vaudeville Lounge. He also works as a "one-man pit orchestra" with comedian Rhys Thomas in Jugglemania with Shoehorn.
Some reviews of Shoehorn:
“Both an exceptional entertainer and a serious artist, Shoehorn's synthesized the juba-lent complexities of jazz and tap--mind-melding with both Honi Coles with John Coltrane--creating an utterly engaging blend of bebop toughness and fluid, feets-don't-fail-me-now panache.” Tim Duroche, Willamette Week
"The man they call Shoehorn not only plays the alto sax amazingly well, he also does some expert tap-dancing as he plays. That's some serious multi-tasking." The Oregonian -5/31/02
"Miraculous...a dance company and orchestra in one."
"...amazing marriage of dancing and saxophone playing." ChicagoTribune
" an amusing routine with a serious message..."
Christian Science Monitor
"impeccably tight and controlled dancing ... mean alto saxophone..."
"Es un gran artista"
flamenco master- Ramon De los Reyes
"covering the boards with a sheet of sound..."
" A sound to behold"
Twin Falls Times-News
Thanks to Matthew Bernstein and Oregon Music News!
How many people do you think play the saxophone?
While the instrument is certainly an important part of the American jazz tradition, Biography.com lists only 22 famous players. In contrast, the same site lists 162 guitarists.
What about famous tap dancers?
Tap dancing is also associated with that same time period of American creative expression. So, how many people do you think tap dance?
While there may not be prolific numbers of tap dancers today, there is a National Tap Dance Day. And according to a leading author on the subject, Constance Valis Hill, “24 years since the passage of the U.S. Joint Resolution declaring May 25 to be ‘National Tap Dance Day,’ tap dance is regarded as a national treasure, a veritable American vernacular dance form celebrated annually in big cities and small towns in every state of the country with performances, classes, tap jams, and tributes galore.”
Given all of this, how common would it be to find a saxophone player who tap dances as well?
No, we mean at the same time. Really. Pretty rare, right?
Well, it just so happens that Michael Conley does exactly that, and he lives right here in NE Portland.
Known as Shoehorn, his catchy stage name highlights his remarkable talents. What Shoehorn does might seem flashy and maybe even a bit corny to some, but it is anything but. Shoehorn himself is a thoughtful creator with a passion for following his own path. He is about as uncommercial or gimmicky as it gets. One listen to his soulful sounds and expressive beats make it easy to see why Shoehorn seamlessly blends his two talents together. When he performs, each supports the other and makes a coherent, whole musical picture.
OMN spoke with Shoehorn about his life, his loves, and making it in the music business.
shoehornShoehorn moved around a lot as a child. Born in Wisconsin and raised in the Chicago area, Shoehorn’s family spent time in the Midwest and on the West Coast as they followed their businessman father. While Shoehorn moved from place to place, his love for music remained constant.
“As a kid, I sang in church groups and I was an altar boy. I played the harmonica as a teen. I was an exchange student in Peru and that’s what kicked off my dream of becoming a professional musician. My Peruvian brother played banjo and guitar and I played harmonica and we used to jam a lot. I got interested in world rhythms in Peru. I learned a lot about different Latin dance forms and rhythms. I had a happy childhood,” Shoehorn remembers.
Shoehorn learned to play multiple instruments and now plays about 12, including wind and many percussion instruments, as well as the piano, and, of course, the saxophone. He is also an accomplished arranger and composer. Tap dancing seemed a natural progression for a kid who was closely attuned to rhythms.
“I always listened to my footsteps when I would practice my harmonica. When I would walk on my way to school or on the way back home, I would keep a steady rhythm with my feet while playing the harmonica. I’d throw in extra sounds with my feet all the time. I was working out west as a tree planter in a reforestation project when I was young, and my friend took me to dollar movie night to see a movie called Singing in the Rain. I saw it and I said, ‘Oh, tap dancing!’ and that was it. I had never really paid any attention to tap dancing before but I liked the sound of the feet.
“About six months after that I was at Mardi Gras in New Orleans and I saw that people were just tap dancing on the street. I asked some of them where they got the taps and they told me about a little cobbler, and I got some old shoes at the thrift store and put some taps on them and that’s how I began my tap dancing life,” Shoehorn explains.
Playing multiple instruments and performing as a street musician is plenty difficult, but Shoehorn added the tap as a simple expression of his whole body art.
“I was already playing the sax as a street musician, and the very first time, I just tapped while playing that sax at the same time. It was not a fully formed artistic expression at that point—it was just adding a rhythm to the saxophone. In those days when I was in New Orleans practicing, I was always in front of people on the street performing. That was my practice. When it wasn’t Mardi Gras or when I was in some other city, I would practice. You always have to practice technique. After a couple of years of street performing, I went to college for a few years and studied music,” Shoehorn adds.
Most people would find playing the saxophone and tap dancing very challenging, but when asked, Shoehorn is more philosophical.
“One thing that has been challenging for me has been playing music that isn’t the most popular music. When I was a kid, people were listening to rock and roll and funk, and while I played those genres, if you’re a saxophone player, that music is kind of limiting. As far as role models go, there weren’t many popular ones that were familiar because you know guitar dominates rock and most popular music. If you play a horn, you have to deal with jazz masters and that isn’t as interesting as the rock guitarists. If you play somewhere, people want the rock-associated greats and they’ll yell, ‘Clarence!’ (Clemmons from the Bruce Springsteen band), and it’s not that Clarence wasn’t cool, but it would have been more comfortable for me if they wanted to hear a jazz great, like Coltrane or Duke Ellington. Jazz music is the deepest field for saxophone players and it just wasn’t the popular music of my generation,” Shoehorn says.
shoehorn tap and sax
Shoehorn certainly chose a different path, and as expected, his music reflects a different goal.
“I would hope that people see that what I’m doing is a life-affirming expression. I’m trying to convey the beauty of life and also acknowledge the sadness and the melancholy of life, and within that, to ultimately find joy and love in music. It is a tough love theme. It has got some edges and hard knocks and tears in there, as well as the laughter and the joy. I try to put it all in my music: The cry of the human condition and what it means to be human.
“There is also a little bit of rebellion, too. I’ve never really been satisfied with the political and social culture, so my music is a response to that. One of my big idols is Bob Dylan, which is odd because I play the sax—I don’t strum a guitar and sing—but I like the idea of a philosophical statement of not really participating in the madness of our society. I enjoy creating my own answer to that with my own expression which is self-contained. I like to play in a band but I don’t need a band. I don’t need anyone else to tell me what I need to do. I always have work to do. I always have gigs. My work is endless and getting paid for it, for me, is just part of the reward I get from it,” Shoehorn explains.
Shoehorn’s rewards are quiet ones. His successes stem from purely personal moments that have blossomed into proud accomplishments.
“My five CDs that I’ve put out on my own label are some successes for me, and some of the big concerts I’ve done with some big name tap dancers around the world in Russia, Austria, Japan, and Australia. My travels and meeting other people—that has been a high point in my life. Another high point has been having a family. I have two teenage daughters and their mother’s an artist and we all live together in NE Portland and they’ve been my greatest work. It’s my family,” Shoehorn notes softly.
As Shoehorn reflects on a varied career, it’s clear that his path is far from stopping, but rather keeps twisting and turning. He continues to play regular monthly gigs, as well as in a variety of venues—from huge festivals and fairs to school assemblies and intimate parties. He also has multiple band associations. Some of these include Fools in Paradise and Wanderlust Circus.
Would it surprise you to know that he also is a creator of digital sounds?
“I originally started using electronic tap dancing, or e-tap, experimentally in the 1980s. When I found out about music instrument digital interface, or MIDI, I was living in Japan and learned that they had come out with this digital interface. I started experimenting with it, and after 10 years, I came up with the seventh version of my Tappercussion™ MIDI instrument, which I call the Mark VII. I want to plug my triggers into an iPad at some point, but I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities using a drum module from a drum kit. For example, I can program note numbers which correspond to a different pitch. So 60 is C and 61 is C sharp. I can have on my Mark VII e-tap eight notes of sound. I can use presets so it sounds like drums coming from my feet when I trigger it with my tap shoes.
“I’ve experimented with a crunchy snow sound and a dry rustling leaves sound. It’s also possible to trigger the sound of a trumpet, which can be cool if you do it right. For example, it can be very effective if you are a performance artist and you’re reciting in spoken word, and you get to a certain point and bang your foot and you get a trumpet arpeggio. So that is how I use effects and rhythm. I don’t use the sequence or drum machine that has an automatic beat. I do all my beats in real-time through my body,” Shoehorn says.
“People don’t even notice what it is a lot of the time. People hear it and say, ‘Wow! That’s amazing!’ because they’ve never seen anybody perform this way unless they’ve seen me, because not many people do this,” Shoehorn adds.
He’s right—not many people can tap dance and play the sax at the same time, and they’d be hard pressed to be able to do it as well and as effortlessly as Shoehorn does.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see Shoehorn when he plays around the state. Check out his calendar of events, which includes upcoming dates at the Oregon Country Fair (July 12-14) outside of Eugene in Veneta and at the Bite of Oregon (August 9-11) in downtown Portland.