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Shoehorn: News/BLOG

New Recordings! - November 10, 2010

I have been recording all year with Fools in Paradise and I will soon be releasing some new recordings with Bronkar Lee as well.

The December 19 Blue Monk gig - December 21, 2009

Wow, That was an incredible night! Claudinho and Alexandra are both great singers and the band was right with them. I was sitting in a high powered horn section and got to launch some inspired riffs. That and last month's Free Beat Nation gig opening for Sambada have reaffirmed my belief that music is a force for sanity and understanding in the turbulent worlds ( personal and societal) we inhabit. I am very interested in having some kind of work in Brazil as artist-in-residence or a little concert tour.

Happy National Tap Dance Day/ Memorial Day - May 25, 2009

Today's Rose Festiaval solo show was hot! I had happy feet! It was National Tap Dance Day, as established by the United States Congress in 1989 to recognize the role and stature of tap dance as an American art form. May 25th was chosen because it is the birthday of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. I have been fortunate enough to meet and perform with many great artists in the jazz tap tradition, and last night I posted a photo of myself with the late, great Jimmy Slyde and Japanese performer Sadao Matsubara, taken in Tokyo on tour. Please hit the photo button on this website to view this and other pictures.
http://www.shoehornmusic.com/photos.html
Coincidentally, May 25 was also Memorial Day this year. I personally hope we will stop sending our young people off to be killed in armed conflicts so this holiday loses some of it's sting over time. In my lifetime it seems all of the wars we were in were tragically bogus. As the father of two young Americans, my heart goes out to the families of those killed in action, regardless of differences of opinion about U.S. foreign policy.
Sincerely, Shoehorn

Buy the CD! I will be out of the hole soon on this one! Thanks for supporting my work!
http://cdbaby.com/cd/shoehorn2
--the White Eagle Saloon
Wednesday, MAY 27

Shoehorn and the Hatband - 8:30 to midnight

Come and hear us- NO COVER!

The White Eagle is located at:

836 N. Russel Street, Portland OR 97227 503-282-6810

NO COVER!
Shoehorn's Hatband with Skip Elliott, Ezra Weiss and John Keyser plus special
guests.

Also: More of Shoehorn's solo act at the 2009 Portland Rose Festival
Dex World Rhythm Stage
Noon on May 28th,
2pm on June 4th
There is a $5 cover to get into the Portland Rose Festival Waterfront Village, with some free days and kids under 7 free.

Shoehorn in Japan, Fall 2008 - December 3, 2008

My wife Kurumi and I took our kids to her hometown of Kyoto, Japan where she exhibited her artwork at Gallery Shirakawa for the first ten days of November. http://www.kurumiglass.com/ We got there a week early to set things up. I was able to check out the tap scene right away when I performed with Sam and his trio at the Trank Room in Kyoto. Sam was fascinated by my special lightweight ( the tappercussion superlight tap instrument) which I had carried with me to make sure I could get my tap sound.
A couple of days later I performed at a banquet for the Kyoto Lion's Club with Mari Fujibayashi of the international tap duo Tappage, a friend of mine from the tap circuit. We had previously performed on the same bill in concerts and festivals in New York and Russia. This was different, as we had never actually done an act together. Her sister Yuri played the piano and I sang, played sax and tapped while Mari tapped. It was great fun and the audience loved us. The following week I taught a rhythm tap workshop to Mari's Kyoto students, which was also very fruitful.
After playing at Kurumi's opening I headed down to the Tokyo area, staying with an old buddy, Grego, and his wife and ferrets. I made it to the Thursday tap jam at Ance Yoyogi, which was very cool and where I was able to meet some more of Japan's young tap talent and some friends of friends. They dug what I had to offer.
Friday I headed out to Yokohama to play on Isezaki-cho, where I used to busk a lot back in the day. It has become quite popular with younger Japanese performers in recent years. The area was a hub of jazz in post-war Japan, and the song Isezaki-cho Blues is included on my latest CD, Cafe Cirque. Mrs. Okubo showed up along with Mr. Mori the photographer and Mr. Ikuo Mitsuhashi, founder of the Mogongekki Company and also of the Noge Daidoge Festival. We met later at Papa John, the fantastic watering hole in Noge with it's priceless collection of modern jazz and enka LPs. Papa John, the colorful and hard-working bar master recently passed, may he rest in peace. He was a real character! His son has taken over.
Papa John is one of those unique little joints that can never be replicated any where else. I offer a toast to it's continued success!

The next day I hooked up with my old pal Andy Matsukami, aka Kento Freaky, a very talented drummer, rhythm dancer, singer, comedian and sound effects guy. I later joined him for an impromptu set at rock gig at an English pub called What the Dickens in Ebisu. That was really a blast as this guy is a great improviser and seamlessly weaves comic notions into tap, scat singing, beat boxing and drumming. I played sax and tapped.
The finale of the Tokyo area trip was a visit to the CAN English School, at a party for me hosted by Mr. David Claypatch aka Zat Amazing Guy. There were many friends there old and new, including Okubo-san from Yokohama and David Ramsay, plus Guts and Yoko of Sublimit, whom I had worked with in Toronto earlier this year.
By the time I got back to Portland after security checks/annoyance galore and hours of trains ,planes and automobiles, I was happy to be home. I really over-taxed myself hauling my sax and tap boards through the Tokyo train system for 4 days, but I had to represent!
I love Japan.

R.I.P. Mr. Windsong aka Mark Hampson June 4, 1952 - Nov. 8, 2008 - November 21, 2008

I recently lost an old musical partner and friend who I knew the better part of 30 years. here is a link to his obituary:
http://www.svherald.com/articles/2008/11/20/community/obituaries/doc492501d1e4328983214863.txt And here is my statement to the world on this personal loss:
To the friends and family of Windsong, aka Mark Hampson, who I knew for a good 30 years. My heart reaches across the country from Oregon as I share your grief in this sad moment of farewell and remembrance. I am known to many of you as Shoehorn, and although Windsong and I had not seen much of each other since I settled down in Portland, I considered him one of my closest friends. We performed together as "the Funtones" and in the drum line Bisbee Boombah with Jeri Doud. He was certainly a formative influence on my musical personality, which is to say, who I am today.
Windsong and I shared a musical bond which transcended music- steeped in full-moon mysticism, expressed in rousing existential blues and irreverent quasi-operatic spoofs and organic, breathing percussion. He could strum his own essence from the strings of a guitar and merge it with my musical spirit in a uniquely supportive yet assertive role. My horn answered his voice, his guitar laid down the structure for my sax solos, my tap dance boosted his big beat and we would sing it together on the chorus . It seemed we could read each other's minds. His musicality went beyond technical mastery- he played his very being.
The man had a big laugh and could turn it on himself when caught in an ironic twist or flaw in his rap or rant. We shared many, many laughs at the sublimely ridiculous aspects of the human condition. He could be a keen judge of character and intent, vigilant, yet generally trusting and forgiving. The guy liked a good time more than anything else.
He brought his family all over the place to perform. Tucson, Tempe, Northern California, Oregon, Seattle, then New Orleans, New York, Montreal, Quebec City and his native Massachusetts are all places I played with him. I also flew him out to Key West, Florida for a recording session once. He wound up taking the bus back home after missing his return flight, one of a number of travel mishaps that must have made Bisbee seem a lot cozier than life on the road,
I dug his kids and spent a fair amount of time with Star when he was little, and I thought Windsong and Rosie had a pretty sweet thing going there for a while. I thought of Windsong as an attentive father, who included his children in his daily activities to an unusual extent. I have become re-acquainted with Star and can attest that his strong character was evident from his boyhood. I can imagine his girls Serena and Maya share that resilience.
I say Windsong had a good heart. I believe that the young Windsong was an extremely perceptive and sensitive individual who, initially defiant to the injustice and indifference of the world, retreated into a smokey cocoon - dissolution begat of disillusion. This perhaps clouded his vivid philosophical insight and loosened his grip in recent times. No doubt he might have disagreed with these impressions.
There was bluster and bravado not only in his music, which I found compelling, but also in his pride in his other skills, which were numerous. He inspired me with these abilities, as I taught myself to repair and make things. He was really intelligent, independent and capable.
Windsong was like the older brother I never had, who showed me many things and shared almost everything with me. He was a generous friend, and we trusted each other in a way that allowed us to create something greater than what our individual capabilities
allowed. We were also, at times "obviously oblivious", in the words of one disgruntled citizen.
I urge you all to join me in a meditation on his being- a prayer for his soul- and a song for his memory.
LOVE,
Michael "Shoehorn" Conley
Portland, Oregon
November 20, 2008

Eastern touring summer 2008 - September 12, 2008

I reconnected with my roots as a street performer this year and also with many old friends. Tap dancing originated as a busking art form and saxophone just sounds great outdoors. I started my performing career on the streets of New Orleans during the Mardi Gras of 1979 and have been performing ever since. I have always loved travel, and my act has taken me to over 30 countries. in July, while on a trip to Baltimore to visit family, I spent a day with Scotty and Joan Houghton, aka Jesse and James, and we performed at Harbor Place as a trio plus two of their dogs! It is an old showbiz maxim to "never work with kids or animals", but since I already work with my kids sometimes- what the heck? The dogs were real crowd-pleasers and I enjoyed hitting percussion cues, like the cymbal crash every time the the frisbee hit the dog's mouth!
In August I played at the Festival of Fools in Burlington, Vermont, a new festival lovingly curated by my old friend and colleague Mr. Woodhead. The audience responded well to my act and was very supportive of the busking concept. Burlington is a cool little city and it was fun to go back there after so many years.
Next I played in Port Credit, Ontario, at their Buskerfest. The folks there treated us very well, including luxury accommodations and some very nice little spots to play. This town is just outside of Toronto, and the Toronto International Buskerfest was the biggie. The whole thing is organized by Epilepsy Toronto under the direction of the very capable Mackenzie Muldoon. The festival showcased acts from as far away as Australia and Japan and we also raised a heap of money for a good cause. A highlight was accompanying other acts in the group shows, where all the proceeds went to Epilepsy Toronto.
There are a couple of reviews of my show at this festival on the press page of this site. In addition to my other skills, people seemed to be blown away by my MIDI tap rig- the Tappercussion Mark VII. Incidentally, I have one ready to go if anyone wants it. It is surprisingly affordable, and like I tell the youngsters- the field is wide open- you could write your own ticket with one of these things!
I seriously am looking to share this instrument with the world and actively seek artists to help me carry on with this thing.
The freedom of the busking life is not to be under-estimated. It is great to connect with people in a purely random manner via the open air and public spaces. While there can be severe limitations and even legal hassles in some communities, the potential for artistic growth and performance experience which can translate very well to the stage is significant.
I want to thank every one who ever gave me a donation and encouraged me over the last 30 years!

Cafe Cirque CD available at http://cdbaby.com/cd/shoehorn2 - April 22, 2008

On January 22-23rd, I took my quartet into the Big Red recording studio to record 12 songs. We recorded to analog tape and achieved a live-in-the-studio document of the group's sound. Cafe Cirque features Dan Gaynor on piano. Skip Elliott Bowman on bass and Ward Griffiths on drums. All have been performing with me for a number of years and I have wanted to record us properly for awhile, having done a number of quickie mini-disc recordings of our gigs. Come to our CD launch party at Jimmy Mak's and check us out. Below are some notes about the new disc.
Shoehorn’s - Cafe Cirque 1/22/08 Big Red Studio

1. Okonomide
This tune is by Shiina Ringo, a sensational artist from Japan. She has done various versions of it on CD and video, including one with a jazz piano trio and a big string section. The title , roughly translated means “As you like”
2. Carbon Footprint
This tune is a feature for burning footwork based on “rhythm changes” a common 32-bar structure for jazz performers and composers.
3. Wet Foot Blues
is a fun blues number born at the Portland Sat
urday Market where I occasionally perform Need I say? It was raining that day.
4. When it’s Sleepy Time Down South
This was Louis Armstrong’s theme song later in his career, and Pops has always been one of my all-time idols since I saw him on TV as a kid. We take it even further south with a bossa feel.
5. La Lluvia (the Rain)
I wrote this several winters ago on a kid’s Casio sitting at my performing partner Rhys Thomas’s kitchen table. It was raining that day too.
6. Waking Up in Mexico
I actually wrote this one in Japan one morning as I woke up at a friend’s house after a night of music and visiting. Since I was sleeping in his studio with my head next to the piano I immediately worked it out and wrote it down. The song is featured in my comedy video “Jump Start” on youtube.
7. Isezaki-cho Blues is a noir-ish Japanese Rumba. Isezaki-cho is a shopping street in Yokohama, Japan, where I spent time busking on nights I was not gigging. It had been the center of a bustling post-war jazz scene in the 1950’s. The famed singer Misora Hibari came from the neighborhood. Guys used to stop and listen, pretending they were Humphrey Bogart while they enjoyed a cigarette. last time I was there it had become a mecca for youngish singer/guitarists.
8. The Strawberry Waltz
I felt the record needed a waltz and I loved this one by my daughter Isabel Sakura who wrote this at age 11.
9. Fuego Azul (Silk Road)
This piece led off my last CD, Trio Calzador, from 2003. I wanted to show a different side of it with the drums and piano, using the same setting on the Tappercussion Mark VII e-tap instrument
10.Raptapsody in Blue
I originally performed this one at the 1993 JazzTap/HipHop festival in Boston. I recorded it in 1994 as a solo piece on my 1st CD, World Beat Ragtime, but I wanted to give it the full band treatment.
11. Remember My Forgotten Man
I discovered this great Harry Warren song when I got the DVD of Gold Diggers of 1933, a depression-era behind-the-scenes musical with Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, and Dick Powell with elaborate choreography by Busby Berkely. In an early scene the song is done as a demo for the producer character and then closes the show as a huge production number. I was struck by the relevance of the lyrics to the current situation of war veterans and the unemployed and homeless. I also really love the dramatic intervals and mood of the song.
12. Wilt’s Walk
Wilt’s Walk is a bass clarinet feature I use on variety gigs for puppet characters and comic effect.
Shoehorn - CAFE CIRQUE
Michael Shoehorn Conley:
Alto Saxophone, Tap Dance, Tappercussion Mark VI e-tap instrument (tracks 9,10), Harmonica (3,10), Vocal(3,10), Clarinet (10), Fife (10), Bass Clarinet (12)

Ward Griffiths : Drums
Dan Gaynor : Piano, Organ (3,10)
Skip Elliott Bowman: Bass

Michael Shoehorn Conley has been described as a Neo-Vaudevillian Jazz Master. He was inspired to develop his special combination of talents by his love of various forms of musical expression, from folk and blues to jazz, musical comedy and world music. While he occasionally forays into free jazz and hard bop, the instincts of a true entertainer permeate all that he does. This also enables him to interface with variety performers of various stripes, for whom he improvises intricately timed live soundtracks in theatrical performances. In addition to various saxophones and clarinets, he plays harmonica, fife, keyboards, percussion & drums, sings in 3 languages, and writes poems and lyrics. He also invented and built his own tap dance interface for electronics, the TAPPERCUSSION MARK VI e-tap instrument
www.shoehornmusic.com
TAPPERCUSSION, e-tap, and Cafe Cirque are trademarks of Michael Shoehorn Conley


Track list: all songs by Michael Conley, kutsubera music, except as noted
1. Okonomide (Shiina Ringo, Kronekodow )

2. Carbon Footprint

3. Wet Foot Blues

4. When it’s Sleepy Time Down South
(Rene, Rene & Muse)

5. La Lluvia (the Rain)

6. Waking Up in Mexico

7. Isezaki-cho Blues
(Youichi Suzuki, Victor Japan)

8. The Strawberry Waltz
Isabel Sakura Conley

9. Fuego Azul (Silk Road)

10.Raptapsody in Blue

11.Remember My Forgotten Man
(Harry Warren)
12. Wilt’s Walk

Recorded to analog tape, mixed and mastered by Billy Oskay at Big Red Studio in Oregon, January and February 2008. Thanks to Klaus Heyne & Alan Garren for providing customized microphones and vintage electronics. www.bigredstudio.com Acknowledgements: Shoehorn would also like to thank Kurumi Conley, Eileen Konomi & Isabel Sakura, Dr. Olando Tognozzi, Bert Wilson, Bob Mover, Joe Donato, Rhys Thomas, David Lichtenstein, David Carlos Valdez, Pere Soto, Prince Spencer, Savion, Dianne Walker, Brenda Buffalino, Roxy and Max, Artis, Baby Gramps, Curtis Chamberlain, Chuck et al at Wally’s Music Service, Stevie G., “William Batty”, Jeri Doud, Gerry Slate, Mark Z., Hiroko, Mampei and Oka-a-chan, Multnomah County Library, and last but not least, Kristin, Jeffrey, and William & Elizabeth Conley

Cafe Cirque CD Release Party a big success! - March 16, 2008

My Cafe Cirque CD release Party at Jimmy Mak's was jammed with people- reservations were sold out and people were being packed in. My daughters, aka the VonTap Kids, joined us on stage during part of the first set, and the crowd loved them. The band played great and we were assisted by Pere Soto on guitar and David Valdez on tenor sax. Our special guest tap dancer from New York City, Max Pollak, exceeded even my expectations with his tight, slamming and dynamic Afro-Cuban-influenced rhythm tap dancing.
I was able to release another CD the same night, Shoehorn the Blue Monk, a raw, live document of a gig at the Blue Monk, a club which no longer books live music. Recorded to minidisc, it features Pere Soto on guitar and electronics, Artis the Spoonman on spoon percussion and electronics (plus spoken word on track 1), Dan Gaynor on keyboards and electronics, and myself on sax, clarinet, fife, e-tap, tap, percussion
etc. We are joined on tenor sax by David Valdez on 3 songs and by Sean Congos on trombone on 2 songs. It is a rollicking improvised joyride! Hop on!

Madcap Variety Company tours New Mexico - February 29, 2008

For many years I have performed with variety or vaudeville and circus performers, starting on Mallory Dock in Key West and through my years as a busker and event performer in Europe, Japan and World Expositions. In addition to rotating in as a featured act I have accompanied acts of various stripes on a range of instruments, including my sax, of course.
With my two long-time friends and performing partners Leapin' Louie Lichtenstein and Rhys Thomas, I just returned from an 11-day tour of New Mexico as Madcap Variety Company, playing college towns like Silver City, Las Vegas and Socorro, as well as Tucumcari, Taos, Artesia and a Navajo reservation. Leapin' Louie is a juggler who also has impressive skills as a cowboy roper and he gets a lot of down-home harmonica playing from me as well as a rather novel arrangement of "Im an Old Cowhand" Rhys Thomas and I have done occasional tours for years now and have integrated jazz ballads with plate juggling and lively fake Latin drumming with crazy plate spinning and absurd multi-tasking stunts, such as when he hits a paddle ball with one hand, juggles two balls in the other while he spins a ring on his leg and a ball on a mouth-stick, and I play piano with my right hand, snare drum with my left, and harmonica in a rack while tap dancing!
Needless to say, audiences love our zany shenanigans! It is hard not to like, and it even sounds good! (They say I have been making juggling sound better since 1983!)
Madcap Variety Company has invented new tricks just for this show including a wonderful number involving over a dozen ordinary packing boxes!
we will be editing some video soon and are seeking to book our special Holiday Show as well as more tours and local gigs.
Please contact me for information about details and dates.

January at shoehornmusic - January 10, 2008

I am continuing to play the Rose City Vaudeville (1/17,1/31) and William Batty's Circus shows (with the Hatband, 1/26 ) at the Hippodrome and also have posted a solo demo on youtube (see links)
My buddy Stevie G (no relation to Kenny) has posted a comic short film I wrote and starred in on you tube as well. It is called Jump Start.
I will be on tour in New Mexico in February with MadCap Variety Company as their one-man pit orchestra. I have recently acquired a banjo and a flute, both in need of repair. I will be attempting to release a couple of CDs in the coming months and am looking forward to gigs with my band, Shoehorn's Hatband, February 8th at the Laurelthirst and March 14th at Jimmy Mak's with special guests tap dancer Max Pollak of NYC and guitarist Pere Soto of Barcelona.
Please come to these shows as tour presence is very important to us!
Have a great 2008!

Dennis Kucinich for President - November 13, 2007

To my fellow citizens. Hi everyone! I am announcing my support for Dennis Kucinich for President. I have no illusions that many of you care what I think about who would be a good president, but I urge you to take an open-minded look at his platform and ask if any other candidate has a more honest approach with better prospects for change - especially an end to the policy of overwhelming military
responses to foreign policy challenges. If we are the truly the greatest power we need to lead the world by an example of peace, tolerance, social, economic, and environmental justice, communication and respect.
Torture, invasions, bombing and bullying is not the American way that I was raised to respect and honor. It is as if the ruling elite in this country in both government and business spheres learned nothing from the 60s and 70s- the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Energy Crisis, the Environmental Movement, and all the advances in science and communication, which even I as an interested layman seem to know enough about. If I had any credentials I would run for office myself. Don't accept the wisecracks about Dennis or the notion that he is a fringe candidate. Register to vote and help get Kucinich on the ballot. I met Mrs. Kucinich at a fund raiser the other day (see photo page) and she is impressive in every way on the issues and in her humanity. These are real people! Elizabeth Kucinich has none of the phony aura of most politicians. She expertly articulates her husband's policies and radiates goodness. Throw your support behind Kucinich!

Breast Cancer Month - October 24, 2007

October is Breast Cancer Month. You might ask what that has to do with Shoehorn, tap dance and sax music. It just so happens that Sharita, a belly dancer who appeared in one of my shows, who teaches and performs in Portland, is herself a breast cancer survivor and wrote a blues lyric about her ordeal with chemotherapy. This may resonate with many people due to the unfortunately high rate of cancer in our society. Sharita approached me about recording the song, and I was able to enlist the talents of the superb vocalist Marilyn Keller, blues guitar man- about-town Norman Sylvester, and one of my favorite piano men, Dan Gaynor. You can listen to the track by tapping the music button on this website and clicking on Sharita's Chemo Blues. I think it came out very well and may help heal some emotional scars of the deadly disease.

Tapping with DJs - January 21, 2007

MAKING TAP WORK.
21ST CENTURY TAP:PERFORMING WITH DJs
Go to an art gallery opening, what do you see? An ambient DJ. Attend a banquet, or your cousin’s wedding? Not a live band, but a DJ. It is not news that DJs are becoming ubiquitous in venues more traditionally served by musicians and other live entertainment. DJs do provide live entertainment of course, and are also often featured on turntables, samplers, mixers and effects and keyboards as part of a band’s instrumentation. The advantage for them is they can spin records and get a crowd dancing without breaking a sweat. Tap dancers may be able to find opportunities in this competitive crisis.
It is not uncommon to see a vocalist, horn or percussion player with a DJ act. Why not a tap dancer? A competent and creative DJ can provide a wide variety of sounds to accompany a tap act, and tappers can inspire a different kind of energy for the DJ. Live tap performances can kick things up a few notches at parties and other events and get the crowd in the mood. I am thinking, here, of a cutting-edge contemporary Brazilian Afro-Samba jam laced with Reggae and HipHop, of course. That could describe a side-project band I am a member of. But you could just as well mean “in the mood” like Glen Miller’s “In the Mood”, or any other dance genre from Disco to Rockabilly to Swing or Salsa.
There are a few important things to be prepared for. You must have some sound reinforcement. If you need a lot of space to dance in, there are various techniques for miking the dance floor. As a rhythm dancer, I generally use an SM57 mic
under my raised 3’ square plywood tap board, which delivers a strong signal to the mixing console. Be careful not to turn it up too loud or it will feed back hideously.
Another idea here is to split your signal between a straight feed into a dedicated channel for your “pure” tap sound, and another feed to the DJ for sound manipulation. For example, there are filters, shifters, delays, and other effects on many mixers that can transform your sound in intriguing ways. With some rehearsal, the DJ can sample an ostinato tap phrase and the dancer can then solo over the sample. The DJ can even use your samples to jam with you!
This dovetails nicely with my previous articles on electronic tap, and I have found some interesting settings for my tap, e-tap and horns recently with Go Gringo Go and DJ Cachacina. Cachacina sings and raps in Portuguese, and is also a turntablist and a whiz with drum machines and computers. We are parts of Go Gringo Go, a large band of percussionists with bass,keys,vocalists and horns(one of whom tap dances!) We have tried all the things described above and have rehearsed some grooves to improvise on when other band members are changing instruments between songs. I like to think the breaks are reminiscent of the Vaudeville days when any little lull in the flow would be met with “Send out a tap dancer”, or an MC would soft-shoe to kill some time. (For the record, I am a child of the Rock and Roll era, not a veteran of the Vaudeville circuit!).
Anyway, between the mic, MIDI e-tap and the DJ’s effects, we were actually triply-processing the raw tap sound to create new textures- and it can sound very cool. Plus it can be a gig, so don’t send me hate-mail about the pure sound of taps and leather and wood are all you need! I spend the bulk of my tapping time on the acoustic board, but often as not need a mic to be heard over any band I may be tapping with. This problem of volume has a lot to do with tap work falling off in the 1960s as amplified pop music got louder and louder. Remember, they have a little knob they turn to go loud with! Today’s tap performers have plenty of funk and guts and slamming beats in them and can hold their own in any rhythmic environment given the sound reinforcement.
But I digress. I have also found that it can be tiring to work with DJs due to the mechanical nature of their tools. One has to be careful not to let this gig turn into the tap dance version of “The Ballad of John Henry” in which the unrelenting machine steadily erodes human stamina and sucks the life force out of the heroic worker!
At any rate, taste will determine the repertoire of grooves, textures or recordings you and your DJ will bust out with. This idea is relevant to many kinds of tap performers and groups doing club and casual jobs, and can also be used by teachers to spice up recitals for dance schools. The kids can probably find the DJ for you! If we persist in showing audiences the electricity tap can create in more popular and contemporary contexts, we can get more jobs and attract more students, which in turns creates even more opportunities for us and the generations of tappers who will follow us. That is what I call “making Tap Work”.
this article originally appeared in ON TAP magazine published by the ITA

Tap on the Radio 2006 - January 21, 2007

TAP ON THE RADIO IN 2006
This item also published in OnTap magazine Summer 2007 vol.18 #1

In keeping with my long-running obsession with the SOUND of tap dance, I am reporting a number of live radio events which occured last year on KBOO 90.7 FM portland, our cherished non-NPR community radio station. In addition to my own one man show and various units I lead, such as my VonTap Quintet,
I play as a sideman once a month with singer/guitarist Baby Gramps. (Some of you may have seen him on the Letterman show on CBS TV recently ) I tap dance, play sax, clarinet, harmonica and percussion in this unit, which has released two CDs. Sometimes after our gig we head down to KBOO to hang out and/or perform on “the Outside World” radio program hosted by Daniel Flessas for the last 25 years or so. After three and a half hours on the gig and an hour or so break, we wind up playing from 2-3am. as you can imagine, at this time of night it can be very loose and creative. i also sometimes go to KBOO after my own Friday night gigs and have been involved in some very interesting jams with accomplished improvisors whom I had never met until I pulled out the horn and laced up the shoes! A lot of this stuff is a bit far-out “free jazz” or “noise rock” but I feel it helps to broaden the popular perception of tap and it’s possibilities in the music community.
I derive much personal satisfaction from these shows, which included a spontaneous duo with percussionist Artis the Spoonman, ( Soundgarden, Audioslave, Zappa, VonTap ), and an 80th birthday tribute to John Coltrane on his birthday with fellow saxist Reed Wallsmith , bass player Andre St. James and drummer Carlton Jackson. This show fell on the equinox last September and we played Coltrane’s composition titled “Equinox”, a great tune with the hypnotic type of groove favored by Savion Glover in recent years. KBOO news director Lisa Loving tapped* me to play during the evening election returns last November and some of my musical colleagues joined me in spicing up the news with live music and tap dance twice per hour for several hours.
Tap dancing on the radio is fun and unusual so I thought you might enjoy the idea and try it in your community.
KBOO presents a wide array of voices and includes Spanish and other non-English programming, Jazz, Rock, Reggae, Blues, Hip Hop and Mexican music, among others. It also offers a chance for young people to produce radio shows and airs news and perspectives sorely lacking in commercial radio. Streaming on the web at www.Kboo.fm www.babygramps.com www.artisthespoonman.net *pun intended

Putin on the Ritz- an account of the 2002 Russian Tap Festival - January 21, 2007

copyright 2002 by Michael Shoehorn Conley
First submitted to ON TAP, August 2002

Putin on the Ritz
Tapparade 2002 in Moscow
Talk about tapping into another culture! This event
brought together the dance masters of Russia with
American tappers and students from Eastern Europe,
with at least a couple of acts from Central Asian
Republics. There was a competition, as well as a
series of master classes and concerts April 15-25,02
. I was part of the U.S. contingent which included
Savion Glover, Brenda Buffalino, Tony Waag, Pat
Cannon, Dexter Jones and Jason Samuels-Smith, pianist
Larry Ham and vocalist Yvette Glover. We were joined
at our Helsinki stopover by Sarah Petronio and Olivia
Rosenkrantz of France, Mari Fujibayashi of Japan, and
Klaus Bleis and Kurt Albert from Germany.
Judging from the treatment we received, tap is held
in high esteem.
As soon as we cleared Customs in Moscow, we were
greeted by the festival directors and producers
Vladimir Kirsanov, Victor Rashkovich and Oleg
Shevchuk, to the sound and flickering of flashbulbs
going off. After a scenic bus ride into the heart of
the city, guided by Victor, we were settled into one
of the most extraordinary hotels I have ever seen. As
an indication of the level of service, we were
entertained by a live harpist every morning at the
breakfast buffet! (great food). So far so good. Thanks
are due to Hotel Metropol, one of the festival
co-sponsors.
The first night we were all tired from the trip but
we were treated to a fine meal in the restaurant
ÒRestavraziaÓ which was to feed us quite a bit of
good food that week. There was a jazz combo and we all
wound up doing a chorus in our street shoes. We also
got our fist taste of Russian vodka!
The first concert was the following night in a venue
we played twice , the Mosbusiness Center. All of the
concerts showcased an extreme variety of tap styles
from comedic to lyrical, structured choreography to
exuberant improvisation, white -tie elegance to
serious street cred. Among the comedic acts was the
four-legs-one-man routine , done to the Alley Cat
Song by the Russian Oleg Abdulayev. This was a
great crowd-pleaser. There was also Tap & Tray by Kurt
& Klaus, inspired by and learned from the late
expatriate tap master Carnell Lyons, whose story is
familiar to readers of this publication. This is a
beautiful piece done to an exquisite slow jazz number.
Sarah Petronio performed sweet sounding, almost poetic
interpretations of jazz songs that went over very well
with the musicians as well as the audience. She really
makes one listen to those footfalls.
The first night included a big band led by George
Garanian, an alto saxophonist who appeared in the
program opposite myself. He is said to be well-known
in Moscow and around Europe. His wife is also one of
the many journalists who interviewed each of us at
various times during our stay.
Vladimir Kirsanov's group did some classic tap
choreography to this music. I was unable to watch all
of the performers in these shows because of my
preparation for my own segment.
Tapage is a duo comprised of Olivia Rosenkrantz and
Mari Fujibayashi. They performed a very dramatic work
choreographed to a taped modern orchestral
accompaniment, the Sensemaya by Revueltas. They had
special make-up and costumes and lent a bit of
gravitas to the proceedings. This was another audience
favorite, for the beauty of the performers and the
sincerity of their statement. Mari and Olivia also
joined Tony Waag and Kurt and Klaus to dance Brenda
BuffalinoÕs interesting choreography from her American
Tap Dance Orchestra, which are well known to many
readers. These are delightful to behold and were
appreciated by crowd. Brenda and Tony also did
polished solo segments which amply demonstrate the
great talent and sophistication of their
accomplishment. The sheer range and variety Brenda's
work continues to amaze me. She does something
different every time I work with her and it is all top
drawer, be it homages danced to departed masters or
smooth-pattered story-telling accented with great
footwork.Tony began one spot with an a Capella intro
which audibly delineated the song form of the previous
performer's closing choruses as a skillful segue to a
signature song and dance number. Amen!
Speaking of Amen , we must also recount the doings of
Yvette Glover, who accompanied her famous son on this
trip..During our sight-seeing bus trip, which fell on
a Sunday during the Lenten season of the Eastern
Orthodox Christian Church, it was she who requested
that we stop at, of all places, a church. We stopped
and took photos and entered the huge edifice topped
with golden onion domes.( By the way, the Russians
call them "onion domes" in Russian too.) This church
on this sight had been razed by Stalin in one night,
only to be rebuilt by the faithful within five years
of the collapse of the Soviet system of governance.
Upon entering we smelled the incense and heard the
music, and some of us lit candles. It was only upon
closer observation that I noticed the music was live.
I craned my neck looking for the choir loft, and it
was only after some searching that I was able to
discern the hand of the choir director conducting a
choir hidden from view at the base of the giant domes
high above us. This also gave me an amazing look at
the painted image of God staring down at us, serious
and omnipotent. Add to this heady atmosphere the
presence of the Patriarch of Moscow, the head of the
entire Russian Church, who was saying a Lenten Mass.
Everyone was pretty much awe-struck, Christian or not.
Marina had to herd us all out of there so we could
continue the tour.
We next headed to the hills overlooking Moscow to the
Olympic Park and were given a panoramic view of the
city from the area adjacent to the ski jump. There
were souvenir stands, and arrangements had to be made
for a shopping excursion the next day. We drove
through the Victory Park up on the bluffs and were
reminded by the many monuments that the victory
commemorated was a victory shared by our own fathers,
the defeat of fascism in WWII. There are monuments
honoring several religions including Islam and Judaism
in this complex. Our guide gave us very insightful
narration during our tour that occasionally underlined
the many social and scientific achievements of the
Soviet period and some of the unfortunate effects of
the current economic and political climate on ordinary
people. Pensioners in particular have been hard hit,
and salaries for most people have not kept pace with
the rapid economic changes since the end of the Soviet
era. We ended the tourist day with a stroll through
the Kremlin, the very center of the historic capitol
of Moscow. We took more pictures and visited a
smaller, much older church, a place where the Tsars
themselves worshipped. The vibe in this place was not
so uplifting and indeed a bit repressive, even though
one could not help but but appreciate the history and
the artwork, which consisted of tortured-looking
portraits of suffering saints. The entire group of
Westerners also enjoyed a night at the Bolshoi Ballet,
just across the street from our hotel.
Back to the TAP: There were master classes as I
mentioned above and Tony Waag and Pat Cannon were
among the judges for the competition that was part of
the Tapparade. I was not present for the competition,
but I was glad that I decided to perform in an
optional show, held in a decidedly more rundown venue,
the Community of Taganka's Actors Theatre. I was
the only one of our crew to appear at this event, and
I was able to watch some of the acts that were not
featured in the grand concerts. Some of these
performers were not as refined as the others , but
displayed creativity in adapting the art form of tap
to specific ethnic musical traditions, including those
of Central Asia and the Baltic States. One of the more
intriguing artists I met here was Yevgeny Zernov, who
I was told worked for years at the Bolshoi ballet
doing acrobatic and character roles. His love of tap
was evident,he taught youngsters and also performed
himself.
The P.I. Tchaikovsky Recital Hall, which is where
they hold major piano competitions in Russia, was the
site of the biggest concert ( 5 hours! ) of the whole
tour. This concert began with winners of the tap
competition and included many children and teenagers,
many of whom were directed by the Russian soloists
featured in the other shows. It had all the trappings
of a dance recital in the U.S., with family members
fussing over costumes and kids eagerly watching their
peers from the wings. There was also a group called
Los De Moscu, a flamenco troupe who informed me they
were Russian Gypsies. Their maestra had studied in
Spain. Some of the other acts performing were the
Czech Igor Shabla and his young son, and their
countrymen, twins Pavel and Peter Hrubec, who employ
costumes and props in precision comic work. Alexander
Ivaskevich of Estonia did his take on the Buster Brown
favorite "Cute".
We had a concert grand piano in the men's dressing
room, where pianist Larry Ham was able rehearse with
us and which later gave rise to an impromptu jam
featuring Savion at the keys and Jason hoofing. By the
time I went on it was getting late. I had decided to
stick with a couple of selections from my repertoire
and started with "Black Orpheus" by the Brazilian
composer Luis Bonfa and "Seven Steps to Heaven" by
Miles Davis. By the end of the tour, the band and I
got real tight on these tunes, with Larry and I
trading lines between the piano and my sax as well as
the interplay of shoes with Dimitri Sevastyanov's
drums and the bass strings of Andrei Ivanov. These
three guys did a great job backing up all of the jazz
numbers in the concerts, except for the few big band
pieces.
Pat Cannon is artistic director and choreographer of
Foot and Fiddle Dance Company from upstate New York.
She also deserves credit for her role in organizing
the travel arrangements by way of a grant from the
Trust for Mutual Understanding. Thanks, Pat! Her work
included a superb high-energy duet with Dexter Jones
and an audience participation piece. The crowd loved
the spirited execution of folk forms and seeing their
friends and family get in on the act. And everyone,
this writer included,was impressed with Dexter's
awesome leaps and splits. Dexter had another solo bit,
decked out in tails, where he again exhibited his
athletic command of technique , form and style.
Yvette Glover was a most welcome compliment to the
terpsichorean happenings and thrilled the audience
with a truly stirring version of "What a Wonderful
World". Her voice has a lot of the church in it but
she sings jazz very well with a classic feel and
swinging phrasing. Her soulful renditions had the
public clamoring for more.
And more they got. Jason Samuels Smith is a powerful
young dancer with a great talent and work ethic. He
has performed a lot with Savion but is definitely
emerging with his own thing. He hits hard and fast and
is developing his knowledge of the jazz canon by doing
it. Among the songs he did on this tour was "Lullaby
of the Leaves" -going into it pure improv. At 21, he
is just giving us a taste of what he can achieve. I
heard that he starts every class he teaches with Steve
Condos Rudiments, which can open up worlds of rhythm
for anybody. Plus, he sure is a cool dude, fun to hang
out with.
Savion Glover by now is known to every tapper in the
world, I reckon. As well as any of us did on this tour
he surpassed all in terms of sheer technique, chops,
and execution. He was simply breath-taking in his
improvs, every night a different theme. He seems to
have developed a lighter, more lyrical attack since I
last worked with him in Chicago in 1998. His mom told
me it just depends how he feels on a given night. He
paraphrased and quoted "Seven Steps" and some of the
other artist's programs at the Tchaikovsky Hall, scat
singing melodic variations while laying down the
iron, then putting down the mic to embark on rhythmic
flights through the sonic stratosphere, coming back to
earth drenched in sweat, smiling, with nothing more to
say. Of course he was compelled to offer a brief
encore, underscoring the fact that he had already made
his statement, and was at peace. This guy really is a
kind of prophet of the tap dance! He showed me steps
while we were hanging out and told me about his gigs
with jazz greats Wayne Shorter (saxist and composer)
and singer Abby Lincoln. He is attracting critical
recognition of tap in the jazz world, which has long
underplayed or overlooked the vital contributions of
tap dancers to the rhythmic vocabulary of AmericaÕs
greatest addition to world culture (Hello, Ken
Burns).
After one week in Moscow, we bade farewell to Savion
and Yvette and headed for the train station. We took
an overnight train to St. Petersburg. The first few
hours were quite festive, with everyone sharing drinks
and snacks and much animated chatter. It reminded me
of a school excursion with all the horsing around,
step swapping and luggage wrangling. Finally a sort of
half-sleep descended in the wee hours., me getting up
to look out the windows as we pulled in to decrepit
rural depots, past huge industrial areas ringed with
humble residential districts. Some of the areas we
visited were very grim-looking, but no bleaker than
rundown parts of some American cities and rural areas
I have seen.
On the other hand, St. Petersburg boasts a cultural
heritage undreamed of where I reside, Portland,
Oregon. Next year St. Petersburg will celebrate it's
tricentennial and they are busy restoring monuments,
obelisks and cathedrals scattered throughout the
central city. We were checked in to our hotel, less
luxurious, but with a commanding river view of the
city and situated across a canal from the famous
battleship which kicked off the revolution. We could
also see the Hermitage Museum, which rivals the Louvre
in Paris for it's wealth of art and artifacts. The
decor alone would merit a visit, but in addition to
the incredible appointments of this former palace, it
is chock full of masterpieces of fine art. Paintings,
sculpture, and tapestry are all to be found in rich
abundance and from various periods and regions. It is
impossible to see it all in one day, but we tried. I
wandered the halls with Dexter, Jason and Victor and
was able to snap a few photos in some of the rooms
where that is allowed.
The first day in St. Pete, after that epic train ride
and a couple hours rest, we gave a press conference in
which we all expressed our profoundest thoughts about
tap, which ended with a quick tune by Larry on piano
and myself tapping and playing harmonica. It was a fun
little sound bite type of thing. Some of us took a
boat tour organized spontaneously by Pat, which was
great fun as well.
The last concert, in St. Pete, was in a part of
town far from the tourist beat, with a huge mural of
Lenin intact and hand-lettered signage, like an old
vaudeville or music hall poster. We were joined by the
core group of Russian dancers from Moscow, and with
some new faces from the St. Petersburg area, we
presented yet another variation on our program. No two
concerts were alike. The preceding concerts having
honed us to a precision machine, I felt the St
Petersburg gig was my personal best showing of the
tour.
I would like to express my appreciation to Victor
Rashkovich, Oleg Shevchuk and Vladimir Kirsanov, and
our translators Marina and Olga, for all they did to
make this event happen.After all was said and done, we
a enjoyed a unique opportunity to get to know
something about Russia, which I had been taught to
regard as an enemy my entire life until a few years
ago. Not only is it a great culture with a rich
heritage, but it is made up of ordinary people
striving to live as best they can. I was newly
appreciative of my own circumstances, coming in as a
privileged guest and leaving with money in my pocket.
I was struck by the dedication of the Russian artists,
who during the Soviet era had to practice the
bourgeois, AmericanÓart form in secret. They even had
an elaborate code-word system, which culminated in
asking the other person's phone number. If the answer
was "Pennsylvania 6, 5 thousand", * newly acquainted
hoofers would be off to trade steps quietly in soft
shoes, keeping alive the freedom of expression
inherent in our glorious, treasured form of dance.
The crimes of political elites bent on power and
control goes against the very nature of humanity to
rejoice and cooperate. The oppression and futility of
national divisions will hopefully be banished to the
past so we can peacefully dance our way to harmonic
coexistence. Other arts ,sports, information and
technology will contribute much to global
understanding, but I like to think that our chosen
careers as tap dancers will have it's own part in the
architecture of world peace. Irrepressible and life
-affirming, tap is one of the great achievements of
humanity, and I believe it has a long future ahead of
it.
* an old Benny Goodman swing favorite

UPDATE EXTRA!!! - September 25, 2006

I just looked at this section and the last update was last December and a lot of stuff has happened since then. I was called back to the Main Street Theatre for a few more performances in the Spring and I truly enjoyed that experience. The 35 or so times I did my one man, two act, solo performance art show was very rewarding to me as a performer. I thank Llew Rhoe and Helen for all their effort to make it happen.I also thank all of you who came to the gig.
In the Spring, the Juan de Fuca Featival was a standout. Sweet venues and great audiences and a nice home-stay family.
I also sold a Tappercussion Mark VII etap MIDI Controller exactly like my own to a lucky dancer in Gresham on special order. The Mark VII is a versatile electric percussion kit for the rhythm dancer. See my articles in this section for more details.
I did a variety of summer gigs including those listed on this site and others. Go Gringo Go has been a lot of fun to play with- I could stand more of that. Baby Gramps has a new CD with me on it called Baby Gramps and the Back Swamp Potioners "Baptized in Swamp Water" We played songs from it at OCF and sold the first little batch. I also did 3 Shows at OCF with Leapin' Louie Lichtenstein. It was fun to be back in the role of one-man pit orchestra to a cowboy juggling act.
The VonTap band has been smoking hot all summer, joined a couple of times by Artis the Spoonman. Check us out this Sunday at noon in Chinatown with our Trio Calzador guitarist Toshi Onizuka.(10/01/06)
I am trying to get myself to edit a new CD from dozens of recordings I have made in the recent year. I am also producing demos with some adorable kid singers.
I had a lot of inspiration last week from the performances of Savion Glover who tore up the floor at the Schnitz. Then on Friday I participated in the all night tribute to John Coltrane on KBOO 90.7 fm with an assortment of journalists,DJs and musicians. Drummer Carlton Jackson, bassist Andre St.James, Reed Wallsmith on sax and myself on sax and tap played Trane's EQUINOX live on the air, on the equinox, which coincided with the 80th anniversary of his birth. I am not sure how well it came out with no rehearsal and some technical false starts but it was fun.
What was mind-boggling was the wealth of Coltrane recordings on hand, one after another, of different aspects of his playing, which kept me at the studio past 5 am! We humbly attempt to carry the flame. We know from first-hand accounts that that is what Trane would have wanted.

9 more shows! - December 9, 2005

My solo show has generated some excellent reviews in the Oregonian and the Vanguard and we would love to see more of you at the theater. I have gradually tweaked the content, improved the monologue, added jokes and a singalong segment, and continue to offer a wide range of my creative expression in the the context of this one man show. Come out and see it before we close! Two for one tickets if you mention this website! Thank you.

Tap technical articles - January 20, 2005

Note: the following articles originally appeared in On Tap, the International tap dance association newsletter.
e-tap
An Introduction to Electronic Tap Dancing: MIDI Triggering
by Michael Shoehorn Conley
The purpose of this short article is to acquaint readers with some basic theory and knowledge of electronic tap. I feel the potential for this medium to be limitless due to the variety of sounds that can be used. All the electronic components are readily available in music stores and can be applied to tap dancing by simply applying the pickups or triggers , to the surface being danced upon. The reader will have to construct ( or have built) the actual triggering surface according to individual requirements. This can be as simple as a slab of wood ( TAP DOGS ), or as elaborate as a giant marimba. My method includes the natural tap sound in the mix. Other methods utilize triggers built into the shoes, with sounds operated remotely by an engineer (the film TAP!) . Either way, the same technology is employed to turn tap dance into electronic percussion music.
It is my feeling that this is an area worthy of much more exploration by the tap dance community, so I am sharing some of my expertise in order to encourage my fellow hoofers to give it a try. By no means am I suggesting we abandon the special sound of acoustic tap, but rather augment it and give it something more, growing out of the existing technique of the artists . I note that I do not use it in the majority of my appearances.
It is possible to get started without a huge budget and a sound technician. In fact, my personal tap instruments* are controlled by me onstage, and were all programmed by myself using factory sounds and MIDI note numbers ( 60 = middle C on the piano), or analog percussion synths.

The basic component outline of an electronic tap kit:
Tap shoes >wood >trigger >MIDI Interface >sound module >amp
Tap dancing > Wood. The sound of taps on wood is the foundation of my sound. This comes through on its own dedicated mics or triggers. Other triggers are mounted on wooden boards which are to be danced upon to generate the electronic sounds.
Wood > Trigger. The wood used for triggerring can be any size: a whole panel of plywood with one trigger or a series of small boards with individual triggers. The choices in this are up to the technical needs and ambitions of the individual choreography. This wood effectively becomes a MIDI controller , the tap dance instrument.
Trigger > MIDI interface. Essentially a type of microphone,Triggers are the basic component of any electronic tap rig. No matter what kind of electronics you run it through, the tap signal has to be picked-up electronically and then converted into electronic sounds chosen by the tap artist, producer or sound engineer. Triggers may be purchased ready made, or custom made, and are plugged into a MIDI Interface . Keyboards and other devices on the market provide myriad sounds which can be accessed via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). A MIDI Interface takes the impulse of the tap and converts it into digital information. This information can be controlled and shaped by the user into desired sounds and pitches. Arrangements of notes can be saved and named, and dialed in when needed.
MIDI Interface > Sound Module. There is a wide choice of sound modules . Drum sets, various percussion kits, bass and tuned percussion are among the available factory preset sounds that are built into many MIDI drum modules. . Some of these modules have multiple trigger inputs and may be the only thing you need besides your triggers, wood, and some cables. With a sampler, the variety of effects is as limited as the imagination, for one can sample any sound and play it back with ones feet. Many keyboards of various prices have MIDI in and out and have desirable sounds with triggering potential. Some sound modules have the capability to change their sounds via sound cards and discs. A computer with MIDI ports and the correct software is the obvious choice for many artrists.
Sound Module > Amp. To hear the sound you are creating with your feet with all this fancy gear you will need a power amp or sound monitor of some sort, whether it be an instrument amplifier or the house P.A. via direct input boxes. For rehearsing, headphones may suffice.

Given sufficient interest, I will provide sequels to this initial article, covering some of the various technical considerations involved in this field. These may include design and construction of the electronic tap dance instrument or MIDI controller, note and voice programming, musical values, sampling, analog and digital effects, composition, choreographic effects, and other choices and technical hurdles that confront the tap synthesist.

Michael Shoehorn Conley is a tap dancing saxophone player. He has used his Tappercussion (TM) electronic tap dance instruments in performances and recordings since 1983. *Note: At this time, there are no plans to make Shoehorns Tappercussion (TM) MIDI controllers available for sale.
copyright 1999 Michael Shoehorn Conley



e-tap Electronic Tap, Part 2: WHY?
by Michael Shoehorn Conley
After the tremendous volume of comment (mostly hate-mail!) generated by my last article, Volume 10, #4 [which by the way had its headline chopped- it should have read An Introduction to Electronic Tap:MIDI Triggering], I thought I should follow up on the HOW-TO information with a little more WHY?. I have tried to make clear that I feel electronic tap is no more than an enhancement and extension of the sounds of our pedal extremities that we cultivate and treasure.
In the first article, I mentioned the various components of a tap dance MIDI controller, which is danced upon to play sounds with control of pitch and sound, like a synthesizer. I have been using various boards or tap instruments to dance on for years as a response to some of the inter-related issues cataloged below.
Reasons why you might want to use electronic tap:
1) Making the Gig There are lots of places to perform tap that dont necesarily suggest
themselves. Independence and portability can allow individual acts to work anywhere!
2) Acoustic Tap It doesnt have to sound electronic. I have simple pick-ups ( drum triggers) attached to my tap instruments, and 9 times out of 10 simply connect to the PA for a straight-up tap sound that can project the subtleties of my finely nuanced foot songs. My current set-up has a resonating chamber a couple inches deep and gives me a rich sound with or without electronics. Often it is merely a function of delivering the cleanest, pure tap sound that can hold its own in the mix.
3) Merciless Floors One of the more basic problems faced by performing tap artists is the lack of decent wooden dance floors to perform on. In my case, some performances take place on clean, hardwood theatre stages, but the summer festival stages and hotel ballroom and night club and restaurant floors are more often than not inadequate and even dangerous. In addition to poor resilience and miking problems, inconsistencies of the actual surface of the festival stage can make it impossible to get a good tap sound and the bounce in the boards can throw off ones time and cause undue muscle fatigue.
4) Funk With funk, rock, r&b, and hip hop being important stylistic choices for hoofers to incorporate, we must tap at the same dynamic levels as the vocalists and other instrumentalists on stage. In the domain of electric guitars, basses and keyboards, not to mention microphones on drum kits, we deserve the support for our sound. You have to hear yourself, after all! With MIDI ,the vast array of sounds available include many patches suited to, or even created for, these genres.
5) Ambient Tap I like to plug into the MIDI set-up for longer gigs or special shows to add variety and different tone colors. I also perform ambient tap occasionally to create a low-key percussive accompaniment to my other instruments when I work in art galleries, restaurants and private parties. This way I can cover a three hour job without being in the audiences face the whole time. Of course I can bring it home with a splashy finish and get some applause at the end of each set.. I see this as empowerment for the artist. It is a way to perform tap in venues and contexts that tap was previously excluded from.
6)The Younger Generation I have a young student who can go to a party with his teenage friends and wail with a rock band as a tap dancer. It may not be for the jazz purist, but it gives young dancers a chance to blow on their own terms, in the context of their own vernacular music. There is not nearly as much opportunity to perform in the traditional format we love so well. Electronics can give us the edge we need to attract fresh talent. Serious students and artists will always be drawn to the study of the jazz tap tradition because that is where the art form developed. After all, theyll need to get some chops.
7) Crossover Stylistic divisions in popular music have been blurred. Witness the success of shows like Riverdance, where Celtic melodies ride worldbeat rhythms played on African drums, blended with traditional European and electric instruments and sound processing.

8) Technique Transfer Electronic tap for an accomplished tap dancer is analogous to an electric keyboard for a trained pianist- a completely expanded pallette of sounds played with the same technique already in place. Of course the feel and sensitivity are different, they dont replace each other.The technology is really quite easy to deal with, and many ITA members can use it to spice up the recitals and programs that they present each season.
9) Non-MIDI Musical Effects There are alot of other and often cheaper ways to use electronics on tap. Vintage 80s analog drum pads and effects can be found and various stomp boxes can split the signal, add reverb, echo, flanging and other sonic devices that may provide the sounds you want in your choreography.
10) Non-Musical Applications The triggering technology could concievably be used to control lighting effects or other multi-media devices, giving the performer unprecedented artistic autonomy.
If use of these type of tap instruments does indeed find a place in the popular culture, it will attract more people to the dance and open up performing and teaching opportunities for many of us.
I would like to include this caveat regardng tap instruments or dance boards. The range of movement can be severely restricted on the smaller ones. It is not necesary to be on top of the thing at all times. Indeed, that can be rather stifling. This limitation can be remedied by applying triggers to larger boards or sections of the stage, although spill
(cross-triggering) can be a problem. I have simply adapted to the small area of my boards, (my smallest f its inside a large suitcase) heartened by the example of the late great Steve Condos, who amazed me with his daily hours of practice on a piece of wood even smaller than what I use.
In conclusion, I hope at least that some ITA members will find this information useful; it is my deeper desire to someday witness the realization of the potential of this resource for the rhythm dancer. Peace and happiness to all in the coming century.

copyright 2000, Michael Shoehorn Conley

Michael Shoehorn Conley, tap dancing saxophone player, did over 180 shows in 1999. He has used his Tappercussion TM electronic tap dance instruments in performances and recordings since 1983.

Jugglemania with Shoehorn. Shoehorn - one-man-pit orchestra! - January 19, 2005

I have had the pleasure of occasionally performing with daredevil comedian Rhys Thomas for the last several years. We have played in Las Vegas; Idaho, the Oregon Coast and Washington State. Rhys is one the best variety performers in the Northwest, multi-talented and very successful. The idea here is live music goes great with acrobatics and juggling tricks. Think Cirque-du- Soleil without the tights. (Also without the nubile foreign women doing provocative things on ropes) While I do play the sax and tap dance on some numbers, I also back Rhys on an array of instruments from my collection, including soprano and bass clarinets, snare drum and percussion, harmonica, piano, xylophone, and other stuff, some of it pretty exotic. Rhys tumbles and pirhouettes, rides a unicycle on a tight rope, ascends a ladder of swords barefoot, juggles and spins and twirls and balances objects, and tells jokes that are funny to the kids on one level and funny for their parents on another. This is a real old-school concept, as many of the old vaudeville and music halls had live jazz musicians playing their accompaniments and cues. I will add dates to this website as they come in.

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