THE KLEZMORIM > Bongo > The Show > Useful 

WERE OUR COORDINATED STAGE MOVES USEFUL? Necessary? Distracting? Aside from being sheer devilish fun, the moves evolved from stage logistics. Most of us played multiple instruments, and had to develop spatial radar and fluidity of motion simply to avoid colliding with one another and destroying our horns while getting on and off stage or switching axes.

We moved constantly because we were a 6-piece band tackling 9- or 10-part arrangements. Each of us played bass lines, rhythm, melody, harmony, and counter-melody. In a single tune I might harmonize on alto sax with the clarinetist, trade riffs and fills with the trumpeter, weave counter-rhythms with the trombone, bumble low with drums and tuba, then grab my soprano sax and play improvised lead.

Each musical transition required a new physical alignment — mostly to help us maintain eye contact and cue together, but also to help audiences see what they were hearing. (We discovered that our musical arrangements moved too fast for audiences to follow. They couldn't tell who was playing lead unless we put the cat front and center, doing headstands.) We pulsed like Betty Boop cartoon characters for the precise reason the Fleischer animators invented the pulse: to synchronize sight and sound.

And then, as it dawned on us that the moves made us interesting, we got into this competitive shameless macho thing. We'd run onstage and play in midair, hold high notes 'til we turned blue, use our horns as swords and oars and telescopes... Disdain cheap-thrills moves if you must, but the stuff is frickin' strenuous and requires split-second reflexes, plus the ineffable mental discipline of Yoda.

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