Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz

By Todd Decker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
“Keep time with the time
and with the times”

I’ve always observed that Arthur Murray’s pupils do two
important things—keep time with the time and with the
times. … A drummer notices something like that.

—Gene Krupa’s dust jacket blurb for Arthur Murray’s How to
Become a Good Dancer (1942)

Popular music has almost always been dance music.1 The dance bands’ primary economic role was playing for dancing, and the film musical— especially during the era of the band pix—reached out to dancers in particular. This chapter considers how Astaire’s films bridged the gap between dancing couples on-screen and real social dancers moving to the changing beat of popular music. This connection is easiest to see and hear in the named partner dances Astaire created and introduced across his career.

Named dances embody a specific marketing strategy: create a buzz around a new dance that generates interest in a new film. In this light, named-dance songs fit into the patterns of Hollywood’s standard promotional efforts. If stars like Greta Garbo or Joan Crawford could drive women’s fashion trends by way of direct promotion of film fashion knockoffs in the franchised Cinema Fashion Shops, then Astaire was the ideal salesman for new partner dances to a nation full of social dancers.2 Importantly, Garbo and Crawford’s fashions were created by others. Astaire, who made his own named dances, participated directly in studio promotion efforts. From a reverse angle, Astaire well understood how a new named dance might help his own interests beyond the successful marketing of a new film. As historical texts, named-dance routines are denser than regular partner routines. Beyond the filmed

-169-

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Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - Astaire among Others 19
  • Chapter 1 - "There’s a Difference and Astaire Is It" 21
  • Chapter 2 - "I Am a Creator" 53
  • Part Two - Astaire at the Studios 97
  • Chapter 3 - "I Play with the Very Best Bands" 99
  • Chapter 4 - "Tell Them to Let It Swing" 115
  • Chapter 5 - "Fixing Up" Tunes 128
  • Part Three - Astaire in Jazz and Popular Music 167
  • Chapter 6 - "Keep Time with the Time and with the Times" 169
  • Chapter 7 - "Jazz Means the Blues" 217
  • Chapter 8 - "Something That’Ll Send Me" 246
  • Chapter 9 - "You Play and I’Ll Dance" 271
  • Conclusion 311
  • Notes 327
  • References 347
  • Acknowledgments 357
  • Permissions 361
  • Index 363
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