Keith Elshaw – Professional DJ – Music Producer – Tango Restorations

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Background

Keith started his working life as a radio DJ in Toronto, Canada, at the age of 13.  Over the next 30 years he worked in radio presentation (DJ, advertising, voice-over etc.,) on Canadian and US radio.  He then founded a recording studio (audio & video) in Toronto.

I was through his connection with the music world and North American entertainment industry that Tango found him.  He became close friends with the cast from Tango Argentino (Juan Carlos Copes, Maria Nieves, Gavito, Christina Rey, Gloria & Eduardo) and mixed with them for over 10 years.

In his words, “I’ve been privileged to learn from the best there ever has been – the people who kept tango alive in Argentina from 1954 onwards and then brought it out to the world. The people whose children we all are, in that sense”.

Tango DJ

Once the Tango passion bit, it was a natural move to DJ tango events.

“I guess I would also say that the decade-long experience I have in tango traveling as DJ possibly recommends me. For instance, I did 9 years at the Miami Tango Fantasy, which was the largest annual festival outside Argentina. I became DJ Captain after the first couple of years. It then naturally evolved that I was the only DJ for each of the 9 nights. (I didn’t “fire” anybody!) Meaning also I was the MC in a tux for the Gala shows. I was on the same stage and in the same basement kitchens and tunnels at the Fountainbleau as Sinatra, Bennett, Peggy Lee, Nat Cole and …   Ahem. Where were we?”

Tango Music Workshops

For Dancers

Want to learn how to smooth out your social dancing? Well, the more one knows about tango music – and its history, the better a dancer one becomes.

My passion for knowing about it all has had me sitting at glorious tango Stars’ knees peppering them with questions and digging, digging. I tell a lot of stories passed down to me from the heights, so one’s memory will visualise the times and the musicians more vividly. I think that’s important.

I want people to feel in their bones that this is all music that was made by YOUNG people. And I can do that with stories of how it was. How it grew. How it exploded after Biagi started running D’Arienzo’s orquesta in 1935. How the era ended and then what were the conditions from then till now.

I have been teaching tango for 23 years (started as an assistant for 8 years). I strive to impart and enlarge Context – my favourite word (in this context, of course).

Argentine Tango has, in real and major ways, “saved” my life a few times. I owe it much more than I could ever say. Or repay. But seeking to is my abiding motivation.

Something wonderful is magically given – we’re supposed to humbly pass it along as best we can. Radio performance taught me that. Just how it was always done. I suppose like in all the performance arts.

There is an underlying premise in what I do with my music workshops: I inform dancers about the music and what choices are preferable so that over-all some pressure is applied to dj’s to get better.

But the stated premise really works: the more you know about the music, the better dancer you can be – pretty much automatically.

My style is to be a story-teller. I give people more of a relationship with the musicians and orquestas by telling stories about their lives and how they influenced each other.

To me, its more important to educate dancers about “what’s behind the curtain,” so to speak.

Of course I play lots of examples of music to illustrate my points about the orchestras, styles of music, how to form playlists; how to really get the most out of cortinas; how to create a flow and a nice wave of energy that makes people forget what time it is. Etc.

For DJ’s

My job for 50 years is to engage and grow audiences, many of whom I can’t even see.  Ratings are all important to the media.  I know how to do it and I want to pass it on to you.

For DJ’s, who want to build their reputation and capability I want to give my 50 years of experience in radio and 25 years in Tango to you to help you delight your audiences and build your Tango community.  It is the music that grabbed most people from the beginning.  You must keep delivering in order to retain your dancers and grow your community.

We will talk about structuring tandas, tanda / song selection, requests, the importance of great cortinas, the flow of a milonga and more.  I want you to be great DJ’s.

What others say

Wintersun 2015

Wintersun Tango on the Gold Coast participants were surprised and delighted by the depth of knowledge passed on at the workshops.  Dancers workshops attracted around 25 – 30; The pro DJ workshop attracted 20.  Thank you DJ’s for taking your clients seriously.

“Your SOUND is the best !!!!!” – Robert W

“A lovely milonga on Saturday night.  The music was fantastic!.  Thank you” – Christina H

“I really enjoyed Keith Elshaw’s seminar at Wintersun. Great information and a lively, entertaining presentation. Highly recommended to anyone interested in learning more about Tango music, its history and employing musicality to enhance their Tango dancing.” Lesley

“This guy was really engaging and interesting. Did a history of tango music, how to recognise good dancing music, and knew so much about the composers musicians. And soooo passionate. Great character!  Worth listening too, saw him twice”. Leigh

“I’ve never heard this before.  Incredible workshop.  I’m going back to the next one” John D.

“I couldn’t get enough.  Even went to the pro DJ workshop”.  Robyn M.

Sunshine Coast

“I went to the dancing workshop Sunday 26/7 at Cath Scully as well as Sat 25/7 Just loved his enthusiasm & he resolved some large curiosities I have had !!!  He sure knows his stuff [ I know we only heard 1% of it !].  Ruffled a few feathers too but the education of the community is so important !”  And his DJ at Milongas is MOST enjoyable”. Michael A-S

 Love your passion & enthusiasm Keith, it’s been great having you on the Sunshine Coast, am definitely a bit more tango literate musically, thanks”.  Susan J

KE, Canberra“Today a chap from Melbourne came to the workshop – brought his portable 78 phonograph and some records to show folks.  He said he was expecting me to be 22 years old and a jerk who didn’t know anything.  But we connected and he is going to tell people to come see me in Melbourne. He said I had knowledge he was dying to find”.

Hi John,  Keith’s visit has breathed new life into our tango community and given many of our DJs something to think about.  I’ve really enjoyed having him here, his DJing has been excellent, very confident in his music selections.  His music is very clean and rich.  So thanks for bringing him to Australia and sharing him around.  regards,  Paul (Canberra)

Melbourne – Eddie Leoni “Very nice music. That is what I very often call, “Balance Music”. Thank you very much Mr. Elshaw. I did had a very Good Night.”  (This older gent from Argentina is well-known for always hating the music).

International

Subject: Re: [Tango-L] The Sound of the Music

First of all, since there just about 2 or 3 people in the world doing

this level of Tango restoration, it’s a virtually unique resource.

Shahrukh Merchant

Tango-L administrator

“Since Keith has a vast knowledge of the music and such a successful history with DJ-ing major tango events, I thought it would be great to have him DJ for all three milongas.  After all, he did it for all nine nights of the Miami Tango Festival, the largest annual festival outside of Buenos Aires”

From the very beginning of our correspondence, it was clear how deeply his heart and the music were intertwined.   It is the music!  he says again and again.  And, “it is the job of the DJ to release the genie so she can flood the room with all the emotions and have the dancers at her mercy”.

“I have … a bag of tricks for taking people to fun and even exciting places as the night moves along; but if there aren’t many people or if their habit is to leave early, I can’t really do that except perhaps in the last 20 minutes. I’m a real traditionalist.  I like to take them on a wild ride…until I’ve wrung every tango emotion out of them. So the milongas I feel were/are great happenings are when the die-hards are still around at 2:30 or 3 in the AM…(But), that’s (just) what I wish for.” 

And, his vision extends to the larger tango community with a desire to include everyone in the party.

“I’m always pleased when most of the organisers in a place feel like joining in and encouraging their people to come to the milongas. ‘The more, the merrier’ is such an apt phrase. My best attempt at this was in Vancouver. Separate milongas of 30 people became 150 for the nights I was there.”

Francis – Pittsburgh, PA.

Dear Keith,

Let me add emphasis to my last note.  The significance of the restoration project speaks volumes about you; dedication with passion and vision.  The body of work is far bigger than you, regardless of what dancers think or feel about you.  Be clear in your mind about this.  Your spirit and heart may need and deserve love, respect and a place to belong.  This is not about your personal feelings, but rather a project that grew out of your heart.  It has its own life now, and you could think of tending to it’s survival.

Interview

FP. What you would like people to know about you?

KE. Shy, but don’t let that fool you. Or is it the other way around? Aw, shucks.

… Without generosity on every level by everybody, tango tango doesn’t exist in the way it wants to.

I should say that, when I drop into a city my goal is to make a happening. Events each night. This only truly happens on the happiest scale if all regional tango dancers feel a tug to come and everybody who loves tango gets together. Every city needs periodic special events where everybody shows up; where there’s the sense of occasion.

I have a fondness for that word, “everybody.”

FP. What would you like people to know about you the DJ?

KE. My sound is of higher quality than you’re typically going to hear. You understand that everything I play has been restored and enhanced by my fingers and ears and a gazillion hours of my life.

My energy envelopes are likely more nuanced than you are used to. I have a boldness which comes from doing this all my professional life – in broadcasting and live performance. Well, this is who I am.

You could say I grew up on the air and on the stage.  First paying job in radio at 13. On the air at 15 when my voice changed, playing rock and roll every night for two hours. And going out to DJ record hops for extra cash. That was the thing in radio in the latter 60s.  If there was a featured act like Wilson Pickett, Bobby Vee, The Everly Brothers, Neil Diamond, The Hollies or The Beach Boys, naming a few, I introduced them on stage then hung out with the musicians after the show. They probably thought it was funny indulging a kid. But I made friendships that lasted.

Make a great party and get well paid for it. My life. Looking back, it seems I had a fair amount of professional experience by the time I left my teens.

One rock radio station hired me on the basis that they didn’t have enough money for me in their budget to meet my salary expectations all the way, but guaranteed me an extra $300 a month doing dances at high schools and such. I was 17. That worked out fine, are you kidding?!!

Just to say that I learned programming in a professional entertainer environment. Programming as in: when you’re selecting, if you don’t instantly know the difference between a hit and a “twelver” FOR THIS MOMENT of the night and before you press play, there’s stuff someone should share with you like, now.

My latter career as sound engineer and music producer gives me a big bag of tricks for shaping sound and experiences the way I want it to unfold. So, I can surprise.   !

I do flaunt conventions I think are not right in our time and place, yet embrace the best old ones from B.A. more than anyone could imagine. If you don’t respect the sublime elastic discipline of the tango format, really work to understand its properties and reasoning, well …

From the moment the first song comes on, I’m doing a show. It builds, has pressure releases at the right moments, builds again, goes to lovely places you’d never expect and brings you right back to being inside the best tango for dancing, sounding better than you’ve ever heard it.

I can be devilishly playful. I always take requests. I like to go all night.

Tango Restoration

Given his passion for recording music and Tango it was natural for Keith to want to improve what you are hearing.

There is a major preservation project in Argentina (TangoVia), but there is a world of difference between preservation and restoration.  Keith’s  objective is to RESTORE THE SOUND you would have heard standing in front of those amazing young musicians.

Starting with a careful hand clean of the sound wave for each song [this process preserves all the sound, but it is slow and tedious.  The work requires experience, skill and precision, as well as an abiding passion for Tango; hence there is nobody else in the works doing this work.  He then corrects speed to decompress badly mastered CD’s and follows with a four stage mastering process that includes careful psycho-audio analysis to bring you the music as it should be heard.

Wintersun Tango participants know exactly what that means – to be carried away on a cloud of Tango.

In his words:

In 2000 after more than 10 years of continually collecting all the tango

music I could find, and loving it and dancing and dj-ing and learning

with a passion, something unique happened which changed my relationship

with tango.

It was an innocent question from a woman I dated which caused an

epiphany. She grumpily asked while dancing, ?why do you like that OLD

music??

She was happy to dance all night to Color Tango or anything recent, but

really did not want to hear the great old orquestas for more than a

tanda at a time. It blew my mind that Biagi/D’Arienzo or Canaro or old

Pugliese didn’t make her jump up and want to dance.

This really bothered me. It seemed to me she wasn’t HEARING the music

and feeling it; and I knew she wasn’t alone in this.

I started losing sleep over it. If people hearing just the noise and

lack of quality caused them to totally miss the beauty and creativity in

the music and the possibilities for their dancing, was there something I

could do about that “humble, just-a-dancer and sound engineer me”. And

wouldn’t dancers who already loved the old music not appreciate it even

more if the quality improved from what is available on CDs?

So I got serious about finding out if I could make a difference.

Thus began my odyssey of tango restoration.

My first renderings weren’t nearly as good as I’d hoped to achieve but

people around the world (many here) encouraged me keep going. How I love

them for that; THEY are actually responsible for the later

break-through, you could say.

Together with finding better source material, the pro audio technology

rapidly progressed after 2006 and I kept buying new devices to aid in

the work and developing nuanced techniques.

Every time I made advances I went back over all my tracks and re-did

them. Of course I am limited by how good my source material is, so I

constantly collect, searching for versions even a teensy bit better that

what I already have.

My goal has been to put better sounding music in the hands of people who

love tango and to make the dancehalls of the world create optimum

environments for dancers. I teach dj’s how to be better through quality,

organization and optimum choices in the moment.

It’s a symbiotic relationship between me and dancers: I work on the

music; people buy it and I put the money back in to revealing more and

more of the old recordings in their original glory. I have almost 5,000

songs in my restored catalogue now, and I tell folks that not all are

purely for dancing; some are just interesting for what the universe of

tango recordings is and recreating the times in one’s mind. Those

curiosities are basically thrown in for free in a package I call

Collector.

I tell you this so you know there is one guy in the world that can

answer the question for skeptics as to WHY the old music is the best.

I always tell people that the musicians and singers were kids when they

made this music. When you hear it as good as it can sound, it goes right to

your heart with the force it had the day it was recorded. It wasn’t old

then and it doesn’t have to sound old now.

So if you ever meet someone who would like to really hear it, please

tell them about me. Based on the feedback I get, they will probably

thank you.

As much as hoping people would support me if they knew what I am doing,

I’ve just wanted people to be aware of choosing the best music they can

for dancing; being able to identify what sounds good and what ought to

be replaced with a better choice.

I also take my stories and tips on the road and love sharing when I get

invitations to other cities. I love doing DJ workshops for people who

have no desire to DJ; more knowledge from dancers makes everything work

better and keep going up. I loved being in Pittsburgh; loved being in

New York at New Year’s for 6 wonderful gigs and look forward to

Australia’s cities.

And as always, thank you for reading.  Keith

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