Jazz BANG bands: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet

music

I have to write some posts about the music at Jazz BANG.

The weekend was quite full on for me, as I overcommitted myself and failed to follow the first rule of event management: delegate, delegate, delegate. But even though I was utterly exhausted by the end, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My cheeks cramped from smiling by Sunday. People came with such a willingness to lol and learn and have fun, such a determination to be delighted by each other, I was quite overcome by the good will. I think some of the good vibes came from people’s willingness to try something new: no one else had run such a large scale solo jazz weekend, and Sydney hasn’t hosted a big event in a while, so it felt new. Though, for Sydney people, it was really just like a particularly big Little Big Weekend. The local volunteers and managers are such freeking NINJAS they just fronted up as per usual, and pounded out a top shelf event like it was nothing.

I feel the music was the most successful part of the weekend. We used four bands and four DJs, with only one DJed late night party. I put quite a lot of thought into the live music program, and hand-picked bands and musicians I thought would do a great job. It was a bit of a financial risk to hire so many bands, but I think it really paid off. The event felt more professional and top shelf, and I think we really took the social dancing element to great heights. Jazz BANG was pitched as a solo dance weekend, but I wanted to make the parties feel like places where you could dance however you liked, so I needed bands that really welcomed dancers onto the floor and made it easy to DANCE.

I tried to present this idea of dance and music as one thing in all the promotional material, in the class program, in the structure of the weekend, and in the way I worked with the DJs and musicians. I wanted to work with band leaders not as interchangeable blocks to be bought and paid for, but as active participants in the project. Hence this promotional image: JazzBangLogo-smaller

I feel weird claiming credit for the bands, so please, let me make it clear: I see my role in these things as bringing the right people together. I look for people who have the right skills, the right passions, and a willingness to work with other people and try new things. More specifically, I look for creative people who really relish creative partnerships that are challenging and interesting. Then I just try to put them in a room together, and ask them to make people crazy with fun.
All these people just rise to the challenge. I love, LOVE it when I can see their brains fire up, and their skills and passion take over. People take my weirdo suggestions and just go nuts. I mean, I told Lennart my sneaky political goal for the weekend was to convince people that solo jazz and lindy hop are really the same thing, working together, not separate disciplines. And then he did some stealth politicising. I asked Marie to draw on her chorus line experience to develop an exciting set of classes strongly rooted in historic dance, and she came through like a GUN. I asked a bunch of musicians and dancers to just talk about why they think Basie’s band was important, and then just let them go. And they did AMAZING things!

And of course, then I ask a couple of hundred people to come join in. And they DO! They all turn up saying YES! Let’s TRY THIS! And then they engage! They really ask questions, and demand to be challenged, and thoroughly test out these concepts and ideas. Then they take these things as just beginning points, and go on and do really fucking wonderful stuff on their own, in their own cities, with people in other cities, with other dancers. It fucking thrills me. And they do it with such a sense of fun and enthusiasm, I’m just overwhelmed. I think that jazz is wonderful: the way it combines improvisation and structure, all wrapped in a light, joyful, exciting enthusiasm.

I just feel so excited about being able to work with such talented people! It’s such a pleasure – it’s so exciting! I feel my own creative juices fire up, and I come away from these projects really inspired and excited. Not just about dancing, but about music and running projects, and generally doing all sorts of creative work. I’m just SO LUCKY!

Anyways, enough of that hippy feeltalk. Let’s talk about the first band.

Friday evening: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet (Brad Child (sax), Jim Pennel (guitar), Peter Locke (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass), Andrew Dickeson (drums). And with guest trumpeter Eamon McNelis from Melbourne.)

I wanted a small, swinging combo for the Friday night, because I wanted to kick off the weekend with a ‘friendly’, accessible band that made people think ‘this is going to be FUN’ right from the very first moment. I wanted songs that would be ‘easy’ to dance to, that invited people onto the dance floor. So I wanted stuff that was built for lindy hop. No djank, no street jazz, just solid swinging jazz. And that’s what I got.
That gig was co-opting our regular fortnightly social dance, which always includes lots of beginners. So I wanted a beginner-friendly band (ie swinging, classic jazz, not pre-jazz or anything too hot), and I wanted a band leader who really understood how swing works. Andrew Dickeson was that man. He responded with enthusiasm to my ideas about playing for dancers, so I figured this would be fun.
I wanted a band made up of Sydney’s more experienced musicians. The guys who play around town a lot, and tend to get overlooked because they’re occasionally over-exposed. I’d seen Adrian Cunningham pull a brilliant performance from some of them at Rug Cutters’ Swing earlier in the year, and I had a feeling a strong leader with clear set of goals could really pull the best performance from them.

These guys are experienced, skilled, professional and really bloody good. They’re great to work with (focussed when they’re working, easy going off-stage, and respectful, but still with lots of lols and a good sense of humour.) They just needed a clear set of goals to really focus all that. I’ve worked with these musicians a few times, now, and I’m really happy with their work. At some point, though, I’ll get Peter Locke a real piano to play, because he has MAD skills. And I also managed to convince Eamon McNelis to come to Sydney and sit in with the bands. This guy is my favourite Australian trumpeter, and I just love him in a band. He has a talent. A gift. There’s something about the way he adds an energy or depth to the feels of a band. It’s like he is really THERE, 100%, and his presence just pushes the other musicians, says “Hey, fuckers, got jazz? Bring IT!” and then they all go nuts.

This band was many people’s favourites, and when we got to the second song, my pre-event nerves just melted away. Yes, I though, this is going to work. I can trust these guys to pull this off. They did a really great job, to the point where people actually complained that they didn’t play long enough. At one point they had everyone in the room up and dancing. EVERYONE. To something like Moten Swing or something similar. The energy in the room was just fantastic, and Andrew had hit just the right song in just the right way at just the right time. I’ve seen really good DJs do this, but I’ve rarely seen band leaders respond to the dancers like this. It was the perfect way to start off the weekend.

Andrew put a lot of thought into that gig, and really worked with my suggestions and preferences. I don’t like telling bands what to do, because, ultimately, if you’re going to micromanage a band, you might as well get a DJ. But there aren’t that many bands in Australia who really understand how to play for lindy hoppers. They think they do, but they don’t. Playing for dancers requires a great deal of empathy, observation, and responsiveness, and not all musicians are up for that. I figure being a band leader is like being a really good DJ or MC – you have to have your finger on the vibe, and be able to respond to what’s happening at a moment’s notice, or to pre-empt changes or direct the flow. With a gentle touch. This is partly why people love Gordon Webster’s band: he’s good at this stuff.

Anyway, Andrew sent me a set list on the Friday day. I received it sitting on the train with Lennart and Marie and Bec and a couple of other dancers, so of course we all had a look and a discussion. This is what Andrew sent me:

First set
130 Undecided
160 It Don’t mean a thing
120 Squeeze me
150 Lady Be good
130 Don’t get around much any more
190 Caravan

Second Set
140 Moten Swing
170 Sheik of Araby
130 I let a song go out of my hear
190 Take the A train
120 Do nothin’ til you hear from me
150 Things ain’t what they used to be

Third Set
140 Honeysuckle Rose
170 Brand new suit
120 Confessin’
180 Lester Leaps in
140 Swingin’ the blues

If I remember rightly, they actually finished off with something faster and upenergy that resulted in a really exciting jam.

I showed this text to Lennart who pointed out that you can’t really tell just from reading a set list what it’ll sound like. This is, of course, the challenge we face when dancers work with musicians. We don’t have a common language for talking about music. Or, we do have common words, we just don’t use them in the same way. But I figured, heck, I have to trust the band. I have to delegate. Not just the physical work, but the creative responsibility as well. I have to trust other people not just to do their job, but to say YES and try stuff, come up with creative ideas that I couldn’t ever imagine, let alone do. And as Lennart himself says with a naughty grin, “We will see what will happen.”

I’d sent Andrew quite of lot of instruction before the weekend, something I really HATE doing, because it feels really bossy, and I always think it cramps a musician’s style to give them too many constraints. But then I really needed this gig to work, because Jazz BANG was a big, high profile event, and my professional reputation is based in large part on my approach to music and bands. So the bands were, to a certain extent, representing me. And I also needed the bands to really make it easy for dancers to have fun. And nobody likes it when a dance floor’s empty and a gig bombs – it’s no good for dancers or musicians.
So this is what I’d sent to Andrew:

Andrew,

Regarding the songs the band should play on the Friday night….
What do you have in your book that you really dig at the moment? I’d prefer working with what you’re digging, because funsies.

So far as tempos go, because it’s a mixture of new students (who’ve just come for the class), and experienced people who’re there for the whole weekend, we’ll need a mix of tempos. Below is info based on my experience DJing a lot over the years. I hope it translates to musician talk properly :D

For us, 120bpm is slow and beginner friendly, but kind of draggy. 140bpm is easy and comfortable. 160bpm feels like fun. 180bpm makes us work a bit hard. over 200bpm is fast.
So if you’re playing for two hours, you’d work the tempos like this (if you wanted to play a very safe set):

first set:
– begin at 120bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 180bpm
– 150bpm
– 170bpm
– 140bpm
– 190bpm

second set:
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 180bpm
– 130bpm
– 150bpm
– 190bpm
– 150bpm
– 120bpm
– 150bpm
– 180bpm
– 140bpm

It’s best to end a gig on a moderate tempo (about 140bpm) with lots of energy, so everyone can join in.

We call this ‘working a wave’, where you move up and down tempos in a gradual way. Bands can get away with more dramatic drops and increases than DJs can. But it’s a good idea to avoid going from really fast (eg 220bpm) to scary slow (eg 110bpm), because 110 reminds people that they’re tired. If you went from 220bpm to 140bpm, people’s energy stays up, but they still get a rest.
110bpm is often a real dead zone for lindy hoppers, as it’s harder to dance lindy hop that slow, but it’s not slow enough for blues dancing.
Experienced dancers make all tempos work, but newer dancers really struggle in the 90-120 and 170-250 zones.

As a general guide, 150bpm is average jogging tempo, and most new dancers aren’t very fit. Most experienced dancers are like runners. They can dance at 150 for 6 hours. But they like adrenaline, so they really enjoy the spike up into the faster tempos. And slower tempos give new dancers a chance to get on the floor and experienced dancers a chance to really work the rhythms.

As the night goes on, the average tempo can creep up. But it’s best to vary the tempos, so people feel inspired.
You can do one or two very slow songs (eg a blues at 80bpm), but one is really enough.
No latin rhythms, please.
We like to avoid crooners too (the only Sinatra I like is Sinatra with the Dorsey band.)

Sam’s black list:
Songs I’d prefer you didn’t play:
Fly Me to the Moon
In the Mood
Moon Dance
String of Pearls

We don’t really dig on boogie woogie, and jump blues can have mixed results.

We love Ellington. We love him bad. We also love Basie, Hamp, Webb, Lunceford, Slim and Slam, Django, Bechet, Kid Ory.

What if a jam happens?
A jam is where dancers feel really excited by the band, and see a couple feeling the feels bring their shit. They form a loose circle around that couple, clapping, and then other couples take turns coming into the circle to show off.
Faster songs usually stimulate a jam.
They rarely look at the band when they’re jamming, but at those moments, they are _really_ listening.
When the song ends, if they really feel the feels and want more, they’ll turn and look at the band and cheer and stay in the circle.
If they’re done, they drift away.
The best jams only last one or perhaps two songs, or a total of about 5 minutes max. After that people who aren’t showing off get bored and tired.
It’s best to follow a jam with a nice moderate tempo (but high energy) song (about 140bpm) so everyone can get back on the floor, and you can take advantage of the energy and excitement generated by the jam.

For us, the best dancing happens when the band feels the feels and is really responding to what’s happening on the dance floor. We hear the musicians get excited, and we feel it, and it makes for great dancing. So it’s important you guys like the music you’re playing.

Hope that helps!
Sam.

As you can see, I am prodigious emailer. So props to Andrew for working through the whole thing. He really took the advice on board, and then responded with some clever insights and suggestions. I don’t feel ok reproducing his correspondence here, but you can assume that it was clever and useful. He knows his shit. We were also talking about the workshop with the musicians and teachers together, and I think that helped feed this set on the Friday.

And you can also see that my advice RE tempos is informed by my DJing. I make a very safe recommendation about flow and waves, which I really hesitated to do. I don’t like to micromanage like that. What’s the point of hiring professionals if you then proceed to tell them how they do their job? But on the night, the band actually went with the vibe of the room, the way they were feeling, and the way the whole thing was working as a night. So while all this correspondence seems quite antiseptic, on the night it was quite exciting and organic. And it was a very successful band gig. I’ve worked with a lot of bands now, and some of them think they know what’s what, but they end up playing what really amounts to a wankfest on their part that leaves the dancers cold.

Andrew’s band did not leave anyone cold. Not even a little bit chilly. Shit was hot.

It was fab to then hear Andrew talk about music in the musician/dancer session on Sunday. This reminded me a bit of the way we’ve structured teachers’ workshops in the past: we have the guest teachers teach general workshops on the Saturday, moderate a workshop about teaching for dance teachers on the Sunday, and then we have them teach total beginners how to lindy hop on the Monday. We get to see the process, hear the thinking behind it, and then ask questions and get a practical workshop to explore the concepts ourselves. I guess, ultimately, it’s like hearing the rhythm, scatting the rhythm, and then dancing the rhythm.

Jazz dance, you’re the best. You’re even more challenging and interesting and fun than doing a Phd. I’m so glad I gave up academia for you.

Imitation and Innovation 8tracks

This is a post that continues my thinking from that previous post about Basie and Jazz BANG, but here I work specifically with Count Basie and his influences. This post is a product of some discussion on facebook about Basie (and my previous 8tracks post), and really has grown out of this Basie session at Jazz BANG. It does of course, also develop the theme of innovation, improvisation and impersonation – step stealing and cultural appropriation/transmission in vernacular music and dance culture. And we all know how obsessed I am with THAT stuff. Love love love.

This post is shaped by some useful comments and references supplied by Andrew Dickeson on the Facey, in response to my 8tracks post, and more specifically, to my question about Fletcher Henderson’s influence on Basie and other musicians.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.11.39 PM

I’ve written about this version of Honeysuckle Rose many times before (here and here), I find myself using various versions of this song for teaching all the time, and I DJ with it a lot. I am very obsessed. I’m also fascinated by Fletcher Henderson, and the way he went from big name arranger and band leader to ‘joining’ Benny Goodman’s band. His life (which was somewhat tragic), and the role John Hammond played, really catch my interest. Also he had fucking MAD skills.

So here is an excerpt from a useful book Andrew hooked me up with, and an 8track set I put together to illustrate this section:

The early Basie book was casual and frequently borrowed, either in bits and pieces or, sometimes, whole. The ultimate sources was often Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Basie’s arrangement of Honeysuckle Rose is a slight simplification of Henderson’s. Basie’s Swinging the Blues comes from Henderson’s Hot and Anxious and Comin’ and Goin’*. Jumpin’ at the Woodside (as Dan Morgenstern points out) comes from the Mills Blue Rhythm Band’s Jammin’ for the Jackpot, with perhaps a glance at the arrangement of Honeysuckle Rose that Benny Carter did for Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. Jive at Five from the same ensemble’s Barrelhouse. The Mills’ Blue Rhythm Band was a Henderson-style orchestra.

*A more complete history of this piece is interesting and revealing. The 1929 Ellington-Miley Doin’ the Voom Voom, in AABA song form (an obvious Cotton Club specialty), became the 1931 Horace Henderson-Fletcher Henderson pair of pieces called Hot and Anxious (a blues) and Comin’ and Goin’ (partly a blues). those pieces all added the riff later called In The Mood. These, in turn, became Count Basie’s Swinging The Blues. Meanwhile, Doin’ The Voom Voom had obviously inspired the Lunceford-Will Hudson specialties White Heat and Jazznocracy, and these in turn prompted the Harry James-Benny Goodman Life Goes to a Party. In the last piece, the background figure (an up-and-down scalar motive) to one of the trumpet solos on Voom Voom had been slightly changed and elevated into a main theme.

(Williams, Martin. The Jazz Tradition, 1992. p117-118.)

8tracks linky

Imitation and Improvisation from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

[Edit: I've added the Fletcher Henderson version because I'd FORGOTTEN it. It's currently my favourite.]

Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Joe Keyes, Carl Smith, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Claude Williams, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 3:00 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 01)

Honeysuckle Rose 1939 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Johnny Martel, Ziggy Elman, Ted Vesely, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Bus Bassey, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 3:04 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 01)

Honeysuckle Rose 1932 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Rex Stewart, Russell Smith, Bobby Stark, J.C. Higginbotham, Sandy Williams, Russell Procope, Hilton Jefferson, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Freddie White, John Kirby, Walter Johnson, Katherine Handy) 3:14 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 03)

Swingin’ The Blues 1938 Count Basie and his Orchestra 2:48 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 02)

Hot And Anxious 1931 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Rex Stewart, Russell Smith, Bobby Stark, Claude Jones, Benny Morton, Russell Procope, Harvey Boone, Coleman Hawkins, Clarence Holiday, John Kirby, Walter Johnson, Bill Challis, Don Redman, Horace Henderson) 3:25 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 02)

Comin’ And Goin’ 1931 Baltimore Bellhops (Fletcher Henderson, Rex Stewart, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, John Kirby) 3:12 The Fletcher Henderson Story (disc 02)

Doin’ The Voom Voom – Take 1 1929 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 3:08 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 02)

White Heat 1939 Jimmie Lunceford 2:31 Rhythm Is Our Business

Life Goes To A Party 1938 Harry James and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Vernon Brown, Earl Warren, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 2:52 Life Goes To A Party

Life Goes To A Party 1938 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Hymie Schertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, Babe Russin, Jess Stacy, Allen Reuss, Harry Goodman, Gene Krupa, Horace Henderson, Edgar Sampson) 4:17 Benny Goodman Live At Carnegie Hall (disc 1)

Jumpin’ At The Woodside 1939 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:10 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 02)

Jammin’ For The Jackpot 1937 Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Charlie Shavers, Carl Warwick, Harry Edison, Al Cobbs, Wilbur DeParis, Tab Smith, Eddie Williams, Ben Williams, Harold Arnold, Billy Kyle, Danny Barker, John Williams, Lester Sonny Nichols, Chuck Richards, Lucky Millinder) 2:30 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Complete Jazz Series 1936 – 1937

Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Coleman Hawkins and his All-Star Jam Band (Benny Carter, Andre Ekyan, Alix Combelle, Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Eugene d’Hellemmes, Tommy Benford) 2:47 Ken Burns Jazz Series: Coleman Hawkins

Jive At Five 1939 Count Basie and his Orchestra 2:51 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 03)

Barrelhouse 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry ‘Red’ Allen) 3:05 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat

Jumpy Nerves 1939 Wingy Manone and his Orchestra (Chu Berry, Buster Bailey, Conrad Lanoue, Zeb Julian, Jules Cassard, Cozy Cole) 2:53 Classic Chu Berry Columbia And Victor Sessions (Mosaic disc 05)

In The Mood Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys 3:19 The Tiffany Transcriptions (vol 9)

“What made Basie’s band so great?” Musicians and dancers explore the answer together

We did a superfun session at Jazz BANG that got dancers and musicians talking and demonstrating together.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.28.46 PM

(This is Kat Galang’s photo from the session. She has a really good eye for catching the feels of a situation. Look at that first year Con student having his mind blown by lindy hop. <3 )

The session was described like this:

"This is a combined stream workshop, with all participants working with Marie [N'Diaye], Lennart [Westerlund], and musicians led by Andrew Dickeson, dummer and teacher in jazz history at the Sydney Consevatorium of Music. “What made Basie’s band so great?” In this session, musicians and dancers explore the answer together.”

We also invited Thomas Wadelton to join the session, bringing his talent and teaching experience as a top shelf tap dancer to the mix. On the day itself, we also invited Georgia Brooks, talented vocalist and dancer to jump in. Andrew brought two of his students with him to pretend to be Freddy Green and Walter Page.

The session was fantastic. Andrew explained how the Basie rhythm section worked, and then they demonstrated, piece by piece. He also explained what Jo Jones did on the drums that was so important, and how Walter Page approached assembling a rhythm section like this.
Then Marie explained what she liked about this feel, Andrew invited her to show us what the groove felt like, and she did.
Then Lennart talked about why the band was important to dancers, talking about the old timers’ opinions of the band.

Then Lennart and Marie did a bit of lindy hop to the band and we squeed.
Then Thomas explained what he liked about this rhythm section, and more importantly demonstrated with some tapping. That bit was exciting, because we could see and hear how Andrew managed the band (telling the guys when to play and when not to to), making the tapping + band work as one unit.
That was extremely exciting.

At this point I got excited and asked Georgia if she wanted in, and at first she was shy and they realised: nicest people ever and she was in. Andrew was all “Yeah! More the merrier!”
We took a moment, I spoke to Marie and Lennart, and Marie had a plan for demonstrating why boogie woogie and non-boogie swinging stuff feel different, so she spoke to Andrew about the plan, we got the whole crowd up on their feet, and then there was a great bit:
the band demonstrated a boogie rhythm, and we all dance to it (solo of course)
then Georgia joined in and they played a proper swinging song and we all danced and it was amazeballs.

I was sitting near some of the musicians from the Squeezebox Trio who’d come to watch, and they had a moment of “DANCING! HOW?!” and then they just relaxed and got it.

It was all very exciting and interesting. My favourite part was seeing how the musicians and dancers took my very rough plan and made it work. Andrew and his students had prepared some very good material, and Lennart and Marie (even at the end of a long, tiring weekend), just came through like guns. I think my other favourite bit was seeing Andrew and Thomas deciding they were bffs in rhythm.
I loved seeing Andrew manage that band in real time. Because my favourite part of jazz is that it’s improvised, and musicians and dancers are actually really excited and stimulated by new and unexpected things, and that’s what gets their creative juices flowing. For me, I was quite excited by my role as organiser (though I wanted to take a very light touch, and to let them do the coordinating and managing, I had to keep an eye on time, and make sure everyone had a chance to talk and demonstrate). It felt really stimulating and exciting to see just what might happen that we didn’t and couldn’t plan for. I like to embrace Lennart’s ‘we will see what will happen’ approach to events, and while it’s a bit scary and challenging for someone as control-freaky as me, it’s also exciting and wonderful.

I would LOVE to do more like this, and the feedback from the attendees was a) they wanted more dancing in that session, b) they wanted more of these sorts of session.
I am 100% in for that sort of plan, the only barrier being cost. Having musicians in the class means you have to pay five people for a workshop, not just one or two. Which makes that session cost as much as a live band. Which is expensive. But if I can find a way to absorb the cost, I will. Because it was THE BEST THING I’VE EVER DONE.

It wasn’t the first time I’d organised a band-in-dance-class session. We did something similar at the Little Big Weekend with Leigh Barker and the New Sheiks (who are part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project with Kieran, Ramona, Thomas and other great dancers). But the focus there was a bit different, and we really drew on the way that band works together as a group, and the less traditional, more unusual work they’ve been doing with dancers. This session with Andrew and Marie and Lennart and Thomas was a bit more historically focussed and traditional, which was a really nice complement.

It was really good to have the two different sessions to compare. They were both about how musicians and dancers work together, but they took very different approaches. Leigh’s work is very much grounded in historical authenticity, but the approach the group takes is much more contemporary, in everything from funding to working and labour practices. Which makes sense, because this isn’t 1940, no matter how much we may wish it was.

The final point from all the musicians in both sessions is that working with dancers brings something new to playing. But Andrew said something that I thought was quite cool: he said (and I paraphrase) that playing for dancers who just dance through the same steps in the same way each time is really BORING. And he’d rather they just didn’t. And I agree: if you’re just going to dance the same way all the time, why are you dancing lindy hop and not ballroom dancing? You’re certainly not listening to the music, and you’re not responding to each partner as a unique person.
This point dovetailed nicely with the points Marie and Lennart made all weekend: first you take care of the music, and you take care of your partner. There’s no ‘correct’ way of doing anything (this foot could go here or there, it doesn’t matter), but you must take care of the rhythm. If the rhythm isn’t tight and present, then you’re in trouble. Each of us gets to the rhythm in a different way, and our bodies are all different, so the way we move will be different, and our visualisation of the rhythm will be different. Cherish that.

I think it’s a bloody good motto for dancing and life: take care of your partner, take care of the music.

I’ve continued this thinking with a post about Count Basie and his influences over here. This post is a product of some discussion on facebook about Basie (and my previous 8tracks post), and really has grown out of this Basie session at Jazz BANG. It does of course, also develop the theme of innovation, improvisation and impersonation – step stealing and cultural appropriation/transmission in vernacular music and dance culture. And we all know how obsessed I am with THAT stuff. Love love love.
I think that that whole philosophy as change-is-good guides everything I do in dance. I am so NOT interested in just doing things the same way all the time. It’s so BORING. I like change. It scares the pants off me, but I love it.

Avant Garden 8tracks

Some songs I like at the moment, many of which are a little odd, structurally or melodically.

Avant Garden from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

linky

Photo from Shorpy.
Watch for the Slam Stewart incidences.

Snafu 1946 Esquire All-American Award Winners (Louis Armstrong, Neal Hefti, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Billy Strayhorn, Remo Palmieri, Chubby Jackson, Sonny Greer) 4:14 The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 03)

“C” Blues 1941 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Ray Nance, Juan Tizol, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 2:53 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 12)

Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Joe Keyes, Carl Smith, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Claude Williams, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 3:00 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 01)

Honeysuckle Rose 1939 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Johnny Martel, Ziggy Elman, Ted Vesely, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Bus Bassey, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 3:04 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 01)

Jack, I’m Mellow 1938 Trixie Smith acc. By Charlie Shavers, Sidney Bechet, Sammy Price, Teddy Bunn, Richard Fullbright, O’Neil Spencer 2:49 Charlie Shavers and The Blues Singers 1938-1939

Honeysuckle Rose 1935 Mildred Bailey and Her Alley Cats (Bunny Berigan, Johnny Hodges, Teddy Wilson, Grachan Moncur) 2:57 Mildred Bailey: A Forgotten Lady 1935-42, Jazz Archives #90 (158602)

Don’t Tetch It! 1942 Una Mae Carlisle with Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer 2:21 Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1941 – 1944

Flying Home 1944 Teddy Wilson Sextet (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Edmond Hall, Slam Stewart, Big Sid Catlett) 4:56 Teddy Wilson: The Complete Associated Transcriptions 1944

Deep Forest 1940 Earl Hines and his Orchestra (Walter Fuller, Milton Fletcher, Ed Sims, George Dixon, John Ewing, Ed Burke, Joe McLewis, Omer Simeon, Leroy Harris, Bob Crowder, Jimmy Mundy, Claude Roberts, Quinn Wilson, Alvin Burroughs, Billy Eckstine, Budd Johnson) 2:31 Classic Earl Hines Sessions 1928-1945 (Mosaic disc 05)

Take It 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Georgie Auld, Pete Mondello, Bob Snyder, Johnny Guarnieri, Mike Bryan, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) 3:13 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03)

Gotta Be This Or That (Pt. 1) (Alt Tk-2) 1945 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Vince Badale, Al Cuozzo, Tony Faso, Stan Fishelson, Trummy Young, Eddie Aulino, Chauncey Welsch, Ray Beller, Aaron Sachs, Stan Kosow, Al Epstein, Danny Bank, Charlie Queener, Mike Bryan, Slam Stewart, Morey Feld, Red Norvo 3:30 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 06)

Sweet Lorraine 1946 Metronome All Star Band (Charlie Shavers, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Bob Ahern, Eddie Safranksi, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, June Christy, Sy Oliver) 3:13 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 08)

Beginner lindy hoppers need to learn to swivel immediately*

swingout

I am insanely busy.
So of course, here is a post. Also I am tired, so these words = rubbish.

I find teaching with a few very good, very clever and observant follows teaches me so much about teaching and dancing. I am so lucky to get to work with such great dancers and teachers.

This is what I’ve been thinking about swivels lately, after an intensive two months working on the ‘Frankie 89′ choreography Lennart and eWa taught us in Herrang.

Swivels are not styling, they are a powerful movement that makes swinging out at higher tempos possible. Relatedly: do not drop your triple steps.
Frankie taught follows to swivel right from their very first class. I know some teachers don’t do this, because they think that swivels are ‘too hard’. I think a lot of people think lindy hop is really hard. But it’s not. As Lennart says, “It is really a very simple dance.”

Doing more work with old timers this year, and with people who worked closely with old timers, I’ve realised that their approach is fundamentally different to modern lindy hoppers’. Modern dancers are recreationists, and are (for the most part) trying to reverse engineer lindy hop. Old timers invented lindy hop. And old timers were social dancers. So lindy hop is pure function.

What does that mean?
If you approach all lindy hop in the simplest terms, it makes a lot more sense. A swing out is really just two partners sometimes being together, and sometimes being apart. Now what’s the simplest, most efficient and practical way to handle that? Use a little turn – a slingshot. Just like launching a rocket into orbit, and then out into the solar system. A swing out is just a circle where you let go half way. A swing out open to open is just a stretch and then a little turn in the middle to redirect the momentum.

I feel quite strongly that you don’t ‘add styling’ to your dancing. Your ‘style’ should just be a natural consequence of your movements (of you, your body, the way it works, and the way you use it). Your arms swing in charleston because you bounce, you bend a bit at the hip in your athletic posture, and you allow your upper torso a bit of rotation/torque. Your fingers are ‘alive’ and not floppy, because you feel feels.

With this in mind, then, swivels must have function. A function that’s aesthetically pleasing, but effective function none the less. If you treat swivels as ‘just a fancy way of walking’ – two steps with a bit of shape – then you get down to a) the rhythm of the step, and b) the function of the step. I’m all for swivels on the spot as well, but traveling swivels are a key part of most dancers’ repertoires as well.

I’m avoiding digressing into talking about how followers’ movements are led by the leader here, ok? I know we could have a discussion about whether followers should take a step for every step a lead makes, but that’s going to get us off track, ok?

So how is a swivel a powerful way of moving? What makes the swivel more awesome than just walking? Yes, yes, we know they look fabulous. But we’re trying to stay on track, right?

I like to teach swivels this way:
Imagine you are doing the twist, 1960s style. Your weight is evenly distributed between your hip-width feet. You are wearing skiis, so don’t let your skiis tangle or cross.
Now, as your feet point to the right, shift your weight to the right. As they point left, shift your weight to the left.

Boom. Swivels on the spot.

Remind yourself to bounce/pulse while you do this – you need the bounce, because bounce is your body preparing to move. Each bounce is like a little spring coiling – it’s stored energy – and that stored energy is released when you take a step.

So now, instead of just shifting your weight while you twist, take an actual step. Right, left, right left.

BOOM. Traveling swivels.

You need to: bounce; wear skiis (for efficient alignment for the sake of your knees, but also to ensure a nice clear line of energy from the ground to your core and back again); use athletic posture (you know – jump up in the air, then land with slightly bent knees, arms out, a bit of bend at the the hip, etc etc); make clear weight changes.

Once you have all this happening, your swivel becomes a very powerful step. Powerful in terms of energy and muscle power, not symbolic feminist energy**. The bent knees, arse out (hip bend), relaxed arms, open chest, clear weight changes, bounce, etc etc makes this posture and way of movement super powerful and strong. Each step/swivel becomes a little power-push, just like a sprinter leaping from the block at the beginning of a race.
You really, REALLY need this power when you’re dancing fast. It’s one of the ways the follows feed energy into the swing out cycle. Add that to the way a bit of stretch on one/two works, a very efficient 3&4 (the turn/circle in the middle – triple step to add power and aid travel!), and you have this fantastically powerful little engine.

All of this makes for great biomechanics.
But it has also made me a much better teacher for follows. I tend to favour talking about leads, because I am a lead. This makes me cranky because it makes lindy hop sound lead-centred. But once you understand that follows really aren’t passive at all, that the way follows move contributes importantly to momentum, suddenly you have tools for talking to follows in class.

Sam’s moment of personal growth: understanding following empowers follows, makes this leader a better teacher and a better dance partner.

I often say (stealing an idea Naomi Uyama used in a class) that follows have a responsibility to keep the rhythm for the lead. Ramona says that each partner has a responsibility to ‘take care of the beat’. Lennart says you need to ‘make friends with the music’. Steven Mitchell grunts “MM! Yeah!” I like to have partners bounce together on the spot before they start dancing, because it’s a way of reassuring your partner that you can find the beat (as well as a way to connect with your partner and the music).

These concepts all tell you that maintaining energy in your dancing is the responsibility of both partners. A science teacher friend in my practice group noted that swing outs can’t be 100% relaxed low impact. The stretch or ‘tension’ (in the sense of stored energy) has to be fed into the cycle somehow. If you let go earlier (5), if you lead by moving your body, you need to have 1 and 2 be much more powerful to feed the energy in. A powerful swivel helps follows contribute energy, a bit of stretch before leading in lets the leads contribute energy. Just like Frankie. This energy, then, is coming directly from your core: it’s built into the coiled spring of a vertical bounce, and it’s managed by strong glutes pushing, and a stable core.

This is where my knowledge ends. I just don’t know enough about biomechanics to say more. And I suspect I’m a bit full of bullshit, really.

But I find this approach really important for the way I then think about social power in following. It’s patently ridiculous to think of following as ‘passive’. A passive follow would be a dead weight. An active follow is engaging their muscles and actively contributing to the energy in the dance. Even if they never do a single jazz step or ‘variation’.

So following in lindy hop cannot be passive.

This then upsets the idea that a lead ‘controls’ the partnership. Nothing a lead tries will work properly if the follow isn’t actively contributing to and maintaining energy and momentum. The lead may think that a move has ‘worked’ under these conditions, but they won’t actually be leading.

*Teach your beginner students to swivel right from their first class. Skill them up. Give follows power. Don’t be afraid of lindy hop.

**But why can’t you think of swivels as a symbol of powerful feminist mite?

Reclining On A Rug

I’m delighted by people’s suggestions that they’re taking up lindy hop because they want a dance where ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’.
Because the sorts of things that male jazz dancers did in the 20s and 30s aren’t ever quite as retrosexists imagine they were.