It’s always difficult DJing for a crowd of lindy hoppers on a very hot night in a very hot room. Especially when they’re Melbournians, who tend to forget how to deal with hot weather, even though we have really hot summers. I think it’s all the rain and wind and cold in the winter.
But last night I was up for the first set, and over the course of yesterday revised my loose plans for the set. I had a quick look through my slower stuff – I knew I wouldn’t get terribly high bpms – but reminded myself of my favourite highenergy, fun slower stuff. Just because you’re playing slower music, don’t mean you should let the dancers get too lethargic. My goal was to keep the energy up so the dancers continually felt like they really wanted to dance fast and crazy. I wanted to build them up gradually, kind using the smaller wave idea, not only in terms of tempo (where you move from slower to medium to faster stuff in a general progression) but also in terms of mood (where you build up the energy and excitement, then quieten it down, progressively). But at the same time as I was working on these shorter waves, I also wanted to work on a broader, ‘big picture’ type wave, where I was gradually working up the energy in the room, even though I was giving them rests with the down parts of the mini-waves. It worked quite well, I think.
This was the first set, as I’ve said, and that means that the crowd was largely beginners from the class (though not super-beginners – more people with some lindy who’re loving dancing, but can’t quite hack mega tempos or really complicated melodies and rhythms yet). The more experienced dancers came in about a third of the way through the set, and that always builds the energy in the room, in part because their example invigorates the newer dancers watching them, but also because they really use the music (meaning, they’re beyond just thinking ‘move-move-move’ and can build in extra responses to the music within a move). Newer dancers can hear this stuff, but they don’t often have the physical ability to make this feeling flesh).
I do find, though (unfortunately) that the newer dancers tend to cede the floor to the more advanced dancers as they feel a bit intimidated. I guess that’s one aspect of a scene with more advanced dancers, but it’s also one of the less pleasant parts of the Melbourne scene – there’s a very clear heirarchy enforced by the system of performance troups, competitions, teaching cadetships and teaching roles, and of course, the supporting emails, websites and other assorted media and discourse. Nor do many of those more experienced dancers work to undo that heirarchy by asking newer people to dance.
So you can see on the set list below that the more experienced dancers came in at about Everyday I have the Blues.
There were a couple of eggs in there – If it don’t fit don’t force it just sounded shit on the sound system. CBD sucks arse – all my piano-only or sparser arrangements end up sounding like shit. It has to have a big, full orchestra to fill the room. I do not know why – I try to fix it with the levels, but that doesn’t work. I guess I need to get onto the whole equaliser thing, but…
I really wanted to play a bit of Jay McShann after I’m just a ladies’ man man by Witherspoon, because I liked the way Witherspoon’s dirtiness responded to Barrel House Annie’s crudeness, and because they’re both kind of solid, uptempo blues tracks – good stompin’ dancing fun. Witherspoon also got his start singing with McShann’s band, so it seemed appropriate. I did want to play a bit more McShann, as he passed away recently, but the little section kind of faltered with the poor quality. I’m just a ladies’ man did go down really well, though.
I pulled a few stunts during this set… stunts, as in DJing tricks. I played some old favourites, speckled through the set. These included Blues in hoss’s flat which we haven’t heard in a while, and which was overplayed earlier this year (mostly by me), Shout Sister Shout (whose unnoticed vulgarity and double entendre work really pleases me and seemed a good lead in to If it don’t fit), Be Careful (even if you can’t be good) which was me having a joke with myself – it’s an old favourite, I regard it as a ‘safety’ song as it’s good quality, is good, easy dancing (and has some nice musically bits), but I really like the synchronicity of the lyrics (“be careful… even if you can’t be good). This track is also edging into jump blues/early rock n roll in 1951, which kind of worked as a musical progression from the styles of the previous songs (a sort of timeline of the development of blues to rock n roll) – a point only a supernerd DJ would care about, but which actually works really well with dancers, as it leads them naturally between styles, rather than sort of dumping a nasty stylistic shift on them.
I wanted to get to Six Appeal, which is a Campus Five song I’m busily overplaying, and have noticed goes down really with dancers, and figured Shoo Fly Pie (another song riddled with overlooked inuendo) was a nice step. I had toyed with playing the Campus Five version of Why don’t you do right (the ‘Jessica Rabbit song’), but that’s too low a tempo and kind of kills it. Six appeal is more fun anyway.
I really like the way Campus Five play that older, echoes-of-Orleans style in Six Appeal – I think it’s the trumpet and the clarinet that make me think this way. Plus the odd bit of interesting percussion/drum work. From here the obvious choice seemed Bechet – he’s got that revivalist trad jazz sound that still swings. And Blues my naughty sweetie gives to me is very popular with Melbournians today so I figured it was a good choice.
From there, I had to play Joshua fit de battle of jericho as it really develops that New Orleans sound, and I really like that combination of songs. I like the way Blues my naughty sweetie works the crowd up, energy-wise with the stompy piano/base, but adds in a bit of sauciness with the trumpet (no, it’s not Louis Armstrong, though I always think it is). This song is great. It kind of feels like Western saloon honky tonk, but with a bit of saucy (and terribly cool) bluesy swing to give it a sense of humour. When the clarinet comes in (it could be a sax – I can’t be arsed checking), its work with the trumpet really lets you know where the naughty is at.
And Joshua really takes up the energy blues my naughty sweetie has been gradually building up and works it up a level – kind of the climax, really. Though it depends on the crowd. This combination of songs has gone arse up for me in the past, but the mellow tempos and the general vibe was working with me – I think the Campus Five got people in the mood, in a less confronting, twenty first century way, which made people more amenable to the quite-in-your-face yelling and shouting and almost unswingness of Joshua.
I’m generally not a big fan of Jesus songs (I do not like Wade in the water, for example) but Joshua seems a little more irreverent – I think funeral march rather than baptism. Kind of the way Lavender Coffin (another crowd pleaser I dropped in earlier to score cheap points) does. It’s about death and martyrs and saints and the bible, but in an old testament way. Kind of gloriously bloody, and with a bit of gospel-as-used-by-African-American slaves – a bit of tactical resistance from within an institution, where you know dark humour is the flip side of that slap stick clowning for the white folks.
Of course, Jericho has some sweet trumpet and clarinet as well. And you really feel like stomping along with this song – it has a nice, stompy rhythm. The ‘improvised’ bit at the end feels nicely chaotic and wild, but still purposeful and organised (if that makes sense).
And then I rounded it off with Ridin’ on the L&N, which I love dearly – I love the lyrics in these Hampton track (fuck, I LOVE Hamp more than anything – no one does stompy, going somewhere rhythms like him):
A man named Mose,
With (was?) a great big nose,
Was sleepin’ on a pile of clothes,
Conductor came and rang the bell,
The porter hollered ‘well well well’
Riding on the L & N
Riding on the L & N
I did play this song particularly for a couple of balboa nuts I saw just getting into their groove with Jericho, and I know this song goes down well with balboa doods. That wide-handed piano and driving rhythm pleases them. I had considered Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, the version by the Goodman small group (which features Hamp as well) with Martha Tilton, but that’s a little light and tinkly and I was getting a bit of a stompy groove on.
Basically, I wanted something with that ‘building up’ feeling, to work on the existing energy, but not a crazy all-out speeding lindy hop track. It was too hot, and I didn’t want the dancers spent on a track just before the end of my set – I wanted them all hot and ready and worked up.
Savoy Blues brought the tempos down again, but got all the less experienced (and post-christmas indulgant types) back onto the floor. It’s a song that’s kind of getting pretty popular, I love it (Kid Ory again, though a later period I think (at least a later feel – I don’t have the date for that song unfortunately)), and it kept up that stompy move yo ass! feel.
People were pretty much going nuts in that last bracket, which was impressive, as they’d not been able to hack a lot of pounding earlier on in the set.
That version of Splanky was a birthday dance, and was right for the people dancing in the circle.
Overall, it was nice to work from the enthusiastic newer dancers to the old sticks who can be much pickier, but can like a wider range of tempos and styles (if I’m lucky – depending on the crowd). Those newer doods just love to dance, and for whom I like to play some of the old faves, or play the better quality stuff so they can really hear swinging jazz at its best.
[rant] I do not, at all, in any way, subscribe to the idea that we should play neo swing for new dancers. That stuff sucks arse for dancing, doesn’t swing at all, and encourages bad dancing habits. It’s technically pretty poor musicianship (for the most part), and I refuse to add any to my collection. Beyond that, it’s more the case that people take up swing dancing for swing music and the influence of people like Jamie Cullen and (sigh) Robbie Williams than Royal Crown Revue or Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.[/rant]
I began with the Campus Five because I quite like that song, I needed something hifi and safe to test the set up before I got hardcore, and because it feels like the band are kind of ‘testing’ a melody, over a solid, obvious beat – good stuff for a warm up dance. I played Jump Ditty then because I’m very fond of it, even though I suspect that cooler types than I think it’s naff. And it always goes down well with a crowd of newer dancers – it feels like fun. The lyrics are a good thing – I’ve found that dropping in vocals is a good idea with newer dancers.
I played Massachussetts because it feels really swingy and gets me in the mood for dancing – Maxine really swings, and yet the rhythm is really clear and swingingly nice. It’s a nice bridge between the groovy and the solidly swinging old school. The musicians are top notch, and as a smaller combo, you can really appreciate each instrument individually. Unfortunately, everything on this album sounds like shit at CBD – all base and treble. Even when I up the mids. I think this is indicative of the problems with CBD generally – you lose definition in the middle range. And it SUCKS. I will work on learning how to fix it.
I like B Sharp Boston a whole lot, hi fi Ellington, feels like it’s going somewhere, kind of sassy. Still a good warm up song (ie not too challenging or fast or scary), but really great, musically. Blip Blip was a crowd-pleaser, and because I was thinking of Ellington (he did a great original version with Ray Nance on vocals before this Ella one). Slip of the lip sounded like arse – same problem of too much high, lows… but I think it’s indicative of many of the Ellington recordings I have from this period, only made worse by CBD’s system. It’s a shame as it’s a really fun song. Too fast for that crowd in that temperature at that time of night, though. So I went back to hifi (a safety strategy), with the wonderful Jive at Five, then thought I’d follow with a Basie track by a big band other than Basie’s orchestra. Which was a good thing, as I then played two Basie tracks in a row – two very safe, crowd-pleasing favourites.
But really, Basie makes for such great dancing music, it’s difficult to not think ‘oh, this Basie song would be good here’ – his stuff is so varied, so swingingly great for dancing.
After all that DJing, I tried to dance like a fool, but the temperature, post-christmas fatness and unfitness and so on prevented. Needless to say, riding home was difficult.
Fuck it was hot yesterday (and my laptop is burning my legs now!)
Oomph Fa Fa – Jonathan Stout And His Campus Five- 129 – 2003 – Jammin’ the Blues
Jump Ditty! – Joe Carroll and The Ray Bryant Quintet – 134 – Red Kat Swing 1
Massachusetts – Maxine Sullivan – 144 – 2006 – A Tribute To Andy Razaf
B-Sharp Boston – Duke Ellington and His Orchestra – 126 – 1949 – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950
Bli-Blip – Ella Fitzgerald – 132 – 1956 – Ella Fitzgerald Day Dream: Best Of The Duke Ellington Songbook
A Slip Of The Lip – Duke Ellington with Ray Nance – 150 – 1942 – The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 13)
Jive At Five – Count Basie and His Orchestra – 147 – 1960 – The Count Basie Story (Disc 1)
Easy Does It – Big 18
Every Day I Have The Blues – Count Basie – 116 – 1959 – Breakfast Dance And Barbecue
Blues In Hoss’ Flat – Count Basie – 142 – 1995 – Big Band Renaissance Disc 1
Walk ‘Em – Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra – 131 – 1946 – Walk ‘Em
Back Room Romp – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra – 155 – 2000 – Ken Burns Jazz: Duke Ellington
Lavender Coffin – Lionel Hampton, etc – 138 – 1949 – Lionel Hampton Story 4: Midnight Sun
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra – 130 – 1949 – Lionel Hampton Story 4: Midnight Sun
Le Jazz Hot – Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – 144 – 1939 – Lunceford Special 1939-40
Shout, Sister, Shout – Lucky Millinder – 140 – Apollo Jump
If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Force It) – Barrel House Annie – 148 – 1937 – Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts and Lollypops
I’m Just A Lady’s Man – Jimmy Witherspoon – 144 – 2002 – Goin’ Around In Circles
Be Careful (If You Can’t Be Good) – Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra – 121 – 1951 – Walk ‘Em
Shoo Fly Pie – June Christy – 128 – Red Kat Swing 1
Six Appeal – Jonathan Stout And His Campus Five – 141 – 2004 – Crazy Rhythm
Blues My Naughty Sweetie – Sidney Bechet – 140 – 1951 – The Blue Note Years
Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho – Kid Ory And His Creole Jazz Band – 160 – 1946 – Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band 1944-46
Ridin’ On The L&N – Lionel Hampton and His Quartet- 170 – 1946 – Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
Savoy Blues – Kid Ory – 134 – 2002 – Golden Greats: Greatest Dixieland Jazz Disc 3
Splanky – Count Basie – 125 – 1957 – Complete Atomic Basie, the