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August 24, 2009

midnight serenaders and janet klein

mssn.jpg I am currently extremely nuts for the Portland band Midnight Serenaders' album Sweet Nothin's (even though I'm unsure about that inverted comma in the title).
I bought the album from emusic this month and have been listening to it over and over. I played three songs from it at the after party I DJed on Saturday (though the first was to an empty room as I tested the sound gear): Swing Brother, Swing, Sweet Nothin's and Who Walks in When I Walk Out?. They all went down a treat.

msm.jpg I really like this band: some of the musicians have bluegrass/jugband/ole timey roots, some jazz, and the steel guitarist used to be in Helmet. The female singer plays the ukelele, an instrument I have mixed feelings about. I'm not keen on the Aussie folky/community ukelele sound, but I do like it in an Hawaiian, jazznick context. I'm also fond of the way this band combines the 'street jazz' sound that's very popular with some American dancers atm (a la the Loose Marbles, Cangalossi Cards, etc) with a more sophisticated studio mix. They also remind me of the Hot Club of Cowtown, which can only be an awesomely good thing.

I haven't bought their other album Magnolia, yet, but it's only a matter of time.

I've also just bought some songs from Janet Klein's second album Ready For You which has a similar style, but leans a little more heavily on the cutsey recreation of 20s girl singers. Klein has other albums, but I'm not so struck on the Paradise Wobble album on emusic, which is mostly vocals and ukele. I prefer Klein with the band balancing out the cutesy with some badass instrumental action.
I played That's What You Think from Ready For You at that same after party, and it also went down a treat.

Though I have a feeling both these albums will work with dancers, I'm pretty sure the after party was kind of a loaded option: this was a crowd of post-ball dancers with a couple of drinks under their belts and a serious interest in part-aying. The presence of a few Melbourne dancers also reminded me of the seriously slow average tempos in Sydney - come on, gang, let's get lindy hopping!

EDIT: I just bought Magnolia from the Midnight Serenaders, via CDBaby's downloads. It was supercheap ($9.99 US/$11.92 AU) and supereasy... which isn't a good thing for our bank account... The little I've heard of the album is fuuuully sick.

"midnight serenaders and janet klein" was posted by dogpossum on August 24, 2009 4:50 PM in the category digging and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (0)

Armstrong and Middleton for the win


The awesomeness that is Louis Armstrong and his All Stars in 1956. Velma Middleton features prominently as the badass performer she was. Image stoled from here. Looks like Kid Ory in the background on trombone, but I could be (and probably am) mistaken.

I have a bunch of this All Star action from Armstrong, but I rarely DJ it. It is fully sick, though.
This version of All that meat (and no potatoes) is ok, but not fabulous.

They do a version of Reckless Blues which I quite like. The interesting thing about that song is that Armstrong first recorded it with Bessie Smith in 1925, then again with Middleton in 1957.

Just to demonstrate Middleton's awesomeness, here she is with Luis Russell's orchestra in 1942:

"Armstrong and Middleton for the win" was posted by dogpossum on August 24, 2009 4:00 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (4)

August 21, 2009


I'm always last to the bar.

"man" was posted by dogpossum on August 21, 2009 5:59 PM in the category clicky | Comments (0)

i like

I like it that the garage across the road has

All work carried out by... Qualified Tradespersons
painted on its windows. As though, despite the fact that they're an all-male workplace, they've everything in place, ready for their first female mechanic or panel beater. I can imagine them making sure they have one of those pink bins in the toilet and practicing their collaborative meaning making and affirming noises in conversation.

If only the internets could learn from their example.

"i like" was posted by dogpossum on August 21, 2009 5:33 PM in the category domesticity | Comments (0)

August 19, 2009

recent djing (is this politics?)

I haven't been terribly happy with my DJing lately. I think part of the problem has been that I've been acquiring vast blobs of music from emusic and not properly assimilating them before DJing. I've been doing a lot of DJing (once a week at least, often more) and I haven't had a chance to spend time with my music getting to know it properly. I've also done some sets at venues with very difficult sound (churchpit is the main offender here - the speakers/amp just can't handle the huge hall), so I've not been able to DJ the older stuff I really love with any confidence. All this has lead to my doing sets which are 'easy' and lacking inspiration.

(that fabulous photo is from this site).

These fairly uninteresting sets have leaned a little too heavily on the jump blues, and blues structures generally. There's also been far too much Jimmy Witherspoon. But I've also been flogging the New Orleans revival stuff like the proverbial, and recent recreationist NOR stuff at that. Not making for terribly great sets, right?

The set below is one I did at Canberräng the weekend before last.

Canberräng 7 August 2009 9:00-10:30pm

Blue Monday Jay McShann and his Band with Jimmy Witherspoon 125 1957 Goin' To Kansas City Blues 3:40
Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker 134 1949 Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings 3:24
King Porter Stomp Kansas City Band 170 1997 KC After Dark 4:38
Gimme A Pigfoot Lavern Baker 120 1958 La Vern Baker Sings Bessie Smith 3:11
Big Fine Girl Jimmy Witherspoon with Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Vernon Alley, Mel Lewis 156 1959 The 'Spoon Concerts 4:55
C-Jam Blues Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 143 1999 Live In Swing City: Swingin' With Duke 3:34
Blues In Hoss's Flat Count Basie and his Orchestra 144 1958 Chairman Of The Board [Bonus Tracks] 3:13
Sent For You Yesterday Count Basie and his Orchestra with Joe Williams 163 1960 The Count Basie Story (Disc 2) 3:10
Roll 'Em Pete Count Basie and his Orchestra with Joe Williams 215 1957 At Newport 3:01
I Ain't Mad At You Mildred Anderson 158 1960 No More In Life 3:04
Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 164 1950 Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript 2:15
The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else Boilermaker Jazz Band 161 2006 You Do Something To Me 3:46
Paper Moon Monica Trapaga with Bob Barnard, Paul Furniss, David Blenkhorn, Peter Locke, David Seidel, Andrew Dickeson, Monica Trapaga 140 2006 Sugar 4:05
Tishomingo Blues Carol Ralph 128 2005 Swinging Jazz Portrait 4:15
If You're A Viper New Orleans Jazz Vipers 156 2004 Live On Frenchmen Street 3:57
Lavender Coffin Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker and Joe James 134 1949 Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings 2:47
On Revival Day Lavern Baker 144 1958 Lavern Sings Bessie Smith 3:16
The Jumpin' Blues Jay McShann and his Band with Jimmy Witherspoon 155 1957 Goin' To Kansas City Blues 3:04

It was actually just the right set to play for that crowd at that time. It was the second set of the night (and weekend) at a crowded bar/restaurant where there wasn't much room for dancing. The venue management was a bit very intrusive, commenting on the music (and turning the volume up and down!) and generally making things difficult. It was a mixed crowd of dancers, but not a whole lot of experienced dancers who're interested in older music. There wasn't really room to bust out with badass lindy hop either. So I went for the 'partyhardy' beer-and-laughs approach. I quite like this sort of set for starting off a weekend - loud, shouting choruses, simple rhythms, call and response sections, familiar songs, lots of energy, lots of hi-fi. It went down very well.

(Image lifted from here.
EDIT: If you're liking this Bill Steber photo, I've linked to a few more here.)

After I'd warmed them up a bit, I shifted to the NOR stuff (well, that's how I'm thinking of it, even though it's not strictly accurate for most of these bands). That went down quite well as well. I also tried to get with the wave, moving up and down through the tempos, which I've not been doing so well lately.

Overall, I was happy with the set - it did as it should, the organisers were happy with it, the venue manager was happy with it, the dancers had fun. It wasn't totally awesome for lindy hop, but then there wasn't really room for awesome lindy hop. It was a beer and laughs partyhardy set.

But this is the sort of stuff I've been DJing lately, and I'm just not happy with it. As a dancer I'd be very disappointed. Partly because it's just the same old same old; there's nothing new or interesting there.

In contrast, here's a set I did at the Churchpit gig last Friday:

Swingpit 14 August 2009 10:30pm-midnight

Solid as a Rock Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys 140 1950 Count Basie and His Orchestra 1950-1951 3:04
Oh! Gram'pa Cab Calloway and his Orchestra 147 1947 Are You Hep To The Jive? 3:04
Shout, Sister, Shout Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Buster Bailey 140 1941 Apollo Jump 2:45
Just Kiddin' Around Artie Shaw and his Orchestra 159 1941 Self Portrait (Disc 3) 3:21
Davenport Blues Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra with Jack Teagarden 136 1934 Father Of Jazz Trombone 3:14
Madame Dynamite Eddie Condon and his Orchestra (Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Sidney Catlett) 176 1933 Classic Sessions 1927-49 (Volume 2) 2:56
Summit Ridge Drive Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five 128 1940 Self Portrait (Disc 2) 3:21
A Viper's Moan Willie Bryant and his Orchestra with Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole 153 1935 Willie Bryant 1935-1936 3:26
Hot Spot Blues Leo Mathisen's Orkester 167 1942 Leo Mathiesen 1942-43 Terrific Rhythm 3:06
Joog, Joog Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 146 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 3:01
Paper Moon Monica Trapaga with Bob Barnard, Paul Furniss, David Blenkhorn, Peter Locke, David Seidel, Andrew Dickeson, Monica Trapaga 140 2006 Sugar 4:05
Gimme A Pigfoot Lavern Baker 120 1958 La Vern Baker Sings Bessie Smith 3:11
Keep On Churnin' (01-09-52) Wynonie Harris 146 1952 Complete Jazz Series 1950 - 1952 2:56
Sent For You Yesterday (And Here You Come Today) Count Basie and his Orchestra with Jimmy Rushing 172 1952 Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings (Disc 2) 3:13
Big Fat Mama Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra with Trevor Bacon, Buster Bailey 135 1941 Apollo Jump 3:09
Bearcat Shuffle Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy with Mary Lou Williams 160 1936 The Lady Who Swings the Band - Mary Lou Williams with Any Kirk and his Clouds of Joy 3:01
Peckin' Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra 165 1937 The Duke's Men: Small Groups Vol. 1 (Disc 2) 3:10
Truckin' Henry 'Red' Allen and His Orchestra 171 1935 Henry Red Allen ‘Swing Out' 2:54
The Basement Blues (low-downer than any low down blues) Nobel Sissle and his Orchestra with Sidney Bechet 153 1931 Ken Burns Jazz Collection: Sidney Bechet 3:16
Georgia Bo Bo Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band 137 1952 Graeme Bell the AMI Australian Recordings 2:40
Bli-Blip Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five 140 2007 Moppin' And Boppin' 2:44
Flat Foot Floogie Carol Ralph 186 2005 Swinging Jazz Portrait 3:44
Massachusetts Maxine Sullivan 147 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf 3:19
Blues In Hoss's Flat Count Basie and his Orchestra 144 1958 Chairman Of The Board [Bonus Tracks] 3:13
John Silver Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra 155 1938 Swingsation: Charlie Barnet and Jimmy Dorsey 3:15
Turn It Over Bus Moten and his Men 148 1949 Kansas City Blues 1944-1949 (Disc 3) 2:38
Don't Falter At The Altar Cab Calloway 138 Are You Hep To The Jive? 2:44
All This Beef And Big Ripe Tomatoes Julia Lee, Cleophus Berry, William 'Bill' Nolan, Franz Bruce, Clairborne Graves, Elmer W. Price 143 1951 Kansas City Star (disc 5) 2:09
Laughing In Rhythm Slim Gaillard and his Peruvians 142 1951 Laughing In Rhythm: The Best Of The Verve Years 2:56
Algiers Stomp Mills Blue Rhythm Band with Henry 'Red' Allen, J.C. Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes, Lucky Millinder 219 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat 3:08
I Diddle Dinah Washington 153 Dinah Washington with Quincy Jones 3:05

This is a regular fortnightly event in a large church hall. The sound can be really, really difficult as the speakers/amp just aren't big enough for this big, echoey space, but this time the room had been rearranged and the sound was a bit better. It's usually a newer crowd of dancers - people who've only been dancing less than six months or so. It can include more experienced, hard core dancers, though. The hall actually has a great floor and is really good for spreading out with big, fat lindy. But there's no bar and it really is a bit churchpit. But there you go.
I quite like doing these sorts of gigs with the newer dancers because newer dancers tend not to have any preconceptions or biases about the music. They're only just beginning to get to know the dance, and they're usually a-flush with post-class endorphines and excitement. They just love dancing. Most of the ones who do this class regularly also bring their own beer and snacks and make a bit of a party of it, which is also nice. I like DJing for these guys because they tend to just dance when the music moves them. And I've found with this crowd (as with the Funpit doods in Melbourne) that they respond best to four-on-the-floor straight-ahead swing. The less NOR the better. They like a bit of jump blues or 12-bar blues structure stuff, but they really go off with the 'proper' swing. They're suprisingly willing to tackle higher tempos and are far more flexible about this than many experienced dancers (mostly because no one's yet told them that something's 'too fast'). They don't actually say any of these things - I'm just working on what I see.

That night I followed Miss Bonnet, who was DJing one of her (if not the) first sets. She did a great job - lots of favourites, good working of tempos and volume, nice combinations of styles. I danced. I wanted to keep up her good energy, so I came in with something familiar - Solid as a Rock - something at a nice, easy tempo, with lots of clapping and fun vocals. I also wanted to segue to some older, solid swing stuff, and this is a nice, tricky way of getting there.
I've been listening to my music on the bus using an ipod lately, and it's really helped me get back into my own music. I've also been thinking about DJing more lately, and actually done some practice. I'm also dancing more myself, and that's been really important. I'm not sure I did such an awesome job with the wave, tempo-wise, though. The floor was full all night, though, and I Noticed that the dancers favoured the solid swing/four-on-the-floor stuff above all else. Which just goes to show - lindy hop is built for that action. It swings, it's simpler rhythmically (and in terms of arrangement), and it matches the stuff students learn in class. The class before had been doing 20s charleston and a range of charleston variations to faster music (though not to what I'd term 'charleston music'), so they were set up for faster, solid beats.

I challenged myself to avoid the stuff I'd played in that Canberräng set, though I did cave with Lavern Baker and Wynonie Harris, then the Basie with Rushing, but then it was back to business with a bit of Lunceford transitioning back to Andy Kirk goodness. The Wynonie Harris is very popular here atm, and it's actually great for shifting gears and injecting some energy into the room. Instead of thinking 'oh, I'll just continue on to more of this blues-type stuff', I thought 'I'll just inject this here, then get back to business'. And it worked. I currently love, love, love that Davenport Blues by Rollini and his band, partly because I have this THING for Jack Teagarden. And because I'm listening to quite a bit of hot Chicago action at the moment (finally - I move north from New Orleans!), I followed up with Madame Dynamite, which I also love. These are new songs to me, but much loved. I've found both go down really, really well with dancers.

It's round about there that I was working a sort of emotional wave - Artie Shaw had taken things up and people were nuts, but because there were a lot of noobs, I figured a little rest with the mellower Rollini was in order. During the Shaw song a few doods had gotten going with some Madison, which suited the song perfectly and spread like a virus as people started joining in and learning the fairly simple routine. It was actually a lovely moment, as all sorts of people got into it and had a really fun time. It lifted the energy in the room noticeably, and I felt the 'lindy hop vibe', the 'let's get serious' vibe. So I figured I'd keep to the olden days stuff and work that vibe.

(The Madison takes on.)

Most of the songs I played are old favourites - no surprises with A Viper's Moan. But this is a new crowd of dancers, and I've found that most of the 'old favourites' like VM aren't played much here at all. Which is fine by me, as I love that shit - they're not favourites for nothing. Anyways, I moved wave-like from Rollini through to Joog Joog. Leo5.jpg

Hot Spot is something I rediscovered lately. Mathisen is a Danish musician who sounds a lot like Fats Waller, and I lovelovelove his (marvelously restored) CDs I bought from Little Beat Records. So I gave this a whirl. The recording isn't so great for that particular space - the higher and lower parts get lost - but it's such a fun song, it worked out ok. It's the type of song that'd work well with a stroll I think.

But Joog Joog was a return to the vocals and also signalled my change in style.

Paper Moon is by a local singer (as in, from my actual suburb), and goes down well. The band in that recording are freaking A1 as well. I think of that as a real beginner's song, because I learnt to dance to it in Brisbane in 1998. Then came that brief reversion moment.

Then back to Lunceford and then to Kirk. Peckin' and Truckin' went down a treat - I love those two played together, for obvious reasons. Then some Noble Sissle (yay!). Georgia Bo Bo is another Aussie act, but this didn't work quite so well with the crowd. NOR. Bah. So some Campus Five to recover.

This crowd of noobs was getting pretty tired by now, but they were really doing well - two hours of classes then so much social dancing is tricky when you have no dance fitness. The next chunk is a bit random. I thought John Silver, my pirate song would work. Fail. People danced to every single song from here, and the floor was full. Algiers Stomp was a response to a request for 'bal', and actually sparked so much interest I regretted not playing more faster songs earlier. That'll teach me to go with my preconceptions rather than actually working the crowd.

It was a nice night, actually. There were quite a few out of towners visiting, and rather than doing a proper 'welcome dance', we paused so they could be introduced. Which was also nice, because the crowd were feeling very friendly and spontaneously applauded. Unusual, but actually very friendly. There was also a birthday, and the two birthday kids had requested a special song which was played between the two DJ sets. This can go either way, particularly when people supply their own song. But they'd worked out a sort of mini routine, and it was pretty fun. We all then carried on with the usual 'happy birthday' jam, and it was a friendly, fun one. At one point I back announced the Carol Ralph song, because she's playing at the dance this Saturday. I don't usually do this sort of thing, but I really like Ralph, and her music is always really popular with dancers. On that particular night Flat Foot Floogie went down a treat (as it usually does), so I figured people might like to know that she was playing a dance with her band, and that CDs would be available.

Overall, I was happy with this set, happier than I've been with my DJing in ages. A return to my preferred musical styles. The Squeeze sat behind me programming on his laptop through all this, not dancing or even talking to anyone. He had a lovely time. And I kept making him pay attention to how "four-on-the-floor is the BEST!" It wasn't the best set I've ever done, and I didn't push any boundaries, music-wise, but I hope this is a return to the good stuff of yore. And that I'll stay hard enough to play it. Or, more importantly, I'll work on my DJing and music knowledge a bit more so that I can make it work, regardless.

I have a bit of DJing this Saturday - doing band breaks for the Carol Ralph dance and then a set at the after party. I hope it goes well. I'm mostly just happy to get into the gig for free!

"recent djing (is this politics?)" was posted by dogpossum on August 19, 2009 12:25 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (0)

August 15, 2009

what makes a good jam?

Not, foodie friends, a post about preserves. But a post about jam circles and the dance 'jam'.

When you say 'jam' to most lindy hoppers, they think of that exciting moment at a dance when a particularly exciting song prompts dancers to freekin BRING IT. A couple lights up and dances like serious badasses. The appropriate (and instinctive response) is to watch and cheer and goad them on. In the olden days, if the floor was crowded (as it usually was), a little space would clear around the dances to give them room to really bring it. These days, a circle (often ridiculously big) forms in an unnatural way to allow room for a little entertainment. Today, the initial couple are often replaced by other couples, one after another, entering the cleared circle at the end of a phrase. The dancers crowded around clap and cheer and egg on the 'performers'.
My favourite jam sees dancers crowded close (risking losing an eye), and couples pushing to get in there and show off. The energy in the room leaps and I feel like screaming like a crazy fool. Sometimes I do.
My least favourite jam is 'staged'. In the very worst case scenario someone announces "We're going to have a jam now," and couples enter the circle in a very formal, almost staged order, to pull out very staged, rehearsed sequences of steps. There is no spontaneity, there is no excitement, and often, there's no me - I've gone to the bar for a drink.
My favourite jams are usually to live bands - a band simply brings the energy up and dancers freekin lose their biscuits (in a non-vomiting way).

Jams aren't a new idea, by any means. Forming a circle into which dancers enter and 'perform' is as old as Africa in African American vernacular dance, is found in indigenous Australian dance, in European folk dance and most other dance cultures around the world. The performance ranges from formalised, ritualised and highly prescriptive to ecstatic, out of control, crazed. Audiences are encouraged to participate - to clap and cheer, to sing or chant along, to exclaim; to respond.

DJing jams can be a bit tricky. I've done quite a few now, and I kind of have a feeling about the types of songs to play and the way I can develop the energy in a room to the point where that spontaneous group-hysteria showing off happens*. These sorts of jams usually happen at an exchange or special event, somewhere when people are relaxed and ready to partyhardy, when they're out of town or hosting guests, excited by new dance partners and music and DJs or bands. I usually find them happening on the first night of an exchange, later in the night, or at a late night during the weekend.

If I'm DJing, I've been gradually working the energy and tempos up, so people are charged with those happy hormones and really having a good time. I make sure I work 'the wave'**, giving people lower tempos to rest and higher tempos to challenge them, keep their heart rates up. I also try to play higher energy songs with that fat, four-on-the-floor rhythm that makes it impossible to mistake the beat. Old school, classic big band swing is most effective in these situations, and I tend to avoid lyrics. Lyrics tend to anchor the meaning of the song - like labels or titles on a photo - and I like instrumentals for the way they feature groups and individual instruments rather than just showcasing one singer. The most important part of this working up of the crowd is mood and emotion. They have to be feeling really, really good. Not just a couple of experienced, hardcore lindy hoppers, but the whole room, from the dancers to the people watching on the side lines. Otherwise you get a kind of emotion-sink, where the good vibe drains away. When the whole room is involved, the energy increases exponentially, as people add their good feelings to the mix.

I don't really know how to explain what it feels like to be in there, on that type of dance floor, in that type of room. I think of the process of getting there as 'warming the room', literally and figuratively. I find that if I'm DJing, I have to actually be in there with the dancers, feeling the good feelings. It helps if I'm DJing standing up. It doesn't work if I'm not invested as well.

But when I have them there, before they've peaked and are on the dowhill slope to exhaustion, I suddenly drop in a badass 'jam' song. These are songs that I have either tried before with dancers and seen result in a jam, or which feel like the sort of songs that make it impossible to stand still. They're usually higher tempos, because higher tempos usually mean higher energy. Just freakin exciting, like quick cuts in a film, or quick exchanges of dialogue, or jerky movements in an action film. I also like higher tempos because they're challenging - we want to see badassery in a jam, and we're often moved to stare at or be impressed by faster, badass dancing. But it's not really just being a 'good dancer' that's important here - you have to really bring it, bring some attitude or emotion or delight or excitement or awesome physical sense of the music.

But when I say 'challenging', I don't mean a song that's particularly difficult, melodically speaking. The best jam songs usually have straight forward rhythms - four on the floor and no cheating, as Basie said. That's the simple, straightforward 4/4 time. We're usually up around 200-250bpm, so you're looking at about 4 beats per second. Which works out at at least 4 steps per second, usually more because we like syncopated rhythms in lindy hop. That's a fair bit faster than your resting heart rate. But that rhythm, that beat has to be insistent and consistent. Bam-bam-bam-bam throughout. This is maintained by the engine room of the band - the rhythm section. Basie stuff is awesome for jams, mostly because his rhythm section was just so tight and pumping. Basie on piano, Jo Jones on drums, Freddy Green on guitar and Walter Page on bass. Just chunking away through those big band songs.

Here's one of my favourite Basie songs, Jumpin' At The Woodside. Recording in 1939, this is one of the most-played, best-known Basie songs. You can easily argue that it's overplayed. It is. But for good reason.

It's not slow. At about 230bpm, it's twice as fast as your average pop song. But it swings so you don't feel rushed. Each beat is delayed; it's not bashed into, no one's rushing to reach the next beat. The intro is super exciting. Basie marks out the time with a nice, solid lower-register piano, then the other three parts of the rhythm section come in, one 8 (or two bars) at a time, until by the end of the first phrase you have a nice, fat, chunky rhythm that shouts "DANCE!"

I don't usually play this song intending a jam circle, but I do find that if it's dropped into the room at just the right moment, people lose control.

(That's a picture from MLX6. I was actually playing Jumpin' At The Woodside there, but the 1960 version which is a bit quicker and a bit clearer. It's not quite as awesome as the 1939 version, but it's pretty freakin great.)

Jumpin' At The Woodside also one of those songs that's often played deliberately to inspire a jam, so dancers are wired to read it as 'jam song!'

But one song is often not quite enough for a crowd of crazy jammin' dancing fools. I'm also quite fond of some Jimmie Lunceford, songs like Runnin' Wild have the right sort of chunky rhythm, but Lunceford Special has that same pulse-stirring introduction.

Lionel Hampton's 1942 Flying Home has the right feel, but is a little slow for a really pumping jam. (it's only about 190bpm).

I might play this as a sort of prod to get dancers in the mood. It's an iconic track, one which dancers know well. Not in small part because of this sequence from Spike Lee's film Malcolm X:

Frankie Manning was a consultant for this sequence, and the scene is in no small part a homage to various iconic historic lindy hop sequences (including the longer 'jitterbug contest' scene from the soundie Keep Punchin).

So Flying Home isn't exactly go-to gear for a jam, but it's useful for the way it pumps up energy in the room and gets people thinking about showing off. Having said that, it's so iconic, that playing it at the wrong time can just sound cheesy. If you're playing for a crowd of experienced dancers who've been round for a while, it mightn't be quite quick enough to get their pulses up, and it might bring back uncomfortable memories of earlier days wearing zoot suits.

What exactly makes for a good song for a jam, then?
High energy songs with a good, solid beat. I like a big band, an instrumental, something that sits solidly in the swing era, the lindy hop era - the mid 30s to early 40s, leaning on the late 30s. Something familiar is good, because dancers are better able to hit breaks and really show off.
Exactly which song I play will depend on the crowd. 'Fast' is relative and really is determined by the experiences and preferences of the crowd. Same goes for 'familiar'. But I do insist on something with a solid beat. I also avoid that later 50s sound, or a sort of shuffle super-groove, super-swinging rhythm. I like a nice, solid, built like a brick shithouse beat.

When to stop?
Often when I've played that one song, people are raring to go, wanting more. I'll often oblige with a second song. Something faster, something madder, but in the same style. But I won't do more than two songs, not unless the room is really going off, with couples fighting to get into the jam. If I see energy lagging, the crowd losing interest, the performers pulling out the same-old, same-old shtick, if I see those performers getting a bit full of themselves and not sharing the spotlight, I'll not play a second song. I certainly won't play a third. My goal is to use a jam to lift the energy in the room to climax point. I want everyone in the room to feel it. I usually follow up with something high energy, but much slower - 160bpm is nice, but I can go lower. I want that next song to say 'this is not a jam'. I want it to say 'get on the floor everyone!' I've noticed that if I time it right, all the kids watching will swarm onto the floor. If a DJ leaves it too late, lets things go on too long, the energy fizzles out and things get a bit embarrassing.

*There are few things finer than the dance-and-music inspired group hysteria of social dancing, where you lose control of your body (not in a bowel-loosening way, thankfully), you become totally uninhibited, and it's like you're dancing all the best dances in the world, right then. The room is physically and emotionally hot, and your body is running with awesome endorphines, adrenaline, all those good-time drugs.

** Where the tempos move up and down through a 'wave' - eg 120bpm - 140bpm - 160bpm - 180bpm - 140bpm - 150bpm etc

"what makes a good jam?" was posted by dogpossum on August 15, 2009 7:46 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (2)