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June 29, 2010

balboa DJing

Posted by dogpossum on June 29, 2010 3:42 AM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (0)

So this past weekend we had the Sydney Balboa Weekend, and my recent flush of dance-love (as prompted by MSF) helped me decide that I might like to do workshops. I've very glad I did. I've done some balboa DJing in the past, but not a whole lot, and I'm not hugely confident about it. The problem, really, is that I don't dance the dance, so I can't read the crowd terribly well, and I can't translate musical figures to dancing figures - I'm not entirely sure what will work and what won't.

Nick and Laura are top notch teachers, and their classes were lovely. Most of the stuff I knew about balboa was wrong, and most of the classes I've ... hellz, every clas I've had in bal before has been wrong. It was a delight to learn that balboa is just like lindy hop, technically speaking, just with a higher 'embrace' in closed position, and a smaller frame.

In other words, you don't get down low to the floor (the way you do in lindy), but you do keep nice posture, strengthen up your core (ie all the muscles and stuff in your abdomen, but also into your hips and the tops of your legs and in your arse), relax your shoulders and bounce. That last bit made me so very happy. Bounce is what makes it possible to keep time, to follow, and for leads to release their shoulders and relax. Dancing without bounce is really hard. Much harder than with bounce, because you have to restrict the natural movement of your body. We were also instructed not to stand on tippy toes (as follows), which is another bullshitty bit of teaching I'd had trouble with in the past. It was nice to ease off and relax down into my gutses so I could follow properly.

I had a jolly time.

It's not lindy hop, though, and that's sad. But it is nice. In a tightywhitey way. I definitely feel as though I have a much better idea of how balboa works in regards to music, and I'm definitely relieved to discover that most of the things I'd been taught in the past were wrong. Balboa really is a swing dance, in that you do it to swing music, and it has a lovely swinging timing with lots of syncopation and lovely playing with timing and delay. There the things that make swing dances swing, to me - the swinging timing. Bounce is absolutely central to that, so I say No Thankyou to dances without them. Except tango. Actually, the workshops really felt like a workshop in tango - fascinating, fun, but actually not my proper cup of tea.

I think, mostly, I just like the energy, the frenetic in-your-faceness of lindy, and the chance for visual play and jokes. Bal is a bit straighter. It's not uptight (well, not all the time), jokes do work, but the closed position means that there's less scope for badass in your face jokes. It is fun to experiment with the limits of the embrace (which is what tango doods call closed position), so far as mucking about goes. But I'm not actually good enough at the dance to really experiment properly. I mostly just concentrate on following.

Anyways, I did some DJing. Below is my first set. It was bad. Bad. Bad. Because:

  • I had technical problems and freaked out a bit
  • I had no idea what normal tempos were for bal
  • I had to lean on the hi-fi stuff at first because the sound system couldn't hack the scratchies. Which sucked, as I hadn't planned any hi-fi stuff, and had to scramble to reassess this part of my collection for 'balboa-ableness'.
  • I leaned too heavily on the faster tempos. Because I feel ok following at 200bpm. And I don't actually lead (very much beyond the basic steps) balboa, I had no clue about leading bal at higher tempos. In retrospect, a lot of the bad habits people had (relying very heavily on triples rather than a range of half time or other steps; being too stiff and upright; not bouncing) make it really hard to dance fast balboa (or anything really).
  • I played too many small groups, and songs which were a bit samey, stylistically
  • I didn't know what 'favourites' worked with bal doods - I had no 'safety' songs... besides 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen', 'Minor Swing' and a couple of others. So when I fucked up, I had no safety song to rebuild the floor with. ARGH.
  • I couldn't read the crowd. Bal is quite contained, so I found it harder to read the dancers' emotions. I was also too panicky to even attempt reading them. Bal is also low-impact, so dancers don't get physically exhausted the way lindy hoppers do. So you can dance every single song. This makes it harder to figure out how to build energy, and then to discover the point of 'climax' where you kick arses and then start building again.

First Set (Friday 25th June 2010), actually playing the second set of the night.
title artist bpm year length last played

Swingin' On That Famous Door Delta four (Roy Eldridge, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Sid Weiss) All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 2) 190 1935 3:00 27/06/10 11:55 AM
Scram! Echoes of Swing Harlem Joys 193 2008 3:21 4/03/10 1:17 PM
Harlem Joys Echoes of Swing Harlem Joys 230 2008 3:37 25/06/10 9:25 PM
Seven Come Eleven Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five Jammin' the Blues 227 2003 2:53 25/06/10 9:28 PM
Squatty Roo Frank Ropberscheuten/ Dan Barett A Portrait Of Duke 203 2001 3:22 25/06/10 9:32 PM
Minor Swing Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five Jammin' the Blues 202 2003 3:24 25/06/10 9:35 PM
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea Dicky Wells, Django Reinhardt, Bill Coleman, Bill Dillard, Shad Collins, Dick Fullbright, Bill Beason 40 Titres d'anthologie (disc 1) 190 1937 2:55 25/06/10 9:38 PM
Madame Dynamite Eddie Condon and his Orchestra (Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Sidney Catlett) Classic Sessions 1927-49 (Volume 2) 176 1933 2:56 25/06/10 9:41 PM
Royal Garden Blues Wingy Manone Complete Jazz Series 1934 - 1935 215 1934 2:49 25/06/10 9:44 PM
Everybody Rock Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra Live At The Savoy - 1939-40 187 1939 3:19 25/06/10 9:47 PM
Let's Get Together Chick Webb and his Orchestra Stomping At The Savoy (disc 1): Don't Be That Way 209 1934 3:05 25/06/10 9:50 PM
Algiers Stomp Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry 'Red' Allen, J.C. Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes) Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat 219 1936 3:08 25/06/10 9:53 PM
Chimes At The Meeting Willie Bryant and his Orchestra (Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole) Willie Bryant 1935-1936 245 1935 3:01 25/06/10 9:56 PM
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, Part 1 [alt take] Benny Goodman Quartet (Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Martha Tilton) RCA Victor Small Group Recordings (Disc 2) 195 1937 3:23 25/06/10 10:00 PM
Diga Diga Doo Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters The Duke's Men: Small Groups Vol. 1 (Disc 1) 227 1937 2:52 25/06/10 10:03 PM
You Got to Give Me Some Midnight Serenaders Magnolia 187 2007 4:02 26/06/10 5:43 PM

This is the second set I did, on the second night, doing some warm up for the band, and then the band breaks.

title artist album bpm year length

Charlie the Chulo - Take 1 Duke Ellington The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 10) 225 1940 3:04
Texas Chatter Harry James Life Goes To A Party 178 2:54
A Mug Of Ale Joe Venuti's Blue Four All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 3) 220 1927 3:07
I'se A Muggin' Le Quintette du Hot Club de France (St├ęphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Joseph Reinhardt, Pierre Ferret, Lucien Simoens, Freddy Taylor) The Complete Django Reinhardt And Quintet Of The Hot Club Of France Swing/HMV Sessions 1936-1948 (disc 1) 176 1936 3:08
Don't Tetch It! Una Mae Carlisle with Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, O'Neil Spencer Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1941 - 1944 191 1942 2:21
My Window Faces The South Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Paul Campbell, Caughey Roberts, Ceele Burke, Al Morgan, Lee Young) The Middle Years - Part 1 (1936-1938) (disc 3) 215 1937 3:14
You'll Wind Up On Top Bus Moten and his Men Kansas City - Jumping The Blues From 6 To 6 182 1949 2:47
Stomp It Off Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra Swingsation - Jimmie Lunceford 190 1934 3:09
Joe Louis Stomp Bill Coleman, Edgar Currance, Jean Ferrier, Oscar Aleman, Eugene d'Hellemes, Hurley Diemer Bill Coleman In Paris 1936-1938 213 1936 3:14
Blue Drag New Orleans Jazz Vipers The New Orleans Jazz Vipers 181 2002 4:23
I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby Midnight Serenaders Sweet Nothin's 206 2009 3:32
Swingin' On That Famous Door Delta four (Roy Eldridge, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Sid Weiss) All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 2) 190 1935 3:00
Whoa Babe Bob Wills legends of country music cd2 214 2:36
St. Louis Blues Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove 183 1939 4:46
Seven Come Eleven Benny Goodman Sextet (Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool, Lionel Hampton) Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 1) 234 1939 2:47
Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript 164 1950 2:15
We the People Catherine Russell Inside This Heart of Mine 200 2010 2:52
Putting On The Ritz The Cangelosi Cards Clinton Street Recordings, I 195 3:38

I played 'Charlie the Chulo' because I love it. I walked away while it was playing to check the sound in the room, and while I was gone the band (who'd just done their sound checks) turned it off because they didn't like the hissing. I had a discussion with the trumpeter about remastering that he had a lot more invested in than I did. I just have a higher scratch threshold I think. At any rate, he preferred the Harry James. That particular period of Ellington is a bit shit, quality-wise. I have a few different versions of those years' songs, and they're all pretty shitty and hissy. Oh well.

'Texas Chatter' is on my 'should play lindy hop' list, and it went down nicely with the (super tiny) crowd. 'A Mug of Ale' is another of my favourites. There really wasn't anyone there (beyond people setting up), so I could experiment. I like this song, but the smaller group is a bit difficult for building energy. 'I'se A Muggin' was popular, and we had a real crowd happening then.

I was really playing mellower stuff to sort of warm the room. I wanted to avoid the mega tempos, and I put a lot more work into the wave. Which (unsurprisingly) gave me better results than just randomly throwing 240bpm songs at the dancers. Duh.

'Don't Tetch It' is a really nice song, and I want to play it for lindy hoppers, but it's a bit fast and also a bit complex. But it was a nice song for bal. Nice chunky beat, but also a nice swinging lyric. I was surprised by the success of the Fats Waller, but I'd deliberately chosen some Fats with a different sound. A bit of steel guitar. A different, chunking rhythm, a stronger trumpet solo, less mucking about on the vocals. This is a good song because it builds up.

'You'll wind up on top' was a real punt. I wanted to see how that style went with balboa kids - late 40s, more shuffley rhythm. People liked it (someone came to tell me so), and the floor was full. It's a fun, energetic song, but I wasn't entirely sure this was what I should be doing with balboa. It felt a bit like the moments in my lindy sets when I play Louis Jordan and other Kansas guys who lead into jump blues.

So I went to a song I knew would work, because I've seen it work before for bal kids. 'Stomp it off' has a big band sound, it's a familiar artist with a familiar set of instrumentation, but it's lighter and tinklier, less in-your-face than a lot of Lunceford. The tempo was perfect for balboa, and it really worked as a nice, welcome-to-the-dance song.

'Joe Louis Stomp' was a bit of a punt, and kind of a strange way of referencing both Django (and his Hot Club doods), as well as the smaller hot combos. Bill Coleman recorded this in France, and he was in Fats' recordings as well. This is a good song, not one I've played before (many of these were first-timers for me - hence some of my panic). I know them well from home, but I've not played them for dancers. But this Coleman song worked well. It has a good, swinging style (nice trumpet!), it chunks along, it feels like a slightly larger band (even though there are only six of them), but it also has a sort of French/Django type feel. Something about the timing? I dunno.

The point of that Django referencing was to take advantage of the popularity of Django with bal dancers who'd been to ABW this year and were in attendance. The ABW comp DJ had given a talk about Django (which you can read about on his blog in this post) and the kids were digging him.

Anyways, then the band came on. Who weren't rocking it. They played a set that would work for lindy, but not for bal. Some rock n roll cross overs. And tempos that were far too slow. Faaar too slow. They cleared the floor a few times, which is difficult to do as a live band.

When I came on in the next break, I figured my job was to rebuild the room for the band.That meant

  • getting people feeling good again,
  • getting them back on the floor,
  • playing easy songs which people would like,
  • and demonstrating the tempos and style that might work for the band.

So I started with 'Blue Drag' which is popular with bal dancers someone told me during the break. I played a hi-fi version to complement the band (who had a male vocalist like the Vipers). It's in a minor key, which kind of complement the band's last superslow song, and also kind of made a joke of the way the floor was utterly dead and people were feeling a bit unhappy. The song builds, though, quite slowly, so people had time to decide they wanted to dance after all, to get a partner, to get on the floor, and then to actually dance. By the last minute, when it starts to get a little more energetic, the dancers were feeling cheerier, and it was working out ok.

'I'm Crazy 'bout my baby' is a very familiar jazz standard. The Midnight Serenaders had gone down very well the night before. They're fun, they're a small combo who sound a little New Orleansy (though they aren't), and they're fun. This song had male vocals as well. I figured the cheery sound would capitalise on the dancers' renewed interest, and that I could use this song to make them feel even better. Because it's a lovely song. The trumpeter is quite excellent, and his work with the clarinet really make you feel good - it's good music. That all worked as I'd hoped, so by the end of the song the floor was full and I figured it was time to get a bit more serious.

'Swinging on that famous Door' was a punt because I'd played it the night before, but the sound quality had been so bad the night before it hadn't really worked out. So I used it the second time to build the energy, to use the 'familiar' card, and to transition to old school rather than hi-fi. That comb is really bloody good - more big band names (Eldridge), but also a sound that echoed my earlier work (with Joe Marsala who did all that work in Chicago with guys like Condon, Mound City Blue Blower doods, etc). I tossed up between the hi-fi Duke Heitger version and this older one, but I followed the usual rule: if either old or hi-fi will work, go with old, because it's better. They were better musicians. And they were.

By the end I had them really cooking. They were digging it. So I took the tempos up. Not the biggest band in the world, and a departure to western swing. But this song rocks. The Lionel Hampton version is popular with lindy hop, I play the Leo Mathisen one a bit, and I know it rocks. I'd actually just been put onto this song by Keith at MSF in Melbourne, who used it for his team's performance. So it was a sneaky job on my part. But it's a great song. And it went off.

I then thought I'd really start to kick their arses. And here is where my inexperience with balboa kids hit me. 'St Louis Blues' is perfect: big band, live recording, at the Savoy, best band. But it's only 180bpm. This longer, high energy song has been a go-to for my lindy DJing if I've wanted to kick their arses. But even lindy hoppers are happier with higher tempos these days. Balboa kids loved it, but it just wasn't fast enough. I had hesitated, wondering if I should have played a faster track from that same band/recording session, but I played it safe instead. It didn't fail, it went well, but I could have made it awesome by taking it up a little.

'Seven Come Eleven' was my taking it up a little song. I love this. It is another small group (can you see how I'm really favouring small groups, when I shouldn't have? That's more evidence of my inexperience), but it fucking COOKS. It's faster, it's energetic, but it's also complicated. The sort of stuff that balboa kids can do really really well - where lindy hop doesn't really work quite as well. That's where I learnt something about balboa: those guys can hack any tempo, so they need some other challenge. A complicated arrangement, a challenging set of improvisations within a tight composition, some interesting breaks... that's what they like. With energy and possibly high tempos. It was successful.

So then I dropped it down with another of my overplayed lindy hop favourites. But where I'd use 'Rag Mop' to build energy towards a climax for lindy, I used it to cool them down a bit from a faster, crazier song, but still kept the energy. I also shifted from a smaller sound to the bigger sound of this recording. It's a later recording, but the style is kind of New Orleans revival, so it works. It did the job.

Then the band came on with the perfect transition song. I think they're pretty clued in, and figured out what was working for this crowd, and could adapt to suit them. The tempos went up, and they played faster, brighter, less shuffley stuff after that.
I felt bad about doing a better job than they did in their set - I don't like to show off when a band is on - but we really needed a change. I need to think about this more.

I played just two more songs after that before a jack and jill. Catherine Russell is still very popular with lindy hoppers (that song 'Just because you can' is anyway), so I figured I'd play this fun little song. It's kind of in the same vein as everything else I'd played. Another fucking small band. But it worked. People dug it.
I played 'Putting on the Ritz' for Kira who was standing next to me, and because it feels like the balboa I'd like to do. Sort of hoity toity, but tongue in cheek. Hot. Fun. Another fucking small fucking band.

All this made me realise just how many small bands I play. I think it's because I like a lot of new bands, most of whom can't afford lots of musicians (for the same reason they couldn't in the late 40s in the US in the post-war period). I also like the New Orleans sound, which didn't often feature more than about 8 players, mostly because they used a lot of organised improvisation, and when you get to 8 musicians, you've kind of reached the limit of group playing without tighter arrangements. I think I'm going to focus more on bigger bands from now on. Nothing gives you that wall of sound experience like the big band, with a bunch of brass honking in concert over a chunky, badass engine of a rhythm section.

Anyways, it was all fun. I felt much better about this second set than I did about the first. Phew. But I have a long way to go. The best thing I could have done for my bal DJing was actually do some bal workshops. Duh.

Things I learnt:

I discovered (mostly after doing classes the next day, and after listening to the in-class music, which was just what I'd think of as 'good lindy hopping action'):

  • that 'Swingin on that Famous Door' (a song I've long loved and used for lindy) is a winner for balboa dancers. So is 'Algier's Stomp'. And 'Diga Diga Doo'. As wel as 'Minor Swing', 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen' and other Django songs. In fact, if I love dancing lindy to it, I love balboa to it.
  • balboa dancers like the same chunky four-on-the-floor rhythm that I do for lindy hop. They're not keen on shufflely rhythms of the late 40s and early 50s. Mostly because they're a bit too behind the beat, and the bal doods like it a bit more on the beat.
  • Bal doods like big band music. Because it's big. Nick made that point in a conversation we had (I confess: I asked him to dance just so I could then stand and chat with him about DJing. Laaaaame), and I think it's an interesting one, as small groups (Goodman's small bands, Django's, some smaller Ellington, etc) are DJed a lot for bal dancers. I like that stuff, and I do DJ it for lindy hoppers. I had assumed that that was what bal dancers liked. I think, in retrospect, that bal dancers can do a lot with that smaller, complicated 'chamber' jazz. But that big bands are just more fun.
  • Hot 20s stuff is not good for bal. It was very popular with some Australian bal DJs and teachers, but I didn't feel comfortable DJing it for bal - it's too 1/2 time. Too uppy downy. I was relieved to hear Nick make similar comments. I like that action for charleston or other uppy-downy dances. But I think bal - as with lindy - works better with the more 'horizontal' or swinging timing - 'four on the floor and no cheating' as Basie said. The increased swinginess simply feels better for a dance that's using lots of syncopated delays and gooshy down-bounce. This issue is one I'd like to return to, in relation to lindy hop. And how I'm increasingly uncomfortable with DJs who load their lindy sets down with hotter 20s stuff (and recreationist stuff in that style). It's superfun music, but unless the crowd are into that earlier style lindy, it's not going to rock. Personally, I like a big band from the early to mid 30s. Heck, the 30s. I like the swing. I like the greater range in tempos. I also like the hotter earlier stuff a LOT, but not for my lindy. That's for other dances.
  • Peter Loggins is right: if it feels good for lindy, it'll feel better for balboa.

Posted by dogpossum on June 29, 2010 3:42 AM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music


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