Category Archives: lolfrankie

Iterative design

I am design fail.

Squeezed dry by too much promotional work, I made the least useful promotional item today.

Here is the design process:

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Inspired by all this…

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It’s the most deco thing I’ve ever (accidentally) made

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Notice how the final postcard includes no actually useful information? Fuck me.
Such professionalism. Yes, I do get paid for this genius.

If you enjoy this sort of design brilliance, you might enjoy my instagram feed.

‘Musicality’ classes

Every dance class is a ‘musicality’ class.

Here are some simple ways I like to build ‘musicality’ into classes*

  • Begin and end and continue with the ‘beat’.
    I like to emphasise ‘bounce’ (or ‘pulse’) quite strongly when I’m teaching, particularly with brand new dancers. The very first thing we do when we start warming up is some bouncing in time. And we don’t let students begin dancing out a sequence until they are all bouncing. We use expressions like ‘make friends with the music’, and ‘show your partner you have a nice, solid beat’, or ‘use the bounce to get connected with your partner – use this time to find a shared sense of beat’.

    That last one is a particularly useful tool when you’re talking to more intermediate dancers, because you can show them how the beat is about consensus, or shared timing between partners. I usually emphasise this by saying something like (as we listen to a big band track), “There are fifteen men playing music together here, and they all get together and find one common beat, so let’s do the same, and use that common beat to get together with one other person.” Incidentally, there’s also a lovely moment(s) in class, where you’re all facing into the circle, bouncing in time, and you get that powerful feeling of connectedness that improvised music brings: humans keeping a shared time.
    Using the beat as a way to connect with a partner is another lovely tool for talking about the role of leads and of follows. I like to talk about how each partner has a responsibility to ‘take care’ of the beat, particularly when the other partner is pulling out some crazy rhythm work. It’s as though we each have a responsibility to maintain a sort of rhythmic compass, so each person knows where they are in the musical landscape, even when they’re going crazy.
    We just taught some workshops in Christchurch, and in the lower level class we did some work with basic rhythms in open, face to face position. We had taught a handful of different rhythms, and the students were dancing through them in their own time, mixing and matching and figuring out how to lead and follow them, how to transfer between them, etc etc etc. It was just magical watching these newer dancers at work. They were all looking into each others’ eyes, eyebrows up, grinning like fools, pulling out these complex rhythms.
    It was great when they were both doing the same rhythm in unison, but I was especially delighted by the moments when they were doing different rhythms at the same time, looking into each others’ eyes grinning. It was polyrhythms in action, and they clearly felt that pleasure that comes from each being able to dance their own thing with their partner, yet still as a coherent partnership. And the thing that held them together as a partnership was this shared sense of beat. It was truly complex work, but even brand new dancers can do this, because humans are amazing.

    This emphasis on beat/bounce results in dancing that is in time. I don’t use numbers at all in lindy hop classes (unless we are doing a combination of steps that start on 1, 8 and other beats), which means that you need to give the students a way of ‘getting ready’ to start dancing. I think it’s really hard to find just one beat (‘one’) when you’re a beginner dancer, which is why I like to give them a tool to find all the beats.

    When we work with different types of dancing – 1920s partner stuff, for example – we talk about how the beat is still there, and we still need to find it with our bounce, but that it’s a slightly different beat, with a different emphasis. I’ll talk about this with brand new dancers as well as more experienced ones, but when we work with the latter group, we talk more about how you might vary your bounce for different music. And when you might drop it completely to make a point. This, of course, feeds in nicely to discussions about how to dance faster, and the biomechanics of lindy hop.

    With our solo classes, keeping a sense of timing with your bounce is even more important, because we do such rhythmically complex steps, where a broader understanding of timing (and where you are in the timing or progression of a routine) is even more important. In solo, in particular, the 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 5 & 7 & 8 & counting is particularly unuseful. We work with much more subtle divisions of time, so we need a strong sense of the ‘beat’ to keep ourselves oriented. I find the idea of ‘and’ as a halfway point between counts especially irksome – syncopation is much more interesting than a ‘half way point’. The exciting about solo work is that it gives you the chance to experiment with incremental divisions of the beat, and then inspires you to take this to your lindy hop. Why wouldn’t you do this with your lindy hop as well? The Swedes do it, and Frankie Manning embodied it.

    Bounce is also very useful for helping people discover the ‘swing’ of swinging jazz. A bounce is a longer trip between two points than a straight line – your core goes down towards the ground, then back up to the second point. Your steps involve a sort of compression and delay, because you are ‘bouncing’ rather than sliding or moving directly between beats. It helps that the music makes this very clear: a plucked bass string has a built in delay, where the sound resonates for a while before the next note is plucked. It _feels_ like a bounce.

  • Rhythm.
    It seems very fashionable to talk about rhythm a lot at the moment. Of course, the Swedes have been talking about rhythm forever, and people like Norma Miller have been yelling at us for counting instead of rhythm for years. But what makes this a practical teaching tool/paradigm?
    I like to think of all the ‘steps’ we do as rhythms. Mostly because we are dancing, so music is the heart of what we do. I can represent pitch and notes with my body, but the rhythms of the notes is what makes all this interesting, and what makes swing swing.
    But really, and most importantly, weight changes are the heart of each ‘step’ or ‘move’, and a weight change really is a way of portraying timing. Of committing to timing. So when I walk in time, with a bounce, I am one hundred percent committed to the basic beat of a song. Bounce and weight change are about clear, effective engagements of core muscles, which in turn affects and dictates how our arms might move, or the angle of our shoulders, and so on and so on. So, biomechanically, dancing rhythms rather than ‘shapes’ is much more interesting and challenging. And (confusingly) make it easier to communicate with a partner.
    My favourite part of this approach, though, is that it feels like we’re playing a really interesting, challenging game. What’s that rhythm? Can I recognise the pattern? Can I recreate it? Can I do it so clearly that I can communicate it to my partner? FUN!

    This leads me to my next teaching tool or strategy. We teach a lot of rhythm sequences as ‘rhythm breaks’, where we set up an AAAB pattern, with a single rhythm repeated 3 times, then a second rhythm serving as a ‘break’ in the B section of a phrase. We do this with total beginners, and we might have them do step-step-triple-step, step-step-triple-step x3, then a mini-dip. We teach the mini dip as a solo step first, where we teach the rhythm first. Then we have them move through the shape, then we add in the rhythm. We find that we get much crisper, clearer dancing, and the mini-dip (or whatever) is very clear. After we’ve got them cool on that break, we say something like “Now, don’t neglect that original rhythm: you can’t have a contrast if you don’t set up that first rhythm properly.” Of course, we’re talking about the power of repetition to build suspense, and the break as a rhythmic contrast to climax and relieve that suspense, but we don’t talk about that. I’ve noticed, though, that dancers feel that resolution. There’s something really nice about about doing that AAAB structure all together.
    This is how we teach beginner students: using the AAAB structure of a phrase, a basic rhythm (which we use as a foundation for most of the moves in the class), and then an additional rhythm ‘break’. All with an emphasis on the ‘beat’ to hold it all together. We might add a second rhythm break if things are going well. Sometimes we do the break side by side in closed (the easiest approach), or we use turning steps with levels – like the mini-dip.

    When we’re teaching solo dance, we often do exactly the same thing: three charleston steps, then a charleston break = AAAB. But we are more likely to do other combinations: ABAB is also very nice. And then we might build it up across phrases, where we recreate that ABAB structure across four phrases. We do tend to do this more in our solo classes than our lindy hop classes, partly because the lack of partner work makes it easier to learn more in a solo class, but also because we tend to work with much more complex content in our solo classes: old school routines which are quite challenging. Now I’m thinking about it, I see we need to perhaps be more challenging in our lindy hop classes, and think more about ABAB, as well as just AAAB.

    It’s quite simple, really, but it actually results in quite sophisticated dancing, which feels really really nice, and is very interesting and stimulating to watch.

    Sneakily, this is how we teach students to relax their arms and upper bodies. If you want someone to relax their upper bodies and arms, to have good posture, to keep their weight over their feet, and to have a loose, elastic connection, the best strategy is to get them thinking about walking about in funny rhythms. It distracts from the arms, but it also forces them to engage their cores, which in turn allows them to release their upper bodies, because they are much more stable through the torso.

    And doing shared rhythm work is a very good way to get partners communicating. Ramona said this in a workshop recently: when you dance, you are giving your partner a gift. You’re giving them something. When you dance with a band, you’re giving the musicians a gift. When you dance alone, you’re giving the musicians or people around you a gift. I found this a really nice way to get over feeling shy about looking at myself in the mirror when I danced, and other people found it a good way to get over feeling nervous in performances.
    But we use it when we’re teaching lindy hop and solo dance. We say, “When you dance this rhythm, imagine you are demonstrating that rhythm for someone watching – you’re giving them a little rhythm so that they can do it themselves. So it has to be really clear and really obvious.” This is fab when you’re doing partnered work, especially call and response work. But it’s also proved very successful in solo work, where we want dancers to enunciate very clearly.
    All this is lovely hippy talk, which leads to the best feelings in class. But it’s also a very clever way of getting dancers to do very clear, efficient movements, which facilitate good connection with a partner, and very good proprioception, which then makes it possible to dance very fast or very slow, to pull off complex choreography, or to do sophisticated competition dancing.

    But for me, as a teacher, it brings very great joy. All those new dancers looking into each others’ faces with those crazy grins: it’s Frankie crystalised and reproduced. And it just relaxes everyone and is so much FUN! Suddenly the simplest shapes – swing outs, under arm turns, circles – are vehicles for incredibly complex play and interaction. It’s lindy hop at its very finest. And people can learn to do this in just ONE lesson!

    This AMAZES ME!

    Of course, when you’re working with more experienced dancers, the rhythms get far more complex, and your ‘basic’ rhythm is more involved. So what was your ‘break’ step can become your ‘basic’ rhythm, and your additional sections of rhythm can layer up and become even more complex, working across phrases. This is when you get Swedish. This is when you get Frankie Manning and Norma Miller and Sugar Sullivan.

  • I don’t count.
    Because I can’t. I’m rubbish at counting. But also because I don’t like the way it makes students think about the timing of a song as an absolute relationship between beats. The beat of improvised music, especially swing, is a consensual thing – the musicians find a common beat, and then they work with that. There’s no absolute relationship between the beats; the relationship between beats is relative. And counting is absolute.

    I find that brand new dancers are totally ok with scatting and no counts. But dancers who’ve been learning for a while with counts find it very, very difficult to adjust to the lack of counts. They do get it, but it usually takes at least a quarter of a class, and even then they’re not totally ok with it.

    I especially hate the way we use the word ‘and’ when we count ‘one two three and-four, five six seven and-eight’, because it suggests that the last three beats are equidistant in length, or that the ‘and’ is half the length of a single beat. But as we all know, syncopation is more complex. And a triple step isn’t exactly like a stomp off in terms of timing, and when we do something like a full break, the timing changes depending on whether we’re jumping into the air, stepping gently or taking big or small steps. Our own leg length changes the way we swing the timing, or adjust that distance between the beats. And of course, the song tells us how to do each beat or portion of a beat. So numbers are not the right tool.
    Scatting is the tool. At first it’s embarrassing, but then it’s not. You love it.

    I get very cranky about people insisting that 8 and 6 count steps are completely different dances. They’re not. We tend to only teach 6 count steps as step-step triple-step, triple-step, which is just one step step away from an 8 count rhythm. The only difference is two fewer counts. When you make a big deal about 6 and 8 count steps being really different (to the point of describing lindy hop only as 8 count and ‘6 count’ as a separate dance like jitterbug or whatevs), you make it confusing for the students. We dance 6 and 8 and 10 and 2 and 12 step movements in lindy hop ALL THE TIME; we definitely don’t have rules about the precise number of counts in lindy hop. That is the point of lindy hop as a vernacular jazz dance: it does what it likes. Yes, we do tend to move towards 8 count steps, but that’s because we’re working with music in 4/4 (common) timing, and we like a bit longer than one bar to get things done. But even our basic ‘step step triple step, step step triple step’ rhythm can be evenly divided into two bars of 4 if we need it.

    Jazz: there are no freaking rules, so ease up on the goddam counting.

  • I start students dancing at the beginning of a phrase.
    When I’m getting the students to dance a series of moves to music, I begin at the beginning of the phrase. At the beginning of the class, I’m usually guiding that, but by the end of the class students figure out where the phrase begins ON THEIR OWN! And I don’t even need to talk about phrasing! This might mean that we spend a few eight counts standing and bouncing together, but this is good – it helps us work on our bouncing and timing and partnership. Then when they are dancing on their own, deciding which steps to do when, they have three major points of reference in the music: the beat, the phrase, and the beginning of a bar or 8-count.
    This often means that we have to wait out a bridge or a big solo in the music, but we will often say “Uh, oh, let’s wait til Cootie gets past this solo, then we’ll start,” or “Come on, Nina, play that weirdo piano breaky bit so we can get going.” This signals to the students that there are things happening in the music that are more than the beat, that are aurally interesting, and that this affects our dancing.
  • And, finally, dancing to the music in class.
    Another way we think about music in class comes in when we are doing the ‘dance it out’ part of the class. We used to structure our classes around a set sequence of steps, where we moved through a mini routine in the class, just teaching step after step. This got BORING. Now we tend to teach progressively, or cumulatively, where we begin with a basic shape, and then make it more complex.
    We teach total beginners in their very first class lindy hop. We start with the basic rhythm in closed, then we rotate it (circle in closed), then we have them let go half way (swing out from closed), then we have them come back together, with a bit of rotation (circle from open), then we have them swing out from open to open. Then we add swivels and bows. Same basic rhythm, with each step building on the one before. The core element is the rotation – the circle – because that’s what makes the follow drift out into open position when the lead lets go, and that’s what helps the lead redirect the follow’s momentum once they’ve started moving in at the beginning of a swing out. Swingouts = leads initiating momentum, then redirecting it, follows maintaining and shaping momentum. Or, ‘some times we are together, and some times we are apart.’

    By this point, they’ve got 5 moves, a couple of jazz steps, and one solid rhythm. Then we have them dance a lot. We usually begin by having everyone dance a particular sequence as a group for perhaps two rotations of partners, or 2 or 4 phrases of a song. Then tell them the leads get to choose what order they do things in, and how many of each thing they do. Then we the music on and they dance and dance and dance – at least a whole 4 minute song, usually two songs, with rotations (though letting them have a few phrases with each partner).
    We stand about in the middle or on the side watching, and doing a bit of spot checking if they need any tips, or answering questions. We use one song for all this, so they get to know the music really well, and we usually use something like ‘Easy Does It’ by the Big 18, or Basie’s slower ‘Splanky’ – something that swings like a gate, is a big band, is a slowish tempo, and has lots of texture and dynamics. While they’re doing all this dancing, we usually let them count themselves in (unless they’re struggling), and the only time we’ll address the whole group is to say “Yes! Beautiful!” and other positive things – when they do actually get to that point (I don’t tell them it’s brilliant if I don’t think it looks brilliant).
    Here’s where the serious musicality comes in: when the song changes dynamics quite dramatically (eg from very loud and intense to calmer and quieter), we usually call out “Ok, the music has changed! It feels different now!” and then they just adjust their dancing to suit the music. It’s amazing to see – they go from huge and crazy to smaller and gentler in their shapes and communication. We don’t need to explain this – they just know how to do to it, because they are humans and humans are astounding.

So these are some of the ways we build musicality into our classes. And this is why I have never felt the urge to run a special ‘musicality’ class – every class I teach is a musicality class, or else I’m not teaching dancing.

*When I say ‘I’, I really mean ‘my teaching partners and I’, because it takes two to lindy hop.

The Rules of Connection: I think about pedagogy, lindy hop and ideology

Once again, Bug’s Question of the Day has my brain working.

Recently there was a paper published in Research and Dance Education on “frame matching” where it is proposed that there is a “universal” methedology of lead/follow that can apply to all partner dances.

http://www.joeandnelle.com/assets/frame_matching_and_pted_by_joe_demers.pdf

However is it really Universal? I often hear complaints from blues dancers about “Lindy Connection”, and likewise from Lindy Hoppers about how “heavy” blues connection is.

Likewise, some say that the concepts of frame matching are different for different dances anyhow.

So, do the concepts of frame matching really apply universally to all partner dances?
Do these efforts help codify Lindy and Blues at least to the level of tango, or at least is a step in the right direction?
Or is it simply another step in the evolution of partner dancing in the swing/blues genres?

Wednesday 30th May

(full article reference: DeMers, Joseph Daniel, “Frame matching and APTD: a framework for teaching Swing and Blues dance partner connection,” Research in Dance Education (2012).)

I have lots and lots to say about this article. But I can’t fit them all into one post. Well, I could, but this post is already reeeeally long for a blog post. Only 2.5 thousand words, which is way short for a journal article (~5000 words). So I (may) return to this topic later, in other posts. Or not.

Sadly, DeMers’ article triggered my ‘marker’s brain’. Reading this, I’d assume the author was an undergraduate or in the early stages of a postgraduate degree (in the arts or humanities). But the author has a background in science, education and educational psychology, so I should be a little easier on him, as those fields don’t pursue such rigorous approaches to critical inquiry. But if you’re publishing a journal article, you really need to step up, yo. There are some problems with written expression which occasionally obscure the author’s point. There are problems with the construction of the argument as well as with the communication of this argument: it is too simple, and does not exhibit sufficiently rigorous critical engagement with the topic.

In other words, it is thinking in short, straight lines, rather than around corners and back and forth. My background is in cultural studies, which is all about thinking round corners. Further, I was into feminist cultural studies, which is about thinking around corners, asking difficult questions and refusing to shut up when some fuckwit tells you you “think too much.” So I’m sorry, DeMers, but this is going to be a fairly close criticism of your piece. But, before I get into it, I need to ask: “should I read scholarship from the dance world the way I read academic articles?”

I think there’s a clear cultural divide between the way arguments are constructed and communicated in the university world and in the dance world. In the latter, consensus, cooperation and empathy are valued far more than a ‘right’ answer. I think that this is – largely – a result of the influence of Frankie Manning, a man who was determinedly disassociated from local scene politics. His emphasis on the idea that ‘for three minutes you are in love with your partner’, on ‘bowing to the queen of the world’ and on humility make it clear that he felt dance (‘as the happiest thing on earth’) is about peace and fraternity, not conflict. I’ve found this approach frustrating when reading about his responses to racism in the American south in the 30s and 40s in particular (because I do think dance is a vehicle for radical political resistance as well), but I also deeply admire it as a truly pacifist response to cultural and physical violence. What better way to combat hate, than with love?

Writing this response, I was struck by a conflict in the two methods of discursive engagement I’ve used in the past. In the academic world, a forceful, even aggressive tone was important as a woman writing in a patriarchal, highly regulated and heirachical discourse. But in the dance world, where a harsh word or aggressive line has immediate real world consequences and runs in direct conflict with the ethos of international lindy hop ideology (ie Frankie would not have liked it). I’ve lately decided that one of the reasons I didn’t like academia very much was that it privileged aggressive, combative discourse. I feel that part of being a feminist is (to clumsily paraphrase Germaine Greer) to practice fraternity as a response to patriarchy.

So I’m going to try to do like Frankie did. But I’m also going to remember Norma Miller and her fury. Speak up, but be gentle. Mostly.

So let’s get to it. Let me engage with the article, point by point, with the fundamental premise of this article (this has gotten too long for just one post, so I’m just going to do one thing here).

The piece presents “frame matching” as a

codified theory of partner-dance connection (abstract, pg 1)

. Ok, yeah, that’s not such a problem. If you’re ok with the whole concept of ‘codified’ dance practice. In this context a ‘codified theory’ is a ‘set of theoretical rules or guidelines’. So this paper is establishing a set of rules for teaching and practicing partner dance, specifically in terms of connection (part of me wants to argue that there’s very little in partner dancing that isn’t about connection, whether you’re touching your partner or not). There are some useful aspects to this approach. As DeMers points out, adopting a code

…gives instructors a framework for creating a well-organized partner-dance curriculum, and gives them a means of assessing students’ working knowledge and execution of connection (pg 3)

This is such an appealing notion. Right now, as I’m trying to figure out exactly how I teach, and what I want to teach, the thought of a formal, fixed and reliable teaching tool kit is just so tempting. It’d be so much easier to just discover this foolproof, ‘right’ way of teaching the ‘right’ stuff. But this sort of approach also rings my alarm bells. I’ve done a heap of courses focussing on pedagogic practice in tertiary education over the years, and one of the most exciting ideas was that of the teacher as a guide to learning. Rather than adopting a ‘chalk and talk’ approach (where the teacher stands at the front of the room, dispensing knowledge), the student-centered class room sees the teacher (or tutor) as facilitating the student’s discovery of knowledge. Inherent to this approach is the idea that each student learns in different ways, and has different interests. By god that’s hard work. It’s really hard to work with thirty unique hoomans with thirty different ways of learning (all of which are changing constantly). Teaching would be SO MUCH EASIER if I could just pretend students were standardised units. And yet, that idea is also REALLY SCARY because it means that there’re also very wrong ways of teaching. PRESSURE!

Most usefully for me – as both a postgraduate learning to tutor and lecture and now as a dancer learning to teach dance – this student-centered model does not assume the teacher carries all the learnz around inside them. Rather, the teacher encourages and assists students in their discovery. For me, this means that I don’t have to be the cleverest person in the room, or the best dancer on the dance floor. I do have to be the person who manages the group, who guides the discussion of concepts and challenges (whether in verbal discursive exploration or in physical exploration), who encourages and supports new ideas and new ways of thinking. Granted, it’s fairly important for a teacher – in both a dance class and a university tutorial – to know a heap of things. But there will always come a point where the student reaches the edges of the teacher’s knowledge, ability, or experience.

For me, the most empowering thing I learnt about teaching was that it’s totally ok to say “I don’t know the answer to that. Why don’t we find out together?” It’s the same with dancing: I need to know some things, but it’s ok for me to reach a point at the limits of my physical ability or experience and then say “I don’t know why that works like that. Why don’t we find out together?” The delightful thing about dance is that it requires whole-bodied experimentation through play: lindy hop and swing music are all about having fun while learning stuff. One of the things I like most about lindy hop (and I extrapolate from DeMers’ work to assume that he feels his code can be used across the panopoly of jazz and swing era dances) is that it prioritises individual improvisation. Making stuff up. Breaking rules. But in a social way.

This is why I’m not entirely ok with the idea that we need a codified approach to dance practice or dance pedagogy. It presupposes a final, finite rule book for how we teach, how we learn, and how we dance. And that doesn’t sit well with me. I’d be heart broken to discover that everything there is to know about dance had already been written down. For me, the very best part of teaching has always been that moment when a student presents an idea that had never occurred to me (or anyone else), or moves their body in a way that is utterly unique. Suddenly I’m inspired and excited about teaching and learning. Hoomans are amazing: we are wonderful and surprising. I don’t want to forestall that with dancing rules.

In a practical sense, though, accepting that different teachers teach in different ways, and different students learn in different ways makes good financial and promotional sense. I work within a large dance scene with lots of teachers. I’ve realised that students don’t come to class and stay with that class just for the dance knowledge they’re developing. They come because they like that class’s culture (the people in the room, the way they interact, the physical space, the music, and so on and so on). In a market crowded with ‘dance experiences’, it makes sense to differentiate, to offer something unique. We are all teaching lindy hop (well, mostly… :D ), but we all teach in different ways.
The most powerful promotional tool we have at our disposal is the effective communication of that difference. Dancers’ best promotional tool is their own dancing body: we attract new students who see us dancing at public gigs; we attract existing dancers who want to learn ‘new’ things when they see us dancing in competitions or performances or on the social dance floor. But we also make extensive use of online, paper and face to face media and promotions. We have developed a language for selling our teaching, and this language is not politically or ideological neutral or ‘just descriptive’. The way we talk about dance and articulate what we feel in dance expresses the way we think about dance, and about our dance partners.

Arthur Murray’s pedagogic practices worked on a premise in direct opposition to this ‘diversity rocks’ idea. The assumption was/is that dance a) could be codified; and b) that it could be sold as a consistent, quality-controlled product in many different venues by many different people. It was a profoundly effective way of selling dance. But it was also a profoundly effective way of stifling individual creativity and the development of social dance practice as a living, breathing, changeable art.

I think about this approach as being the McDonalds approach to dance. Sure, you get the reassurance of consistent ‘food’, no matter where you are in the world, and the model ensures a high food safety standard. But that consistency has led to a preponderance of factory-farmed product where that quality is controlled by chemicals and cruel farming practices. The mundaneness of this consistency is countered with unnatural sensory experience: extra salt, extra sugar, extra fat, all efforts to replace the pleasures of a simple, authentic ‘flavour’ with artificial ‘taste’. Sometimes that’s how I feel about aerials: if your basic swingouts and footwork and rhythms are dull and pedestrian, you need air steps to make it interesting. This is why Skye Humphries and Todd Yannacone and Naomi Uyama and Ramona Staffeld and Frida Segerdahl and Lennart Westerlund are so amazing: they don’t need air to excite your palate (though they can certainly bring it if they need to).

I’m a big fan of the Montessori or free school learning and teaching model. I’d like to be able to encourage students to discover their own way of moving and expressing themselves, where they try to figure out what they love, and how they feel, and then work on expressing that with their bodies. There are physiological limits to what we can do with our bodies, but because all our bodies (and lifestyles) are unique, the bodies we work with are all unique. So the dancing we do, and the ideas that we have, are all unique. And that is what I think we should be working towards.

I have similar feelings about teaching dance. I recently organised a workshop weekend here in Sydney with some visiting teachers. We had one day of general workshops, and one day of ‘teacher training’. The teacher training was set up in two parts. One session where dancers worked on their own dancing specifically to improve their teaching (eg looking at how clearer lines or sharper footwork made it easier for students to see how the movement worked in demonstrations). The second session more a ‘skill share’ session where everyone shared their favourite teaching tools, asked specific questions about how other people taught particular things, and then experimented with these.

The presumption in this day of ‘teacher training’ was that the dancer/teachers involved were all skilled professionals with unique ways of working. The session was not to enforce a ‘preferred’ teaching code or to ‘improve the standard of teaching’, but to encourage reflexivity in teachers’ practices. To share ideas so that each teacher (and teaching partnership) could refine and develop their teaching practice in their own way. Inherent to this was the idea that teaching practice is mutable, flexible and responsive to the students’ needs, and to the teachers’ interests and needs. In other words, teaching different things in different ways to different people by different people. The end goal was of course unique pedagogic cultures and practices within the broader dance scene. Organic, gmo-free, visually unique, sensorily exciting.

I think the sessions went well, for a first-run. I had good feedback from participants (and I like to encourage all sorts of feedback), and from what I observed in the session, people enjoyed the experience. I do think that it takes time to learn how to participate in this sort of session, and that it takes a degree of trust: you need to trust your peers to support your ideas and not dismiss them. So I’d think that you’d really need to do this a few times to get the best results.

I have seen this approach used by other dance scenes and at other dance events. But my problem with some of those models is that though they ostensibly encourage individualised teaching practice and dance, they effectively maintain hierarchies and power. Most specifically, some of the people involved are established as ‘authorities’ and the collaborative setting is ultimately working to shore up the power of the organising person or ideologies. I’m certain this (inevitably, perhaps) happened in our setting this past weekend. But I’m hoping the organising ideology was ‘diversity and flexibility through collaboration’ not ‘uniformity and ‘correctness’ through collaboration.’
I do think that the best way to encourage a diverse, lalala learning environment is not to preach about it explicitly, but to sneak it into the process. So Herrang, for example, encourages dancers to interact in casual, friendly ways with old timers, with teachers, with each other not through formal ‘sessions for hiearchy-free interaction,’ but by setting up large communal eating areas where people share tables. I do think the shared table is an excellent metaphor for community, and it’s not just pragmatics that encourages many dance events to build meals into their programs.

Having said all that, part of me wants to know how can we do all this lovely hippy work and still be involved in a project of historical recreation and preservation? In a practical example, my teaching partner and I are currently figuring out exactly what type of swingout we want to teach to our class over the next month or so. We both have different preferences and ideas, but we’re both dance supernerds with an interest in biomechanics, a commitment to individual self expression, an emphasis on safety and pleasure, and we’re both guided by history. In a perfect world we’d work with the students to develop their awareness of their own bodies and and their basic skills so that they can choose how they dance their swingouts. In that same perfect world we’d introduce them to particular swingouts from lindy hop history, working with examples by particular dancers at different times. The ultimate goal would be to have each dancer being aware of what they’re doing in the swingout, and consciously choosing the way they move and respond to their partner. We both have particular favourites and dancers (both historic and contemporary) which we admire and want to emulate. But we also want our students to develop their own flavah flave.

The challenge, of course, is this: how do you actually run a class (or classes) which are historically grounded (and preserving/recreating lindy hop from the past) and also encouraging and allowing students to follow their own interests and personal creative instincts?

Interestingly, dance teachers like the Harlem/Rhythm Hot Shots are in an easier position: they are determinedly into historical preservation, and they position their classes and performances this way. They often say “This is our way of dancing a swing out, which we learnt from/modelled on Al Minns/Frankie Manning/Anne Johnson/Norma Miller, so we want you to learn to swingout this way.” The caveat is of course that once you’re done with the class you can just put aside that particular swingout and never do it again. But actually learning to dance precisely that way has taught you something about your body (and history) and more importantly, given you the ability to choose the swingout(s) you will do.
But my dilemma is this: how exactly do you do balance historical recreationism/preservation with student centeredness and principles of ‘natural’ movement and biomechanics in a weekly one-hour class that really has to be promoted in a clear, simple, accessible, totally-fun way, with a goal of maximum student numbers possible and mad dancing skillz? Week after week after week.

I guess the answer is that you don’t. Unless you really are a high-status, highly-skilled dancer like (my heroes) Asa Palm or Lennart Westerlund. In those cases what you are selling is historical accuracy, and students may choose to attend or not attend class. And as highly skilled, well respected dancers, students are likely to attend just because you’re teaching.
Or are they?
This is where we must balance pedagogic ideals with promotional and economic sustainability, individual creative self expression with historical preservation. To pull this stuff off, you just have to be one shit-hot teacher. Which is what the Hot Shots are: they are shit hot teachers and dancers.

Ok, so you can see, right here, that I’m going to have trouble with DeMers’ article. I can’t accept the basic premise of the thing: that there is a single codified theory for teaching connection, and that this is desirable, useful thing. I just don’t think that this is a useful approach: it doesn’t accommodate the complexity of hoomans in motion. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. I discovered the other day that Al Minns used a swingout that didn’t involve triple steps. This makes me freak out a little in my brain, but it also makes me intensely curious. HOW EVEN DID IT WORK? If I rely on triple steps to generate and maintain momentum and stuff syncopation into a swingout, if I rely on triple steps for covering more ground, how did Al Minns and his partners achieve all these things without triple steps?! I NEED TO KNOW. I MUST ACQUIRE ALL THE LEARNZ.

That’s how I feel about this article. The basic premise unsettles me, but it also invites my engagement.

A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do!

A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do! from dogpossum on 8tracks.

linky

This month has been Frankie Manning month for me, teaching two Frankie themed classes a week (lindy hop and solo jazz), visiting Melbourne for the Shiny Stockings weekend with Chazz Young, Steven Mitchell and Ramona Staffeld (Ramona drove this excellent weekend) and generally doing quite a lot of research into Frankie Manning’s dancing and choreography.

It was, of course, Frankie’s birthday on the 26th May, and this has proven a nice focus for all this effort. I think it was a great idea to use the whole month to focus on Frankie’s work, and I’ve been feeling very inspired and challenged. I’ve also been struck by just how much joy this Frankie themed material has brought our students in class (it really does fill you up with happiness), and how important Frankie has been to the lindy hop revival. Yes, he was a brilliant dancer and choreographer, but he was also so important to the revival of lindy hop in the modern day, bringing not only his knowledge of dance, but his feeling for other people and for dancing. He would always begin his dances with the ideas that you ‘bow to the queen’ and ‘for the next three minutes you’re in love with this person’, and this seems like a pretty good way to dance – and live your life – to me. Respect your partner, love dance and dancing, let your partner be the centre of your world for the next little moment. I’m down with that.

So here is a little 8tracks devoted to Frankie Manning.

1. Jumpin’ At The Woodside – Count Basie and his Orchestra – 235 – The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 02) – 1939 – 3:10

2. “Big Apple Contest” – The Solomon Douglas Swingtet – 211 – Swingmatism – 2006 – 2:58

3. Hellzapoppin – George Gee – 356 – 2009 – 2:13

4. Cotton Tail – Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra – 236 – Big Ben – Disc 1 – Cotton Tail – 1940 – 4:49 PM

5. Flying Home – Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra – 197 – Lionel Hampton Story 2: Flying Home – 1942 – 3:11

6. Shiny Stockings – Count Basie and his Orchestra – 126 – Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings [Disc 6] – 1956 – 5:17

7. Easy Does It – Big Eighteen (Billy Butterfield, Buck Clayton, Charlie Shavers, Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Vic Dickenson, Lou McGarity, Dicky Wells, Walt Levinksy, Hymie Schertzer, Sam Donahue, Boomie Richman, Ernie Caceres, Johnny Guarnieri, Barry Galbraith, Milt ) – 129 – Echoes of the Swinging Bands – 1958 – 5:14

8. The Shim Sham Song – JW Swing Orchestra – 183 – Holdin’ You In My Holden – 2002 – 2:46

1. ‘Jumpin at the Woodside’.
This song is one of those Pavlov’s Lindy Hopper tracks that quite often provokes a jam circle. But it was the song to which the famous lindy hop routine in the 1941 film Hellzapoppin was originally choreographed (read more about that here). There are sixty million versions, but this one is my favourite.

(Whiteys Lindy Hoppers .. Helzapoppin)

Basie is a particularly important band leader when we’re talking Frankie.

2. ‘The ‘Big Apple Contest” from the Keep Punchin’ soundie.
Taken from a short film, the routine accompanying this song has proved particularly popular with lindy hoppers, especially in the last six years or so. It’s a high energy, challenging choreography, lots of fun to dance, lots of interesting shapes and steps.

The Big Apple contest from Keep Punchin’

This version of this song is important because it’s the most commonly used, and perhaps the best quality version we have available. It’s by Solomon Douglas’ Swingtet, and was transcribed by Solomon. Solomon is a DJ and dancer as well as a talented pianist who plays with lots of good bands, as well as with his own outfits. I think this recording could do with a bit more attention, really. It gets used an awful lot, and is the sort of recording only a band tightly connected with lindy hoppers would research and record. Musically speaking I’m not sure the actual song is all that awesome, but this is a great treatment, and the song itself is absolutely central to Frankie Manning’s history on film.

3. I don’t need to explain ‘Hellzapoppin” again. But I do need to point out that this version was transcribed and recorded by George Gee, a band leader with a long history of association and collaboration with lindy hoppers. He was right there in the early days of the revival, and he’s still right there, in the thick of it.

I can’t embed the video, but I can link you to this ‘Hellzapoppin, Then and Now’ video featuring this song played live.
I’m not sure where or if you can buy this song now, but I downloaded it from FB where George Gee was giving it away for free a while ago.

4. ‘Cottontail’ was featured in the 1941 soundie ‘Cottontail’ featuring Duke Ellington and his orchestra. This clip features the Hot Chocolates (aka the Harlem Congaroos), a group of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers from the Savoy Ballroom, and once again featuring Frankie Manning (read more about it here).

(linky)

5. ‘Flying Home’ by Lionel Hampton’s orchestra (1942).
This is one of the first songs associated with the lindy hop revival. Spike Lee’s 1992 film ‘Malcolm X’ is important in lindy hop history because Frankie Manning (and other old timer and modern day lindy hoppers with mad skills) were involved in its production, in no small part because of Lee’s fierce determination to highlight black American history. Manning appears in this sequence, but was also involved in the choreography.

lindy hop scene from Malcolm X

This song is another one that’ll start a jam if you’re not careful. I’m extra interested in this song because it was also famously recorded by Benny Goodman’s smaller groups, and those groups were really important because they were one of the earliest and most determinedly high profile swing bands featuring black and white performers. So I tend to think of this clip as a political comment on lindy hop history as well as a spankingly good dance track.

6. ‘Shiny Stockings’, Count Basie Orchestra in 1956.
This song is important because it was one of Frankie’s favourites, and he used it in classes and performances all the time in the revival period.

Frankie and Dawn Hampton performing in 2008

As a DJ and music nerd, I’m quite interested in the correlation between ‘new testatment Basie’ and ‘new testament Frankie’. This was the second half of these artists’ careers, quite different to their earlier work, and yet utterly dependent on that 1930s/40s history of hot and fast swing jazz. In these later periods of their careers, both Basie and Frankie explored subtler, more nuanced work (Frankie of course responding to what he heard in Basie’s music), both working with slower tempos and greater subtlety.

Teaching this past month I’ve realised that though you might see a subtler dancing at work in Frankie’s post-revival lindy hop, his movements are still those of a dancer who spent most of their time running about at high tempos in massively athletic displays of skill. So though his joints were older and stiffer, his body (and brain) still remembered how to move like an athlete, and to really recreate this (as if you really could!), you need to start big and athletic, then pare it back to the more nuanced essence. It’s the same with Basie’s music. His playing in the 50s is pared back from the stomping stride playing of his early days in Kansas to just a few careful notes accenting rhythm and melody in the 50s.

7. ‘Easy Does It’, by the Big Eighteen in 1958.

Another of Frankie’s teaching and performing favourites from the revival period:

(with Sylvia Sykes in 2006)

This version of ‘Easy Does It’ is a good one because it’s by the Big Eighteen – a celebrity all-star band mashed together for a few studio recordings. There’s a bit of grandstanding in there, but really, if that crowd got together, you’d expect nothing less. ‘Easy Does It’ was recorded by heaps of people, including Basie’s band in 1940.

8. ‘The Shim Sham Song’ – JW Swing Orchestra.
Another key song for the lindy hop revival, Frankie taught and performed the shim sham all over the world using this song. There’s a far more famous version by George Gee’s band, featuring Frankie calling the steps, but the JW Swing Orchestra was important in the Melbourne lindy hop scene in the earlier days. They recorded this quite good version in 2002, and though I don’t especially like this song, it’s absolutely central to lindy hop history and to Frankie Manning’s importance.

Though it’s not using that ‘Shim Sham song’, this ‘global shim sham’ tribute video put together for Frankie 95 gives you an idea of both the dance’s importance, and the great love felt for Frankie Manning by lindy hoppers all over the world.


(linky)

Happy Birthday Frankie, and thanks for all the lols!

The influence of Frankie Manning on my lindy hop history

As I mentioned in the Frankie Fest post the other day, we’re teaching Frankie Manning themed classes this month at our weekly class. That means Frankie Manning themed lindy hop in the first class, and then Frankie Manning themed solo dance in the second class. Although making the distinction between the two seems to deliberately misunderstand exactly what Frankie Manning – and jazz dance – are all about.

I’m going to see if I can write a few blog posts about Frankie Manning, or, rather, using Frankie Manning as a jumping off point for some ideas. We’ll see how well things go – I’m not all that together in the longer-form writing way at the moment.

This is a post about how Frankie Manning moved into and out of my understanding of lindy hop. This is a story of personal growth (goddess, how I hope it’s about growth), not really about Frankie himself. If you want that story, you should read his autobiography.

Oh, yeah, Frankie Manning IS the best!: late 2000s and early 2010s

Frankie95, the massive birthday party for Frankie Manning, which he just missed out on seeing, seemed to suddenly change everything. It’s true, you know, you don’t know what you’ve got til you lose it. You don’t miss the water til the well runs dry. And the Silver Shadows, the most popular, and one of the most highly skilled lindy hop performance groups in the world at the time reminded people that Frankie was wonderful:

Frankie95 day3 Performance Silver Shadows tribute to Frakie Manning:

It feels, now, that the generation of international teachers being flown to Australia to teach (people like Thomas and Alice, for example, who taught a ‘Frankie class’ at Jumptown Jam last month), who mightn’t have been into this stuff in a big way before, are suddenly falling in love with Frankie Manning all over again. Or for the first time.

I’m feeling a profound sense of déjà vu. The steps that I first learnt to dance with – pecks, stomp offs, mini-dips – are now chic again. I’m not complaining. But I think that for a lot of dancers, the technique-heavy smooth style phase and then the popularity of blues dancing gave them the technical skills to really appreciate what Frankie Manning was doing, particularly in his later years. And I also think that the influence of Steven and Virgine in Melbourne (particularly during that 2000-2004 period) was very important. While their dance style was definitely juicier and groovier, their experience with Frankie Manning definitely informed their teaching, and Frankie’s understanding of music and rhythm and dance shaped the Melbourne lindy hop scene, even indirectly.

For myself, I think that Frankie himself makes it very clear that to be able to dance well, it’s just as important to able to shake your arse for Shiny Stockings at 120bpm as it is to move your arse at 230bpm with Jumpin’ at the Woodside.

Understanding Frankie’s bum and feet and hands and everything: early 2010s Sydney

Now that I’m teaching (again – the last time I taught was ~2002), I amazed by the content Frankie was teaching beginners:

Frankie Manning teaching in Denver, CO 2007:

That little sequence is quintessential Frankie Manning. He just assumed that if you were learning lindy hop, you were going to learn a complex sequence of rhythms and steps, and that that was going to be the heart of your dancing. Most lindy hop classes I see these days assume that beginners will be learning simple movements and that this sort of rhythmic work is a ‘variation’, an optional extra for more advanced dancers.

When I first started learning, this little film shows the sort of thing we learnt – in fact, I can still remember learning pretty much this exact sequence way back in about 2000. I strongly believe that this stuff – these rhythms, this use of open position, this combining partner work with individual improvisation – is the very core, the absolute essence of lindy hop. Without it, you’re just… well, you’re just doing something else. You’re not lindy hopping.

I know that right now, I’m really only beginning to properly understand just how amazing he was, even in his 90s. There are no modern dancers today who can approach his skill level. Let alone his choreographing ability. I think we are so lucky to have had him, not just in the early days of lindy hop, but most especially in the revival, when we really needed, as a community, to be taught not only how to dance, but how to love dancing and to be good to each other.

I think these interviews with today’s lindy hoppers talking about Frankie Manning at 90, at the 2004 Herrang Dance camp make all this clear:

Frankie Fest

We’re teaching a heap of Frankie stuff in classes this month, in the lead up to his birthday on the 26th May. Last night it was pecks in promenade, points and other important things. Teaching these steps I was struck by just how complex and wonderful they are for new dancers. Pecking gets a lot of flack, but it’s pretty challenging to peck and walk if you’re totally new to dancing.

My favourite pecks are in the Hellzapoppin clip:

Whiteys Lindy Hoppers .. Helzapoppin.

Women’s History Month: some thoughts at day 6

It’s women’s history month again, and I’m listing a different woman musician from the first half of the century every day (as I explain here). Last year I did a different woman dancer every day, and that was super great fun. I’m enjoying the women musicians, but I haven’t really had a chance to research or push myself, as I’ve been away at a dance event for most of this month. And today, I’m still feeling a little tired and rough, so I’m not really ready to push myself. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

I did decide in that first post of the month that I’d only dance as a lead this month, as a way of exploring International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month and what it means to be a woman dancing. Well, actually, I just decided that on a whim, without much thinking at all. I don’t follow much these days as I’m really trying to get my leading up to snuff, and the best way to get better at dancing is to dance. And as every lead knows, the real challenge comes on the social dance floor, when you need to come up with a series of moves, connect with your partner and attempt some sort of creativity all at the same time.
We won’t even mention the battle to maintain the fitness and aerobic capacity lindy hop demands.

I have to say, it hasn’t been hard, because I get to dance with amazing dancers, most of whom are my friends. And I’ve learnt so much in the past month or two it’s kind of scary – I suddenly find myself stretching and expanding my skills, pushing myself to try things that I’d never have tried before. But it’s certainly meant a bit of rethinking the way I operate socially at exchanges and dance weekends. My weekend pretty much felt like this:

I mean, the biggest change for me this past weekend in Melbourne was simply spending very little time with men. I have lots of lovely male friends, but I only danced with two of them this weekends, and I discovered that I just didn’t end up spending as much time catching up with blokes as I usually do. :( I think that’s mostly because I’d be chatting to some chicks, and then a song would start and one of them, or I would say “let’s dance!” and then we would, and then afterwards I’d end up mixing with chicks and chatting. Rinse repeat. This of course means that the men in the dancing scene need to man up and start with the following, because I refuse to miss out on their dancing wonderfulness! Good thing Keith and I got to DJ together, or I’d hardly have spent any quality time with a bloke at all this weekend. And that is UNACCEPTABLE.

Workshops on Sunday were fun. I learnt a LOT. And I did a private class with Ramona on Friday, which kind of broke my dancing for a bit, and then suddenly it all came back together and I was a dancing machine on Saturday night. Blues dancing: still a bit too dull for me atm. But then, only boring people are bored, and that’s doubly true of dancers – only a boring lead is bored. I need to woman up.

The DJ Dual with Keith went really well. In fact, I had the most fun DJing I’ve had in ages and ages. We ended up trading three songs until the last moment when we played alternative songs. I think we would have liked to continue for another hour or so, trading single songs, as we got more confident and figured out the skills and tactics we needed. But we’d been DJing for an hour and a half by then, so we might’ve gotten a bit tired. And I had to go in the jack and jill, and I’m not sure it would have been ok for me to DJ the competition I was in. Overall, it was nice to have a bit of a challenge, and it was nice to work with a friend I like and have lots in common with musically. But he is a bit of a sly dog, and wouldn’t tell me what he was playing next, most of the time, so I had to keep on my toes. But that was actually even more fun. DJ Dual: LIKE.

NB There were THREE women leads in the jack and jill competition, and one got through to the finals (in a group of six leads)!!11!1 That photo above is one I lifted from Faceplant – sorry I can’t remember whose it was. It’s of the J&J, I’m in there, and so is at least one of the other female leads.

Now: NEED MORE MALE FOLLOWS!!!

I ended up catching up with lots of internet friends over the weekend as well. Which is always a bit of a push, but well worth it. The best part was walking into a cafe, saying “Hello, I’m Sam, nice to meet you!” and then barrelling into an hour of solid, hardcore talking as though we’d known each other for years. Which we have, really. Just not in person. This trip I went for smaller catch ups, rather than bigger groups, because I wanted to get a chance to actually connect with everyone and I often don’t get that at bigger meet ups. But that also meant I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to. Oh well, good thing I go to Melbourne regularly! I’m planning another trip in May for the Frankie Manning birthday celebrations, so I’ll see if I can fit in the people I missed this time. But that sucks, because you’re still missing people! And then there are all the dance people I want to see off the dance floor! This is, of course, why exchanges are so much fun and so challenging – so many friends descend on one city for just one weekend you really need an enormous dance floor to connect with them all!

Righto, I’d better write up today’s jazz woman!

Charlie Shavers Plays The Trumpet

Charlie Shavers Plays The Trumpet from dogpossum on 8tracks.

I’m a big fan of Charlie Shavers, but I didn’t realise I was until I started getting nerdy with the discographies. As I added musicians to song information in my collection I realised his name just kept popping up, mostly with other artists I love. So I’ve made an 8track of some songs from my favourite bands.

You can read his own account of his life in this little autobiographical piece, Charlie Shavers: About the Size of It (talking to Les Tomkins in 1970). But here are some interesting things about Charlie Shavers:

  • he played the trumpet;
  • he composed the song ‘Undecided’ (I’ve chosen a 1939 version where he plays with Fats Waller);
  • he played in Lucky Millinder’s band (but I didn’t include any of these songs);
  • he played the banjo and piano before the trumpet.

There are plenty of other things to say about Charlie Shavers, but I’d rather listen to his music.

Here’s the set list for this 8track. It’s mostly smaller bands, I’m afraid, even though Shavers did so much work with big bands. But this probably a more accurate indication of my tastes!

Four Or Five Times – Jimmie Noone and his Orchestra (Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, Frank Smith, Teddy Bunn, Wellman Braud, O’Neil Spencer, Teddy Simmons) – 173 – Jimmie Noone 1934 – 1940 – 1937 – 3:09

Sloe Jam Fizz – Buster Bailey and his Rhythm Busters (John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer, Charlie Shavers) – 147 – Buster Bailey: Complete Jazz Series 1925 – 1940 – 1938 – 2:26

Blue Monday On Sugar Hill – Coot Grant (Leoloa B. Wilson), Kid Wesley ‘Sox’ Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Sidney Bechet, Sammy Price, Teddy Bunn, Richard Fullbright, O’Neill Spencer) – 213 – Charlie Shavers and The Blues Singers 1938-1939 – 1938 – 2:17

Blues Galore – Johnny Dodds and his Chicago Boys (Charlie Shavers, Lil Armstrong, Teddy Bunn, John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer) – 148 – Complete Jazz Series 1928 – 1940 – 1938 – 2:47

Them There Eyes Billie Holiday and her Orchestra (Charlie Shavers, Tab Smith, Kenneth Hollon, Stanley Payne, Sonny White, Bernard Addison, John Williams, Eddie Dougherty) – 180 – Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday On Columbia (1933-1944) (Disc 06) – 1939 – 2:51

Fine and Mellow – Charlie Shavers with Alberta Hunter – 87 – Charlie Shavers and The Blues Singers 1938-1939 – 1939 – 2:52

Undecided – Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) – 97 – The Middle Years – Part 2 (1938-1940) (disc 2) – 1939 – 3:38

Effervescent Blues – John Kirby Sextet (Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, William ‘O’Neill’ Spencer) – 119 – John Kirby Sextet: Complete Columbia and RCA Victor Recordings (disc 01) – 1939 – 2:50

Royal Garden Blues – John Kirby Sextet (Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, William ‘O’Neill’ Spencer) – 276 – John Kirby Sextet: Complete Columbia and RCA Victor Recordings (disc 01) – 1939 – 2:33

Come Easy Go Easy – Rosetta Howard acc. by the Harlem Blues Serenaders (Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Lil Armstrong, Ulysses Livingston, Wellman Brand, O’Neil Spencer) – 90 – Rosetta Howard (1939-1947) – 1939 – 3:03

St. Louis Blues – John Kirby Sextet (Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, Gordon ‘Specs’ Powell) – 221 John Kirby Sextet: Complete Columbia and RCA Victor Recordings (disc 02) – 1941 – 2:45

Oh I’m Evil – Una Mae Carlisle with Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer – 158 – Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1938 – 1941 – 1941 – 2:25

Don’t Tetch It! – Una Mae Carlisle with Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer – 191 – Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1941-1944 – 1942 – 2:21

Long, Long Journey – Esquire All-American Award Winners (Louis Armstrong, Charlie Shavers, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Remo Palmieri, Chubby Jackson, Sonny Greer) – 103 – The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 17) – 1946 – 4:31

I Cried For You – Billie Holiday and her Band (Charlie Shavers, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Ed Shaughnessy) – 115 – The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes (disc 2) – 1954 – 2:28

Easy Does It – Big Eighteen (Billy Butterfield, Buck Clayton, Charlie Shavers, Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Vic Dickenson, Lou McGarity, Dicky Wells, Walt Levinksy, Hymie Schertzer, Sam Donahue, Boomie Richman, Ernie Caceres, Johnny Guarnieri, Barry Galbraith, Milt ) – 129 Echoes of the Swinging Bands – 1958 – 5:14

‘Four or Five Times’ is quite a well-known song. Jimmie Noone first recorded it in 1928, but I love this later version that includes Shavers. It has a lovely, light, swinging feel.

‘Sloe Jam Fizz’ is by Buster Bailey and his Rhythm Busters, and includes not only Charlie Shavers, but also John Kirby, who Shavers later went on to work with.

‘Blue Monday on Sugar Hill’, credited to Grant and Wilson, is a fun song featuring lots of famous people – Sam Price, Sidney Bechet, O’Neil Spencer. It reminds me of Lil Armstrong’s band. The Bechet-Shavers connection is pretty interesting.

‘Blues Galore’ is another nice song, this time by Johnny Dodds and His Chicago Boys, which again features John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer and Charlie Shavers, but this time Lil Armstrong is credited. I reckon this song really heralds the type of stuff Kirby’s band did later – quite a light, gentle touch, but with a really solidly swinging rhythm, perhaps a bit more insistent than in Kirby’s small groups later on. The vocals are great.

‘Them There Eyes’ is a bit different to the earlier songs, but I think that Shavers’ style really helped develop Holiday’s sound during this period. I don’t think this song is as good as a lot of the stuff she did with Teddy Wilson, for example, but there’s much in common. I think Shavers and Wilson have a similar approach to songs, so it’s not too surprising to find them together with a musician like Billie Holiday.

I don’t know much about this version of ‘Fine and Mellow’ as it’s just new to my collection, but I couldn’t resist the connection with Holiday, who of course recorded a very famous version of this song. I like this version, though, for Alberta Hunter’s gravelly vibrato contrasting with Shavers’ tootly and growly trumpet.

This nice, light version of ‘Undecided’ is a nice antidote to the laboured versions which are overplayed in the lindy hopping world. I loooove the way Shavers’ sense of humour blends perfectly with Wallers’. There’s a wheedly, whiney tone that winkles its way into your ear.

‘Effervescent Blues’ is probably one of the better known Kirby band songs in the lindy hop world, mostly because it was covered by the Mora’s Modern Swingtet. I like the rolling piano matched with the tootly melody. It has the light touch I associate with the Shavers/Kirby pairing, but it’s not as light and complicated-feeling as their later stuff.

‘Royal Garden Blues’ is tootly. It’s super fast and complicated. It really is a good example of what some people call ‘chamber jazz’. I love it. I like the way this group has a lot in common with Benny Goodman’s small groups, but actually has quite a different feel.

‘Come Easy Go Easy’ is completely different – Rosetta Howard isn’t subtle or tootly or tinkly. But Shavers’ whiney trumpet sets off her grittier style really nicely. This line up is again, quite familiar, and it echoes those earlier songs with blues singers. It’s interesting to see that Shavers was doing this in the same year as that busybusy Kirby group stuff.

Two years later, the Kirby Sextet has really set off on its course. This version of ‘St Louis Blues’ is complicated small group jazz. Hot, but also quite finessed.

I’m a big fan of Una Mae Carlisle. She’s got a sophisticated style, but can really get hot. Her timing is wonderful – she just sits back there behind the beat. I like the way she works with that little band, that’s pretty much the same gang as in all those other small Shavers’ groups.

Four years later, this Esquire all star band is something completely different. It’s commercial jazz at its most extravagant.

I added in ‘I cried for you’ just as an example of how Holiday’s style changed, and how she and Shavers still work together so well. This is magical, particularly with the addition of Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown.

‘Easy Does It’ is another of those ‘stunt bands’ put together in a kind of mishmash of big names. But this is a great song, and it always reminds me of Frankie Manning.

[EDIT]Trev has just pointed out that I missed the part where Charlie Shavers was with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. This is a bit of an oversight on my part, to be explained by the fact that I didn’t actually own the 1937 MBRB stuff. This has been rectified.[/]