Maxine Sullivan’s My Memories of You


Maxine Sullivan’s 1955 album My Memories of You (remastered, etc) is very like Ella’s These are the Blues in its groovy, later-era swinging jazz vibe. I’d pop this one in the same family as Ella and Louis Again (Ella and Louis Armstrong), Billy Holiday’s later stuff from Verve (including Songs for Distingue Lovers) and some of the Oscar Peterson/late Louis Armstong All-Stars stuff.
Small combo, sweet production, older artist with a less-excellent voice, but nice phrasing and sophisticated musicianship. You have to love the way these ladies hang on the beat – they just wait out there til the very last minute.
My Memories of You is a really nice album – almost all very danceable/DJable (for a groover crowd, mind you), as I discovered at the Spiegeltent this weekend. I played far too many songs from the album, but it was just so appropriate for the dancers who were there – a version of Massachusetts which went down really well as a birthday song (and I like it because it reminds me of her much earlier version which I really prefer), as did Christopher Columbus which doesn’t really hold up to too many replayings, but has a sweet sparcity and velvety sauciness which plays on the memory of Fats Waller’s (decidedly dirty) version in a nice way.
Max manages to avoid the dirty lyrics, but their absense (if you know the Fats version) is emphasised rather than coyly ignored (as in the horrible Andrews Sisters versions of things like Hold Tight), so ends up feeling saucy – the delay in her phrasing, while not a patch on Billy Holiday, seems to let you know that she knows this is saucy stuff, but won’t go so far as to piss of her record company with dirty lyrics.
This is a nice album. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times, and I know it’ll be a sure-fire winner when DJing for groovers. But after about a half-dozen, or maybe 10 times through, I feel like I’ve pretty much heard all there is to hear. Unlike Billy Holiday’s later stuff, where you feel you can keep going back and finding more interesting things. Max isn’t the consumate muisican Billy is. Nor has her voice weathered as well as Ella’s in that period. But there’s something really appealing about this mature voice with a mature approach to swing.
[NB: I heard Jesse spruiking this one on his radio show and made an immediate impulse purchase. It’s a damn good thing I really don’t like Earnestine Anderson or I’d have spent my (non-existant) savings on groover crowd-pleasers by now)]

Ella Fitzgerald’s These are the Blues

Just a quick entry to blog the lately arrived members of my CD collection.

These Are the Blues by Ella Fitzgerald.
Ella really rocks, and this is a really great album. One of the late-Ella recordings (1963), there’s some sweet organ action, some lovely solos, etc etc from the combo supporting her (I don’t have the linter notes handy, sorry – story of my laptop-life). It’s all blues, and it’s all very blues-danceable.
Yet I am not entirely convinced that Ella really knows how to sing anything other than happy. She has an amazing voice, amazing musicianship, but it feels like she has a limited emotional range. Listening to a version of Christopher Columbus on another album last night, I speculated to The Squeeze that Ella could sing the naughty version of that song have it come off sounding entirely innocent.
But this is still a great album – truly great. If you like groovy, smooth blues. And Ella, of course.

Hamp & slow-mid range swing

hamp.gifMy love for Lionel Hampton continues in an unnatural way*. Unnatural in that I have not only abandoned my qualms about DJing jump blues for lindy hoppers for Hamp’s sake, but in that I have also decided that boogie woogie is Fun. I have also (quite unashamedly) overplayed my favourite Hamp songs (eventually, I guess, I will tire of songs like Drinkin’ Wine spo-de-oh-doh, Hey ba-ba-re-bop! and Lavender Coffin (yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, they are actually different songs)) and will continue to do so.
I think my love for Benny Goodman’s small groups is in part (perhaps a large part) owing to my love of the Hamp.
Right now, I am declaring a love for Don’t be that way (you can hear it here). I have already played it far too many times, and will continue to do so. I just love the way it chuggs along. And you get the feeling that there’s some joking going on in the band there. I love the saucy brass with the brruurp brruurp trombone underneath. I love the twinkly vibes. I love the chunky beat (bass, guitar esp). I even love the sax (and really, who could love sax?). I love the restrained, but kind of bursting-at-the-seams feeling of momentum building. It’s only 137bpm, but it feels like it’s going somewhere.** It feels like… like… like bounce feels – like energy stored in your body, that might bust out any old how.
This brings me to a comment another dancer made the other day. After I’d just played a set of old scratchies that were all between 120 and 167 at a sedate after-class gig.
The comment involved these points:
– I wish that guitar would move away from the microphone. It’s so dull – clunk, clunk, clunk
– that older clunky music sucks when it’s under 180 – it’s really boring.
I didn’t really lay much value on these observations.But it made me think a lot about the issue (of course). And here are the things I came up with:
– that slower stuff sounds dull if you’re looking for tinkly, complex melodies and delayed timing, a la Oscar Peterson. But if you’re into combining moves, and working with phrases as the markers for your complexity (ie, working on a larger scale), or perhaps looking at the layers of sound only a big band can offer, and which are clear markers of that earlier, late 30s sound, then this stuff is quite interesting. It begs a combination of moves and a use of lateral or horizontal space, rather than micro-movements on the spot. It says ‘think of each note or each beat or each chunk of rhythm as part of a bigger pattern’ not ‘think of each note or beat or chunk of rhythm as something you have to echo in your body exactly’.
The free-er, riff-based and improvisation-heavy nature of Kansas City jazz (in particular) encourages musicians to think of how they can combine improvisations and solos within a looser musical framework. For dancers, that approach encourages contributions to the rhythms going on, rather than a strict representation of what they can hear. So, for example, a Swede would add a bit of syncopated footwork at the end of an 8 to add rhythm to the song, rather than simply making flesh exactly what they can hear. They would also make greater use of a dynamic, lateral energy rather than just a restrained, micro-movement and energy-contained.
So, really, this stuff is actually very interesting and challenging for dancing. Even at slower tempos. I actually feel that slower tempos can offer greater scope for improvisation and interest – you have time to add stuff in. When you’re moving to 200bpm, you don’t have time to add in extras – you pare down the movement to basic moves simply because you don’t have time. It’s about combinations of moves rather than individual movements.
When you’re working at a slower tempo, you can add in all the interesting visual ‘commentaries’ and social interaction that faster tempos prevent. And if you’re working with the more open, improvised connection of a Swedish or old skool swingout, for example, both partners can happily add in variations and jazz steps, breaking out into open to do ‘solo’ stuff as well. And all that in addition to the combinations of moves and use of lateral space that says ‘hey, I can hear more of this song than just the three or four notes in my immediate vicinity’.
I also find that phrasing becomes more important with this sort of music – you work in combinations of 8s rather than within an 8 for variation and interpretation and improvisation.
So my love of the mid/slower tempo chunk-chunk songs by people like Lionel Hampton run in the face of arguments challenging their aural interest. But I must admit – 120 is the lowest I’ll go in that style, and really, it’s better if it hits 140.
*a love that will never be realised as this fan’s was here
**a lot like the slower version of Flying Home that’s about – it builds to a frenzy of almost-fastness. It’s at least 20bpm slower than the version most dancers know.

Henry ‘Red’ Allen’s World on a String


I have my eye on Henry Red Allen’s World on a String after reading about the version of St James Infirmary discussed on SwingDJs here. The song caught my ear while watching the ULHS finals (which I talked about here).
I don’t have any Red Allen, but I’m definitely interested.
As for my stalking yet another version of SJI, alls I can say, is that if obsessing about multiple versions of particuar songs is good enough for Jesse in his October show, it’s certainly good enough for me.
Although, on a side-note, one of my reasons for seeking out the older or ‘betterer’ versions of particular songs is motivated by the current musical clime in Melbourne lindy hop. There’s been a recent rash of new DJs in our town, which I do applaud. I am particularly happy about the fact that most of (if not all of) these noobs are women. But I do have a great deal of issue with the fact that they’re all into boring old groove, and that most of the Melbourne DJs playing this sort of action don’t actually own their music – they’ve ripped it off someone else. Which is problematic not only for the fact that they’re, well, ripping people off, but just as importantly for a community of dancers, it means that the same old music is being recycled through the speakers every night. We hear no music – only poor quality versions of ordinary songs someone’s downloaded illegally (in a shitty mp3) and then shared around.
So when I hear a particularly shitful version of a song, I’m immediately motivated to play a betterer version so people can hear that there is more to the jazz world than fucked up versions of goddamn Lou Rawls goddamn version of SJI!
Dang – I am SO on my high horse here!
…the thing of it is, though, that un-groove is out of style here in Melbourne town, and even if I do play a ‘better’ version, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any dancers there who’d value it in the same way I do!
argh.
So, yeah, I’m hot for that Red Allen album, but goddess knows when I’d get to play it for dancers. Guess I’ll just have to love it on my own. Like I loves de McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and early Cab on my own…

a partial reckoning

We have returned from SLX.
Injuries acquired:

  • sore ear from my cold (and flying with ear infection – never have I felt such pain. Ever. I cried like a baby and people stared. But I didn’t care, because having blocked ears is like closing your eyes – no one can see you)
  • sore groin from doing stunts at a late night party (The Cheese regrets his spontaneity)
  • sore thigh from lawn bowls (The Squeeze does not regret learning to bowl)
  • a big bag of regrets (I wish I had been well enough to acquire injuries like The Squeeze’s – but I did a lot of sitting about and talking shit. It seems that Sydneysiders do not fall for long lines of bullshit as do our Southern Cousins from Tasmania. But I tried)

Australian-Melbourne-Irish-Global media?

As some of you know, I’m booked in to give a paper at the annual CSAA conference in Canberra in December. I wrote about my abstract here and moaned about not scoring a bursary here.
Well, things have actually turned around a bit since then. I have actually scored a smallish grant from the nice people at the CSAA, which will cover my conference registration and part of my airfare. Yay.
So, come December, I’m flying up to the Can to talk theoretical turkey with acadackas, hang out with my old school friend Kate (no, not ‘old skewl’, nor is she particularly ‘old’ – she is a friend I have had for a long time) and possibly see some local dancers.
This was all very nice to hear – I’m quite proud of having scored a competitive grant from an organisation which will look good on my CV. I’m also happy to be funded for my trip to the Can – I need to get a job some time soon, and these things are good networking activities… though I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging about with old UQ buddies. And as you can see from this entry, I seemed to spend more time thinking about jazz than any professional business at the last CSAA conference.
So anyways, I’m off to do a paper.
Here is the abstract again:

Swing Talk and Swing Dance: online and embodied networks in the ‘Australian’ swing dance community.
Since its revival in the 1980s, lindy hop and other swing dances have become increasingly popular with middle class youth throughout the developed world.
There are vibrant local swing dance communities in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for whom dancing – an embodied cultural practice – is the most important form of social interaction. Swing dancers will travel vast distances and spend large amounts of money solely to attend dance events in other cities. The success and appeal of these events lies in their promotion as unique and showcasing their local dance ‘scene’.
In travel itineraries which criss-cross the country, swing dancers develop networks between local communities that are not only cemented by their embodied interpersonal interaction, but also by their uses of digital media. In this paper, I examine the ways in which the online Swing Talk discussion board is utilised by Australian swing dancers to develop personal relationships with dancers in other cities, which in turn serve to develop relationships between local communities. This insistence of local community identity in swing dance culture in Australia defies a definition of a ‘national’ swing dance community. I describe the ways in which ‘Australian’ swing dance is an ‘unAustralia’ – not a homogenous ‘whole’ but a network of embodied and mediated relationships between diverse local communities and individuals.

Right now I’m having trouble remembering what I wanted to write about. I suspect there wasn’t actually a lot of planning in there. But I have started to have some ideas. Of course stimulated by my impending trip to SLX (I’ll be off to the tram stop in a few hours – nursing this horrid cold that’s sprung up), but also prompted by planning for MLX6 planning.
Have a listen to this:

powered by ODEO
(which you can find here on the MLX6 music page).
Now, if that’s not an advertisement for glocal community, I don’t know what is. I mean, before we even get to the dance/exchange stuff, we’re listening to an Irish guy pimping Australian jazz for a Melbourne exchange to an international audience. Neat stuff, huh?
This is the stuff about lindy hoppers that I really love: the way they go nuts and do all sorts of creative things – off as well as on the dance floor. And much of this creative work is centered on big dance events like exchanges and camps. There are lots of film clips, mini-films, websites, DVDs, etc etc – and a couple of special official CDs produced – but I’m beginning to get interested in the way swing dancers use radio and audio technology. Specifically, digital audio technology. I mean, there is all that stuff about DJing, but swing dancers do other really interesting things as well: Yehoodi radio is streaming music chosen by swing dancing DJs from all over the world, the Yehoodi Talk Show is really just a chance for a couple of engaging dance/music nerds to have a chat online and Hey Mr Jess is even nerdier – a particularly lovely DJ chatting about swing music and DJing with another dance/music nerd.
Hello podcasts.
This promotional podcast by one of our MLX6 crew is interesting for the way it combines samples from local musicians’ albums (these are all bands we’re hosting for MLX6, from Melbourne and Sydney) – they’re all still living, all contemporary artists – with pimpage for our event.
I do need to sit down and do a bit of analysis of the content, but this is some interesting stuff. Radio has proved a particularly effective medium for connecting dancers in different countries – a natural complement to discussion boards. And this is one of (if not the) first Australian contribution to the international lindy hop radio world (excluding contributions by local DJs to the Yehoodi radio show) – this is the first locally produced Australian swing dance radio ‘bit’. And it’s narrated by an Irishman!
Wonderful!
I do need to sit down and think about how this works: the way ‘Melbourne’ is presented, the way ‘Australia’ is presented, and how different audiences within and without Australia (and Melbourne) might receive/interpret/read this text, but it’s a starting point – a bit of motivation – for my paper. At the very least, I can add that to my usual list of clips and photos for the presentation – always fun to do.
Yay!
–edit: you know, part of my brain is also a bit interested in the way I’ve used that odeo plugin, there: most times you see those sorts of things they’re ‘invisible’, in the way my sidebar over there is largely ‘invisible’ from the main body of the page over here. But I’ve actually framed that odeo thingy as something to use and listen to, rather than just stuffing it into my sidebar or at the bottom of this post. It’s an interesting contrast to the livefm thingy over there in the sidebar (which is still stuffed and giving me the shits). I am, of course, delighted and fascinated by all this convergence action – my blog as combining audio and visual as well as written? Let’s see a newspaper try that then! Of course, this issue is one I’ve been plaguing my students with lately in tutes – as I heard in a Media Report story about cross-media ownership and digital technology, the cross-media ownership legislation kind of collapses when faced with the internet and the fancy things newspapers have been doing online: they combine av with traditional ‘static’ text… and bloggage, and audio, and… lots of other lovely stuff.
This is such a great time to be a media studies stooge! How could you not love the internet?!

old and new

My new CD has another version of Jive at Five for my collection.
I love this song more than anything. I love the way the rhythm section stomps along (hello Freddy and Jo – guitar and drums – and bass-player-whose-name-I-do-not-know). I love the featured muted trumpet. I even love the wandering saxophone. And the piano? Lovely. My favourite version (which features all these things) is a 1939 jobby, by Count Basie (and orchestra) of course. It trucks on in at 175pm.
I DJ it very rarely, in part because I have been afraid of ‘higher’ tempos until very lately (we had an epiphany last week – quicker transitions. Yes, yes, we knew, we had been told before. But now we Know). And it’s ‘lowerenergy’, and I tend to prefer playing faster stuff only if it has ‘highenergy’.
But things have changed, now, so I will soon play it every single time I DJ. Every. Single. Time.
I never tire of this gem.
I have also played a version by Jo Jones from this album, which is wonderful. Jo Jones (whom I wrote about here) was Basie’s drummer for ages. And rocks). That’s a great song, but it’s 4.07mins long, and has a big fat bass solo in the middle which goes down like a ton of bricks with dancers. Especially since the whole song is 182bpm. It is still a mighty track, made even more wonderful by Jo’s spoken introduction: “you hold up five fingers in each hand” and the chunky drum intro. The trucking rhythm section is emphasised (not surprising, considering Jo is a drummer, and this is his band), though the piano still gets in there… but with more vigour, and I think it’s all in a different key (again, I’ll have to think about it) – taken down a bit…?
But this new Basie album has another version of Jive at Five on it. It rolls along at a ponderous 147bpm, which kind of kills the sprightly, uplifting feeling of the original (sounds corny, but it really is uplifting – it makes you feel like trotting along on your tippy toes… well, that and stomping along with the rhythm doods).
But it’s a neat track, with a trombone solo substituted for the sax solo (I think it’s substituting – I can’t remember – something’s different there, anyways. I’ll have to have a look), some nice additions and embellishments to the original version. It’ll be a good track to play for noober dancers.
I have embarked on a Grand Scheme of late – playing newer ‘more accessible’ (ie hi-fi, or slightly slower, or simpler) versions of great old school tracks, then (over a series of gigs – not during the one song!) substituting the ‘originals’ and fading out the newer versions. This has worked a treat with songs like Viper’s Moan, where I started with Mora’s Modern Rhythmists’ version, then used the Willie Bryant version (which is vastly superior – I am currently obsessed with Bryant and his band. This is some HOT shit). Similar stuff has happend with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra’s version of C-Jam Blues (though I am thoroughly sick of that song, and wouldn’t play it again unless I had to), with other DJs (obviously echoing my sentiments) pulling out alternative versions.
I really like C-Jam Blues, but my preferred version is a Duke Ellington version from 1941 (the Blanton Webster era) which sits on 178bpm and rolls along. The LCJO version rocks – it’s live and very exciting – but it sits on 143bpm, and while the energy really builds in this top-notch contemporary reworking of a great song – it kind of loses the original energy of the faster version. There are some different things going on in the rhythm section too, and the neat violin solo in the third phrase has been replaced by a trumpet, which, while cool, isn’t quite as cool as the original. But that could just be the gypsy jazz in me showing.
I don’t play it very much, but Sydney Bechet’s version of Stompy Jones would be a good way of getting to Ellington’s (fabulous) version. Interestingly, Bechet’s version sits on 216bpm, while Ellington’s is about 199bpm. Ellington’s is vastly superior, in part because he’s using a whole orchestra, while the Bechet version I most prefer (Bechet and his New Orleans Footwarmers) uses a smaller group (5 or 6 or something). One of the neat things about the Ellington song (as I discovered reading Gunther Schuller’s Swing Era) is the layers and rhythms (layers of rhythms?) going on in his version.
The Ellington version I prefer is a 1934 job, while Bechet’s is from 1940. I could talk about Bechet and revivalist New Orleans jazz, and the way the rhythm section works in each, but I can’t really be bothered.
One of the side effects of listening to all this stuff with an ear to dancing is that I’ve become obsessed with rhythm sections – with the way each note is played in terms of tempo and timing and accent and emphasis, rather than in terms of melody or tone or pitch. I guess it’s because it’s difficult to make those things visible in your body, when you’re essentially working with a percussive instrument.
I’d never really thought about all this rhythm stuff when I was singing a lot at school – then I was all about pitch and stuff.
I’m also fascinated by the idea of polyrhythms. Which I need to learn more about.

The Count Basie Story – Count Basie


This lovely thing came in the mail today. Recorded in 1957, 58 and 1960, this is a collection of Basie’s big hits re-recorded by his ‘new testament’ band. It’s interesting stuff.
I’m not usually such a big fan of new testament Basie, but I do find him useful for DJing, as it’s a nice cross-over point for old school scratchy fans and hi-fi kids. This CD is great because it’s such good quality, is an interesting idea (especially in reference to Basie, whose earlier band(s) had such different sounds to his later big band(s)). If you don’t think about the ‘originals’, this is one sweet album. I know a few DJs/dancers who’d love it.
I’ll go through and listen to each song in comparison to the ‘original’ or earlier recordings and let you know what I think.
I don’t doubt that this will give me some useful fodder for my sets at SLX… now, if only I could figure out how to reinstall my bpm counter after the Great Reinstallation of 2006, prompted by the incredible CRAPtitude of itunes 7.0. BPM counter tips for mac would be very welcome.