Category Archives: music

How I think about rhythm and leading and following

Soz this post is a bit long and jumbly. I’m a bit busy atm, but I want to get this down fast, while I’m thinking about it.
Key points: I think the ‘conversation’ metaphor for lindy hop partnership is boring and limited. I think turn taking is boring. Here, in this post, I use some ILHC 2015 jack and jill videos to talk about how leads and follows can use layers of rhythm to move beyond call and response. Rhythm is about timing, and that means more than just how many times and in what order your foot taps the floor. It’s about how you use your whole body, and how you do that in connection with another person. This is how lindy hop is not like tap dance.

I have problems with using the image of ‘conversation’ as a metaphor for lindy hop and improvisation. Because most people use the word ‘conversation’ to mean formal turn taking. You speak, then I speak. But this is a highly gendered, and quite formal way of talking. It’s how we’d talk in a formal debate, or on tv. Or if we were middle class men at a dinner party. But jazz dance is vernacular dance, so is should look the way a real conversation sounds. A conversation between women. There should be interruptions, there should be layers of talk and idea, there should be shouting and quiet moments of empathy. All working together in collaborative meaning making. I’ve written a lot about language and gender here on this blog and elsewhere. There are some useful references in this post. Basically, I think we need to address the way men and women ‘do’ conversation and group talk. There are clear, documented differences in the way men talk in groups, women talk in groups, how mixed gendered groups talk, and how same-gendered groups talk. This is directly applicable to discussions about vernacular dance. I am not the first to say that vernacular dance is an embodiment of vernacular music, nor am I the first to say that vernacular music is pretty much vernacular talk in action.

Let’s have a little look at the ILHC jack and jill videos.
So far I’ve only watched about three – Laura and Remy, Laura and Skye, Jo and Peter. I’ve been seriously fucking irritated by the way both couples are introduced men-first, and the MC makes a joke about the male dancer only. But my sample size is too small. Hopefully this pattern does not continue with the rest of the MCing.

The dancing is fantastic.
I’ve only watched each video once so far, this morning.

Watching Laura and Skye, I had some issues.

It feels a bit like a dance fight. As though Laura is trying to solo dance while she lindy hops. I’ve got no issue with that – it’s a totally legit approach. But I do feel as though she’s trying desperately to fit in her improvisation where ever and where ever she can. I know that I do this when I follow. Or did, until I started leading more. And boy, she is fully legit: she is a freaking athlete of awesome. But I don’t like the way this dance looks. I feel as though they’re not dancing together. I want Laura to:
chill and take some time to get on the same page as Skye, at the very basic level of finding a common sense of timing or bounce. She may not be a bouncy dancer (ie she mightn’t be down with using ‘pulse’), and that’s cool, but when you’re in a jack and jill (or social dancing), you should find a common ground with your partner. I can see Skye looking to make that most basic level of connection (ie how do you use the beat and the floor), but it’s just not working.
chill and work within the shapes and energy Skye is giving. Skye is both a very clear and leading lead (ie he isn’t the ‘boss’, but he’s very definitely setting the shapes and tone for the dance), and a very accommodating, collaborative lead. I like his dancing, because I like leads to lead.
That’s how lindy hop works: one of us is making bigger structural decisions about what moves and shapes we’ll do; one of us is making those moves and shapes work, and adding texture and definition. A good lead isn’t just ‘calling’ the steps and having the follow ‘respond’. A good lead is working with what the follow is doing and how they move and feel the music. A good lead isn’t following; this isn’t like following. It’s about listening and building on what the follow is doing. Building in unexpected things. Just like a very good lead uses the floor and ‘floor craft’ to build a dance that isn’t just responding to obstacles on the dance floor, but incorporating them in a creative way to make new things. Floor craft is craft; it’s not just damage floor. It’s creative and improvisational art in itself. It’s real social dancing.

Anyhow, I feel as though Laura is desperately stealing every moment she can to squash in some sort of flourish extra bit of whatevs.

In contrast, Jo works with her partner, and what he’s doing. Peter is quite a ‘strong’ and assertive lead. I don’t mean ‘strong’ as in ‘manhandling his partner around the floor’, I mean ‘strong’ as in having a clear personality and vision for the dance. I think that you need to have this in lindy hop. This isn’t a dance for introverts. If you’re dancing old school style, both the lead and follow are bringing clear, confident personalities. The leads are very clear and strong. The follows are equally clear and strong. Again, I don’t mean in terms of physical strength (though that can be involved). I mean in terms of attitude and confidence. I think Peter brings some of that. And Jo brings that as well – she is the Norma Miller to balance Frankie Manning. Not in terms of dancing style, but in terms of self confidence and willingness to clearly be present in the dance. Neither Frankie nor Norma would quietly coddle their partner. They’d both step up and just assume their partner was going to bring it too. They’d have confidence in their partner’s ability to bring the shit.

I think this is the main problem I have with what’s happening with Laura and Skye. I feel as though she doesn’t trust Skye enough to build in responses to her dancing, to work with her. I know I do this too, with leads who don’t listen to me when I’m following. I feel as though I have to physically force my own voice into the conversation. Perhaps Laura’s been dancing with some overly domineering leads lately? I wouldn’t know. But I think that follows should trust the lead to listen to them.

When I watch Jo and Peter, I see Jo taking time to figure out what Peter’s doing, and how he feels and how he’s feeling the music. And he does the same with her, but at the same time, he initiates the steps – he takes the initiative. That’s the definition of leading, right? Going first? But once Jo has figured out this common ground, she builds in her own responses. They don’t interrupt what Peter has planned; they work within the structure he’s building. And he pays attention to that.

All this is all well and good. I think though, that a lot of dancers stop at this point. They see this to-and-fro as formal turn taking. Just like in that board meeting, or at a formal dinner party. Where speakers take turn saying things. Calling and responding. But I don’t think this is a properly vernacular discourse. I think this is very much an anglo-celtic middle class* heteronormative patriarchal structure. I think we should remember that this is jazz dance. Let’s think about jazz in New Orleans, before swing went solidly mainstream. We can hear multiple instruments improvising at the same time at various points throughout the song. The melody is still there. The structure of the song is still stable, if not formulaic. In fact, the structure is so formulaic it’s predictable. Which is essential if you’re improvising, right? You all need to be able to predict where the structure and melody will go, so you know when to come in and go out. But the improvisation is unpredictable. Yet harmonious. Except when it’s deliberately not.

Both couples are amazing dancers, physically amazing with stunning reflexes and control of their bodies, a deep understanding of the music they’re dancing to, and a thorough understanding of leading and following. This is some shit hot dancing. But it doesn’t quite feel like jazz to me. It doesn’t feel like vernacular jazz dance. It needs a little more chaos. It needs more interruption, more polyphony, more layers of rhythm. Those layers and interruptions can’t be interruptions for the sake of saying something. They need to be responses and interactions. And both speakers should be building those responses in. Sometimes when a group of women friends are talking, they are interrupting continually. They’re shouting “YES!” and “OMG NO!” in response to something their friend is saying. And in a group, there may be two people speaking at once, but all of the group is keeping track of everything everyone is saying at once, so they’re having parallel but interactive conversations. This is what happens in jazz. Many people speak at once, there’s interruption, and it’s rowdy. But everyone is still ‘with’ it, and aware of what other people are saying and doing. They know when to go still and silent. They know when to shout out or laugh or talk. Just as in a jazz band.

I want to see more of this in lindy hop.
In fact, this was something that came up in the Harlem Roots stream in Herrang this year, and in the Frankie stream last year. The teachers who were strongest proponents of this approach were Asa and Daniel, Jenny and Rickard, and Ramona (who I saw take this to her teaching with Remy). Asa and Daniel articulated it most clearly: leads, each ‘lead’ is only a suggestion. Do not ‘demand’ your follow dance everything you ask. As Ramona puts it: follows, you have a responsibility to look after the beat, and to look after your own rhythm too. To paraphrase her, it’s not ok to ‘just follow’ (as if you could anyway). Follows have a responsibility to feed energy into the dance through keeping time, and through bringing rhythm in a clear, coherent way. We are partners, here.

This is exciting, because when follows realise the leads are listening, and aren’t demanding, they become more confident. If you move away from social dancing as a series of perfectly executed steps with rhythms performed in unison, lindy hop becomes more like jazz. You can have layers of rhythm, and it’s ok. Leads don’t have to ‘lead’ every rhythm with a complex combination of body lead, weight change, and so on. The physical connection between partners can become at once more relaxed (we don’t need to see the follow’s right biceps pop out), and more solid (the lead’s right arm around the follow becomes more important, and the follow engages with that through their back and torso). And you have to LOOK at your partner a whole lot more.

What we found in practice in Herrang, was that leads on the whole used much simpler moves. Swing outs. Circles. Under arm turns. Time in open without touching, or touching. Promenade. Closed position. Even charleston became a bit too complex. These simple shapes allowed us to dance in more interesting ways, and to dance with anyone to any tempo. Because the ‘interest’ came in how you executed these steps. Your step step triple step could become a more complicated (or simple!) rhythm step. And you and your partner needn’t do the same rhythm simultaneously. In fact, you usually didn’t, and when you did, it was a happy coincidence.

The trick then becomes how to dance rhythms that are open to complementary rhythms. A bit like in musical improvisation: you should be in the right key and time signature, so you don’t get dischord, and you can stay in time with everyone else. At Herrang, each night when we were social dancing, when we danced with this rhythmic variation and polychromatic approach, we had to first find a shared time signature – we HAD to have a shared bounce or sense of time. And it was ESSENTIAL that both partners, lead and follow, maintained that sense of time. Bounce partners must bounce, or be able to move in and out of bouncing in time. It’s both a physical and visual way of staying ‘in time’ with your partner. Musicians don’t need to physically bounce, and lindy hoppers needn’t either, but you must always have an awareness of the timing, and bouncing is fun. The musicians mightn’t bounce, but the music does, and dancers are the music made visible.

The wonderful part of this approach is that anyone can do it. Total beginner dancers can find the beat and keep it.

Where is the ‘key’ in this? I think that the key is the pitch of your dancing. Or the ‘feel’. And you figure it out together. It’s a kind of shared sense of how you will dance together. And you need that moment in closed position at the beginning of the dance to find that shared sense of pitch before you begin dancing.

When I watch Laura and Skye, I feel as though Skye immediately sets out how and who he is, before they even begin. But that Laura doesn’t do that straight away, she doesn’t feel confident enough, so she feels she has to do it over and over again by stealing moments to add her notes. In contrast, Jo and Peter do find this common time and common key, but then there’s still those moments of turn taking, rather than polyrhythm. It’s not a bad thing. It’s fantastic. It’s definitely not a matter of both leads being too autocratic or domineering. I think that it’s more that the follows could use the leads’ clearness and stable ‘leading’ in a different way.

Ok, let’s look at a very clear and simple example of what I mean by layers of rhythm and mutual, collaborative meaning making.

Asa and Daniel do a class recap here:

This is a nice example because it is a class recap, not social dancing, so they are very clearly demonstrating the concepts. In a social setting, this stuff often isn’t this simple. Particularly when you see very good dancers doing it. And I want to make it clear: ‘good’ can be anyone. The skill you really need to pull this off is social skills: communication.

A few simple examples:
0.10 Asa initiates a break step, and Daniel doesn’t do it perfectly in time with her. He doesn’t yank her into stillness, he doesn’t force her to do something else, he doesn’t try to sync up with her. He lets himself be still (which gives her a contrasting still to work with), and then he joins in with the stomp off on ‘and 8′. This little moment works because they share a sense of timing. He’s not ‘bouncing’ hugely and visibly, but his core is engaged, his arms are relaxed, and he clearly shares the timing with her. He is listening, and yet prepared, so when it comes to the end of the 8 he’s ready with the stomp off.
More interestingly, they have a shared sense of jazz conventions: they both know where 8 is, they know that a stomp off is a conventional way to end an 8 (or begin a move – why is 8 the end of a move, instead of the preparation for the next!? It needn’t be!), and they both ‘get back together’ for the final 8 of the phrase. Asa pulls out her rhythm in the penultimate 8 of the phrase, then clearly listens to Daniel as he ‘finishes’ the phrase with a simple circle, and a synchronised rhythm.


It gets better. There is a temptation in choreographing and dancing to let the phrases be unbreachable barriers. You do feel as though you have to ‘finish’ a move at the end of a phrase, then start something new for the next one. Similarly, we often feel we need to ‘start’ on 1. But Frankie didn’t start on 1 all the time – he started where the music said start. If you’ve done the ‘Frankie 89′ choreography, danced to ‘Wednesday Night Hop’, it starts on 7. Because that’s where the music says start.
When we watch Asa and Daniel in this little section of the song, they respond to what’s happening in the beat and the phrasing, but they work across the phrases by continuing jig walks from the last 8 to the first of the next phrase. But the timing of the step changes in the next phrase.

Right here, we see some really complex rhythm work happening, passed back and forth between the lead and follow. It looks and feels a bit like the shouty chorus in a nola jazz song: lots of layers of rhythm and sound. But it all works because both partners share a sense of timing and ‘pitch’.

But things level up.
At 0.30 they dance in side by side, but both dancing completely different rhythms. They don’t sync up again until about 0.41. But they maintain connection. Note how Daniel’s arm around Asa’s back stays connected, but is less intense and demanding. He allows her physical space, but also space in the connection so his body doesn’t demand she dance the same rhythm as him. So they both understand how the points of physical connection allow partners to hear and share where a partner’s weight is (and what the rhythm is – you feel this through the way muscles engage in your partners’ body, a relaxed, rubbery connection clears the line so you can ‘hear’ this, but it all often happens at a subconscious level – you just feel and respond), but they both also understand that you don’t have to be in a state of intense connection all the time. You can be listening and dancing, but not synced up. And then after this, Daniel initiates a different move, and asks for more connection from Asa, and she agrees, and they work the same rhythm together.
If you listen to the music, it’s building in intensity – the melody introduced earlier is emphasised, the little tinkles are joined by a more intense brass section.
The phrasing is important, but it’s not everything.

And, then, when we get to 0.54, we get a very familiar couple of moves: a curl (or around the world) and then points. It happens at a very climactic moment in the music. It’s as though all that rhythmic play before culminates in a couple of 8s of very structured, historic, authoritative movement. Finally, synchronised rhythm. This is the money shot. But then it ends with both partners varying the shapes and energy – so it’s not perfectly synchronised after all. I think this part makes it most clear, and it clearly identifies the sort of revivalist project I want to be involved in.

My revivalist project:

learn and preserve historic steps

understand and practice the values of historic jazz dance: improvisation and jazz music

innovate, change, and bring your own style and personality: polyrhythms and improvisation within musical structure, and with reference to historical steps or a ‘canon’ of authoritative steps

-> in this way we can both recognise and preserve the history of this dance, and yet do something new and innovative
=> in this way we embody the tension of vernacular dance: be in the past, the present and the future at once; embody mindfulness, but also be intellectually active and predictive; innovate and change, but preserve and respect.

You can see here how ‘musicality’ is a complicated thing. It’s about understanding tempo, timing, phrasing, and syncopation. But it’s also about understanding the way an arrangement works across phrases, how different instruments contribute as individuals and as groups and so on. If you allow this sort of polyrhythm work to happen in a dance, you invite the music in.
As we say to our students, the most important parts of lindy hop are taking care of the music, and taking care of our partner.

One of the most obvious results of this approach to lindy hop that I have noticed, is that partners give each other more attention. You HAVE to! Because anything can happen! I have noticed that partners look at each other more, and interact more. Frankie has been telling us this all long: you are in love for three minutes! This is the queen of the world! Doods: YOUR PARTNER IS IMPORTANT. They’re not there to provide/execute a perfect sequences of steps and moves. They are there to be there with you. Whether your dance is a lovely sequence of simple ‘basic’ rhythms, or a storm of rhythm.

I hope you’ve already figured out that this approach is far more than just the formal turn taking of a ‘conversation’ between colleagues. It’s much, much more than ‘I do a variation, you do a variation’. That’s boring. That’s easy. That’s not feminist, either. That’s equality. I don’t want equality. I don’t want to be ‘equal’ or have ‘the same’ as my partner. I want us both to bring what we each have and want in that moment, and I want a shifting, changing relationship. Or else it is TOO BORING.

So how do you level up this approach? In the Harlem Roots track at Herrang, I was in the advanced stream, and after the first day I asked myself: “Is that it?” because we had basically done the same stuff as last year in the mixed level Frankie track. This ‘stuff’ was: listen to your partner, leads don’t demand follows do as you ask; leads expect and allow for follows changing what you are dancing. Follows: bring your shit; you’re not passive in this dance, be present. Stuff we’d all done last year. Yes, it was fun, and it had blown my mind last year, but I wanted more. I figured I’d mastered this.**

I thought that this was just the basic, beginner level stuff. Surely we’d be doing something harder and more challenging in the advanced stream? But then I figured it out: it really is this simple. This is how we play lindy hop. As Lennart says, lindy hop is really a very simple dance. What makes it challenging is what you bring to the dance. Having top shelf physical skills makes you more present. Having a very good understanding of jazz music makes you more present. But because the game is this simple – listen, respond, talk, play – anyone can play. You can have an excellent dance with anyone, so long as they are present and using this approach. Beginner, old timer, international teacher – they’re all great dance partners in this game.

And when I figured this out, it was like I’d been given the best present ever. I got over myself and my ‘is this all there is?’ and I started playing properly. Tempo isn’t an issue, because you don’t have to execute a series of perfect swing outs with the step step triple step rhythm. You can do ANYTHING. I think this is where we have to really LISTEN when we hear old timers say young lindy hoppers don’t do enough half time at higher tempos. The old timers aren’t saying ‘dance half time when it gets fast’, they’re saying ‘stop following these arbitrary rules about how you dance, and start playing with timing and with your partner.’
Rhythm is the best fucking fun ever. And this is why we have to learn to dance on our own. It’s coming at things the wrong way to say ‘you should learn to solo dance to improve your lindy hop’. It’s more that we learn to dance on our own, so that we learn who we are, and what we want to bring to the dance. We develop the skills to contribute to the dance. A musician learns to play their instrument so they can play in a band. I can dance on my own all the time, and that’s great. But it’s dancing and improvising in a band, or in a partnership, that makes it really fun. I think it’s because humans are both highly social, and also really good at pattern matching and problem solving. Improvised jazz music is immensely satisfying and intensely challenging. It ticks our boxes. For me, it grounds me, utterly. I have to be present, utterly and completely present in the moment if I want to lindy hop like this. I can’t be thinking about other things, or wondering about my next dance. I have to be right there with that partner. All the time. They have to be the centre of my world for 3 minutes.
And best of all, this game will never be over. Each dance step or rhythm break I learn becomes another pencil in my pencil case. Each dance is as important as each class, as I learn new things with each partner or teacher or class.

To sum up, I guess I should just show you a video of two dancers doing some mad shit. In this video Ramona and Nick show, in a very simple, obvious way, how you can do both turn taking and layers of rhythm. But, in a demonstration of much more skilled dancing, they move beyond this, building up interest. Best of all, we see how a very good follow can work within a set framework or structure from a clear lead, to build trust on his part, but also to innovate and bring the shit on her part.

They begin (and continue) with clear moments of taking turns with the rhythm, and then doing a little moment of layers of unsynchronised rhythm. This is a clear and simple articulation of what the music is doing.
They then use this musical theme in their broader body movement – a series of pass bys/turns/swingouts where Mona does most of the turns, with moments of extended stretch to match the longer notes in the melody, culminating in Nick doing a couple of tight spins on the spot. It’s excellently simple and effective. But if they’d continued the dance like that, we’d have died of boredom. But they level up.

As the music moves into the next section, they change up how they take turns, and they add more moments of layered rhythm. I think that Ramona is utterly fantastic in these moments. I really, really like the way she responds to Nicks’ smoother less bouncy approach to timing, but doesn’t compromise her own solid pulse or employment and articulation of the beat. She uses gorgeous moments of extended stretch and timing, but also quicker, more concentrated and intense smaller movements.
Nick is initiating these to a certain extent, but it’s as though Mona takes these ideas and this broader framework, and then exaggerates or extends or highlights them. In this way she is working within his clear, solid frame work (ie following a leader), but she does not compromise her own rhythmic variations, nor the way she actually uses her body.
As an example, she takes extended, stretched moments in open, but because she’s a physical machine, she can also respond quickly when she needs to, because she understands how to use graduated modes of engagement. To the audience, this gives us moments of calm and rest to contrast with the intensity. Her body seems calm and restful (because it is – she uses only the muscles she needs), but it can also seem intense and excited (when she engages more muscles in graduated ways, moves faster, changes her timing). I think this is the clearest difference between her dancing and Laura G’s. Laura always seems ON; I’d like to see more gradations of energy, and hence a more textured approach to timing and rhythm.

*middle class: I think most Americans use this term in a different way to we use it here in Australia. What I would term the ‘working class’ is closer to what the Americans call the middle class. So middle class in my discussion here, means having a degree of disposable income, owning a home (with a mortgage), probably tertiary educated (though not necessarily so), having a stable income, living above the poverty line, having a degree of privilege that all this accords. Working class, though, means that you are perhaps struggling more to make ends meet, though you can put food on the table, and pay your bills. Just.

**Oh, the arrogance of the intermediate dancer. I got served, that’s for sure.

I am involved with feminism

Before I went off on my trip last month I did a little interview with the blokes from ‘From the Top’, a radio show produced by ig hop in Vienna.

They’re doing some really interesting work there, with an exciting Dancers in Residence program, the usual round of parties (with unique and A1 art) and classes, and radio show, From The Top.

The radio show is a good one. We have a bunch of lindy hop related podcasts and vlogcasts, but all of them are American, and show a decidedly American bias. To the point that I can’t actually bear to listen to most of them any more. I don’t like to hate on people’s creative projects, but I’m very tired of listening to discussions pitched as discussing ‘the lindy world’, but really only discussing a few people’s experience of contemporary urban American lindy hop. Booooring. The more I learn about lindy hop in Asia, Europe, and the antipodes (of course :D), the more embarrassing some of those American podcasts become. Bros need to travel.

An exception to this cringe is Ryan Swift’s the Track. At first glance, an hour and three quarter long podcast where two people just talk about dancing seems intolerable. Interminable. But Ryan manages to pull it off. Mostly because he chooses interesting people, but also because he’s a master of the well directed casual conversation. I am of course completely biased, because Ryan is an Internet Friend, but in this case, the bias is justified.

But From The Top is exciting. It’s short, just 20, 15 minutes. Professionally edited and presented, with good topics, well-constructed stories, and a far-reaching, open-eyed approach to truly international lindy hop culture. This is no accident. The presenter and producer Alexei Korolyov is a professional journalist, and it really makes a difference. Previous episodes have discussed Health, Well-being and Social Conventions; Being a Swing Musician Today; Regionalism vs Globalisation in Lindy Hop; and Time Traveling back to the ‘swing era’ (you can find them all here on soundcloud.) And they’re all really interesting and good listens.

The latest ep is about Gender Roles in Dance. I think it’s pretty good, but, to be honest, it’s not quite as good as previous episodes, mostly because I think it’s a complicated issue that could have done with a little preamble to define some terms and perhaps set the tone. I guess it did, in a way, but I don’t quite agree with the approach and definitions Alexei takes. But yolo, right? Despite this, I think he takes a very open approach to the issue, and has some interesting guests. This is a good piece, and it does good work.

I really liked hearing from Rebecka DecaVita, a woman dancer I’ve long admired and really wanted to hear speak about these issues. Jo Jaekyeong from Korea is an old friend of mine, and I really liked hearing her speak clearly about her experiences in Seoul, a city and scene I’m currently very interested in. I don’t know Gregor Hof Bauer or Patrick Catuz, and while Patrick’s comments were the ones I found most problematic, I was very interested to hear from some men in this discussion. And men who’d actually done some proper thinking about this issue, beyond the sort of glib jokey rubbish I’ve been hearing on the American podcasts.

It was particularly cool to hear from Gregor, who’s an out gay bloke, speaking about following. This was especially cool, because I do feel that a lot of the American and mainstream lindy hop commentary has been very coyly stepping around the issue of queerasfuck dancing, managing not to have any openly gay peeps speaking in podcasts, vlogcasts, or in public talks. I think this is one of the features of a European production: they simply are more politically and socially progressive than the American productions, so we hear a more grown up and interesting discussion. Or at the very least, this program is better journalism for its presentation of a more diverse range of voices.

I was the other interviewee on the program this month, and I wasn’t all that happy with how I did in the original interview. I feel like I crapped on too much, and could have been more succinct. But Alexei has edited the bejeebs out of me, so I come out of it sounding a lot more coherent than I actually was. Overall, it was exciting and flattering to be asked to be involved (SUPER flattering), and I enjoyed it. I admire Alexei’s work, and it was so nice to be a part of something I admire. Such an honour.

In the rest of this post, I’ll engage with just one part of the podcast, which is really just an accidental language slip. It is where Alexei says (as Laura pointed out) “Sam is actively involved with feminism”. This is a true statement.

It’s also kind of lolsome because I don’t feel like feminism is this thing outside myself (the way this statement implies). Feminism is what I am and do. To say “I am a feminist” is a way of saying “Hey, I think we need to talk about gender and power, and I’m not going to shoosh up about it.” Saying “I am a feminist” is a political act.

For a woman, speaking up like this, expressing discontent and generally disturbing the status quo by not being a quiet, conciliatory woman, is explicitly political. When a man says ‘I am a feminist’, the act itself means something quite different. Because we do exist in patriarchy. For a woman, the very act of speaking up, of dissenting, of being a ‘difficult woman’ is a political act. It’s dissension. It’s dangerous. It’s powerful. So it’s not so much that I am ‘involved with feminism’, it’s that I AM A FEMINIST. I don’t prevaricate, I don’t add caveats or qualifications when I say that. I just am a feminist.

And when I say this, it means that I think that the way we do things is a bit fucked up. I think that there are problems. I think that men have and take advantage of privileges and advantages that women don’t have. Yes, you, white straight guy. I’m speaking to you. I’m saying to you, you have advantages that I don’t. And if you’re not paying attention to that, if you’re not asking why that is so, you are just quietly maintaining the status quo. You are complicit in patriarchy. And I’m not ok with that. I’m not going to let you rest easy on that. I’m going to be the pebble in your shoe. I’m not going to sit down and shoosh. And it’s not going to be comfortable for you. It shouldn’t be. Because patriarchy is not fucking comfortable for me.

Our culture makes things easier for you, men. You have advantages. As I say in that podcast, I doubt anyone says to you, male lead, “Oh, you’re being the boy?” or even comments at all on the fact that someone of your gender is choosing to lead in a workshop. But for me, it is so common it’s normal. But it’s also a constant niggling question of my right to be in a class as a lead. It’s a continual itching doubt that I am a ‘real’ lead. Because apparently real leads are all men. And of course, women are complicit in patriarchy by doing things like policing gender roles by asking women if they are ‘being the boy’, or asking a teacher to have men give up following so they can lead (and rebalance the gender/lead-follow ratio).

So this is why I am not so much ‘actively involved with feminism’ or a feminist project. I am a feminist project. I am feminism. I am a feminist. And feminism is about dissension. It’s about destabilising. It’s about being a good goddamn pain in the arse. I’m quite used to being thought of as a ‘bitch’ or a ‘difficult woman’.
So when I enter professional relationships and interactions in the lindy hop world today, I go in reminding myself that I am awesome. It’s very important to enter these interactions with confidence. With rock solid confidence in your decisions, your ideas, your skills. A lot of confidence. You must be as iron-clad in your determination as a man would be. Even though a man doesn’t have to deal with all the niggling critiques and policing. Because as a woman, you will be confronted or bullied or tested by men.

I saw it happening in Herrang, in a range of contexts – male teachers testing female teachers, male students testing female students, male DJs testing female DJs, male everyone testing female organisers and administrators. Some things that happened to me at Herrang this year and last, as a woman DJ, that didn’t happen to male DJs:
– I had my ‘knobs twiddled’ without permission by other other DJs while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “You need to fix the levels” instead of “Are the levels ok? It’s a bit squeaky where I was?”
– Male DJs physically took up more space than I did in the DJ booth while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “Do you just DJ locally?” instead of just assuming as they do with other men that I was actually an experienced DJ who’d DJed overseas and nationally for years (and hence meant to be there).
– A male DJ described going to DJ blues as “Going to get some pussies wet” in front of me, and blanched a little when I replied “I took a few dance classes today and that did the job for me.” Apparently pussies are things you do things to, rather than things you have for some male DJs.
– Male DJs assumed I was much younger than I am, and were patronising until they discovered my real age (and dancing and DJing experience).

…and there were many more incidences. These were all from male DJs who are very nice guys, who were generally very good to work with. But these are the sorts of micro-incidences that remind me that I am a woman, and that challenge me.

And the only real way to deal with this, as a woman professional in lindy hop, is to say to yourself:

“I am a professional.”
“I know my shit. I am a fucking good DJ/organiser/manager/dancer.”
“Here are my accomplishments, here is my history, where I did a bloody good job.”
“When I speak, I know what I am talking about, so I will speak with confidence, and in declarative statements, not questions.”
“When I make my needs and requirements clear to a man, I know what I’m saying, and I don’t need to justify myself.”
“When I challenge a man for his behaviour, I am doing the right thing. I am in the right. I am justified in my call. And he should respect that.”
“When I am challenged or tested by a man simply because I’m a woman and he’s used to being an alpha in interactions with women I should feel good about stepping up and pushing back. I should – I will – push back.”
“I will not second-guess myself and my actions as an employer or manager. I will not verbally justify my decisions or authority with someone I’ve employed. I am the boss, I’m good at it, and I am here to kick heads and take names.”
“As a woman boss or employer or manager, I don’t have to become a jerkface bloke, or take on hegemonic modes of management or problem solving. I can be collaborative and gentle. I can talk about how I feel, and I can take into account my peers’ feelings. I can be emotionally honest without being manipulative. And I can still be an arse-kickingly good boss. This does not make me weak or unprofessional.”

I also think it’s essential to be supportive of other women. And to remember that men who push or challenge are often feeling a lack of self confidence. The difficult male DJ is feeling doubts about his ability, and not sure you’re a decent manager. So you need to convince him, through your confident manner, that you are capable, and that he can trust you to set reasonable limits and be his guide and manager. Yes, it sucks to have to mother these fucktards (god, emotional labour, much?), but just assume that they’re little babies and need to be babbied.
When you’re working with other women, you need to let them know that you think they’re legit. Sisterhood is powerful, but collaboration is mighty. Lindy hop teaches us how to work with other people in close, emotionally intense partnerships. We can definitely take that to our off-dance-floor professional relationships.

So, yes, I am involved with feminism. In the most intimate of ways. I am a feminist.

DJ slow down and fail

DJ Slow Down And Fail from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

This is an example of how not to play a late night lindy hop set. I started at 4.30am and finished at 7.30am. The first part of the set (35 songs before these ones) were high energy, lots of fun. It was a Tuesday night, which is usually a good night for lindy hop at Herrang, because the main room is slow drag, and people are looking to party. But I managed to kill this night well before it should have ended. Because I was tired, I was sitting down, and I played tired songs.
I really like all these songs, and I like the way they’re combined (though it’s a bit predictable). But they get gradually tireder and slower and less exciting. Bad idea. When it’s that late, you need to keep the energy (if not the tempos) up, so people don’t realise how tired they are. Silly DJ.

PS God I love Jimmie Noone.

(name bpm year band song length)

Deep Henderson 183 2014 Tuba Skinny (Todd Burdick, Western Borghesi, Jon Doyle, Barnabus Jones, Shaye Cohn, Robin Rapuzzi, Erika Lewis) Pyramid Strut 3:12

It’s Tight Like That 144 1928 Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Joe Poston, Alex Hill, Junie Cobb, Bill Newton, Johnny Wells, George Mitchell, Fayette Williams) The Jimmie Noone Collection 2:49

Deep Trouble 161 1930 Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Joe Poston, Zinky Cohn, Wilbur Gorham, Bill Newton, Johnny Wells, Elmo Tanner) The Jimmie Noone Collection 2:49

Davenport Blues 136 1934 Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra (Jack Teagarden) Father Of Jazz Trombone 3:14

Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home 137 1938 Pee Wee Russell’s Rhythm Makers (Max Kaminsky, Dicky Wells, Al Gold, James P. Johnson, Freddie Green, Wellman Braud, Zutty Singleton) The Complete H.R.S. Sessions (Mosaic disc 1) 3:19

Don’t You Leave Me Here 143 1939 Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Jazzmen (Zutty Singleton) Jelly Roll Morton 1930-1939 2:23

Borneo 184 1928 Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra (Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie Margulis, Bill Rank, Chet Hazlett, Irving Friedman, Lennie Hayton, Eddie Lang, Min Liebrook, Hal McDonald, Scrappy Lambert, Bill Challis) The Complete Okeh and Brunswick Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and Jack Teagarden Sessions (1924-1936) (Mosaic disc 02) 3:11

Fan It 151 1936 Bob Wills San Antonio Rose [disc 02] 2:42

Ad Lib Blues 156 1940 Benny Goodman Septet (Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones) Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 2) 3:21

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

Southern Echoes 136 1941 Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra Walk ‘Em 3:19

Meat and Potatoes


I went pretty hard on the heavy, chunky stuff at Herrang this year. Mostly because I was hearing a lot of tinkly cerebral jazz and got a bit bored.
On Wednesday night I DJed a taxi dance for charity, where teachers danced with anyone who’d pay 20 crowns. It was a hard gig. The tempos had to stay low, but I had to keep the energy up and the dancing interesting so the teachers could bring their A game, the punters felt confident to ask them to dance, and we all had fun. So I played lots of favourites:

My Baby Just Cares For Me 120 Nina Simone

Be Careful (If You Can’t Be Good) 121 1951 Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra

Smooth Sailing 118 Ella Fitzgerald

Massachusetts 147 1956 Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall

Splanky 125 1957 Count Basie and his Orchestra The Complete Atomic Basie

Banana Split for My Baby 137 1956 Louis Prima, Sam Butera, Keely Smith

Knock Me A Kiss 147 Louis Jordan

Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby 141 2014 Naomi and Her Handsome Devils (Naomi Uyama, Adrian Cunningham, Matt Musselman, Jake Sanders, Dalton Ridenhour, Jared Engel, Jeremy Noller)

Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 135 1945 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra

Lavender Coffin 134 1949 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker and Joe James

B-Sharp Boston 126 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

Take It Easy Greasy 135 2014 Naomi and Her Handsome Devils (Naomi Uyama, Adrian Cunningham, Matt Musselman, Jake Sanders, Dalton Ridenhour, Jared Engel, Jeremy Noller)

Solid as a Rock 140 1950 Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys

Easy Does It 129 1958 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 )

Walk ‘Em 131 1946 Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra

Shiny Stockings 126 1956 Count Basie and his Orchestra

After that I DJed for a while, and did some of the best DJing I’ve done in ages. I was really proud of myself, and the dancers lost their shit. It was a mix of solid favourites, some of my personal favourites, some less frequently played stuff, and a whole heap of stompy piano.
I began with the hi-fi Ella ‘Jersey Bounce’, then I went solid chunk.

Meat and Potatoes from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.


Tempo de Luxe 130 1940 Harry James New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln, 3:19

Everybody Rock 187 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 3:19

Savoy 166 1942 Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra (Trevor Bacon) Anthology Of Big Band Swing (Disc 2) 3:05

Feedin’ The Bean (Alt-2) 172 1941 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Al Killian, Ed Lewis, Ed Cuffee, Dan Minor, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Tab Smith, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Buster Harding) Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 06) 3:16

The Girl I Left Behind Me 206 1941 Bob Wills San Antonio Rose [disc 10] 2:40

Ridin’ On The L&N 170 1946 Lionel Hampton and his Quartet Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 2:53

Page Mr. Trumpet 167 1946 Pete Johnson, J.C. Heard, Jimmy Shirley, Al Hall, Albert Nicholas, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham Pete Johnson: Complete Jazz Series 1944 – 1946 2:53

Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee 134 1949 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings 3:24

Bearcat Shuffle 160 1936 Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy (Mary Lou Williams) The Lady Who Swings the Band – Mary Lou Williams with Any Kirk and his Clouds of Joy 3:01

Take It 174 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Georgie Auld, Pete Mondello, Bob Snyder, Johnny Guarnieri, Mike Bryan, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03) 3:13

Jesse 224 1939 Harry James and the Boogie Woogie Trio (Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty) Boogie Woogie And Blues Piano Mosaic Select 2:44

Answer Man 143 1940 Harry James New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln, 3:47

Keep On Churnin’ 146 1952 Wynonie Harris Wynonie Harris: Complete Jazz Series 1950 – 1952 2:56

It was interesting seeing how other DJs do things in Herrang, and I was struck by just how great an emphasis the Australian DJs that I admire most place on working the crowd. And how great an emphasis is placed on playing ‘rare’ or ‘hard to find’ stuff by some of the European DJs. There were other DJs at Herrang who’d never have played ‘Keep on Churnin’ or ‘Drinkin Wine’ because they’re too popular or too ‘easy’.
Me, I like to offer dancers invitations to dance – easy, friendly songs that are of a moderate tempo and easy to dance to – so they’ll get up and on the dance floor. And I like to work a tempo/emotional wave so we all get together and feel strong crazy feels together. The tempos in this range are quite moderate, and most of these songs are really easy to find. I have them on collected works CDs, for the most part. And Mosaic make it easy to find the more obscure stuff and go complete.

I think the most important thing a DJ does is make it easy for people to have fun. No wankery, no ‘educating’, ‘challenging’, or ‘pushing’ dancers. Just get up and entertain the peeps. What we do does require skill, imagination, and creativity. But it’s not brain surgery. The goal is simple: get everyone dancing, and then get them dancing til they go crazy. A full floor is just the starting point. The goal is emotional crazitude.

Drop the Basie

I played about 22 hours of music over a week as staff DJ in Herrang. Two of those hours featured Count Basie*.
My favourite was/is ‘Feedin’ the Bean’, I played ‘Shiny Stockings’ the most number of times (3 times), and I had most questions about the Metronome All Star Band’s version of ‘One o’Clock Jump.’ Which is as it should be.

One O’Clock Jump 175 1941 Metronome All Star Band (Cootie Williams, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Tommy Dorsey, J.C. Higginbotham, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Toots Mondello, Coleman Hawkins, Tex Beneke, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Buddy Rich)

Evenin’ 164 1936 Jones-Smith Incorporated (Carl Smith, Lester young, Count Basie, Walter Page, Joe Jones, Jimmy Rushing) 2:57

Solid as a Rock 140 1950 Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys 3:04

Stormy Monday Blues 121 1968 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Mahalia Jackson) 3:50

Pound Cake 186 1939 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Lester Young) 2:46

Sent For You Yesterday 163 1960 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) 3:10

Every Day I Have The Blues 116 1959 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) 3:49

You’re My Baby, You [Vocal Version] 152 1950 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Clark Terry) 2:56

Feedin’ The Bean (Alt-2) 172 1941 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Al Killian, Ed Lewis, Ed Cuffee, Dan Minor, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Tab Smith, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Buster Harding) 3:16

One O’Clock Jump 173 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Bobby Moore, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Freddy Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Eddie Durham) 3:03

Boogie Woogie (I May Be Wrong) 171 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Bobby Moore, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Freddy Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Eddie Durham, Jimmy Rushing) 2:51

Honeysuckle Rose 217 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Joe Keyes, Carl Smith, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Claude Williams, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 3:00

Splanky 157 1966 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:52

Moten Swing 127 1958 Count Basie and his Orchestra 4:51

Jive At Five 147 1960 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:03

Shiny Stockings 126 1956 Count Basie and his Orchestra 5:17

Straight Life 129 1953 Count Basie and his Orchestra 4:33

Basie Beat 179 1952 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:22

Splanky 125 1957 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:36

Blues In Hoss’s Flat 144 1958 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:13

Till Tom Special 176 1939 Benny Goodman Sextet (Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 3:04

Ad Lib Blues 156 1940 Benny Goodman Septet (Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 3:21

*Lionel Hampton came in at 1 hour and 37 minutes, Ellington at 1 hour and 29 minutes. Harry James and Pete Johnson are my new Men.

8 tracks: Australians in Herräng

Some of the songs I played as a staff DJ at Herräng in 2015 that included Australian musicians in the recording.

Australians at Herräng 2015 from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.


Georgia Bo Bo 137 1952 Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band Graeme Bell the AMI Australian Recordings

Tar Paper Stomp 176 2004 Tom Baker’s Chicago Seven (Tom Baker, Don Heap, Lynn Wallis, Roger James, Paul Finnerty, David Ridyard, David Parquette, Paul Furniss) Dixieland Jazz

Flat Foot Floogie 186 2005 Carol Ralph, Paul Furniss, Dan Barnett, Carolyn ‘Pine’ Packer, Geoff Holden, Richard Edser, Anthony Howe Swinging Jazz Portrait

Gone (alternate take) 206 2015 The Skellingtons (Emaon McNelis, Brennan Hamilton-Smith, Steve Grant, Jon Delaney, Mark Elton, Lyn Wallis) Jazz Is Dead Digital Two-Side

Glory, Glory 157 2012 Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts (Justin Fermin, Grant Arthur, Harry Sutherland, Ben Panucci, Sam Dobson) Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts

Tishomingo Blues 128 2005 Carol Ralph, Paul Furniss, Dan Barnett, Carolyn ‘Pine’ Packer, Geoff Holden, Richard Edser, Anthony Howe Swinging Jazz Portrait

Palm Court Strut 132 2012 Baby Soda (Emily Asher, Adrian Cunningham, Kevin Dorn, Jared Engel, Peter Ford, Kevin V. Louis, Satoru Ohashi) Baby Soda Live At Radegast

Honeysuckle Rose 154 2010 Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) Live In Philadelphia

Milenberg Joys 194 2010 Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) Live In Philadelphia

Jazz is fun

I had a little ramble on Leigh’s fb page today. So here it is, where it should be, on my blog, not someone else’s fb page.


Hey, I have to share this photo of our class last night. This was a group of about 40 people, most of whom had never really heard jazz or swing before. It was really exciting when a student asked us to explain who the song we were dancing to was by, and what it was called, because he wanted to go and buy it so he could listen to it again. Right then and there, someone was interested enough to stop a class and ask for details so he could own that music himself.

I love jazz music for its own sake, but jazz dance really is a direct route to jazz love.

I get esp cranky at the implication that jazz is something you sit politely and quietly to or watch. Art should be something anyone get involved in. Whether you’re sitting and listening or up and dancing. Jazz is wonderful because it invites engagement – musicians improvising, audiences shouting out in reply, dancers making it visible.

….there’s something really wonderful about a room full of people discovering jazz for the first time. And the truly magic part of a beginners’ dance class is that this group of people are actively taking hold of jazz and using it, exploring it, figuring out how it works in a practical way. For the very first time! And with such enthusiasm! They learn about swinging timing, about the beat, about phrasing, about breaks, about improvisation in a very relaxed, fun way, by moving their bodies.
It’s kind of the opposite of an institutionalised ‘art’ practice – it’s about taking a music and seeing how useful and practical it can be. Does it make me move? Is it fun? Will it make me happy? Can I work with this? It’s a very rigorous, demanding engagement with music which makes _everyone_ both an art user and _maker_ – audience and creator. And it happens in an ordinary space (the Petersham Bowlo :D), by ordinary people, saying “Hey, musicians, what have you GOT for me? Step up!”
These guys don’t have any time for music that doesn’t bring the feels or the energy, or _something_.

….the creative stuff is wonderful, but the best bit – the bit that makes jazz worthwhile – is that it makes people laugh out loud, talk really loudly, and actively engage with everyone in the room in creative play. It just brings the good goddamm feels.

All this to a recorded song. When it’s a live band. Well. That is just wonderful. There isn’t anything better.

Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven: album review

This is a post about music!

I was approached by Glenn Crytzer a couple of weeks months ago, saying “I’d love to have you do a piece on our new record. Please let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in. Here’s a digital copy of the album for you.”
And there was a digital copy of the album Uptown Jump by Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven.


My review in brief:
Buy this album because it’s good, and it’s only $15. Buy it because you want to tell the band you support what they’re doing and you want them to keep doing it. You want dancers to hear this music and then demand organisers have them play their events. We need this stuff. I know I’d hire them in a heartbeat.
the sound quality is not ok for DJing, unless you are a rockstar DJ at a professionally run event, or just plain lucky enough to have a great local DJing sound set up. If you’re listening at home for pleasure, then fuck all that shit about sound quality and just buy it and LISTEN to it.

My review in extreme length:

As you probably know, this latest Crytzer project was funded by a kickstarter, and I have no idea whether I supported it or not. I’m usually quite happy to buy an album after it’s come out. More importantly, I will almost definitely buy an album if it’s on sale at a band gig. Which is the problem with Crytzer’s bands: they’re only playing in America (and maybe Canada?), which is far away, and not on my ‘to-travel’ list any time soon (soz america). I am all about Korea, as you know. So I will have to enjoy this band in recorded form.

(image source)

This is important, because Crytzer is a dancer (or was – I dunno if he has time to dance these days, what with all the touring and recovering) and plays all the big American dance events. This is a dancer’s band, playing dance music for dancers. I’ve spoken about one particular gig in detail before. His first release, by Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band, Chasin’ the Blues, was popular with dancers, the band’s name an obvious nod to DJ and dancing nerds. But it was the second album Harlem Mad by Glenn Crytzer and His Syncopators that was wildly popular, DJed by people all over the place. Including me. I still hear people DJing ‘Fortunate Love’ with Meschiya Lake on vocals.

(image source)

I think this 2011 recording, combined with the popular live shows, and the presence of the massively popular Meschiya Lake, really was the perfect storm, dropping at just the right time. Lake and all things NOLA were supercrazy popular (and some of us had begun to wail about the lack of big band action at events and in DJ sets), and squishing this charismatic performer into the line up was genius. The music itself managed to combine the rough edges and ‘real’ sound of NOLA with the larger band format and more complex arrangements of a bigger band.


After that, there was Skinne Minne by Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators in 2011. This album used what many dancers would describe as an ‘authentic’ recording sound. Simply put, it sounds like an olden days recording. And I will be very blunt here: it was unDJable. This is a terrible shame, because it was recorded live at Lindy Fest, and the songs are just great. It feels exciting and fun. There are a couple of musical rough spots, but who cares – it FEELS LIKE LINDY HOP! But I have only DJed from it perhaps once or twice, ever. Because I tend to DJ in shitty halls with shitty sound gear, and if I’m going to take a risk on a ‘poor quality’ recording, I’ll go with Ellington or Basie or Hamp.


In fact, my experience with this album was so disappointing, I didn’t even buy the next album, Focus Pocus by the Savoy Seven, and featuring all original compositions. Listening to it right now, I feel like a total fool. This has a more conventionally ‘modern’ recording sound, but definitely still feels ‘old’. In fact, I’m buying it now. And you should too, because it’s only $7. Crazy.
It’s worth mentioning the christmas album A Little Love this Christmas, because lindy DJs are often looking for christmas themed music, and Glenn has gone and made some that’s actually good. Buy this too.


Ok, so what does all this have to do with the new album? I think it’s important, because Crytzer is now a well-known name and band in the lindy hop scene, particularly on the more competitive big American event circuit. DJs and dancers aren’t as likely to cut him some slack now. The ‘authentic’ earlier swing sound is a bit more common, and we are pickier. We are less likely to tolerate poor quality recordings.

This is, of course, the first thing I noticed about the new album Uptown Jump. It uses an ‘old style’ recording technology. And I did groan. No matter how great the songs are, they’re going to be up against all those old masters again. It isn’t fair, it’s uncool, it’s even ungrateful to think like that. But this is the bottom line for a swing DJ: it has to sound good on a sound system in a crowded or empty room. And every modern band is competing with a mythic ‘golden age’ of swing.

Listening to it over the following couple of weeks and talking about it with my DJing friends, the general consensus was: great album, unworkable sound ‘quality’. It’s very unfair, because this is an album of original compositions that are actually quite good. These days when I hear a band introduce an ‘original’, I cringe a little. There’s some really bad shit out there. But the actual songs on this are pretty bloody good. They are properly in keeping with musical history (for the most part), they swing, they make great dancing. I just can’t hear them properly! ARGH!
As a friend said, I wish I could have a copy of ‘clean’ master. I’d DJ the shit out of that.

Even the album itself – the song order – is perfect for dancers. Good range of tempos, good range of styles and feels.
The musicians are all great too:
Mike Davis, tpt
Evan Arntzen, cl/ts
Dan Levinson, ss/as/ts
Jesse Gelber, pno
Glenn Crytzer, g/vcl/ldr
Andrew Hall, sb
Kevin Dorn, d
It’s a 7 piece – not too big, not too little – and there are musical moments that make me squee. Everything is here, but I can’t hear it!

Of course, I do have severely fucked up hearing from all these years DJing and dancing. And I am a picky DJ. Who has to play on some of the worst sound gear and in some of the worst rooms ever. I’m no pampered ILHC DJ, that’s for sure :D .
But I’m also a DJ who collects and plays a lot of modern bands, so I’ve heard a lot of different modern recording set ups. Some have sucked big time (there was one Tuba Skinny album that was pretty darn bad. But when I listen to something like the latest Tuba Skinny album Pyramid Strut, with a lovely, lovely warm studio sound – each instrument right THERE in the room – and that really nice, energetic street jazz musician camaraderie… I get sad about this Crytzer recording.

But let’s talk about authenticity. That is the point of Glenn’s approach to the production process. Dude had a VISION, and we need to engage with that. Glenn responded to a fairly lively discussion about the new album on facebook with this great post Low-fi.
I like that he begins with the term ‘lo-fi’. Because fidelity is, of course, the idea of ‘trueness’ or faithfulness to truth, honesty, exactness of a copy, realness. This is what we are all about with recreation in lindy hop: we are looking for ‘realness’. Authenticity. We value ‘realness’ in so many ways in the lindy hop scene, from historically accurate choreography to bringing ‘real’ feels in a dance competition (the argument about improvisation vs choreography following Lindy Focus is an example of this). The key tension seems to be between recreating music/dance/art in minute detail and accuracy, and tempering that with recreating the intentions of the original artists. So we may recreate the lindy hop routine in Hellzapoppin’ to pinpoint accuracy, but miss the point that these guys valued making shit up – invention and improvisation

I have written about recreationism in the lindy hop scene approximately one million times, most recently about DJing in Herrang, land of recreationist obsession. There are good things about being an obsessive recreationist, and there are bad things. And there are interesting things that are worth talking about.

So let’s accept the premise of Glenn’s project: this is recreationism. Let’s engage with the album on those terms, lets talk about those interesting things.
One of the things I like about this album is that it’s a smaller band. I am a massive fan of Ellington’s small groups, the Goodman/Hamp small groups, John Kirby’s groups… and so on. I really like the way a small group – in the swing era, peopled by musicians who also played in big bands – allowed a band to explore more complex, more ‘modern’ arrangements and vibes. A lot of the guys in these groups went on to do bop and modern music. And each band allowed each musician a unique style and real role in the band.

Listening to Crytzer’s band, it definitely sounds like a swing era small group. Sometimes to the point of… um… homage? Take the song ‘Road to Tallahassee’. It sounds very similar to the Ellington small group recording of ‘Ain’t the Gravy Good’ (credited to Cootie Williams and his Rugcutters). Cootie’s an interesting example, because he had such a distinct sound, and Ellington’s band played arrangements that were developed just for Cootie, with parts that showcased his style.

This seems the point of this recording by the Savoy Seven, though. To do homage to these groups. And that’s what they do. There’s nothing wrong with that – we dig it! But there are moments on this album, though, where I feel they don’t give enough love and attention to developing their own sound.

Let’s have a look at something Glenn says in that tumblr post about the recording process for this album:

The modern “standard” way to record an album these days is to put mics very close to every instrument to isolate their sound. In fact sometimes the instruments are even put into separate rooms with the musicians listening to each other through headphones to create total isolation. Using this technique everyone doesn’t even have to play at the same time!

This creates the sound we’re all used to in the 21st century – the sound of rock and pop music. It’s very bright, the instruments each sound very clearly like themselves and are isolated from each other, the sound can push the speakers really hard because the signal is super intense.

There were also some technologies that were available but were not used – by the 1940s the technology existed to put a mic on every instrument in the studio – but they chose to still use just a couple of mics – to let the sounds blend and then to record that. To me, that’s a cue that the natural blending and balancing of sounds was really important to band leaders. (link)

I like this point. I really like this idea of the importance of recording musicians who are all playing together in one room. It gets closer to capturing that sense of group is so central to jazz music, to improvised music!

I’m not sure this album as a whole is quite there. I don’t think the actual relationships between the instruments in each song are quite right. There’s something about the to-and-fro of musicians in Goodman’s small group that is unique. Their ways of taking turns, replying to each other, and interacting, reflect the dynamics and personality of the group. Goodman is the boss, but you hear him say “Ok, bring your shit. Let’s ignore all this segregation shit. You are GOOD, I am GOOD, let’s make the best fucking music ever.” And they all step up. You hear their personalities in their style and way of interacting to each other.
In Crytzer’s band, I hear people ‘taking turns’, having their say, rather than having a living conversation. A living conversation can involve interruption, call-and-response and collaborative meaning making. It doesn’t have to be this mannered, overly polite formal turn taking.

Do we have to sacrifice the clarity of sound to get that feeling of togetherness? Of course not. Nor do we have to push for that super-bright, ‘harsh’ sound that Glenn finds a bit much (and which I also find a bit much). The Tuba Skinny Pyramid Strut album is a good example of a modern recording that has real depth and warmth, but still manages sharp lightness when it needs to.

Does a modern recording have to have that particular recorded sound to be authentic? Here let’s look at a band that is almost ridiculously hardcore in their attention to historical detail. The Hot Jazz Alliance, recording their forthcoming album:

Milenberg Joys – The Hot Jazz Alliance The ‘Hot Jazz Alliance’ recording their debut album at ‘HiHat Studios’, April 2014. Michael McQuaid – clarinet, Jason Downes – alto sax, Andy Schumm – cornet, Josh Duffee – drums, John Scurry – banjo, Leigh Barker – string bass.
Sounds old, but isn’t. Different style of jazz to Glenn’s album, but I think my point is clear: it’s a pleasure to hear old music with that clarity of sound brought by modern technology. But we’ll wait and see what their recording is like.

Let me just finish off with a bit of attention to the songs themselves. Do they carry that same commitment to ‘old’ – recreationism? Is Glenn’s band pulling off this grand project?

I’m going to start with the song ‘Smokin’ that Weed’.
Songs about vipers, chasing the gong, and plain old garden variety tea are a dime a dozen in the jazz world. They don’t call them jazz cigarettes for nothing. But this one… hm. The lyrics are just too obvious, and it leaves the song feeling kind of juvenile. Sure, there were some dumb, obvious songs written in ye olden days about drugs. And sex. And food. But many of the songs about dope from the swing era (particularly for mass release) could be very clever, hiding their drug references in innuendo, metaphor and word play. Part of the pleasure of these songs is getting away with something naughty. so ‘Smokin’ that Weed’ could have been a bit…cleverer? Subtler?

I also find the lyrics of ‘Smokin’ that Weed’ and their delivery a bit too… intense. Which conflicts with the vibe of ‘floatin’ in the sky’. The accenting and pacing of the first lines is uncomfortable, and the emphasis on “suckin'” is too harsh and sharp:

Do you like the vipe
suckin’ on that pipe,
it gets ya feeling tight
aw smokin’ that weed

This song has real potential. The first, brassy notes remind me a lot of Herb Morand and the Harlem Hamfats, who of course recorded ‘If You’se a Viper’, a song that’s been very popular with American dancers over the years. This is a clever touchstone for Crytzer’s band. The Hamfats have jazzcred, being relatively obscure and yet still featuring a few very good musicians (like Buster Bailey, Rosetta Howard, Alberta Smith, etc). But the vocals in ‘Smokin’ that Weed’ aren’t right. If you listen to someone like Rosetta Howard singing ‘If Youse a Viper’, her pronounciation is mellow and relaxed, just as it should be if you’re chilling with a spliff.
But in ‘Smokin’ that Weed’, they’re rushing to get the joke out, and it feels a bit forced and eager to me. Not quite cool enough. More to the point, I’m not sure what the joke is, exactly. They’re basically just giggling about singing a song about smoking weed.

I guess what I’m saying is that this song lacks subtlety and nuance. Which I think is my quibble with a lot of the songs on this album, and with the general recreationist vibe. It’s not subtle. I need a little more nuance to really dig this. And it needs a little more sophistication to pass as properly ‘authentic’ in both tone and content.

What about the other songs? My favourite song is ‘Glenn’s Idea‘, because I like the piano in there. It reminds me very of all those nice small swing era groups. I’d certainly play ‘Savoy Special‘ for dancers, because it comes in strong and exciting and continues that way. ‘Missouri Loves Company‘ is definitely my sort of song, and I love it. To be honest, I’m a girl for instrumentals. Unless you’re the Hot Club of Cowtown and you have a voice like Whit Smith‘s on hand.

So, in sum, as I said up there at the beginning, buy this. It’s worth it. The musicians are good, it’s great dance music, it’s all good. But I’m disappointed by the sound ‘quality’, and I can’t DJ it at my regular gigs. :(

Milenberg Joys

Here are four bands playing Milenberg Joys. They all have quite different styles.
This is an interesting set of bands because they include some of the bigger name/most popular musicians of the moment, but each version has a distinct style, even though the bands have some members in common.

The Hot Jazz Alliance

The ‘Hot Jazz Alliance’ recording their debut album at ‘HiHat Studios’, April 2014. Michael McQuaid – clarinet, Jason Downes – alto sax, Andy Schumm – cornet, Josh Duffee – drums, John Scurry – banjo, Leigh Barker – string bass.

This is the most recent, and the band is pretty darn good. All the musicians have great projects on the boil, and they’re all Australian (Melbournian!), bar Josh Duffee and Andy Schumm. I have mad feels for John Scurry’s playing. I like this version a lot, but there are times when the band feels a bit square. You can see the drummer Josh Duffee has moments where he’s kind of pushing them to let go a little. This feel is probably because they’re playing in a studio, on camera, as they’re all usually a little rowdier in person. Except Michael McQuaid, who is very rarely rowdy :D This is very definitely ‘recreationist’ and has a very solidly ‘authentic’ feel.
The Hot Jazz Alliance have a new album coming out soon. Keep an eye out – it’ll be great.

The Milenberg Joys – Dan Levinson’s New Millennium All Stars – Hot Steamed Jazz Festival 2012

Dan Levinson’s New Millennium All Stars ( play at the 2012 Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex CT (

Dan Levinson – Reeds
Andy Schumm – Cornet
Matt Musselman – Trombone
Gordon Webster – Piano
Molly Ryan – Guitar and Vocals
Rob Adkins – Bass
Kevin Dorn – Drums

I think of this as a very New York combination of musicians. Again, great stuff. But also a bit more into the ‘swing era’. At first the drumming annoyed me with all the hihat action, but then I understood. Webster is of course a dancers’ favourite (though I feel he might just have passed his apex), and this solidly swinging style makes for great lindy hop. I can’t really understand how that crowd of greybeards can just sit there, utterly still while all this is going on onstage.


Clint Baker (cornet), Marc Caparone (cornet), Howard Miyata (trombone and euphonium), Mike Baird (clarinet), Dawn Lambeth (piano), Katie Cavera (banjo), Paul Mehling (bass), and Jeff Hamilton (drums)

This is a much rowdier performance, partly because of the instrumentation, but also because this is midway through a megajazzfan party, so they’re all warmed up. I think of this grouping as more San Francisco inspired, probably because of Clint Baker’s presence. Baker has been doing a lot of work with SF dancers over the past few years, including mentoring musician-dancers. When I listen to this, I think of that ‘new orleans revival’ sound that was big in the 50s. It has an old school vibe, but it swings pretty seriously. There’s different stuff happening in the drums again. As busy as the previous performance, and nowhere near as sparse as the first clip.


Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Lopeman, reeds; Rob Adkins, string bass.

This performance is different again. The Ear is a New York restaurant bar that squeezes a very good band into a tiny space, and the crowd may or may not listen to them at all. But you can be sure they bring the business. This performance has a chilled vibe again, but they bring the shit, and they’re really digging on each other.
Note the lack of drummer, but presence of bowed bass! Nerdgasmic!

While we’re talking strings, it’s intresting to see which bands use banjos v guitars. The first is definitely a banjo outfit (though John Scurry is a JOY on guitar as well), the second uses guitar, the third banjo, and the final guitar. The replacement of banjo with guitar is usually a cue to dancers that we’re going to hear a more swinging, later sound. Same goes for replacing tuba with bass – the bass replaced tubas in a lot of bands. All four instruments have different aesthetics, styles, and modes of playing which affect the ‘feel’ for dancers. If there’s banjo + tuba, you’re thinking more uppydowny, and if there’s guitar + bass, you get a little deeper in the pocket, more lateral momentum and a ‘swingier’ feel that makes you get into your swingout like Frankie.

You might have noticed that two of these videos were filmed by Jazz Lives. Michael Steinman is a generous, thoughtful jazz fan and author, who’s written about his approach to filming jazz in his post Expanding the community. I recommend his site. Just nail your wallet shut before you start browsing.