Category Archives: music

Sea of Rhythm rambling

I’ve just had a LOVELY weekend at Sea of Rhythm, a new dance event held in Melbourne. Run by Rhythm Tap, a group who do the sort of tap that lindy hoppers like, the program was intended to bring together dancers who were interested in dances of the African diaspora. Not that the event was pitched like that. It was literally pitched as a ‘sea of rhythm’ event, where dancers would come and immerse themselves in rhythm-based dances for a weekend. That meant African (Senegalese) dance and drumming, lindy hop, rhythm tap, historic solo jazz dance – all the good stuff!
I’ve been to a few of these sorts of weekends before, but this one was different for a couple of reasons. The most important of which was that the teachers and performers weren’t just random people from around town. They were top shelf dancers and teachers. The other key reason for the success of the weekend, was that the teachers were all approaching dance from the same ideological position. They see dance as an embodiment of music, or more specifically, they approach all dance as rhythm first.

This approach to dance has become quite popular in the mainstream lindy hop community lately (and isn’t that a strange thing to write – ‘main stream lindy hop’), but it’s something the Swedes have been talking about forever, and they’ve been talking about it because they’ve always worked very closely with the old timers – Frankie Manning, Al Minns, Norma Miller and so on. And the African American dancers always put the music first. Lindy hop hasn’t been well served by that deviation into ‘smooth’ and heavily technique-focussed teaching in the early 2000s. That movement away from hot jazz, and that strange emphasis on ‘connection’ took us a little too far from the roots of lindy hop.

I’ve very interested in talking about ‘rhythm’ as a teaching tool. I think that it’s very useful for teaching beginners the essentials.

Bounce (that’s the beat, or the time of the song) teaches us how to swing and stay in time, but also teaches us how to find a common point of reference for our partnership, so we can stay in time together. It’s also a powerful tool for teaching people to engage their cores (and relax their upper bodies as a consequence), and to improve their fitness (because it’s physically more work). It’s also – I very strongly believe – the most basic way for two people to dance together. You can just hold each other in your arms and bounce on the spot, and you’re dancing. It’s also (to get a bit essentialist here – I apologise), quite primal to bounce up and down to music with another person. Watching Josette Wiggins tap this weekend, heavily pregnant, I kept thinking: that is the point of this. We know how to do this, right from birth.

I also have quite a manically obsessive hatred of dancing that rushes the beat. Especially since taking tap classes. It really, REALLY shits me to have people in class rush the beat and make a basic rhythm speed up. Teaching, we see beginners do that at first (because humans do), but everyone of them can stop doing it within half an hour of their first class. If I’m in an intermediate or advanced lindy hop class and people speed up, I want to SCREAM. Because the people who do this are the people who don’t bounce.

Tap dancers don’t bounce, but they do have a shared sense of time. Bouncing is kind of a cheat, because it makes it easier to feel and find that shared sense of time. Tappers have that sense of time in their brains and bodies.

Teaching ‘steps’ or ‘footwork’ as rhythms instead is very exciting. Straight away, the students learn that rhythms are central to what we do, not just an add-on to the shapes or ‘moves’. And lindy hop is special: the syncopation of the triple step is so important.
After the speeding up of basic rhythms, I really hate it when people flatten out a syncopated rhythm. I think it’s something to do with tighty whitey dancing: lindy bro leads are the absolute worst for rushing the beat and flattening out syncopation. I know that follows tend to be a bit more behind the beat, but PLEASE: TAKE CARE OF THE RHYTHM! It feels so naff – why are you rushing?
I feel as though this issue is related to the tension between hot and cool in African American and African dance. Be cool. I’ll need to think more about that, though, before I can articulate it properly.

Scatting is essential. Again, the Swedes have always done it, because the old timers have always done it. Norma Miller rants about it. And I’ve transitioned almost completely to teaching entirely without counts in class. It’s a joy. I scat all the time now, to the point that I can’t actually turn it off when I dance.
I generally find that ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8′ even with ‘ands’ in there simply aren’t complex enough tools for describing what happens in jazz dance. The beats don’t divide evenly into single beats or half beats. Just syncopation alone is far more complex. There’s a difference just between the timing of a stomp off and a triple step that counts can’t reflect. I find it much more useful to use sounds that sound like the way a movement feels. Which I guess is like reverse-engineering dancing to music. So if we do start with the music first, a musician plays a series of notes in a particular way, and then I find a way to make that sound visible with my body. Counts don’t really come into it.

I suppose what I’m really talking about is a profound ideological shift in approaching dance. From a very anglo-western, ‘scientific’ concert/performance approach, to a more ‘African’ or African American vernacular approach. From thinking about dance and music as things to be performed, watched and consumed, to things that should be created, participated in, enjoyed, eaten up and shared.

I wrote about ‘pavlov’s lindy hopper‘ a little while ago, where I talked about how watching other people dance does things to your brain: it fires you the bits of your brain that perform those movements. Particularly if you’re familiar with those movements. Dancers often talk about not watching dance clips before bed because it fires you up.
I suspect that scatting works this way. When we scat, we physically make the sound that the music makes, and that triggers something in our brains. So we move from just ‘observing’ or ‘consuming’ music, to participating in music. If dancing is a way to participate in music, then scatting is the natural bridge between the two. Or more usefully, it’s the olive oil that marries the flavours.

WHAT does all this have to do with Sea of Rhythm?
Well, I think that this is the HEART of what was happening. We know that tap dancing is a way for dancers to ‘join the band’, to make the sounds that they are dancing, rather than just ‘making sound visible’, they ‘make visible sound’. In the African dance class on the weekend, I think that this process was made very simple and clear.

We began by sitting in a circle, with our feet in, and this was called the ‘circle of life.’ Now, if you’re immediately made uncomfortable by that sort of talk, you might want to get a grip. It’s not so much hippy talk as a different way of talking and thinking about the role of music and dance in everyday life, from another culture. Anyone who’s been to a lindy hop class knows how important circle formations are to group dynamics. When I was tutoring, I’d make all the students sit in a circle, because it made it much easier to manage behaviour problems: people wouldn’t be able to sit in the back and dick around. They had to be right there, facing everyone, and accountable for everything they said and did. They had to be part of the group. And anyone who’s ever done a big apple (called or social) knows how circles make you feel. And of course, ring shouts make the roots of Africa so clear. All the tap classes over the weekend used circles as well – we’d stand in a circle and take turns doing step or a time step. And haven’t we all seen how a jam circle works? What it does to our brains and bodies to be leaning into a circle when the music is hot?

In our African dance class, we all sat in the circle of life, and our teacher was there, with us, part of that circle. Our teacher, but one of us. He explained what we’d be doing, and what his background was, and how things worked.
Then we moved to another part of the room, where the drums were set up in a circle. We all took a drum (or shared one), and began learning some simple drumming techniques. Our teacher would say something like ‘the rain is coming, gently’, and he’d tap a gentle tappity tap, and we’d just join in. And so on. The important points: he’d just begin, and we’d just join in. Then we stood up and started learning a routine. Our teacher would drum and we’d dance. I didn’t have any moments of feeling shy or uncomfortable. It was really fun, and we all felt really excited by this stuff.

I knew that this would be fun and exciting, but I didn’t quite anticipate what it would mean to have my teacher drum. He could vary the tempo, the length of time we spent doing each step, and how we felt. It was very exciting. And because we’d first learnt to drum the rhythms ourselves, it was as though we’d skipped scatting and gotten straight to the heart of it.

This was really the message of the whole weekend: we have to take care of the rhythm. It was also made very clear that we each had a responsibility to make the rhythms clear and sharp. Each of our teachers worked on us with this: our tap teachers, our African teacher, our solo jazz teachers, our lindy hop teachers. You have to properly understand the rhythm, before you can dance it. Or rather, you can only really understand the rhythm if you dance it.

This meant that the entire weekend the focus in all the classes wasn’t so much on ‘learning a move’ and then perfecting it, as learning a rhythm (or creating one!) and then figuring out just how many different ways you could dance it. Of course, the unspoken (and occasionally spoken) emphasis here was on individual personality and creativity, but in a collective environment. It’s quite an exciting approach, because mixed level classes suddenly become a real advantage: here is a room of people who are really diverse and different, which means you have a WHOLE ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE to inspire you, that you can suck inspiration from, who’ll fire up your creativity. How will you make this rhythm work with someone who’s never danced before? Or when I was was dancing with a pre-teen boy tap dancer in a beginner lindy class: how do I make this work with someone half my height and feeling weird about holding a grown woman in his arms?

I think it goes without saying that all weekend there was this absolute TRUTH that there is no distinction between ‘solo dancing’ and ‘partner dancing’. Even when we were dancing alone – or perhaps most when we were ‘dancing alone’ – we were actually part of a group, dancing together. This is where that whole thing about speeding up the tempo comes in: we were a group, so we all had a responsibility to take care of that rhythm and not speed it up or flatten out the swing or syncopation. Tap made this particularly clear, because we could hear the differences, and we had to bring everyone with us. It was a marvellous tension between uniformity and diversity. We had to be together, but we also had to be uniquely ourselves. We had a responsibility to contribute to the group, and to be responsible for our own actions. This approach meant that respecting each other was just taken for granted.

And the best part is that when we come back to our lindy hop, we can still throw down and do solid, hardcore lindy hop. No hippy stuff; just fucking hardcore lindy hop. All this stuff sort of fills in the backgrounds and body of our dancing.

It was quite a magical experience, really. It reminded me so much of the Frankie stream at Herrang. This is what it means to be a jazz dancer.

MRP

Leigh’s shared a video of the Melbourne Rhythm Project musicians and dancers warming up.

The thing that interests me about this aspect of the MRP, is that dancers and musicians get to work together in everyday spaces, not just performances or parties. They get to be a part of each others’ ordinary work and social activities. Which means musicians get to be a part of the particularly collegial work environment of lindy hop jazz dance, and dancers to be a part of musicians’ focussed work practices and group improvisation.
I think it’s this stuff that makes these projects special. It changes cultures of jazz dance and jazz music in everyday, ordinary ways. And vernacular dances and music are everyday cultural practices.
…the final performance on the night seems almost incidental to this important stuff.

8tracks: Live shows and radio transcripts

Live shows and radio transcripts from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

linky

Goin’ To Chicago Count Basie and his Orchestra (Jimmy Rushing) 95 1941 Cafe Society Uptown 1941 3:46

Fine And Mellow Mal Waldron and the All-Stars (Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Hinton) 79 1957 The Sound Of Jazz 6:22

Deep Trouble Les Red Hot Reedwarmers 179 2006 King Joe 2:55

Puttin’ On The Ritz Mona’s Hot Four (Dennis Lichtman, Gordon Webster, Cassidy Holden, Nick Russo, Jesse Selengut, Dan Levinson, Tamar Korn) 185 2009 Live at Mona’s 7:49

Washington and Lee Swing Shotgun Jazz Band 244 2013 One Drink Minimum 6:02

Lady Bug Picnic The Palmetto Bug Stompers (Seva Venet, John Rodli, Washboard Chaz, Will Smith, Jack Fine, Robert Snow, Paul Robertson, Bruce Brackman) 220 2009 Live @ D.B.A. 4:41

Shake It And Break It Sidney Bechet & The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street 219 1940 Radio Broadcast 1:53

Blues (My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me) Wilbur De Paris and his Rampart Street Ramblers 153 Dr. Jazz Vol. 7 5:35

Savoy Blues Kid Ory 153 1953 Kid Ory Plays The Blues 4:28

The Minor Goes A-Muggin’ Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra 188 1944 Carnegie Hall V-Disc Session April 1944 3:53

For Dancers Only Jimmie Lunceford and his Harlem Express 177 1944 Live at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri 2:23

Flying Home Woody Herman and his Orchestra 231 1944 Woody Herman and the First Herd. Vol 1 Live in 1944: Woodchopper’s Ball 3:08

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

Stompin’ At The Savoy Glenn Miller’s G.I.s (Peanuts Hucko, Mel Powell, Bernie Priven, Joe Schulman, Ray McKinley, Django Reinhardt) 162 1945 Glenn Miller’s G.I.s in Paris 1945 2:53

Honeysuckle Rose Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) 215 1938 Yacht Club Swing 1938 Jazz Archives no.40 3:44

C-Jam Blues Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 185 1949 At The Hollywood Empire 3:23

Roll ‘em Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Gene Krupa) 1937 Benny Goodman: The Complete Madhattan Room Broadcasts (vol 1: Satan Takes a Holiday) 5:18

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

Main Stem Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 216 At The Hurricane 3:00

Two O’Clock Jump Harry James and his Orchestra 187 1943 Harry James: Complete Jazz Series 1942 – 1944 3:59

Loose Wig Freddie Slack and his Orchestra 154 1944 Freddie Slack and His Orchestra 4:20

The Harlem Stride Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 199 1939 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 3:29

Well, Git It! Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra 259 1943 Well, Git It! 2:35

Stompin’ At The Savoy Benny Goodman Sextet (Johnny White, Powell, Bryan, Spieler, Johnny DeSoto) 153 1946 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra: Stompin’ at the Savoy 3:47

Stealin’ Smack’s Apples Glenn Miller’s G.I.s (Peanuts Hucko, Mel Powell, Bernie Priven, Joe Schulman, Ray McKinley, Django Reinhardt) 175 1945 Glenn Miller’s G.I.s in Paris 1945 2:36

I Simply Adore You Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Herman Autrey, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) 165 1938 Yacht Club Swing 1938 Jazz Archives no.40 2:35

Ain’t Misbehavin’ Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra (George Washington, Dexter Gordon,Luis Russell, Charles Mingus) 142 1943 Louis Armstrong and his Sensational Big Band ‘On The sunny side of the street’ Live in ‘43 5:11

Topsy Count Basie and his Orchestra 190 1941 Cafe Society Uptown 1941 3:37

Moten Swing Count Basie and his Orchestra 125 1959 Breakfast Dance And Barbecue 5:17

Jazz BANG bands: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet

music

I have to write some posts about the music at Jazz BANG.

The weekend was quite full on for me, as I overcommitted myself and failed to follow the first rule of event management: delegate, delegate, delegate. But even though I was utterly exhausted by the end, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My cheeks cramped from smiling by Sunday. People came with such a willingness to lol and learn and have fun, such a determination to be delighted by each other, I was quite overcome by the good will. I think some of the good vibes came from people’s willingness to try something new: no one else had run such a large scale solo jazz weekend, and Sydney hasn’t hosted a big event in a while, so it felt new. Though, for Sydney people, it was really just like a particularly big Little Big Weekend. The local volunteers and managers are such freeking NINJAS they just fronted up as per usual, and pounded out a top shelf event like it was nothing.

I feel the music was the most successful part of the weekend. We used four bands and four DJs, with only one DJed late night party. I put quite a lot of thought into the live music program, and hand-picked bands and musicians I thought would do a great job. It was a bit of a financial risk to hire so many bands, but I think it really paid off. The event felt more professional and top shelf, and I think we really took the social dancing element to great heights. Jazz BANG was pitched as a solo dance weekend, but I wanted to make the parties feel like places where you could dance however you liked, so I needed bands that really welcomed dancers onto the floor and made it easy to DANCE.

I tried to present this idea of dance and music as one thing in all the promotional material, in the class program, in the structure of the weekend, and in the way I worked with the DJs and musicians. I wanted to work with band leaders not as interchangeable blocks to be bought and paid for, but as active participants in the project. Hence this promotional image: JazzBangLogo-smaller

I feel weird claiming credit for the bands, so please, let me make it clear: I see my role in these things as bringing the right people together. I look for people who have the right skills, the right passions, and a willingness to work with other people and try new things. More specifically, I look for creative people who really relish creative partnerships that are challenging and interesting. Then I just try to put them in a room together, and ask them to make people crazy with fun.
All these people just rise to the challenge. I love, LOVE it when I can see their brains fire up, and their skills and passion take over. People take my weirdo suggestions and just go nuts. I mean, I told Lennart my sneaky political goal for the weekend was to convince people that solo jazz and lindy hop are really the same thing, working together, not separate disciplines. And then he did some stealth politicising. I asked Marie to draw on her chorus line experience to develop an exciting set of classes strongly rooted in historic dance, and she came through like a GUN. I asked a bunch of musicians and dancers to just talk about why they think Basie’s band was important, and then just let them go. And they did AMAZING things!

And of course, then I ask a couple of hundred people to come join in. And they DO! They all turn up saying YES! Let’s TRY THIS! And then they engage! They really ask questions, and demand to be challenged, and thoroughly test out these concepts and ideas. Then they take these things as just beginning points, and go on and do really fucking wonderful stuff on their own, in their own cities, with people in other cities, with other dancers. It fucking thrills me. And they do it with such a sense of fun and enthusiasm, I’m just overwhelmed. I think that jazz is wonderful: the way it combines improvisation and structure, all wrapped in a light, joyful, exciting enthusiasm.

I just feel so excited about being able to work with such talented people! It’s such a pleasure – it’s so exciting! I feel my own creative juices fire up, and I come away from these projects really inspired and excited. Not just about dancing, but about music and running projects, and generally doing all sorts of creative work. I’m just SO LUCKY!

Anyways, enough of that hippy feeltalk. Let’s talk about the first band.

Friday evening: Andrew Dickeson’s Swingtet (Brad Child (sax), Jim Pennel (guitar), Peter Locke (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass), Andrew Dickeson (drums). And with guest trumpeter Eamon McNelis from Melbourne.)

I wanted a small, swinging combo for the Friday night, because I wanted to kick off the weekend with a ‘friendly’, accessible band that made people think ‘this is going to be FUN’ right from the very first moment. I wanted songs that would be ‘easy’ to dance to, that invited people onto the dance floor. So I wanted stuff that was built for lindy hop. No djank, no street jazz, just solid swinging jazz. And that’s what I got.
That gig was co-opting our regular fortnightly social dance, which always includes lots of beginners. So I wanted a beginner-friendly band (ie swinging, classic jazz, not pre-jazz or anything too hot), and I wanted a band leader who really understood how swing works. Andrew Dickeson was that man. He responded with enthusiasm to my ideas about playing for dancers, so I figured this would be fun.
I wanted a band made up of Sydney’s more experienced musicians. The guys who play around town a lot, and tend to get overlooked because they’re occasionally over-exposed. I’d seen Adrian Cunningham pull a brilliant performance from some of them at Rug Cutters’ Swing earlier in the year, and I had a feeling a strong leader with clear set of goals could really pull the best performance from them.

These guys are experienced, skilled, professional and really bloody good. They’re great to work with (focussed when they’re working, easy going off-stage, and respectful, but still with lots of lols and a good sense of humour.) They just needed a clear set of goals to really focus all that. I’ve worked with these musicians a few times, now, and I’m really happy with their work. At some point, though, I’ll get Peter Locke a real piano to play, because he has MAD skills. And I also managed to convince Eamon McNelis to come to Sydney and sit in with the bands. This guy is my favourite Australian trumpeter, and I just love him in a band. He has a talent. A gift. There’s something about the way he adds an energy or depth to the feels of a band. It’s like he is really THERE, 100%, and his presence just pushes the other musicians, says “Hey, fuckers, got jazz? Bring IT!” and then they all go nuts.

This band was many people’s favourites, and when we got to the second song, my pre-event nerves just melted away. Yes, I though, this is going to work. I can trust these guys to pull this off. They did a really great job, to the point where people actually complained that they didn’t play long enough. At one point they had everyone in the room up and dancing. EVERYONE. To something like Moten Swing or something similar. The energy in the room was just fantastic, and Andrew had hit just the right song in just the right way at just the right time. I’ve seen really good DJs do this, but I’ve rarely seen band leaders respond to the dancers like this. It was the perfect way to start off the weekend.

Andrew put a lot of thought into that gig, and really worked with my suggestions and preferences. I don’t like telling bands what to do, because, ultimately, if you’re going to micromanage a band, you might as well get a DJ. But there aren’t that many bands in Australia who really understand how to play for lindy hoppers. They think they do, but they don’t. Playing for dancers requires a great deal of empathy, observation, and responsiveness, and not all musicians are up for that. I figure being a band leader is like being a really good DJ or MC – you have to have your finger on the vibe, and be able to respond to what’s happening at a moment’s notice, or to pre-empt changes or direct the flow. With a gentle touch. This is partly why people love Gordon Webster’s band: he’s good at this stuff.

Anyway, Andrew sent me a set list on the Friday day. I received it sitting on the train with Lennart and Marie and Bec and a couple of other dancers, so of course we all had a look and a discussion. This is what Andrew sent me:

First set
130 Undecided
160 It Don’t mean a thing
120 Squeeze me
150 Lady Be good
130 Don’t get around much any more
190 Caravan

Second Set
140 Moten Swing
170 Sheik of Araby
130 I let a song go out of my hear
190 Take the A train
120 Do nothin’ til you hear from me
150 Things ain’t what they used to be

Third Set
140 Honeysuckle Rose
170 Brand new suit
120 Confessin’
180 Lester Leaps in
140 Swingin’ the blues

If I remember rightly, they actually finished off with something faster and upenergy that resulted in a really exciting jam.

I showed this text to Lennart who pointed out that you can’t really tell just from reading a set list what it’ll sound like. This is, of course, the challenge we face when dancers work with musicians. We don’t have a common language for talking about music. Or, we do have common words, we just don’t use them in the same way. But I figured, heck, I have to trust the band. I have to delegate. Not just the physical work, but the creative responsibility as well. I have to trust other people not just to do their job, but to say YES and try stuff, come up with creative ideas that I couldn’t ever imagine, let alone do. And as Lennart himself says with a naughty grin, “We will see what will happen.”

I’d sent Andrew quite of lot of instruction before the weekend, something I really HATE doing, because it feels really bossy, and I always think it cramps a musician’s style to give them too many constraints. But then I really needed this gig to work, because Jazz BANG was a big, high profile event, and my professional reputation is based in large part on my approach to music and bands. So the bands were, to a certain extent, representing me. And I also needed the bands to really make it easy for dancers to have fun. And nobody likes it when a dance floor’s empty and a gig bombs – it’s no good for dancers or musicians.
So this is what I’d sent to Andrew:

Andrew,

Regarding the songs the band should play on the Friday night….
What do you have in your book that you really dig at the moment? I’d prefer working with what you’re digging, because funsies.

So far as tempos go, because it’s a mixture of new students (who’ve just come for the class), and experienced people who’re there for the whole weekend, we’ll need a mix of tempos. Below is info based on my experience DJing a lot over the years. I hope it translates to musician talk properly :D

For us, 120bpm is slow and beginner friendly, but kind of draggy. 140bpm is easy and comfortable. 160bpm feels like fun. 180bpm makes us work a bit hard. over 200bpm is fast.
So if you’re playing for two hours, you’d work the tempos like this (if you wanted to play a very safe set):

first set:
– begin at 120bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 120bpm
– 140bpm
– 180bpm
– 150bpm
– 170bpm
– 140bpm
– 190bpm

second set:
– 140bpm
– 160bpm
– 180bpm
– 130bpm
– 150bpm
– 190bpm
– 150bpm
– 120bpm
– 150bpm
– 180bpm
– 140bpm

It’s best to end a gig on a moderate tempo (about 140bpm) with lots of energy, so everyone can join in.

We call this ‘working a wave’, where you move up and down tempos in a gradual way. Bands can get away with more dramatic drops and increases than DJs can. But it’s a good idea to avoid going from really fast (eg 220bpm) to scary slow (eg 110bpm), because 110 reminds people that they’re tired. If you went from 220bpm to 140bpm, people’s energy stays up, but they still get a rest.
110bpm is often a real dead zone for lindy hoppers, as it’s harder to dance lindy hop that slow, but it’s not slow enough for blues dancing.
Experienced dancers make all tempos work, but newer dancers really struggle in the 90-120 and 170-250 zones.

As a general guide, 150bpm is average jogging tempo, and most new dancers aren’t very fit. Most experienced dancers are like runners. They can dance at 150 for 6 hours. But they like adrenaline, so they really enjoy the spike up into the faster tempos. And slower tempos give new dancers a chance to get on the floor and experienced dancers a chance to really work the rhythms.

As the night goes on, the average tempo can creep up. But it’s best to vary the tempos, so people feel inspired.
You can do one or two very slow songs (eg a blues at 80bpm), but one is really enough.
No latin rhythms, please.
We like to avoid crooners too (the only Sinatra I like is Sinatra with the Dorsey band.)

Sam’s black list:
Songs I’d prefer you didn’t play:
Fly Me to the Moon
In the Mood
Moon Dance
String of Pearls

We don’t really dig on boogie woogie, and jump blues can have mixed results.

We love Ellington. We love him bad. We also love Basie, Hamp, Webb, Lunceford, Slim and Slam, Django, Bechet, Kid Ory.

What if a jam happens?
A jam is where dancers feel really excited by the band, and see a couple feeling the feels bring their shit. They form a loose circle around that couple, clapping, and then other couples take turns coming into the circle to show off.
Faster songs usually stimulate a jam.
They rarely look at the band when they’re jamming, but at those moments, they are _really_ listening.
When the song ends, if they really feel the feels and want more, they’ll turn and look at the band and cheer and stay in the circle.
If they’re done, they drift away.
The best jams only last one or perhaps two songs, or a total of about 5 minutes max. After that people who aren’t showing off get bored and tired.
It’s best to follow a jam with a nice moderate tempo (but high energy) song (about 140bpm) so everyone can get back on the floor, and you can take advantage of the energy and excitement generated by the jam.

For us, the best dancing happens when the band feels the feels and is really responding to what’s happening on the dance floor. We hear the musicians get excited, and we feel it, and it makes for great dancing. So it’s important you guys like the music you’re playing.

Hope that helps!
Sam.

As you can see, I am prodigious emailer. So props to Andrew for working through the whole thing. He really took the advice on board, and then responded with some clever insights and suggestions. I don’t feel ok reproducing his correspondence here, but you can assume that it was clever and useful. He knows his shit. We were also talking about the workshop with the musicians and teachers together, and I think that helped feed this set on the Friday.

And you can also see that my advice RE tempos is informed by my DJing. I make a very safe recommendation about flow and waves, which I really hesitated to do. I don’t like to micromanage like that. What’s the point of hiring professionals if you then proceed to tell them how they do their job? But on the night, the band actually went with the vibe of the room, the way they were feeling, and the way the whole thing was working as a night. So while all this correspondence seems quite antiseptic, on the night it was quite exciting and organic. And it was a very successful band gig. I’ve worked with a lot of bands now, and some of them think they know what’s what, but they end up playing what really amounts to a wankfest on their part that leaves the dancers cold.

Andrew’s band did not leave anyone cold. Not even a little bit chilly. Shit was hot.

It was fab to then hear Andrew talk about music in the musician/dancer session on Sunday. This reminded me a bit of the way we’ve structured teachers’ workshops in the past: we have the guest teachers teach general workshops on the Saturday, moderate a workshop about teaching for dance teachers on the Sunday, and then we have them teach total beginners how to lindy hop on the Monday. We get to see the process, hear the thinking behind it, and then ask questions and get a practical workshop to explore the concepts ourselves. I guess, ultimately, it’s like hearing the rhythm, scatting the rhythm, and then dancing the rhythm.

Jazz dance, you’re the best. You’re even more challenging and interesting and fun than doing a Phd. I’m so glad I gave up academia for you.

Imitation and Innovation 8tracks

This is a post that continues my thinking from that previous post about Basie and Jazz BANG, but here I work specifically with Count Basie and his influences. This post is a product of some discussion on facebook about Basie (and my previous 8tracks post), and really has grown out of this Basie session at Jazz BANG. It does of course, also develop the theme of innovation, improvisation and impersonation – step stealing and cultural appropriation/transmission in vernacular music and dance culture. And we all know how obsessed I am with THAT stuff. Love love love.

This post is shaped by some useful comments and references supplied by Andrew Dickeson on the Facey, in response to my 8tracks post, and more specifically, to my question about Fletcher Henderson’s influence on Basie and other musicians.

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I’ve written about this version of Honeysuckle Rose many times before (here and here), I find myself using various versions of this song for teaching all the time, and I DJ with it a lot. I am very obsessed. I’m also fascinated by Fletcher Henderson, and the way he went from big name arranger and band leader to ‘joining’ Benny Goodman’s band. His life (which was somewhat tragic), and the role John Hammond played, really catch my interest. Also he had fucking MAD skills.

So here is an excerpt from a useful book Andrew hooked me up with, and an 8track set I put together to illustrate this section:

The early Basie book was casual and frequently borrowed, either in bits and pieces or, sometimes, whole. The ultimate sources was often Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Basie’s arrangement of Honeysuckle Rose is a slight simplification of Henderson’s. Basie’s Swinging the Blues comes from Henderson’s Hot and Anxious and Comin’ and Goin’*. Jumpin’ at the Woodside (as Dan Morgenstern points out) comes from the Mills Blue Rhythm Band’s Jammin’ for the Jackpot, with perhaps a glance at the arrangement of Honeysuckle Rose that Benny Carter did for Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. Jive at Five from the same ensemble’s Barrelhouse. The Mills’ Blue Rhythm Band was a Henderson-style orchestra.

*A more complete history of this piece is interesting and revealing. The 1929 Ellington-Miley Doin’ the Voom Voom, in AABA song form (an obvious Cotton Club specialty), became the 1931 Horace Henderson-Fletcher Henderson pair of pieces called Hot and Anxious (a blues) and Comin’ and Goin’ (partly a blues). those pieces all added the riff later called In The Mood. These, in turn, became Count Basie’s Swinging The Blues. Meanwhile, Doin’ The Voom Voom had obviously inspired the Lunceford-Will Hudson specialties White Heat and Jazznocracy, and these in turn prompted the Harry James-Benny Goodman Life Goes to a Party. In the last piece, the background figure (an up-and-down scalar motive) to one of the trumpet solos on Voom Voom had been slightly changed and elevated into a main theme.

(Williams, Martin. The Jazz Tradition, 1992. p117-118.)

8tracks linky

Imitation and Improvisation from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

[Edit: I’ve added the Fletcher Henderson version because I’d FORGOTTEN it. It’s currently my favourite.]

Honeysuckle Rose 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 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 01)

Honeysuckle Rose 1939 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Johnny Martel, Ziggy Elman, Ted Vesely, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Bus Bassey, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 3:04 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 01)

Honeysuckle Rose 1932 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Rex Stewart, Russell Smith, Bobby Stark, J.C. Higginbotham, Sandy Williams, Russell Procope, Hilton Jefferson, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Freddie White, John Kirby, Walter Johnson, Katherine Handy) 3:14 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 03)

Swingin’ The Blues 1938 Count Basie and his Orchestra 2:48 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 02)

Hot And Anxious 1931 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Rex Stewart, Russell Smith, Bobby Stark, Claude Jones, Benny Morton, Russell Procope, Harvey Boone, Coleman Hawkins, Clarence Holiday, John Kirby, Walter Johnson, Bill Challis, Don Redman, Horace Henderson) 3:25 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 02)

Comin’ And Goin’ 1931 Baltimore Bellhops (Fletcher Henderson, Rex Stewart, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, John Kirby) 3:12 The Fletcher Henderson Story (disc 02)

Doin’ The Voom Voom – Take 1 1929 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 3:08 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 02)

White Heat 1939 Jimmie Lunceford 2:31 Rhythm Is Our Business

Life Goes To A Party 1938 Harry James and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Vernon Brown, Earl Warren, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 2:52 Life Goes To A Party

Life Goes To A Party 1938 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Hymie Schertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, Babe Russin, Jess Stacy, Allen Reuss, Harry Goodman, Gene Krupa, Horace Henderson, Edgar Sampson) 4:17 Benny Goodman Live At Carnegie Hall (disc 1)

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

Jammin’ For The Jackpot 1937 Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Charlie Shavers, Carl Warwick, Harry Edison, Al Cobbs, Wilbur DeParis, Tab Smith, Eddie Williams, Ben Williams, Harold Arnold, Billy Kyle, Danny Barker, John Williams, Lester Sonny Nichols, Chuck Richards, Lucky Millinder) 2:30 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Complete Jazz Series 1936 – 1937

Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Coleman Hawkins and his All-Star Jam Band (Benny Carter, Andre Ekyan, Alix Combelle, Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Eugene d’Hellemmes, Tommy Benford) 2:47 Ken Burns Jazz Series: Coleman Hawkins

Jive At Five 1939 Count Basie and his Orchestra 2:51 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 03)

Barrelhouse 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry ‘Red’ Allen) 3:05 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat

Jumpy Nerves 1939 Wingy Manone and his Orchestra (Chu Berry, Buster Bailey, Conrad Lanoue, Zeb Julian, Jules Cassard, Cozy Cole) 2:53 Classic Chu Berry Columbia And Victor Sessions (Mosaic disc 05)

In The Mood Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys 3:19 The Tiffany Transcriptions (vol 9)

“What made Basie’s band so great?” Musicians and dancers explore the answer together

We did a superfun session at Jazz BANG that got dancers and musicians talking and demonstrating together.

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(This is Kat Galang’s photo from the session. She has a really good eye for catching the feels of a situation. Look at that first year Con student having his mind blown by lindy hop. <3 )

The session was described like this:

"This is a combined stream workshop, with all participants working with Marie [N'Diaye], Lennart [Westerlund], and musicians led by Andrew Dickeson, dummer and teacher in jazz history at the Sydney Consevatorium of Music. “What made Basie’s band so great?” In this session, musicians and dancers explore the answer together.”

We also invited Thomas Wadelton to join the session, bringing his talent and teaching experience as a top shelf tap dancer to the mix. On the day itself, we also invited Georgia Brooks, talented vocalist and dancer to jump in. Andrew brought two of his students with him to pretend to be Freddy Green and Walter Page.

The session was fantastic. Andrew explained how the Basie rhythm section worked, and then they demonstrated, piece by piece. He also explained what Jo Jones did on the drums that was so important, and how Walter Page approached assembling a rhythm section like this.
Then Marie explained what she liked about this feel, Andrew invited her to show us what the groove felt like, and she did.
Then Lennart talked about why the band was important to dancers, talking about the old timers’ opinions of the band.

Then Lennart and Marie did a bit of lindy hop to the band and we squeed.
Then Thomas explained what he liked about this rhythm section, and more importantly demonstrated with some tapping. That bit was exciting, because we could see and hear how Andrew managed the band (telling the guys when to play and when not to to), making the tapping + band work as one unit.
That was extremely exciting.

At this point I got excited and asked Georgia if she wanted in, and at first she was shy and they realised: nicest people ever and she was in. Andrew was all “Yeah! More the merrier!”
We took a moment, I spoke to Marie and Lennart, and Marie had a plan for demonstrating why boogie woogie and non-boogie swinging stuff feel different, so she spoke to Andrew about the plan, we got the whole crowd up on their feet, and then there was a great bit:
the band demonstrated a boogie rhythm, and we all dance to it (solo of course)
then Georgia joined in and they played a proper swinging song and we all danced and it was amazeballs.

I was sitting near some of the musicians from the Squeezebox Trio who’d come to watch, and they had a moment of “DANCING! HOW?!” and then they just relaxed and got it.

It was all very exciting and interesting. My favourite part was seeing how the musicians and dancers took my very rough plan and made it work. Andrew and his students had prepared some very good material, and Lennart and Marie (even at the end of a long, tiring weekend), just came through like guns. I think my other favourite bit was seeing Andrew and Thomas deciding they were bffs in rhythm.
I loved seeing Andrew manage that band in real time. Because my favourite part of jazz is that it’s improvised, and musicians and dancers are actually really excited and stimulated by new and unexpected things, and that’s what gets their creative juices flowing. For me, I was quite excited by my role as organiser (though I wanted to take a very light touch, and to let them do the coordinating and managing, I had to keep an eye on time, and make sure everyone had a chance to talk and demonstrate). It felt really stimulating and exciting to see just what might happen that we didn’t and couldn’t plan for. I like to embrace Lennart’s ‘we will see what will happen’ approach to events, and while it’s a bit scary and challenging for someone as control-freaky as me, it’s also exciting and wonderful.

I would LOVE to do more like this, and the feedback from the attendees was a) they wanted more dancing in that session, b) they wanted more of these sorts of session.
I am 100% in for that sort of plan, the only barrier being cost. Having musicians in the class means you have to pay five people for a workshop, not just one or two. Which makes that session cost as much as a live band. Which is expensive. But if I can find a way to absorb the cost, I will. Because it was THE BEST THING I’VE EVER DONE.

It wasn’t the first time I’d organised a band-in-dance-class session. We did something similar at the Little Big Weekend with Leigh Barker and the New Sheiks (who are part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project with Kieran, Ramona, Thomas and other great dancers). But the focus there was a bit different, and we really drew on the way that band works together as a group, and the less traditional, more unusual work they’ve been doing with dancers. This session with Andrew and Marie and Lennart and Thomas was a bit more historically focussed and traditional, which was a really nice complement.

It was really good to have the two different sessions to compare. They were both about how musicians and dancers work together, but they took very different approaches. Leigh’s work is very much grounded in historical authenticity, but the approach the group takes is much more contemporary, in everything from funding to working and labour practices. Which makes sense, because this isn’t 1940, no matter how much we may wish it was.

The final point from all the musicians in both sessions is that working with dancers brings something new to playing. But Andrew said something that I thought was quite cool: he said (and I paraphrase) that playing for dancers who just dance through the same steps in the same way each time is really BORING. And he’d rather they just didn’t. And I agree: if you’re just going to dance the same way all the time, why are you dancing lindy hop and not ballroom dancing? You’re certainly not listening to the music, and you’re not responding to each partner as a unique person.
This point dovetailed nicely with the points Marie and Lennart made all weekend: first you take care of the music, and you take care of your partner. There’s no ‘correct’ way of doing anything (this foot could go here or there, it doesn’t matter), but you must take care of the rhythm. If the rhythm isn’t tight and present, then you’re in trouble. Each of us gets to the rhythm in a different way, and our bodies are all different, so the way we move will be different, and our visualisation of the rhythm will be different. Cherish that.

I think it’s a bloody good motto for dancing and life: take care of your partner, take care of the music.

I’ve continued this thinking with a post about Count Basie and his influences over here. This post is a product of some discussion on facebook about Basie (and my previous 8tracks post), and really has grown out of this Basie session at Jazz BANG. It does of course, also develop the theme of innovation, improvisation and impersonation – step stealing and cultural appropriation/transmission in vernacular music and dance culture. And we all know how obsessed I am with THAT stuff. Love love love.
I think that that whole philosophy as change-is-good guides everything I do in dance. I am so NOT interested in just doing things the same way all the time. It’s so BORING. I like change. It scares the pants off me, but I love it.

Avant Garden 8tracks

Some songs I like at the moment, many of which are a little odd, structurally or melodically.

Avant Garden from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

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Photo from Shorpy.
Watch for the Slam Stewart incidences.

Snafu 1946 Esquire All-American Award Winners (Louis Armstrong, Neal Hefti, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Billy Strayhorn, Remo Palmieri, Chubby Jackson, Sonny Greer) 4:14 The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 03)

“C” Blues 1941 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Ray Nance, Juan Tizol, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 2:53 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 12)

Honeysuckle Rose 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 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 01)

Honeysuckle Rose 1939 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Johnny Martel, Ziggy Elman, Ted Vesely, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Bus Bassey, Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 3:04 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 01)

Jack, I’m Mellow 1938 Trixie Smith acc. By Charlie Shavers, Sidney Bechet, Sammy Price, Teddy Bunn, Richard Fullbright, O’Neil Spencer 2:49 Charlie Shavers and The Blues Singers 1938-1939

Honeysuckle Rose 1935 Mildred Bailey and Her Alley Cats (Bunny Berigan, Johnny Hodges, Teddy Wilson, Grachan Moncur) 2:57 Mildred Bailey: A Forgotten Lady 1935-42, Jazz Archives #90 (158602)

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

Flying Home 1944 Teddy Wilson Sextet (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Edmond Hall, Slam Stewart, Big Sid Catlett) 4:56 Teddy Wilson: The Complete Associated Transcriptions 1944

Deep Forest 1940 Earl Hines and his Orchestra (Walter Fuller, Milton Fletcher, Ed Sims, George Dixon, John Ewing, Ed Burke, Joe McLewis, Omer Simeon, Leroy Harris, Bob Crowder, Jimmy Mundy, Claude Roberts, Quinn Wilson, Alvin Burroughs, Billy Eckstine, Budd Johnson) 2:31 Classic Earl Hines Sessions 1928-1945 (Mosaic disc 05)

Take It 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) 3:13 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03)

Gotta Be This Or That (Pt. 1) (Alt Tk-2) 1945 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Vince Badale, Al Cuozzo, Tony Faso, Stan Fishelson, Trummy Young, Eddie Aulino, Chauncey Welsch, Ray Beller, Aaron Sachs, Stan Kosow, Al Epstein, Danny Bank, Charlie Queener, Mike Bryan, Slam Stewart, Morey Feld, Red Norvo 3:30 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 06)

Sweet Lorraine 1946 Metronome All Star Band (Charlie Shavers, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Bob Ahern, Eddie Safranksi, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, June Christy, Sy Oliver) 3:13 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 08)

Swing DJing. Start here: Count Basie

Start here.

Thinking about DJing for swing dancers? Dancing a bit of lindy hop and looking for music? You’ll need some music.

I’ll say this right now: if you want to DJ for swing dancers and you don’t like jazz, then you should not be DJing for swing dancers. It’s not for you. If you’ve got this super cool modern pop song that really swings, stop. Stop right there. You’re not doing something new. Sure, play that action at home, dance to whatever moves your soul. But if you’re a swing DJ, you need to have and play swing music. That’s the bottom line.

Who’s who in the world of swing? I’m going to try to write a series of these posts about the important band leaders, bands, or artists, but knowing me this’ll be the only item that series :D Yolo, right?

Count Basie.

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You must own Count Basie. Lindy hoppers like Frankie Manning tended to agree: Basie was the best. What made him so good? A great rhythm section (Walter Page: bass; Jo Jones: drums; Freddy Green: guitar; Count Basie: piano).

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Great players like Lester Young on sax, and Buck Clayton on trumpet.

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Peeps tend to talk about two phases in Basie’s huge recording career: the 1930s and 40s (‘old testament Basie’) and the 50s-60s (‘new testament Basie’). I’d probably add the ‘Moten era’ as a third phase – the earlier stuff Basie recorded with Bennie Moten’s band around about 1929-1932. Songs like Prince Of Wails, Moten Swing, Toby, Small Black. All fabulous. The sort of Basie that appeals to dancers who are into that earlier moment of swing – sort of pre-swing.
We could also talk about his later stuff with his small groups, or his work with Benny Goodman’s small groups, but I think his big band is really where it’s at, especially for a newer DJ or collector.

If you’re just starting your collection, you’ll need to get stuff from the new and old testament phases.
It’s difficult to list specific songs, as there’s just so much fabulous stuff. I’d go with the studio recordings at first, even though there’re some truly magical live recordings. Just because the quality can be kind of off-putting.

Here are some of my favourites, starting with the old testament band.

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Honeysuckle Rose – 1937 – 217bpm. This is exciting instrumental stuff. Perhaps a bit challenging for newer dancers, structurally, but it’s so exciting and fun it’ll make them dance anyway. Yes, it’s fast, but yes, it’s fucking fantastic.

Don’t You Miss Your Baby – 1937 – 161bpm. With vocals by Jimmie Rushing, this is a great introduction to Kansas ‘shouters’. It has all the trade-marks of old testament Basie – shouting vocals, blues structure, uptempo fun, lots of energy, a fairly chunky piano (as opposed to the sparser stuff of his new testament), good, solid Freddy Green guitar keeping the beat, and a nice little trumpet part at the beginning. There are quite a few songs in this style from this period – I could just have easily have chosen ‘Sent For You Yesterday’ from 1938 (and I should have – I overplay that song badly). There are also lower tempo songs in a similar stompy blues style, even down into the lowest tempos which are great for blues dancing.

Topsy – 1937 – 196bpm. I think of this as classic old testament Basie Orchestra. There are quite a few songs with just this style and feel: it’s very much pop music, and it’s fuckloads of fun. A chunky, heavy rhythm section (so you know right where the beat is), a fun, dramatic melody, and a nice, energetic tempo. Other songs that are very similar: One O’Clock Jump, Dogging Around, Every Tub, Shorty George, Jumpin’ At The Woodside, and so on and so on. There’re a bunch of songs in this 1937-38 period that are just good, solid lindy hopping songs. The tempos are higher, but fuck, that’s what lindy hop was in those years. This is THE business.

The band’s style changes a little in 1939 and into 1940, with a bit more emphasis on the brass, and you can begin to hear jump blues coming in the future. Songs from this era that are worth looking at include Dickie’s Dream, Lester Leaps In (particularly versions by Basie’s Kansas City Seven – good times!). And then Basie and his rhythm section did some mindblowingly good songs with Benny Goodman’s small groups – songs like Wholly Cats, Benny’s Bugle, Royal Garden Blues, Gone With What Wind, all from 1940. This is my absolute favourite type of music. It tends to be quite fast, and you can hear the earlier moments of Basie’s shift to a lighter, more technically fancy style, probably a result of Goodman’s influence. Or the freedom of a small group so keenly devoted to exploring new and exciting things in swing music.

Tickle-Toe – 1940 – 223bpm. This has a lot in common with that bunch of stuff in the Topsy group, but things are changing a little. More brass, a slightly different edge. But still stamping good stuff, custom-built for lindy hop.

Easy Does It – 1940 – 150bpm. You need this song. You must have it. It’s iconic, and this medium tempo Basie version is perfect. Just perfect. It will make you swing out like Frankie. This is still very much in that earlier Basie style, but it’s definitely a sign of the new testament to come, with more complexity in the melody and arrangements, and a more interesting approach to dynamics beginning to happen.

In 1941 there were more recordings with Goodman’s small groups. This shit blows my mind. I fucking love it. But I don’t DJ it very often. It’s fast, complex, exciting, cerebral. Perfect. It’s like Basie’s blunt hammer is tempered by Goodman’s tightywhiteyness, and both become more interesting for the collaboration.

There are other big band Basie recordings from Basie in 1941/2 which are worth looking at, but kind of samey – 9:20 special, Feather Merchant, Down For Double, Feedin’ The Bean, One O’clock Jump, It’s Sand, Man!, Ay Now, etc etc. Great, but kind of samey.

Undecided Blues – 1941 – 120bpm.
Goin’ To Chicago Blues – 1941 – 94bpm.
Harvard Blues – 1941 – 94bpm.
These are all Jimmy Rushing vehicles, but you HAVE to get them. A sort of dark humour and piss-taking that really characterises the rough edges of these Kansas musicians. Very much the same sort of song, doing classic blues work with the machinery of a top shelf big band. Win.

This blues structure is significant for Basie: a lot of his stuff uses the 6 eights to a phrase structure, which is totes fine for social dancing and funsies, but will give you trouble if you’re looking for competition music. It can also be a bit predictable, which makes your dancing a bit ordinary. But fuck, it pisses all over anything non-swing. This shit is the business. And a good recording of One O’Clock Jump at 181bpm from 1942 is pretty much perfect lindy hop. PERFECT.

It’s worth pausing to look at the late 40s Basie before we get into new testament Basie. We can definitely hear the jump blues influence, rock n roll isn’t too far away, and a lot of this stuff has much in common with people like Louis Jordan and other vocal-driven pop music of the late 40s. Julia Lee is in this family too, and I guess it’s that brand of Kansas blues that really kicked off rock and roll. It’s fantastic. But it tends to be heading away from classic lindy hop territory. I find it great for DJing rock n roll/swing cross over crowds. Also it’s spanking fun.
Examples include:

Open The Door Richard – 1947 – 127bpm. Too many vocals to really rock it for DJing, but totes fun.
The Jungle King – 1947 – 127bpm. Pretty much the same song.
Free Eats – 1947 – 163bpm. Same, but a smear faster.

Swingin’ The Blues – 1947 – 157bpm. This is an interesting one. You can definitely hear new testament Basie, here. This is much more in the pocket (it has a more ‘delayed’, swinging feeling), but it’s still very near this jump blues stuff. I love it because it’s quite odd, structurally, but still good for dancing. I DJ it quite a bit.

Shoutin’ Blues – 1949 – 148bpm. This is a great one. Similarly odd, structurally, but a good, solid, chunky dancing song. You can hear some interesting experiments in dynamics here, as Basie starts digging on the new recording technologies. His playing style has definitely shifted into a more minimalist style – sounds tinkly, but still has a bit of thunder at the edges. And Freddy Green really is rocking the rhythm guitar, here.

Did You Ever See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball – 1949 – 156bpm. This is a lot like that early block from 1947 with the lyrics and pop appeal. It’s an easy-win song that tends to go down well.

You’re My Baby You (vocal or instrumental version) – 1950 – 150bpm. I love this song. It’s got neat Clark Terry lyrics, and you can hear how he would eventually (and quite soon) head into supergroove territory. It feels like a pop song, and the vocals are really much of the focus.

Solid As A Rock – 140bpm – 1950. This is solid favourite. With vocals by the Deep River Boys, it’s a gospel favourite with a swinging big band edge that goes down well with dancers. It’s overplayed, and for my money it doesn’t really stand up to the overplaying the way other songs do. But this is a very useful song to have in your collection: shouting, clapping, a simple beat, a moderate tempo. It’s really a little out of the ‘proper’ lindy hopping realm, so it’s something I’d sprinkle into my set, rather than leaning on. Again, it’s a good song for a rock n roll/lindy hop crossover gig.

There are a few other jump blues songs in this period that really are a bit too far away from lindy hop to really work out. But at the same time, you get Basie doing things that are really, truly wonderful. And definitely heading into the new testament world.

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Jive At Five – 1952 – 136bpm. This is really new testament Basie. This is a moderate tempo, it has that characteristic use of dynamics that was Basie taking advantage of a big band using new recording technology, and it has contrasting moments of light and dark (tinkly piano and stompy rhythms; sax solos and sharp trumpets over stompy bass piano parts). This is really, truly, great lindy hopping action. It’s amazing that Basie was doing this 2 years after he did something like Solid As A Rock. It’s just such a completely different type of song.

Ok, now I’m going to do something terrible, and basically write off the 1950s and 1960s as ‘new testament’ as though they were all the same sorts of songs. They weren’t. Basie did all sorts of cool things with big and small bands, including exciting projects like re-recording his 30s hits with this new big band. You get to hear songs like Jumpin’ At The Woodside in stereo, with that stomping intro, but with modern solos and sensibilities. This is where you realise that Basie’s band was just fucking fantastic: experienced, talented professionals doing things that blow your brain. There’s a 1952 version of Every Tub (290bpm) that’s just so great. It makes you want to dance like a fool. But it’s further into the pocket than his 30s stuff, and the solos get weirdo, definitely echoing what was happening in bebop at the time. Excite!

There’s a Basie Verve Mosaic box set that compiles all this 50s stuff. And in it is a song I just adore:

Basie Beat – 1952 – 179bpm. Basie plays organ, there’s a nice little muted trumpet part, and the rhythm is solidly chunky supergroove. It really pounds along with lots of energy, and I just LOVE it. I think of this as new testament Basie at his best: musically complex and sophisticated, but at the same like a big barrel of bricks, pounding out a thumping good rhythm that makes you want to leap to your feet and fucking DANCE. Wow!

In the same year you hear the band redo songs like Goin’ To Chicago with Jimmy Rushing (79bpm) and higher tempo songs like Sent For You Yesterday. The brilliant thing about these songs is that you’re essentially getting the same sort of songs (both the 1930s and 50s versions), but you get a hifi version and a lofi version, a slicker version and a rougher version. So the same song can be used in different ways when you’re DJing, and appeal to different audiences. Yet it’s the same fabulous song.

In the 50s you get some of the songs I think of as ‘revival Frankie’ Basie. Songs Frankie would dance and teach to in the 80s and 90s. Solidly in the pocket, moderate tempos, totally accessible, fantastic dancing.

Down For The Count – 1954 – 115bpm. Yes.
Corner Pocket – 1955 – 137bpm. Feels like almost the same song. Goddess bless stereo sound and a big, fat orchestra on a mission.
Shiny Stockings – 1956 – 126bpm. Frankie’s favourite. Pretty much the same thing. Still fab dancing.
Splanky – 1957 – 125bpm. More of the same. More fab.
Moten Swing – 1959 – 125bpm. I like the live version from Breakfast Dance And Barbecue (you must buy that album). More of the same. Utterly wonderful.

At the same time as all this is going on, you get those nice hi-fi reworkings of the 30s and 40s classics, you get the supergroove stuff, the small group stuff, and you get the wall of sound big band fabulousness that is songs like…

Blues In Hoss’ Flat – 1958 – 144. Structurally simple, pretty much the definition of meat and potatoes. Fucking best dancing fun. BEST. It’s pretty much the epitome of crowd-pleasing safety song.

I think I’ll end this here. There are about three million other little pockets of Basie that I didn’t discuss. The vocal stuff with Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald. Williams and Fitzgerald singing a duet on Every Day I Have The Blues in 1956 – it’s like the ideal song. Kind of slow and boring for lindy hop, but pretty much the definition of super powers in collaboration. And I haven’t even touched on the 1970s ‘Satch and Josh’ (Oscar Peterson and Count Basie) recordings. They’re pretty much the definition of supergroove. And quite wow. You should definitely look them up on youtube – live recordings!

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But Count Basie had a really long career, and he was really, really good for dancing. You have to have him in your collection if you’re a lindy hopper, and if you don’t have him and you DJ for swing dancers, you should be ashamed of yourself. ASHAMED. You’re also robbing yourself of a valuable DJing tool. Basie had such a long-ranging career, he pretty much has something for everyone, from the pre-swing to the supergroove, the total beginner to the nitpicking old stick dancer.

As a note, you might find this video about Basie’s band useful:

Herräng report part 3: favourites and ‘safety’ songs (and some stuff about canons, power and recreationism)

[edit]Warning: this post is too long, rambles too much, and is generally quiet confusing. YOLO![/]

I talk and write a lot about ‘favourites’ and ‘safety songs’ in DJing, so I thought it was worth putting together a post about them. I’ll try to add some notes about musical style while I’m at it.

Let’s define some terms. What do I mean by favourites? Basically, we’re talking songs that a particular scene likes a bunch, and plays quite often. But I’d like to refine that definition. There are a body of songs which are favourites internationally, and make for good lindy hopping. There are of course favourites within local scenes, and we could use them to chart the local musical cultures of lindy hop, but that’s not the point of this piece.

Gee, this post isn’t off to a good start, is it. Sorry – later night last night, up dancing. Still dealing with the remnants of jet lag. Which seem to have removed all my inhibitions, raised my volume, and made it really difficult to spin without chucking up. So please excuse the clumsy writing in this post.

So, anyway. Favourites. I’ve written about this before, in my post overplayed awesome, but I want to refine it.

What’s the point of listing favourite songs?
In my city at the moment, new DJs are playing some pretty awful music. It’s not even rock and roll, let alone swing. There’s a lot of really terrible popular music being played at our regular DJed social dancing night. Our only regular social DJed night. So terrible it clears the floor, because people think it’s the ‘going home music’. I do not exaggerate. I don’t understand why they don’t just use the favourites that make lindy hoppers rock out. And yet, I do understand.

Most peeps get into DJing because they have music they want to play. And most of us have music we want to play because we never hear anyone else play it. Most of us figure out after a few months that there’s a really good reason no one plays ‘Take Five’. Those reasons range from the fact that some songs just don’t make for good lindy hop, to more complex cultural and social reasons. If you want to stay on the regular DJing roster, you need to keep your music within the range of your local community’s norms. Otherwise you clear the floor, and you don’t get another gig. Those norms might change, and you might be a part of that change, but you can’t rush things. Not really.

This point is really a bit of a response to the DJ session at Herräng, where some of the guest DJs insisted that you have to play ‘great music’, and to a certain extent, challenge the dancers. I think that you can get away with this approach at larger events, particularly if you are a ‘rock star DJ’. But when you’re playing a weekly gig, every week (or trying to get onto the roster), you need to be a little more circumspect. It’s not so much about the music, as about becoming enculturated, and learning how to work with the organisers, the scene culture, and the event’s vibe. These are all professional skills: knowing how to play for a specific crowd, how to work with organisers to make them happy, and how to compromise.

It is utterly frustrating to have to play poop music when you start DJing. Or rather, to play music you don’t like. But a degree of compromise is important. When I started DJing, Melbourne was fully into supergroove, rnb and neo. It was killing me. Which was why I started DJing. But I couldn’t just come into the scene playing a set full of old scratchies. I had exactly zero DJing skills: I couldn’t work the sound gear, I didn’t know how to work a crowd. I’d practiced using my laptop, and transitioning, but I wasn’t terribly great.

This is the first set I played:
(title bpm artist year album)

Knock Me A Kiss 115 Louis Jordan 1943 Swingers
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off 120 Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Louie Bellson 1957 Ella And Louis Again [MFSL]
Cow Cow Boogie 120 Jennie Löbel and Swing Kings 2001 He Ain’t Got Rhythm
Splanky 125 Count Basie and his Orchestra 1957 The Complete Atomic Basie
Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy 126 Stan Kenton and his Orchestra with June Christy 1945 The Best Of Big Band – Swinging The Blues
Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby? 140 Dinah Washington 1956 The Swingin’ Miss “D”
Moten Swing 138 Oscar Peterson 1962 Night Train
Out South 129 Junior Mance Trio 1962 Happy Time
Good Rockin’ Tonight 155 Jimmy Witherspoon 1963 Jazz Me Blues: the Best of Jimmy Witherspoon
Now Or Never 167 Katharine Whalen 1999 Jazz Squad
Big Fine Daddy 125 Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers 2000 Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing
Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 136 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra 1945 Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
For Dancers Only 148 Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 1937 Swingsation – Jimmie Lunceford
C-Jam Blues 143 Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 1999 Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke
Don’t Falter At The Altar 138 Cab Calloway and his Orchestra Are You Hep To The Jive?
Apollo Jump 143 Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra 1943 Apollo Jump
Shoutin’ Blues 148 Count Basie and his Orchestra 1949 Kansas City Powerhouse
Comes Love 105 Billie Holiday and her Orchestra (Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Ben Webster, Jimmy Rowles, Barney Kessel, Joe Mondragon, Alvin Stoller) 1957 Body And Soul
My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More 76 Alberta Hunter (acc by Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Fran Wess, Norris Turney, Billy Butler, Gerald Cook, Aaron Bell, Jackie Williams) 1978 Amtrak Blues
Salty Papa Blues 115 Lionel Hampton and his Septet with Dinah Washington 1943 Dinah Washington:the Queen Sings – Disc 1 – Evil Gal Blues
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee 130 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra 1949 Lionel Hampton Story 4: Midnight Sun
Drum Boogie 176 Gene Krupa Drums Drums Drums

Looking at this set now, I never play half these songs any more. The tempos are painfully slow, but at the time I was actually pushing the dancers. The average bpm in Melbourne in 2006 was about 120bpm. Kill me now. I was back from Herräng (well, a year or so back), and utterly frustrated with Melbourne music. There were some truly fabulous DJs around (Brian Renehan was really, really great), but they rarely DJed. I just wanted to hear some olden days music.
I remember my strategy with this set was to play a mix: stuff I wanted to hear, stuff dancers already loved, and stuff we could both compromise on.

Looking at the set now, the transitions are actually pretty good – little clumps of musical styles easing into other styles – the bpm transitions are ok (god, it’s so SLOW), and the songs are ok. But that Junior Mance/Oscar Peterson combo. Sheesh. Looking at the set, I actually played 15 minutes over time, which I think mean that dancers liked it. I remember the DJ coordinator was happy. I also remember I was really, really nervous, and that I had Brian come in and help me set up, then give me feedback during the set so I could avoid major fuck ups.

The most important part, though, is that I combined favourites (for the scene at that time) with songs I wanted to hear. So you get that Mance/Peterson combo, but you also get Hampton, Lunceford, Millinder, Basie, and Calloway. There’s old scratch, and there’s hi-fi. There’s supergroove, and there’s solid big band swing.
More importantly, I used songs that I now thing of as ‘safety songs’ – songs that work with any lindy hop crowd, anywhere in the world. ‘C Jam Blues’ by LCJO: ultimate safety song. Basie’s ‘Splanky’. They just don’t get old. They make for great lindy hop, even if they are a little slow. I think that Frankie’s influence is important here: Frankie insisted that big band swing was great for lindy hop, and ‘Splanky’ is an examplar of that later era of Frankie’s dancing: new testament Basie at a slowish tempo, but with lots of juicy musicianship and a feeling of energy or momentum. Perfect for older gentlemen with bung hips and a formidable understanding of music.

Here’s my key point: there’s a difference between a ‘safety song’ and a ‘favourite’. Favourites can be locally specific, and if you don’t DJ or dance in a scene regularly, there’s no way you can know what they are. It’s local knowledge, and where local DJs have the edge on out of towners. But ‘safety songs’ tend to be international favourites: songs with longevity, international appeal, and guaranteed to work with any lindy hopping crowd, anywhere.
There are some provisos here. You can’t really play a set of all pre-1950 music to a crowd who never hear or dance to this stuff. But you can stuff a set with a combination of things like Splanky and C Jam Blues and those old scratchies. The hi-fi stuff will be your ‘safety songs’ that you sprinkle in between the scratchies. Kind of an apology or moment of comfort for dancers.

I think that this is where my approach to DJing differs from the ‘challenge dancers’ approach. My general philosophy is: make it easy for people to have fun (I did a DJ workshop on this, and you can read my notes here.) I’m not interested in challenging people. I want to make it really easy for people to have a good time. As my partner Dave says, “Play songs people like.” Why would you play a set stuffed full with songs nobody on the dance floor likes? We’re social dancing here! Be social! If you do have a mission to shift your scene’s musical tastes, be stealth about it. And then give yourself a good talking to for being such a sanctimonious dick: you are not the goddamn DJing messiah.
I know I had to get a grip on myself after I started DJing. Yes, it was awful to be living in a scene with no big band music in the DJs’ sets. Yes, the scene’s dancing did improve massively when the music improved. But it was utterly arrogant to assume that I could be the person to effect those changes. And when I got over myself, my DJing actually improved.

I think it’s much healthier (for everyone involved, especially the DJ, who needs to get a clue) to approach DJing as a chance to share songs you love with people, and to try to make your sets one part of a bloody good night of dancing and socialising. As a DJ, you are host at the party: you set out the snacks, you welcome people arriving, you replenish the beer, you turn on the air conditioning, and you make sure shy people feel welcome. You want everyone to have a good time. And you want to have a good time doing it.
You don’t tell people what to talk about, you don’t try to match-make, you don’t micromanage individual conversations. You just set up the party and then nudge it every now and then. If peeps want a quiet night of conversation, then that’s what you do. If they want to tear their shirts off and dance on tables, then you go with that. You can’t tell them what to feel, you can only help them feel more feels. The thing about lindy hop, is that the feels you usually feel (and arrive expecting to feel) are happy feels. If you want something more complex, you go blues dancing :D

Geeps, I’ve totally gotten off track there. Favourites!
What’s the point of me listing them? If you’re a beginner DJ, you should get yourself a copy of all these songs, and then learn to DJ with them. One thing that came out of that DJ session at Herräng was the point that the backbone of a good DJ’s work is the music they play. But what makes a DJ unique is how they combine those songs. We’re all drawing on the same pool of music, and nothing is new. But a great DJ puts these songs together in a fun and new way.

I have a personal rule: I don’t play songs I hate. I tried that, and I ended up hating DJing, resenting the dancers, and basically doing the DJing equivalent of a crywank. I was making the dancers happy, I was getting the props, but I wasn’t happy. I only play songs I love. I only play songs that make me want to dance like a fool.

To be sure that I’m actually DJing songs that make for good lindy hop (or charleston or whatever), I work on my own dancing. I take classes, I practice, I continually work to push my own dancing. Because if I can’t dance fast (for example), I have no idea whether a faster song would be great for lindy hop. I also dance with beginner dancers, experienced dancers, great dancers. I also try to DJ for a whole range of dancers as well. Because all these people experience music in different ways, and their abilities, experiences and sheer physical experience of the music will shape their perception of the music. And dancing with them helps me figure out what all that experience and perception is.
And when I DJ, I watch them: I am paying very close attention to what they’re feeling and doing. Which is why I don’t dance during my set: I can’t give the dancers enough attention if I’m all up in my own business on the dance floor. And it was a relief and absolute joy to hear the other Herräng DJs say this, unequivocably: you don’t dance during your set. It was really the case that all these experienced DJs just took it as granted that you can’t DJ well if you’re also dancing. And in my experience, it’s true. The only DJ I’ve seen pull it off well is Falty, and he’s an aberration.

Yeah yeah. FAVOURITES, mate, FAVOURITES.

Here is a sub-set of my list of songs I consider ‘favourites’ and ‘safety songs’. The longer I DJ, the longer this list gets, and this is just a smaller group of that larger list. So please don’t consider it exhaustive. It’s also catering largely to my experiences DJing regularly in Sydney and Melbourne, and within Australia generally, so it’s probably quite locally specific.

(title – artist – bpm – year – album – length – grouping – comments)

Jumpin’ At The Woodside – Count Basie and his Orchestra – 235 – 1939 – The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 02) – 3:10 – 1930s kansas big instrumental – best good fast; ok quality

Quality Shout – Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks Orchestra – 232 – 1993 Quality Shout – 3:03 – hi-fi 1920s big instrumental – good starter excellent charleston

Algiers Stomp – Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, J.C. Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes) – 219 – 1936 – Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat – 3:08 – 1930s hot big instrumental – upenergy fun

Let’s Get Together – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 209 – 1934 – Stomping At The Savoy (disc 1): Don’t Be That Way – 3:05 – 1930s big instrumental – best excellent upenergy

Flying Home – Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra – 197 – 1942 – Lionel Hampton Story 2: Flying Home – 3:11 – 1940s big instrumental – best faster

Mr. Ghost Goes To Town – Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, J.C. Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes) – 192 – 1936 – Mills Blue Rhythm Band: 1933-1936 – 3:24 – 1930s hot big instrumental – upenergy fun

Rockin’ In Rhythm – Take 2 – The Jungle Band with Duke Ellington – 190 – 1931 – The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 05) – 2:53 – 1930s hot big instrumental – best mediumenergy

Who Ya Hunchin’? – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 186 – 1938 – Stomping At The Savoy (disc 4): Spinnin’ the Web – 2:49 – 1930s big instrumental – upenergy okquality

Roll ‘Em – Benny Goodman and his Orchestra – 180 – 1937 – The King Of Swing – 3:15 – 1930s big instrumental – upenergy

Madame Dynamite Eddie Condon and his Orchestra (Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Sidney Catlett) – 176 – 1933 – Eddie Condon: Classic Sessions 1927-49 (Volume 2) – 2:56 – 1930s chicago hot small instrumental – upenergy fun

King Porter Stomp – Kansas City Band – 170 – 1997 – KC After Dark – 4:38 – hi-fi kansas big instrumental live – upenergy

Savoy – Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra (Trevor Bacon) – 166 – 1942 – Anthology Of Big Band Swing (Disc 2) – 3:05 – 1940s big male vocal – best upenergy

Till Tom Special – Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (Ziggy Elman, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Budd Johnson, Spencer Odom, Ernest Ashley, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) – 164 – 1940 – The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941 (Mosaic disc 04) – 3:23 – 1940s big instrumental – excellent upenergy

Sent For You Yesterday Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) – 163 – 1960 – The Count Basie Story (Disc 2) – 3:10 – 1960s hi-fi kansas big male – hifi upenergy

Jump Session – Vout, Jam and Jive (Slim Gaillard, Bam Brown, Kenneth Hollon) – 162 – 1938 – Slim and Slam 1938-1939 – 2:36 – 1930s small male vocal live – New York August 17 1938

Stompin’ At The Savoy – Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra – 162 – 1936 – Swingsation: Charlie Barnet and Jimmy Dorsey – 3:12 – 1930s big instrumental – mediumenergy

I’se A Muggin’ – Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys (Jonah Jones, Raymond Smith, Bobby Bennett, Mack Walker, John Washington) – 161 – 1936 – Stuff Smith: Complete Jazz Series 1936 – 1939 – 3:14 – 1930s small male vocal – mediumenergy fun NY 11 february 1936

You’re Driving Me Crazy – Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Nottingham, Lawrence Brown, Pete Brown, Seldon Powell, Pete Johnson, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Cliff Leeman – 161 – 1956 – The Boss Of The Blues – 4:14 – 1950s Kansas small male shouter – upenergy great (Moten Swing riff)

Good Queen Bess – Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra (Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) – 160 – 1940 – The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 10) – 3:00 – 1940s big instrumental – best great medium okquality

Bearcat Shuffle – Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy (Mary Lou Williams) – 160 – 1936 – The Lady Who Swings the Band – Mary Lou Williams with Any Kirk and his Clouds of Joy – 3:01 – 1930s big instrumental – upenergy

Are You Hep To The Jive? – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra (Chu Berry) – 159 – 1940 – Classic Chu Berry Columbia And Victor Sessions (Mosaic disc 07) – 2:52 – 1940s big male vocal – upenergy fun

Flyin’ Home – Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (Ziggy Elman, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Budd Johnson, Spencer Odom, Ernest Ashley, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 158 1940 The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941 (Mosaic disc 04) 2:59 1940s big instrumental excellent mediumenergy slower version

Ballin’ The Jack – Bunk Johnson’s V-Disc Veterans – 156 – 1944 – Bunk And The New Orleans Revival 1942-1945 – 2:45 – 1940s new orleans revival – small female vocal live – mediumenergy

Just Kiddin’ Around – Artie Shaw and his Orchestra (Oran Hot Lips Page, Johnny Guarnieri, Dave Tough) – 155 – 1941 – Self Portrait (Disc 3) – 3:21 – 1940s big instrumental – great upenergy

Jump Through The Window – Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) – 154 1943 – After You’ve Gone – 2:42 – 1940s big instrumental – upenergy

A Viper’s Moan – Willie Bryant and his Orchestra (Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole) – 153 – 1935 – Willie Bryant: Chronological Classics 1935-1936 – 3:26 – 1930s big instrumental – upenergy

Shufflin’ And Rollin’ – Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra – 153 – 1952 – Walk ‘Em – 3:12 – 1950s big instrumental – upenergy

The Back Room Romp (A Contrapuntal Stomp) – Rex Stewart and his 52nd Street Stompers (Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Brick Fleagle, Billy Taylor, Jack Maisel) – 152 – 1937 – The Duke’s Men: Small Groups Vol. 1 (Disc 2) – 2:49 – 1930s small instrumental – best upenergy fun

I Want The Waiter (with the water) – Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – 151 – 1939 – Lunceford Special 1939-40 – 2:44 – 1930s big male vocal – excellent mediumenergy

For Dancers Only Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 148 1937 Swingsation – Jimmie Lunceford 2:41 1940s big instrumental best upenergy favourite

Massachusetts – Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall – 147 – 1956 – A Tribute To Andy Razaf – 3:19 – 1950s small female vocal – upenergy great

Knock Me A Kiss – Louis Jordan – 147 – The Very Best Of Louis Jordan – 2:19 – 1940s – small male vocal – medenergy okquality favourite

Jive At Five – Count Basie and his Orchestra – 147 – 1960 – The Count Basie Story (Disc 1) – 3:03 – 1960s hi-fi kansas big instrumental – NT mediumenergy favourite

Cole Slaw – Jesse Stone and His Orchestra – 145 – Original Swingers: Hipsters, Zoots and Wingtips vol 2 – 2:57 – 1940s big male vocal – fun upenergy favourite clap

Blues In Hoss’s Flat – Count Basie and his Orchestra – 144 – 1958 – Chairman Of The Board [Bonus Tracks] – 3:13 – 1950s hi-fi kansas big instrumental – best upenergy

Apollo Jump – Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra – 143 – 1943 – Apollo Jump – 3:27 – 1930s big instrumental – excellent upenergy

C-Jam Blues – Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – 143 – 1999 – Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke – 3:34 – hi-fi 1930s big instrumental – excellent upenergy favourite

All That Meat And No Potatoes – Fats Waller and His Rhythm (John Hamilton, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) – 143 – 1941 – The Last Years (1940-1943) (disc 02) – 2:47 – 1940s hot small male vocal – mediumenergy NY 20 Mar 1941

Royal Family – Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five – 142 – 2007 – Moppin’ And Boppin’ – 3:14 – hi-fi small – mediumenergy

Blues My Naughty Sweetie – Sidney Bechet and his Hot Six – 140 – 1951 – The Blue Note Years – 5:44 – 1950s new orleans revival small instrumental – mediumenergy favourite

Shout, Sister, Shout – Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra (Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Buster Bailey) – 140 – 1941 – Apollo Jump – 2:45 – 1940s big female vocal mediumenergy favourite

Solid as a Rock – Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys – 140 1950 – Count Basie and His Orchestra 1950-1951 – 3:04 – 1940s big male vocal – upenergy favourite

Don’t Falter At The Altar – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 138 – Are You Hep To The Jive? – 2:44 – 1940s big male vocal – excellent medium tempo dancing

Blues For Smedley – Clark Terry, Ed Thigpen, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown – 137 – 1964 – Oscar Peterson Trio + One: Clark Terry – 6:57 – 1960s hi-fi small instrumental – mediumenergy

Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee – Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker – 134 – 1949 – Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings – 3:24 – 1940s big male vocal – best upenergy clap

[Gettin’ Much Lately?] Ain’t Nothin’ To It – Fats Waller, his Rhythm and his Orchestra (John Hamilton, Bob Williams, Herman Autrey, Geoge Wilson, Ray Hogan, Jimmy Powell, Dave McRae, Gene Sedric, Bob Carroll, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) – 134 – 1941 – The Last Years (1940-1943) (disc 02) – 3:10 – 1940s hot big male vocal – mediumenergy Hollywood 1 Jul 1941

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

Bli-Blip – Ella Fitzgerald – 128 – 1957 – The Complete Song Books (Disc 07) Duke Ellington Vol. 3 – 3:05 – 1950s hi-fi big female vocal – best mediumenergy favourite

Summit Ridge Drive – Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five (Billy Butterfield, Johnny Guarnieri, Al Hendrickson, Jud DeNaut, Nick Fatool) – 128 – 1940 – Self Portrait (Disc 2) – 3:21 – 1940s small instrumental – upenergy great

B-Sharp Boston – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra – 126 – 1949 – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 – 2:55 – 1940s big instrumental – mediumenergy

Shiny Stockings – Count Basie and his Orchestra – 126 – 1956 – Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings (Mosaic disc 06) – 5:17 – 1950s hi-fi kansas big instrumental – mediumenergy

Splanky Count Basie and his Orchestra – 125 – 1957 – The Complete Atomic Basie – 3:36 – 1950s hi-fi big instrumental – NT best mediumenergy

My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone – 120 – The Great Nina Simone – 3:38 – hi-fi small female vocal – best mediumenergy

As you can see, I cover quite a few styles and eras there. I use these songs in different moments, for different effects. ‘Blues for Smedley’, for example, is solid supergroove. It has a fabulous muted trumpet intro, and it’s lots of fun to dance to. I usually play it later at night, after I’ve pumped the energy up really high, and am giving the dancers a rest, or wanting to build up again after a rest. It’s a chilled out song, that’s a bit more rhythmically complex. But it still trucks along with good energy. It’s a good wee break song too :D But I probably wouldn’t play it in a shorter weekly gig, as it’s just too long, and I don’t like to lean on supergroove. There’s also a massive bass solo in the middle that some newer dancers don’t especially dig. But I play it because that bass solo is actually fantastic. And this is a really good example of really good supergroove.

You might have noticed the terms ‘mediumenergy’ and ‘upenergy’ in there. These are key search terms for me, as I tend to DJ an ‘energy wave’, working the energy in the room up and down waves. This is probably the thing I think most about when I’m DJing: how much energy is there in the room? Are they crazy wild? Are they chilled and calm? Do they need a little emotional rest? I think energy is more important than tempo, particularly when dancers get some stamina and experience.
People generally are only picky about tempo when their teachers have told them tempo is a big deal (or haven’t ever played faster songs in class), or their local DJs don’t ever play a range of tempos. I think we should be able to dance to ALL the tempos, from super slow to super fast. And if peeps can’t dance fast, then their teachers haven’t explained to them that you can dance half time, or can dance a simple rhythm: you don’t have to lay it out in badarse swingouts at 200bpm. You can just chill. A discomfort with higher tempos is a mental block, not a physical one: brand new dancers are generally (in my DJing experience) totally fine with rocking out to 250bpm. They’re all over the place, they get exhausted, but they have fuckloads of fun. Unless someone has told them ‘fast is hard’. I find the pickiest dancers are the more (but not most) experienced, and they can be a total pain in the arse.

I’ve also included my ‘grouping’ tags in this list. You can read more about them in my post Herräng report part 2: organising my music collection for DJing. There are quite a few vocals in there (which are often a good way to work with newer dancers, who aren’t used to instrumentals in big numbers), but I absolutely lean on instrumentals. I know that some DJs consciously combine vocals and instrumental songs, keeping tab on the ratio, but I tend not to. To me, a good trumpet riff is as effective as a vocal line. I mean, we can all sing the melody to ‘Flying Home’, right, and there’s no vocal there. Same goes for the Big Eighteen’s version of ‘Easy Does It’. Worst ear worm song ever. And there’re no vocals.

Other things that make for a good favourite:
Energy. ‘upenergy’ songs are often popular. Because lindy hop is an upenergy dance.
Clapping. I don’t have ‘Lavender Coffin’ in this list, though I should. Lionel Hampton understands about clapping, shouting and a good rolling rhythm line. You can play ‘Lavender Coffin’, ‘Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-dee-o-do’, and ‘Hey Ba-ba-ree-bop’ all in a row, and dancers love it. They’re pretty much all the same song – same tempo, same energy, same simple vocals, clapping, shouting, etc. If you follow that up with ‘Cole Slaw’ (the Jesse Stone version), you’re rocking. But you will find the dancers aren’t ‘going’ anywhere: you’ve just served them up four bowls of potato chips, and they need something different to push them up the tempos or into a new vibe.
I use these songs to build energy, to prepare dancers for higher tempos. I usually follow up with something faster and more exciting. Or I use these songs to follow up a super fast song, or a bombed experiment. Lavender Coffin is my standard follow up to a jam: the high energy capitalises on the energy of the jam, but the lower tempos invite newer or less confident dancers onto the floor. The shouty, extended intro breaks the continuity of the jam, so that you disturb the flow of couples moving into and out of the circle, and break up the vibe so everyone can get onto the floor. And the call and response structure is a clear invitation to dancers:
Do you want to dance?
YEAH!

Every lindy hop set needs some Ella Fitzgerald. She’s one jazz artist most non-dancers know. And she did some fabulous stuff. I actually hate her shouty squawky scatting, so I NEVER play Honeysuckle Rose or her later stuff. ‘Bli Blip’ is a compromise. I actually have a few of her live recordings from the Savoy with Webb’s band after he died in my favourites list (‘St Louis Blues’ from 1939), because that band was shit hot, and she was a great band leader. And her vocals have moved away from that cutesy shit she did when she was younger, and into a more mature, kicking style. I do adore her stuff with Louis Armstrong, but I don’t DJ it that often, as it’s a bit slow.

Fats Waller is massively popular. It’s like he suddenly got huge with dancers when Frida and Skye did that ‘Twenty four robbers’ routine in 2007, and never left them. He makes for great dancing: funny, clever lyrics, great bands, moving from light and tinkly to hardcore shout choruses. Pretty predictable, and there is a bit of dross in his recordings, but there are also a LOT of fantastic songs there. I have about one million Waller songs in my favourites list. His slower stuff is perfect, though, and ‘All that Meat and No Potatoes’ is a guaranteed win. I actually love ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ most of all, but the perennial favourites is ‘Yacht Club Swing’. I play a couple of versions of ‘Fat and Greasy’ a lot at the moment, because it has lots of energy. ‘Moppin’ and Boppin” has a great intro that helps kick of a set, or signal a jump in energy.

If your favourites list doesn’t have a stack of Basie in it, you’re doing it wrong. The old timers said Basie’s band was THE business for lindy hopping. He’s pretty much perfect: a fat, solid rhythm section, simple structures, exciting energy, good musicians. He feels like meat and potato to me: good, solid lindy hopping fun. Not too cerebral, just crazy fun. And then in the 50s, his new testament stuff develops those themes: the rhythm section is still solid, but Basie’s piano is pared back, and even more a melodic contribution. The tempos shift a little, and the band gets further into the pocket (ie it feels ‘more swingy’ and less crazy). The band was phenomenal – there are some recordings of the 1930s/40s hits by the 50s/60s band (the ‘Count Basie Story’ album is a good example) that are just amazing: to hear that band in hi-fi, with so many years of experience launching into ‘Jumpin at the Woodside’, it just makes lindy hoppers wee their pants.

I adore Ellington. He had a strong association with dancers over the years, but he wasn’t a huge hit with lindy hoppers. But I play quite a lot of him, especially the smaller groups (because that’s my favourite music, ever). You have to think carefully about which songs work for which crowds, though, as he does wiggedy wack stuff with phrasing and timing. Choreographing to his songs can be a headache. But these challenges are what make him so much fun, especially for experienced dancers. The modern lindy hop movement has thirty years under its belt – longer than the original swing era – and dancers’ approach to music is consequently more diverse and often more complex. ‘B Sharp Boston’, ‘Back Room Romp’ and ‘Good Queen Bess’ are standards in my collection. Utterly overplayed. I love Ellington.

I don’t have any Tommy Dorsey or Charlie Barnet in this short list, but they’re also up there in my favourites, and I use them a lot. I’ve only included one Bechet song, but I use quite a few of his quite often. This song is a good example of New Orleans Revival stuff, and is massively overplayed everywhere. It’s also a good wee break song :D Nice moderate tempo, a good ‘story’ in the song (it starts simple, then builds in compexity, energy and interest).

Dancers love Jimmie Lunceford. I think of him as being fairly meat and potatoes – like Lionel Hampton, Chick Webb, and Count Basie. If you don’t have him in your collection, you’re doing lindy hop wrong. He does everything from calmer, accessible slower tempos to crazy-fast exciting stuff. Vocals, instrumentals, etc. Just great.

I use quite a lot of Andy Kirk, but have only one of his songs in this list. I love him. I love Mary Lou Williams. This is a great band.

I’m not a massive Chick Webb person. I know, I know, it’s a failing. But I’m also a bit cool on Sidney Bechet. I know, I KNOW! I think I need to buy more Webb so I can really get my head around him. But I don’t like that early Ella stuff much (though it was actually where my interest in jazz began!), and I can’t really get past that with Webb.

Ok, I have to end here. But there are 53 songs in this list of songs. That’s 2 hours of music. If you just played from this list, you’d be playing a cracking set. And this is just an edited down version of my favourites list (which is 170 songs/9 hours long).

As I finish off this post, I worry that I’m coming across as advocating (or establishing) a canon of ‘good dancing music’. I’m wary of this approach, because I think this sets up scary power dynamics and ideas about what constitutes ‘good’ music and good dancing. This list of ‘favourites’/’safety songs’ is very personal. It’s my list, developed through my own DJing and dancing experiences. Yes, I can say ‘you must have Basie in your collection’, and I think to some extent we have developed a musical canon in lindy hop. A canon set down by people like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller.

This is because we are, at heart a recreationist community. We are always looking backwards. But as the DJs said in that session, we can’t live in the past, because we are living now, in the 21st century, and we don’t want to live in the 1930s, because, generally, it was pretty shitty. The interesting, and powerful, thing about lindy hop culture today is that we can at once honour the past, and honour elders, and live now, in the present, with an eye to the future. Our community’s emphasis on pedagogy and (sometimes scary) expansionist ‘grow the scene’ imperative are part of our looking to the future. And I think that one of the strengths of lindy hop is that it is, at its heart, about innovation, change and adaptability. We value stealing steps, we value innovation and creativity, but we also value preservation and historical awareness. So we can at once have a list of ‘favourite songs’, but we can also add to this list.

One of the issues that came up in that DJ session at Herräng was when and how to play and value modern day bands. Some of the DJs really didn’t dig new bands. Some really did. I personally play a lot of music by modern day bands, who’re doing both recreationist and original work. I buy it because I want to support these bands, because these are the bands I hire for dance events, and dancing to live bands is the best. But I’m also trying to wean myself off playing so much modern music, because I think that the original recordings are without peer. I think that there really were moments of genius in the 20s, 30s, and 40s. But I’m not blind to its weaknesses: there were also some truly shithouse bands, and there are some really awful recordings of terrible performances.

So my (full) favourites list is a mix of recordings of jazz and swing from the 1920s to the present day. I DJ from all these eras, and I DJ from a range of styles. The challenge for me at Herräng was keeping to the camp’s mandate of prioritising big band classic swing recordings of the 1930s and 40s. I wanted to play across a broader field of swing and jazz music. But Herräng has a clear and specific goal: to preserve and recreate african american music of the swing and jazz eras. Frankie Manning and other lindy hoppers of the 30s and 40s are the guiding lights for this project. So the big band music of this period is the focus of all this creative work. And this is what makes Herräng special: it has that clear creative goal and preservationist mandate. And I was happy to work with that, because I value those things too. But if this was the only DJing gig I did, I’d get quite frustrated.

Remind me to talk more about the tension between this approach to DJed music at Herräng, the actual live bands they hire, and the musical projects of the teachers and dancers who attend the camp (especially in week 5). While a classic swinging big band might be Frankie’s ideal, the reality of making music today dictates the limits of a smaller band. It’s hard to get 15 people together to do disciplined big band music. We just don’t have the resources (financial, social, knowledge, cultural) to pull it off. So dancers are into making small band music.
There’s a strong NOLA influence there, because many of these dancers are living in NOLA, or working with musicians inspired by NOLA. And as anyone who takes a moment to find out, music in New Orleans today, and in the past, has been far more diverse than just a big lump of Louis Armstrong.

I did feel, at moments, in Herräng, that the dictates to DJs were not quite in accord with the live music I was hearing. Naomi Uyama’s band played music that was very much influenced by NOLA, and not quite as close to classic big band swing as the DJing was expected to be. Mostly because the band itself was made up of musicians who’d lived and/or worked in New Orleans or with NOLA bands. The pick-up bands playing in the wee hours, from about 5am, in the foyer at the Folkets Hus were largely NOLA inspired. And these bands felt the most ‘authentic’ to me – these were dancers picking up instruments and playing music in a casual, informal way.
Some of them were professional musicians as well, but there wasn’t the musician/dancer divide that we saw in the evening gigs: these musicians were dancers; this music was by dancers. And you could just sit and listen or stand and listen, or you could dance. Whereas the evening bands were really presented just for dancing: there was nowhere to sit, you couldn’t bring your drinks into the ballrooms. I felt the pub nights up at Heaven’s Kitchen were just as ‘real': unamplified pick-up bands, where anyone was welcome to join in (well, within reason), and the emphasis in the tents was on talking, socialising, drinking and perhaps listening or singing along. If you didn’t want to listen, you moved to the back of the tent. If you did, you moved closer to the band. There was no dancing.

I know I’ve gotten off-track here, but I think that it’s important to address issues of ‘canon’, ‘authenticity’ and useability in music when we talk about ‘favourites’. I think this tension between ‘good music’ and ‘useable music’ is very interesting. I am fascinated by the way lindy hop culture defines ‘good’ by ‘danceability’. Those moments at the pub nights, and in the foyers in the early mornings, I think I saw an important piece that modern lindy hop culture has been missing: the juke joints and rent parties and jams in late night bars and homes and sheds that complimented the big ballroom gigs in the 20s, 30s, and 40s. These informal places were were musicians refined their crafts, playing music they wanted to play. This creative ‘play’ or extension was a necessary compliment to the big band gigs that paid bills and put food on the table. And we are making a dire mistake when we neglect them in our lindy hop cultures.