Herrang: wrack and ruin

Physical duress:

    Week 2:
  • first case of Herrang flu (including head aches, fever, voice loss, cough, sore throat, snot, nausea)
    Week 3:
  • second case of Herrang flu (as above)
  • sudden onset of menstruation during week of DJing. Of course.
  • loss of hearing, voice, stamina, and brain due to Herrang flu

Emotional duress:

  • Left both my passports on the plane as I arrived in Seoul (the first of six legs in an international journey);
  • Accommodation for second city in series of four cancelled while in aeroplane, leaving only a couple of hours to book new accommodation while in in transit. This was achieved;
  • Discovered travel agent had not booked baggage allowance for third leg of international journey. Paid a frightening amount for luggage allowance;
  • Herrang flu led to development of serious snoring which led to eviction from accommodation in Herrang. Self esteem devastated, but alternative accommodation secured;

Professional duress:

  • Laptop actually broke inside. Discovered this two hours before first set in seven day week as staff DJ scheduled to begin;
  • Couldn’t DJ for two of the seven days I was hired for;
  • Couldn’t prepare for DJing for two of the seven days I was hired for;
  • Kendra, IT support queen, headed off a case of DJ panic with some wonderful support and practical testing. Goddess bless Kendra in staff coordination;
  • Hard drive salvaged by Brad, head of limo services;
  • New hard drive case fetched from Halstavik (goddess bless the limo service, most especially Brad, Ben, and the nice guy with dreds), but it turned out to be the not-quite-right-type. Still worked;
  • Lost my Australia-Sweden plug adaptor thingy. Australian power cable for laptop and phone therefore useless;
  • Borrowed a macbook air to run my laptop’s hard drive as an external hard drive. All good until I realised mid-way through the week that it was resetting all my trackpad preferences each time I shut it down and rebooted from the external hard drive. This resulted in a number of very high profile, very embarrassing double clicks while DJing to a massively crowded room of dancers;
  • Discovered the UK-Sweden power board adaptor thingy I was using with the UK-plug borrowed laptop was faulty. Had to borrow power cable from different DJ each night. Forgot on one particularly memorable night;
  • Second round of Herrang flu during week as staff DJ = lack of late night DJing stamina from me;
  • Somehow manage to bend prong of headphone jack on (only pair of) headphones, so that it no longer works with laptops;
  • Second round of Herrang flu resulted in complete loss of hearing in one ear on flight home.

I think perhaps Herrang is sending me a message: is it time to stop DJing?

People who saved my arse during all these dramas include Dave, Australian IT support; Kendra for diagnosing my laptop’s problem; Kendra’s friend in the USA who assisted in diagnosis; Phillipe, who leant me the macbook air; Brad in limo services for rebuilding my hard drive and actually coming up with a solution; Ben, Travis, and a nice guy with dreds in limo services who went to town and bought the actual hard drive; Meghan, Anton, and Heidi who all leant me power cables for my laptop; various members of reception staff who handled laptop trade-offs with aplomb (and well beyond their job descriptions); Meghan and Jonas who dealt with my being completely fucking useless for two days like wonderful professional wonderfuls. I love them.

Incidentally: Jonas Larsson and Meghan Gilmore were the DJ managers for Herrang this year, and they did a magnificent job. They were fantastic to work with (professional, boss-like, setting clear limits, yet also respecting and encouraging creative experiments), an inspiringly good management team (they have to work together to make up DJ rosters using 6 staff DJs and a range of volunteer and guest DJs across at least 4 or 5 dance floors EVERY NIGHT for five weeks), and just plain old good DJs.
They were the best DJ managers I have ever worked with. They improved our working conditions, they made sure we had a good DJ ‘base’ (ie office) that was so friendly we occasionally had to kick other staff out of it so we could work, and they did lovely things like make us have dinner together to nerd out on jazz. It was a real pleasure and privilege working with them.

Note 2:
Despite all this rubbish, I actually had a nice holiday. I didn’t stress out (except for when I discovered I’d left my passports on the plane), and even Kendra was amazed by how calm I was. But as you soon discover in Herrang: the way you respond to the first drama in Herrang dictates the type of Herrang experience you’ll have. I choose ‘whatevs’ as a response.

the Blue Rhythm Band

Ok, Sydney’s jazz scene is A1.
We have so much live jazz on Sundays that even our huge scene can’t field enough dancers to cover them all. We do all the styles: hot jazz, classic swing later swing easing into bop, NOLA reactionist stuff, NOLA purist stuff, big band swing, small group swing, neoswing, jump blues. One of the best badns I’ve danced to – the Ozcats – is from Sydney. Adrian Cunningham is from Sydney. The scene has a reputation for being quite competitive and kind of seriously Professional, less casual than Melbourne’s more open, friendly scene. But that’s also led to some seriously professional, hardcore jazz acts.

Two of my favourite bands have recently gotten it pretty seriously together. One is Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band, and one is SwingRocket. I’ll talk about the Blue Rhythm Band in this post.

Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band
The Blue Rhythm Band is my current favourite. Band leader Andrew Dickeson is a jazz history nerd and a Basie specialist. He’s also my current favourite drummer (after Lynn Wallis, but then Lynn is everyone’s favourite drummer), and he’s my friend. I’ve been working with Andrew and his band on a number of projects lately, including having them as the house band at the Little Big Band recently. This band understands lindy hoppers, and what we want. So they do it.

They’re so good, they’ve been booked for every major Australian event this year. Yes. MLX, SSF, Sweet n Hot, Canberrang, Jumptown Jam, Little Big Weekend, SLX… and probably more I’ve missed. One of my concerns is that they’ll be over-exposed by all these gigs. Can their repertoire hold up? Can they keep it interesting? Yes.

The rhythm section stays the same, but Andrew uses his serious connects and sound judgement to bring in great talent. These aren’t just a bunch of random musicians, or dancers who’ve been playing instruments for a few years. These are the best musicians in Sydney, with years and years of professional musicianship and national and international tours under their belts. They are fully legit. And they do not compromise this professionalism and ability for dance gigs.
The last party I booked them for, George Washingmachine played violin and it was quite special. Though George does a lot of manouche and western swing, this was solid Ray Nance with Ellington.
The following night they were booked to play another party in the Last Minute Exchange, and I was worried they’d sound a bit samey. But on that night they had Dan Barnett playing trombone (plus a different bass player – a nice guy who was also a tapper!) and it was a completely different sound. Both nights they played Take the A Train, but it was a completely different song each night.
I’ve also booked them to play in a larger formation, with Bob Henderson on trumpet (you can see him playing with Andrew and Brendan in this video), and Dan Barnet on trombone again. Completely different sound and feel.
My ambition is to have the core rhythm section (Peter, Brendan, Andrew) do a skanky barrel house blues session with Brad and perhaps a good, fierce woman shouter on vocals. I’m certain it would make people dance extremely skank.

So what makes the band so great live? We’ve heard all these guys a million times before in different bands. Why do they work so well in this incarnation?

Perhaps most importantly, Andrew’s a strong band leader. The band has a clear focus and direction, guided by Andrew’s leadership, vision, and taste. And he listens when I talk to him about the music dancers like. He thinks about tempo and song length and energy.
But he doesn’t compromise on musicianship. He makes sure the band play music they have strong feels for. When the band sets up on stage (or on the floor, usually :D ), his drums are right in the middle of it all. The other musicians are gathered around, with Brad in the front. This is pretty much as Andrew described the way Basie’s rhythm section working – the bass set down the beat, the guitar added, and then the drums filled in around all that.
Andrew’s not the sort of drummer who pushes things forward. He fills in, letting the bass set the beat. And one of my favourite things is the way he treats his entire kit like a set of percussive instruments. It reminds me of a good NOLA style drummer (like Lynn Wallis :D) where the drummer makes all sorts of sounds. He doesn’t just ride that high hat or bonk on a drum. He makes taps and thwocks and shushes and pings.

I often think of Andrew as the brain or bigger structure of the band, calling solos, songs, etc, as a good band leader should. But Brad Child really brings the feels when he’s in the band. He has a very good ear (heart?) for the feel, the energy of a room. Watching him in the band, I’m reminded of a very good DJ. He knows when to adjust the tempo, or beef up the energy, or back off the chunk. Between him and Andrew, you have a very nice band dynamic. The two work so well together, you don’t get a sense of conflict or competition between two leaders. You really feel as though they have a good, solid collaborative relationship. Andrew listens to Brad’s ideas, and goes with his suggestions. Brad lets Andrew set up the structures and guidelines for the show.
This was really brought home when I saw Dan Barnet sit in with the bigger band for me at Little Big Weekend. Brad and the others had worked with vocalist/lindy hopper Georgia Brooks, and guest tappers Ramona Staffeld and Ryan Campbell-Birch a few times now, and had figured out how we dancers approach the feel of a song. He also clearly realised that Mona and Georgia and Ryan aren’t just ring-ins to be tolerated.
When Ramona got up to tap with the band, there was a moment when Dan was about to come back in after what he clearly thought was Ramona’s ‘turn’, and Brad touched his arm to keep him back. Brad had seen that Ramona was just pausing a moment to listen to the band, before replying. And there was a sudden flash in Dan’s face, as he realised what was going on. Dancers: part of the band. And then he got excited.

It’s this collaboration between dancer and musician that’s really made the Blue Rhythm Band fantastic for us over the last six months or so. These musicians are really, really talented. They know how to work in an improvised band (this is where the riff-based sets come in – they are always improvising within a structure). They know when to back off, to pause so someone can play, when to step up an intensify. And they’ve realised that this is what we do as lindy hoppers too. We know how to jam. We do it within a swing out. Within a jam circle. And I’ve seen these musicians suddenly go, “Ah-HA!” and figure out that we’re not just stooges who’d dance to a metronome. We are jazz dancers.
This relationship has been made clear by (and developed in) having the band play for a jam-style lindy hop comp we held recently for the first time (the Harlem Spoon). We all had to figure out how to do this, both organisers and musicians. Talking to the band after a practice contest before the main event, I was just so delighted when Brad said “Was it ok? I tried to give each of them something to work with.” He just understood that each couple needed a bit of feel or something to work with. They didn’t just want a random drum solo or boring bit of fill.

I can’t help but gush about working with this band. They’ve just fitted into the lindy hop jazz dance vibe like we were meant to be together. Because we were! Having them as the house band at an event with Jenny Deurell and Rikard Ekstrand, and tappers like Ryan Campbell-Birch and Ramona Staffeld, has been wonderful. They’ve talked to these dancers and started seeing that we are really all in the same family. And their lovely cooperative approach to playing as a band has just been the perfect, BEST articulation of the philosophy of dance Jenny and Rikard and Ramona in particular have been teaching. And when we started working with Ryan earlier this year, it all just seemed to click into place: we’re all jazzers. We might embody that in different ways, but we are all working with the same principles, practices, and skills. These are:

  • work with other people in collaboration, not antagonism or competition;
  • listen, pay attention, don’t just ‘blow your own horn’ all the time :D;
  • be prepared to contribute, to speak, to solo, because the second rule of jazz club is: you must jazz;
  • learn the physical cues of passing a solo or communicating in jazz – a crooked eyebrow, a cocked ear;
  • understand the structure and the ‘rules’ of this game – it’s not chaos or total anarchy;
  • be prepared to improvise within this structure. That’s what makes it FUN.

I think that this is why this band is so good: they have figured out that as jazzers, if musicians and dancers work together in an intelligent, creative way, it is the BEST FUN OF ALL TIME. It can really push your art to the next level.

Musicians: Andrew Dickeson (drums), Brendan whatsit (bass), Peter Locke (piano), Brad Child (sax, clarinet).
Style: classic, four on the floor small group swing, riff style (that means they don’t work from scores, and they improvise a lot).
Website: Blue Rhythm Band
Contact: email Andrew on swingishere1234@gmail.com
Recordings: not yet – hassle Andrew for some!

Georgia, Brad, Andrew, Brendan, Peter playing at the chillaxed Sunday party for the Little Big Weekend.


jazz zine

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My jazz nerdery has reached (glorious) new heights.
This genuine jazz zine (accompaniment to our jazz history class) can be YOURS for the grand sum of 50AUc. PM to find out how to get it to your house.

Now available ONLINE as my journey into capitalism continues: http://swingdancesydney.com/shop.html
Price: now incredibly high (to cover postage), but also with the added incredible experience of receiving actual PAPER MAIL

Hot Jazz Alliance

…speaking of jazz history nerdery…
The Hot Jazz Alliance have some actual music you can actually buy.

This band is quite special because it includes some of Melbourne’s finest jazznerd musicians: Jon Scurry (guitar/banjo), Leigh Barker (bass/sousaphone), Michael McQuaid (clarinet/sax), Jason Downes (clarinet/sax); and some very good American musicians: Andy Schumm (Cornet/Piano), Josh Duffee (drums/percussion).
All these guys have played for dancers one million times (Leigh Barker is a part of The Melbourne Rhythm Project), and they know their shit. They also know what they’re about when it comes to ye oldey hawt jass.

Here, have some Jimmie Noone.

Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band

Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band.

I wrote this email the afternoon after Jazz with Ramona.
My only regret is that I don’t have any sound files or video to flaunt this band’s mad skills.

Hi everyone,

I had to write to you immediately to tell you about the band we used last night at the Jazz with Ramona weekend: Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band.
I’ve been looking for small to medium sized band that just plays good, solid swing. I’ve been working with Andrew for a while on putting together the right line up, charts, and set structure, he’s done a gig for me with this band before, and played in lots of other bands for, but last night…

I was just amazed.

It was like someone shoved Basie’s band into a four piece. Andrew is gifted drummer and jazz historian (he teaches jazz at the Conservatorium here in Sydney), but more importantly, he really understands what lindy hoppers are looking for in a band. And he has spectacular taste. He not only played great arrangements, be combined the songs inside the set the way a the best DJ would. I was amazed. I just couldn’t believe how good it was. And the musicians play by ear, with some strong leadership and collaboration on who solos when. Andrew invited Mona to tap with him, and it was integrated so well into the band, it was like she was just another musician. It was riveting.

They play classic solid swing. Four on the floor and no cheating – perfect for lindy hopping. Song-wise, they played the things we want. King Porter Stomp. Swinging the blues (the ~150bpm version). Moten Swing. Doodlin’. Jumpin at the Woodside. Jeep is Jumpin’, Flying Home. And they knew how to work the tempos to suit what the dancers could handle, but also to adjust the energy in the room. Playing together, they’d call things like “King Porter’s Stomp, but brighten it up and put some energy in it,” or “Jeep, but go in heavy”. I can’t believe a 4 piece can play a song like Jumpin’ at the Woodside and make it feel like a big band.

Anrdrew’s also very good to work with.
His email: swingishere1234@gmail.com
His phone number: +61 401 354 897
Website: http://bluerhythmband.org/

I cannot recommend this band enough. I have him booked for all three nights of the Little Big Weekend in May, putting together a 4piece, a slightly larger band, and then a 3 piece barrelhouse band. I have absolute confidence in his ability to give each band a different flavour, and to deliver top shelf swinging jazz to my brief.
More importantly, Lennart declared this band very nice and actually went in a jam of his own free will in October. They are that good.

If you book him, I’ll be there.




Often instrumental blues used ‘riffs,’ also – single rhythmic phrases repeated over and over, as a background to the melody, or as the melody itself. Jazz today uses riffs. It also uses ‘breaks,’ which come from the blues. At the end of a phrase of melody or words, there is a little pause, during which one or more instruments break away from the melody and make up some fill-in music (pg 20).

This is why I get angry when I watch dancers ‘hit’ all breaks by standing still. If a musician or band leaves you some space, you should fill it. Not every time, but often enough to show you’re listening. This is also why we teach our beginners about break steps in their first or first class. First you set up the rhythm, then you break it. You aren’t just dead weight in this song; you have to bring something to the party, because you are part of the band. When someone calls, you respond.

Teaching and joy

We’re doing some quite interesting classes on our Wednesday nights at the moment. They are all by-request, which means the topics are quite varied. We did a ‘big apple contest’ class open to everyone (most excellent fun), we’re doing a ‘Social dancer’s history of jazz’ class next week (open to everyone again), a ‘steals’ class the week after, and this week we’re doing a class on how to combine 6 and 8 count steps.

I’d ordinarily avoid a class on ‘steals’ because it feels like one of those gimmick classes. But as one of our other teachers said, “If we want to foster those lindy hop traditions like birthday jams, we have to teach them how to steal.” And because our classes are more like structured self-guided learning a lot of the time, it’s the perfect chance for people to experiment with the concept.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. Especially when I thought about it as just another example of how to understand phrasing, and to read another dancer’s body and feels. So while we’ll be looking at how to get into a birthday jam and ‘steal’, we’ll be talking about how to prepare for the beginning of a phrase, how to read a couple’s dancing to see if it’s time to interrupt or not (eg don’t butt in on a big rhythm break), how to ‘cut in’ in a respectful, efficient way, etc etc. And it’s really just a dancing game that teaches us how to partner dance.

The one we’re doing this week is about combining 6 and 8 count moves. More specifically, a follow requested we look at how follows know whether a move is 6 or 8 count. I’m always a bit surprised by these questions, because I simply don’t think about it when I dance. When I lead, I am absolutely not thinking ‘Here is an 8 count move, now I’m doing a 6 count move.’ I just move through space responding to my partner and to the music. If a triple step is nice here, I put it in. If I need to turn or move quickly, I use a triple step. If I’m hitting a break, I might add in a bit of rhythmic flourish. I leave it to the follow to decide whether they need to triple step or kick ball change or step or kick or whatever. This isn’t 2003: I don’t micro-lead. As if I ever did.
But then I thought about what I do when I’m following. Again, I don’t think ‘6’ or ‘8’ as I’m moving through steps. But what I do do, is use the steps that get me through the shapes most efficiently (or most pleasingly). So I might use a triple step to move quickly through a turn (I rarely spin), I might use a kick/bounce combination to get through a pivot. And so on. Again, I use what gets me through the space I need to cover. I’m moving through the music (ie through time) at the rate my partner asks. And a 6 count move is just moving through a shape 2 beats faster than in an 8 count.

What it made me realise was that perhaps we’d over-emphasised the ‘basic rhythm’ as an 8 count. Perhaps we’d given the impression that an ‘8 count move’ has to be a particular rhythm. When we all know that a move can be any count, and we regularly use 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 count steps in our lindy hop. So there may be a couple of issues here that we need to address.
First, that the steps you dance (ie the rhythm ‘blocks’ – triple steps, steps, etc) are really whatever gets you through the shape most efficiently (or pleasingly). As a follow, your lead begins the move, suggesting a speed at which to move through the move. Because the connection is a two-way thing, the lead can ‘ask’ you to maintain that particular speed throughout the move, particularly if they hear something in the music and have something planned. But a good lead is listening to the follow, and a good following listening to the lead, so you’re paying attention to the connection. And if the lead asks you to maintain that initial speed and direction (or intensity!) it’s nice to do that. Because lindy hop is a partnership. But as a follow, you get to finish the move, and if that means you take 2 more counts than they’d suggested, that’s ok. So long as you keep to the ‘spirit’ of the move, or the vibe the lead is setting down.

[NB Ramona talked about this in classes the other week: the lead begins the move, the follow finishes it. So leads need to let follows finish the move.]

[Other NB I’m beginning to be convinced that leading and following are very different things. It’s not just the same issues of biomechanics applied differently. Leads have a different timing to follows; leads are closer to the beat, a little ahead, the follows a little behind. So to me, the lead is the cab of a semi trailer, and the follow the long trailer. So as a lead, you need to account for that delay when you lead – the follow will get there a tiny bit later than you. I’ve also discovered that it’s this that I find really, really difficult to change when I swap between roles. I’m beginning to think I need to specialise in just one role to really improve. And you have to be as good as Ramona to do both really well.]

I think this is where the real problem comes for a lot of our follows who go social dancing with leads who work in other paradigms. Those leads think ‘ok, I’m doing move X’ and then they set it in motion, but are already thinking about or moving on to the next move before the follow has completed the first move. They don’t allow for the follow’s slight delay in addition to the ‘time’ it’ll take to do the move. In other words, they can’t think beyond their own experience of time during a song.
This means that you get a lot of leads who rush follows through (for example), the final triple step of a swing out, so the follow starts rushing in on 1, instead of really using that last triple step to get momentum into their body. Even more upsettingly, you get a swing out that stops and starts in hard breaks at 8 and 1. And of course the ‘swing’ falls out completely, as everyone rushes rushes rushes to get through the move.

Secondly, the rhythm blocks you use are both functional and creative. So a triple step is great for moving through space quickly (eg on the turn of a swing out), but also wonderful because it’s a syncopated, swinging rhythm that works so nicely with swinging jazz. It’s not like a cha-cha-cha rhythm. Triiii ple-step. Or tri-PLE-step. Varying the accent on a triple step is super fun, and understanding the difference between a triple step and step-stomp-off is also super fun.

Thirdly, this ‘8 count’ structure is something dancers enforce on the 4/4 timing of jazz. The musicians don’t think in 8s. The 2, 4, 6, 8 is a structure that we either build into the song, or we force on top of it. I think it’s better to build it in. So we listen to the music, and find ways to emphasise what’s going on in the song, using our different rhythm blocks, combined over particular lengths of time. And we use even numbers/counts because that’s where the emphasis is in swing. I prefer to think about a song as one long series of beats in time. Some of the beats are emphasised. Some groups of beats are emphasised. Some musicians only play some of the beats. And so on.

So the most important part of dancing is that you carry that consistent beat within your body all the time. All your movements must come from this, both in a creative sense, but also in terms of biomechanics. You use the ‘bounce’ or engagement of core muscles to make a pivoting kick work. You use the ‘groove’ to connect with your partner and the music.

Anyhoo, because I find it so difficult to understand why people have trouble distinguishing between 6 and 8 (or want to distinguish), I’m really looking forward to the session. We have some fun exercises set up, and that group has lots of opinions, so I’m really keen to learning more about how they’re thinking about music.

Teaching. Could anything be better? No.