Where I fall in love with jazz all over again.

I’m going to go on and on about the music at Little Big Weekend 2017 for quite a long time, so best to give you some facts.


Andrew Dickeson and I are big jazz nerds, who love swinging jazz and live in the same neighbourhood. So we’ve been collaborating on putting together live music programs for dancers that make musicians happy. Which means we go to each other’s houses and argue about which songs we should play (ever tried to narrow your favourites down to a dozen?), argue about whether cats or dogs are better, and sigh over Duke Ellington.

We began working on these projects in 2014 at Jazz BANG, a solo jazz weekend here in Sydney. And we’ve done a zillion gigs since. Each gig we seem to pick up another musician who almost cryfeels about the experience of working on this type of music with this band leader, and this crowd. And each gig we see more musos flying or driving to Sydney to be part of it.
You must understand that all these musicians are trained professionals who’ve been playing for years and years, and have recorded heaps of music. Ones like Bob Henderson have been playing since the 50s. Andrew is a lecturer at the most prestigious tertiary institute for music in Australia – the Sydney Conservatorium of Music – where he teaches jazz history. Georgia is a hardcore dancer, teacher, and performer, as well as a trained musician, vocal teacher and performer.

To my mind, the success of the Blue Rhythm Band lies in the relationship between the band leader Andrew Dickeson, and his bff Brad Child. Andrew is a drummer who knows when not to play. He doesn’t bang pots in the kitchen; he places cups and plates on the table, moves them around, rearranges the flowers so everyone can see. When the band sets up on stage, he’s right in the middle, where he can see everyone. And where everyone can see and hear him. So Andrew brings structure, clarity, and direction to the band.

Brad is more about the feels. Standing near the band (or sometimes right in the middle of it when I’m working), you can hear Brad yelling out things like “There, now, I’m going in!” and then pumping the energy. Or, “Back off, back it off, nice and gentle!” He has the sort of unerring ear and eye for energy and vibe which I’ve only seen in one or two exceptional DJs. It’s truly a rare talent. He’s not just watching the crowd, he’s feeling the crowd, and the band, and he’s bringing them all together, on a very nice trip through jazz.

When you add responsive, clever, talented musicians to that pair, you get a lovely, vibrant, powerful band. A solid group who take improvisational risks, but are still very solid. Sound. Or, if you’re thinking about lindy hop, this band has very tight rhythms, excellent timing, but knows that it’s ok to relax and just improvise around simple shapes rather than trying to jam complex figures into one dance. And they know how to look at their partners. :D

But this weekend was the most ambitious. I was collaborating with Sharon Hanley on the dancing parts. Sharon is a long-time balboa nut, and she was bringing some very good balboa dancers to town, dancers strongly rooted in the history of the dance, and who understand swinging jazz. I was bringing two teachers who are all about lindy hop and solo jazz dances. Also very much informed by jazz dance history. Sharon and I run separate dance businesses in Sydney – Swing Time Australia (Sharon), and Swing Dance Sydney (me). These businesses focus on our dance and musical interests. We’ve worked together lots of times in the past, mostly on DJing, and on running parties. This was our first large project together.

It never occurred to us that balboa and lindy hop couldn’t have fun together on the same dance floor. It’s the same music, right? Solid, swinging jazz. After all, when we DJ together, we’re into the same music. And it never occurred to us that east coast influenced swing dances (lindy hop, balboa, shag) couldn’t sit well with Harlem-centred swing dances (lindy hop, solo, tap, etc). After all, that’s how Sydney works: all these dances play well together at our parties and live music gigs.

For me, it’s the music that makes the point of all this. Working with musicians, musicians working together, dancers working together. It’s all about improvisation, playing games, having fun, and just being filled up by that good sound. Andrew and I have just had so much fun doing these parties, and we just LOVE the music so much, and the relaxed fun of social dancing with live music, we just figure: let’s do MORE!
I want to do more and more and more of this. I can see how it could become addictive. I can see how musicians have problems with drugs – uppers to keep you going. Downers to help you finally sleep. Putting together a few little shows for the weekend, I just thought ‘Ha! There are some serious talents coming, I’ll just set it up and let them go!’ and then we set it up, and let them go, and it was amazing. Musicians and dancers. I really do love this approach to events and dancing: get some solid framework in place, then let people improvise on top. And make sure everyone has a lot of fun and feels good and safe. Amongst friends.

So what did we actually do?

Friday: the usual Blue Rhythm Band line up (Brad Child (sax), Peter Locke (piano), Mark Elton (bass), Andrew (drums), Georgia Brooks (vocals).
AND we did a little introduction performance where we introduced our artists (musicians and dancers (Marie N’diaye, Anders Sihlberg, Kate Hedin, Bobby White)) one at a time. It was SPLENDID.

I had a few goals with this performance.
1. I wanted to place the musicians right in there on the same level as our guest teachers. I wanted dancers to see them, know their names, and hear how they added to the band. So we did a ‘Now you has jazz‘ style intro, where we began with Andrew, then literally had the musicians walk in one at at time and start playing. When that bass hit. WOW. The room just LEAPT. I couldn’t believe how effective it was.
2. I wanted to really begin the weekend, not just have it stagger up to speed. So we had a bit of mellow music, lots of snacks and drinks and conversation as people arrived, and THEN we introduced the band and the teachers.
3. I wanted the vocalist (Georgia) to introduce everyone, and to sing. Which was just magical. When she sang that chorus of Honeysuckle Rose, we just sighed.
4. I wanted a well known song that feels nice. Honeysuckle Rose is a lovely song, about loving someone. It’s my favourite. And it can be funny. So it’s perfect for an intro.

This just went off so well. I loved it. I was so happy. Such talented artists!

Saturday: we got super ambitious. Because this Little Big Weekend is a balboa/lindy hop event, we had two bands. We had a swinging combo (Brad, Peter, Mark, Andrew, Bob Henderson (trumpet), Chuck Morgan (guitar)). Adding a guitar: the band was pretty much perfect.
THEN we decided to get all Benny Goodman on our crowd (because balboa dancers – and everyone sensible) loves Goodman’s small group. VIBRAMAPHONE! (Glenn Henrick) and Brad played clarinet.
THIS was pretty freaking amazing. Vibraphones! It’s a magical instrument. I had no idea just how wonderful it sounds in a big room. It just feels all velvety and vibratey, and you can almost feel it on your skin. In the band, it just sort of filled in all the gaps in the music, softening the edges and really feeling like that gorgeous mushy-strong feeling of a good connection between partners.

But then it got better.

ALL the musicians were on stage together, not playing from charts, but paying close attention to Andrew’s leadership, and listening very carefully to each other.

The huge, ugly 70s ballroom (with amazing acoustics and raised seating for non-dancing punters, and a full bar) was just crammed with happy people and great music. Musicians brought their friends and family, and we had a very good time.

With this night, I wanted to really marry the two dances (balboa and lindy hop), by making it clear that we really did love the same music. While Goodman’s small groups are popular with balboa dancers, it’s also wonderful for lindy hop.
And when the band played a beautiful ballad (Moonglow!) people didn’t think ‘oh no, I don’t blues dance!’ they said (SHOUTED in some cases), “I LOVE THIS SONG!” and then just found a person and just enjoyed the song.

…thinking about it now is making me tear up. It was quite magical.

SUNDAY the band was pared back to the Blue Rhythm Band format again, and we just danced and danced.
But first we did a little ‘story of jazz’ performance, where the band showed us how jazz changed from the 20s to the 50s, and our guest teachers showed us how the dancing changed. Tap. Balboa. Pure bal. Bal swing. Lindy hop. Charleston. Breakaway. All of it. And at the end, we all got up and swung out to Shiny Stockings, and some people cried.

Here, my plan was:
1. Make it clear that the music literally comes first,
2. Show that the dance styles may be different, but they’re still the same in that they listen to the music.
3. Invite everyone onto the dance floor together. Literally. We ended with Shiny Stockings, and when I said, “And in the 50s, band leaders like Basie reminded us to dance together… so if you feel the urge, join in and dance with us,” everyone leapt to their feet and danced. It was a very special moment.

One of the best bits happened next. We were doing this as a snowball, to make sure we had everyone feeling welcome. But I added ‘slow motion!’ and ‘Freeze!’ and ‘snowball’ as calls. At first I could hear the musicians saying to each other, “What’re we doing?” and replying “Snowball means change partners!” and then they all got INTO it. When I called ‘freeze!’ the second time, the band literally froze. And then we picked up in perfect time. And everyone in the room laughed and cheered. It was totally improvised, but it felt really, really good. Because we were improvising and playing a game.

Things I loved about the weekend:
– The band was so good, everyone danced to any old song. They don’t worry about speed or who they’re dancing with; they just get up and have some fun.
– The floor was full of all the dances. Balboa, lindy hop, solo, shag, people just holding hands and swaying.
– the noise level from the crowd. Shouting out to the musicians, talking, laughing, cheering, clapping, whooping, hollering.
– the musicians’ massive smiley faces, and the way they’d talk to the dancers or yell out to each other.

This song Benny’s Bugle is important, because the original Goodman small group included Benny Goodman, Cootie Williams, George Auld, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Harry Jaeger. So Basie’s powerhouse rhythm section got together with Goodman’s perfectionist control, and then they made an amazing song. There are some very interesting outtakes from this recording session, available on box sets like Charlie Christian:Genius of the Electric Guitar. And you can listen to it on youtube here.

Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band is strongly influenced by Basie’s rhythm section. And we all know how lindy hoppers feel about Basie. Goodman is just perfect for balboa, because he has that precise, clever instrumentation matched with a glorious swinging timing. That’s balboa, right?

So this song is important: balboa and lindy hop = <3

New Music: Doyle and Gamble

doyle-too-hot michaelgamble4

 

 

 

Jonathan Doyle Swingtet – Too Hot For Socks
and
Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders – Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders

Disclaimer: Books Primo approached me to review the Doyle album, offering me a free download. I chose to pay for it (to support the band), but i took him up on the invitation to review. I saw it as an invitation to engage with his music, to share my opinions. The Gamble review, however, is unsolicited.

Both of these albums landed in my collection on the same day, both prompted by updates and dancers’ chatter on facebook. That in itself is an indication of how closely these two bands are connected to the lindy hop scene. And the importance of digital technology in securing the success of a modern jazz band. You have to have a) a good online vendor for download sales, and b) good social networks in the international lindy hop scene to promote your album by word of mouth.
Both of these bands are American, and both play for dancers, and that’s the other side of the securing-success equation. If dancers see and hear you playing live, and if they feel your feels, and if you’re looking up, at them, engaging with them, and doing that creative, collaborative improvisation that makes jazz jazz, then you’re going to develop a reputation that will help you sell albums and book gigs.

Right now I’m a zillion kilometres above the ground (still over my own continent, though), so I don’t have access to any other information either band. So stick with me, k?

These are dance bands, peopled by, and designed for dancers. Michael Gamble is a dancer and DJ, and his band includes dancers. He also manages the DJed and live music for Lindy Focus, an event fast becoming known for its live music – both in the ballrooms and in the informal jams. Jonathan Doyle is also closely connected with dancers, his band including Brooks Primo and others. Doyle, in fact, has recorded with Tuba Skinny, the Fat Babies, and most recently with Naomi Uyama’s Handsome Devils. All big names in the jazz dance world.

Both bands play regularly for dancers, and are prominent on the american dance event calendar. I’ve never seen either live, though I’m familiar with their recordings, know band members, and have DJed their work before. While they exist as real live people and musicians in American dancers’ lives, they are online people for me. Online friends. I won’t hear them play live unless I travel to America, something I’m not likely to do in the immediate future (guns, Trump, scary arse customs processes, etc). So I consume them as recordings.

For many American dancers, though, they are living, breathing people, friends they see on the stage from the dance floor. Friends they dance with on the dance floor. I think that this relationship is very important, and we all know that live music is now, more than ever, at the core of what we do as dancers today. There was that moment where bigger scenes focussed on DJs, while smaller scenes always maintained relationships with bands, when they had them. But now we are all about live music. And customising bands for our consumption.

Peter Loggins recently noted in a talk at Swing Castle Camp that DJs have both shaped and been shaped by dancers’ preferences, playing 3 minute songs in the 120-180bpm, swing-only, comfort zone. And this has shaped dancers’ expectations of live music. I’m not entirely on board with this argument, as there are plenty of scenes where DJs are playing more varied sets, and plenty of scenes where dancers gather at live music gigs because that is all they have for social dancing.
I’m also more interested in how a contemporary ‘dance band’ might have been shaped by these experiences with DJs. Do modern lindy hop and balboa bands consciously play in ways which reflect this ‘perfect’ dancing storm? If Loggins is right, and DJs have shaped modern lindy hopping practices, have these practices in turn then shaped the way ‘dance bands’ created by and for modern dancers, put together live and recorded sets?

Hm. If this is the case in the States (and I’m not entirely convinced it is), are the European, Japanese, and other regional jazz bands working with dancers reflecting this pattern? Is it the case in Japan, where jazz flourishes, but contemporary lindy hop culture lags a little? And what of bands like the Hot Sugar Band in France, who play for dancers, know dancers, but have a kind of take-no-prisoners approach to live music (and hotel rooms)? Even within America, it’s not an entirely accurate observation about New Orleans, where bands are engaged so actively with a diverse local live music culture.
I know that here in Sydney we have a rich and vibrant live jazz scene, and because bands are playing their gigs, for mixed crowds, they play a range of styles and tempos, and different songs lengths. Even when booked for dancers, and working with dancers to develop ‘dancer-friendly’ sets, they are still holding onto these jazz traditions: playing latin rhythms, playing a range of tempos, and songs of all lengths.
For the most part, dancers are happy with these arrangements. We’ve learnt to enjoy figuring out what to do with something latin rhythmed, or how to handle a super long song. And the strategies we use are similar to the ones Peter outlines in his talk, the sort of strategies that OGs used in the swing and jazz eras.
Interestingly, Sydney is home to the oldest lindy hop scene in Australia, local dancers travel extensively overseas, and we have flourishing balboa, lindy hop, blues, and solo jazz cultures. We aren’t a small, isolated scene with inexperienced dancers. We’re a large, diverse scene with fairly particular musical tastes.

Though we are an older scene, and we do have some exceptional dancers, our overall standard of dancing is a bit patchy, and we don’t have a huge DJing culture. We have some very good DJs, but we don’t have the pervasive ‘hard core DJing culture’ of the States. The organisers and DJs our bands do work with are often firmly rooted in live jazz history, and have a solid understanding of how to work with bands to encourage good dancing and satisfy musicians’ creative drives. Having said that, there are some truly terrible events in Sydney, with awful DJs, and poorly developed visions and guidance for live music. No one wins when the organiser doesn’t have a clue about music, or doesn’t have a passion for 20s, 30s, or 40s jazz.

Many of the better, more experienced Sydney musicians publicly question dancers’ insistence on shorter songs and ‘moderate tempos’. They’re a little more obstreperous, risking gigs because they aren’t as prepared to compromise. Though of course, that’s changing, as recent funding cuts to the arts in Australia (50%!) have sent a significant proportion of our musicians overseas seeking work. If you’re in Paris or the UK, you can catch some of Melbourne’s finest, and if you’re in the Asia-Pacific region, you can often catch a Sydney band touring.
I’m actually very interested in the way local Sydney bands have begun working with dancers for mutual pleasure and creative satisfaction. The Squeezebox Trio have a long standing relationship with balboa dancers at a Wednesday night bar gig, Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band is pursuing Basie’s dance band legacy, working with people like me in Sydney, but also playing at all the major Australian events in 2016. Swing Rocket has played for dancers here in Sydney, but has also played a number of shows in Guadalupe with French musician Tricia Evy and Stockholm based lindy hoppers Marie N’diaye and Anders Sihlberg.

All these bands are staffed by musicians who then go on to work with other local bands, spreading their experience and inspiration from working with dancers. Musicians have been enthusiastically involved with projects like my Little Big Weekend event, where we built tap dancers, singing dancers, and musician-dancers into the program. In my events, I am determined for the music to be more than a ‘background beat’ for dancers. I want musicians engaged with dancers (and vice versa), and I want to use live music in a lot of different ways. For example, earlier this year we had Georgia Brooks arrange a sung ‘word from our sponsor’ to perform with the band during our competition. I’ve also had the band do a ‘practice competition’ with our students at a local gig, so they could all learn how to do a competition with live music. The last was especially fun as we were all trying new things,from seasoned musicians to beginner dancers and organisers. And we went into the enterprise with a spirit of curiosity and determination. And a love of jazz.

I’m not sure how to get to my original point (I did get up at 5.30 this morning), but I wonder if all this means that Gamble’s band and Doyle’s band are perhaps too perfect for dancing? Has the close association with dancers moved them away from a jazz tradition and towards a contemporary lindy hop tradition? But a lindy hop tradition that is a little too carefully curated for the ‘perfect dancing experience’? It’s a tricky issue.
Michael Gamble has been heavily involved with promoting historical swing arrangements and recordings, as well as recreating those with the musical program of events like Lindy Focus, so we know his work is rooted in the past. Which I suppose is my point: is a hardcore recreationist project at odds with the spirit of jazz? If vernacular jazz is about change and growth, innovation and improvisation, does it lose its impetus when we focus on recreating a specific moment in time?

It’s all quite interesting and challenging. And the issue puts us at odds with the function of a dance band (make people dance; make it easy for people to have fun). Can a modern jazz band support that goal while also pursuing musical creativity and innovation which might make for awkward dancing? Can a band honour the past, while also moving forward?

I think it can. But as I’ve ranted in other posts about rhythm-first approaches to dancing, we can’t approach a ‘good dance’ as a series of moves perfectly executed. A ‘good dance’ should have two rules: look after the music, look after your partner. A good dance to a live band should involve an interruption of the sequence of ‘perfect moves’ to pause and just jockey in place, digging the band. Or simpler shapes which allow partners to turn and smile and cheer at musician for an especially excellent solo. Or joke. Just as a good DJ needs to look up from their computer, a good musician look up from their score, a good dancer should look up from their partner and engage with the band, and everyone else in the room.

This is an extension of my question: is it possible for a band to be too perfect for dancing? I’ve lately become a little tired of Gordon Webster’s band for just this sort of reason. The songs he plays are predictable in structure and emotional progression, and just a bit too ‘easy’ or ‘perfect’ for dancing. You can hit every break. You can hear all your favourite songs.

Really, though, this is a silly question. These musicians are working on projects they find satisfying and challenging, interesting and fun. And it gets them work, which is the point of jazz, really, isn’t it? Being socially and creatively sustainable. Earning a living wage and playing music. And the nicest part of swinging jazz is that this playing of music is social. It asks artists to play for and with audiences, rather than locking themselves away in a garret creating ‘art’ that no one ever listens to or engages with. Swing jazz, as dance music, asks musicians to work with dancers, and it asks dancers to engage with music actively, as dancers. Whether they are up on the floor dancing, or turning their ears to the music, breathing it in as people who dance, or feel rhythm in their feet and heart.

That whole issue aside, what’s to be said about these two albums?

Bluntly, Gamble’s album is accessible, and makes for good foot-stomping dancing.
Doyle’s album is more cerebral, more of a toe-tapper than a foot stomper.
Other than that, they’re very similar. Small, swinging bands playing fun swing music.
If I was writing from my gut, I’d say that the Doyle band is a bit squarer than Gamble’s. Which is a feeling I had about their previous recordings. I enjoyed the Doyle, but it doesn’t quite let loose. There’s something in the brass, and wind instruments which says square to me. I’m not a musician, and sadly too slack to educate myself on this point, but it sounds like there’s a lot of very controlled synchronised work there. I feel like things are a bit too safe, a bit too carefully planned out. To me, this sounds like they’re used to playing for each other, more than for dancers. Or if I picture them in my mind, they’re sitting in a circle, facing each other, making it a bit harder for the audience to get in. or they’re reading sheet music, eyes down. This could of course be a matter of the mix or recording technology, with something in Gamble’s recordings lending a warmth or accessablity to the album.
They actually remind me a bit of a band I saw at Herrang, Kinda Dukish. Fantastic musicians, but as a Swedish sound engineer described them, ‘very German’. In other words, very precise. Very good.

My favourite song from this album is ‘Good News, Bad News’. Probably for the muted trombone. ‘You can’t Take These Kisses With Ya’ feels a bit sprightlier, and funner. There are parts of ‘Comfort Zone’ which are especially good. The album does open with a bit of a bang with ‘Sugar Glider’, but even this song is a bit too polite. Though I begin to feel like all the musicians are politely ‘taking turns’, rather than clumping in to give us those layers of sound and aural colour that makes for good dancing.

One of the nice parts of this album is that the cover art features dancers I know (via the internet), drawn by dancers: what a lovely combination. And an example of how ‘swing’ isn’t just about dancing, but a cultural nexus, with dancing just one point on a continuum of cultural practice. A little as Lee Ellen Friedland describes hip hop. I really enjoy this little example of how the band is bedded down into its local dance community.

Gamble’s album, in contrast, comes in like they’re playing for dancers. I know it’s a cliche, but dancers do like vocals, and it provides a point of connection. It’s a bit of an overplayed favourite, but ‘I Left My Baby’ is a good opening song. It provides a point of familiar contact for newer dancers, and it makes experienced ears ask, “Ok, what’re you going to do with this old chestnut to keep my interest?”
‘Disorder at the Border’ comes in the way I like it, with a definitely Basie feel in the rhythm section. I think it has something to do with the sense of relative timing in that rhythm section. Where Doyle’s band feels very neat and in unison almost, here, the Gamble band has the guitar, piano, bass, and drums sitting in slightly different places.

You know what, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I can’t find the words to explain what I’m hearing.

One of the clever parts of this album, is the way it moves from that Basie-esque feel to a smaller, more uptight Goodman small group feel with ‘Airmail Special’, and then on to say hello to Andy Kirk with A Mellow Bit Of Rhythm. I love the version of ‘Seven Come Eleven’, one of my most favourite songs. I really dig that ‘Slidin’ and Glidin’’; I’ve DJed it a few times, and it goes down a treat.

I have to make special mention of Laura Windley’s vocals. I’ve enjoyed her work with her own band, the Mint Julep Jazz Band, and I’ve heard she’s grand live. But I really liked her version of ‘Fine and Mellow’ on this album. It’s hard to sing a song like this, which is so indelibly stamped by Mz Holiday’s voice. When you read the title, you think of that incredible live recording, and Lester Young and Holiday passing the feels back and forth. So to come to this song and give it new feels is a real challenge.
But I think this is my favourite song on the album. The one I’ve listened to quite a few times. Laura changes the vibe, gives it something interesting, and a little more energy, but keeps the clarity and brightness Laura’s band and style are known for.

Yes, it’s all really good dance music. It makes for great dancing. I saw John Tigert drop songs from it at Herrang, and people loved it. But that’s part of my issue with this album. I feel like I’m listening to a good DJ set. The songs are picked from different bands, with different feels, and it’s all great. But I don’t quite feel like the band is taking any risks. I know I’d almost certainly have a good time dancing to this band live. I’d enjoy the performances. I’d hear favourites, plus a few of the ‘currently cool’ ‘newer finds’. But I’d be left wondering exactly what the _point_ of it is. Yes, I do like eating potato chips (a lot). But occasionally I like something a little more challenging to the palate.

In sum, then, this is a very good album. Buy it if you want some easy ‘DJing wins’. Buy it if you want something simple and easy to eat/dance to. As I did, buy it if you want to support bands who play fun music for dancers. But it doesn’t take any risks.

Too Hot For Socks – 2016 – Jonathan Doyle Swingtet
and
Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders – Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders – 2016

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.

link

Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band

Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band.
http://bluerhythmband.org/

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.

Glenn Crytzer’s Savoy Seven: album review

Hello!
This is a post about music!

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

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

My review in extreme length:

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

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(image source)

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

meschiya1355
(image source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milenberg Joys

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

The Hot Jazz Alliance

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

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

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

Dan Levinson’s New Millennium All Stars (http://www.danlevinson.com) play at the 2012 Hot Steamed Jazz Festival in Essex CT (http://www.hotsteamedjazz.com/)

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

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

“MILENBERG JOYS”: CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND at MONTEREY 2011

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

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

“MILENBERG JOYS”: THE EARREGULARS AT THE EAR INN (Oct. 21, 2012)

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

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

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

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

How not to write a review, or anything really.

This review of Pokey Lafarge’s show in the SMH is the worst review ever written by anyone about anything. It’s completely useless, and doesn’t offer any helpful information about the band or the gig.

The first three paragraphs are poorly written rambling messes using every cliche ever (and inaccurate when it comes to Lafarge’s music and influences). The descriptions of the band’s clothing are strangely devoid of awareness of what’s chic atm. This is the most interesting part of this band – they’re perfectly positioned to cash in on the popularity of this ‘retro’ fashion vibe while still being ‘true’ to their own style.

Nor is this band hardcore recreationist, as the review suggests. They play and perform in a decidedly modern way, with modern twists on traditional folk songs and hits. And Pokey’s new album is perhaps even less ‘recreationist’ than the earlier ones. Their vibe reminds me a lot of what St Louis friends tell me about their city: a sort of creative tension between history and change.

This was a professional, well-choreographed show with a really well planned set of music that works the energy room very powerfully. The musicians are all well-seasoned, most of them involved in other popular and professional bands and acts. The merch, website, and PR for Pokey Lafarge is really impressive, they play ‘proper’ venues, and this band isn’t by any means a ‘small’ or hokey old time act any more (if it ever was).

This is what makes the Pokey Lafarge band so much fun to see live: they combine old school influences with an exciting contemporary edge. Feels old, but isn’t.

[addendum:] I’d add, that while CW Stoneking (who the author compares this act to) is actually dead serious about what he does (and a super odd person), Pokey and his band do this show with a wink and a nod. They understand that this _is_ a performance, and that playing these old timey roles requires a bit of self-reflexivity. [/]

Just like John Hammond: promoting jazz in a digital environment

My previous post led to this discussion on the facey, which really caught my interest. I’ve quoted other people without their permission, so do let me know if you want it deleted, you peeps.

Hetty Kate (Tues 7 April 4pm)
That’s quite a rant, however a few nice pics, a nice video, a schtick, a costume and a cute name doesn’t mean you’re actually any good. Though it does make a bookers job easier.

Sam (Tues 7 April 4.16pm)
It’s a mega rant. Having those things does make a booker’s job easier (and a dance event organiser’s – which is a slightly different role), which I guess is my point. I guess with all these things you can fake it til you make it, right?

But I actually feel quite sad when I come across fantastic musicians (especially the older ones) who don’t have any online presence . Makes it really hard for me to discover them, or chase them down after a gig. Maybe I should start a side business – ‘Dodgy Sam’s Dodgy Websites for Jazzniks.’

Hetty Kate (Tues 7 april 4.17pm)
haha, well the older musicians came up in a different environment..

Hetty Kate
lucky bastards!

Sam (Tues 7 April 4.24pm)
Totes. But they gotta get on it, if they want to develop a new (or continuing) audience. It’s a shame, because the older doods have mad skills that many younger musicians could really benefit from working with. The dance scene is particularly respectful of elders, and we really dig seeing younger and older people working together.

Hetty Kate (Tues 7 April 4:24pm)
agreed!!

Bruce (Tues 7 April 4:46pm)
You can have the best product in the world, but if its not marketed properly no one will know about it!

Sam (Tues 7 April 5:09pm)
And I guess that’s the difference between the very olden jazz days and now. In those days bands travelled endlessly, and were gigging endlessly, so the word of mouth talk was strong. And there were magazines and general news stories (because this was mainstream music then) talking up bands and musicians all the time.
But today there are fewer opportunities for jazz bands and musicians, fewer gigs, and small audiences… though part of me thinks that olden days’ musicians had it a bit easier because they were pitching to the mainstream (ie a bigger market), and modern day musicians need to work a bit harder to convince people to try something new (old). But there is the internet, which makes reaching niche audiences easier.

Now I want to post a link to that fascinating post someone hooked me up with a while ago (I think it was Andrew?), where Steve Albini argues that the internet is good for niche/indy music (Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry – in full (Monday 17 November 2014)
I’m not 100% convinced by his largely personal anecdotes, but it’s an interesting provocation. The internet is an opportunity for niche music and musicians. How else could I get hooked on the Dry Throat Fellows?

…although playing and recording music professional has always been about networks. I’m reminded of a line I read in an article about Black Swan Records. Though they were explicitly designed to record and sell to black artists and audiences, they actually sold in the Asia Pacific region, because segregation happened in our part of the world too.

So getting your product to the right market – getting your music to the right ears – is still a matter of having a savvy promoter with the right contacts and a clever understanding of who might dig what you do. John Hammond, anyone?

I am (obviously) interested in the way specific communities of interest use digital media. That was my doctoral research. Now I’m thinking about jazz musicians and how they use (or don’t use) digital media. I guess I’m especially fascinated by the tension between ‘pre-digital’ media and cultural practices operating in a ‘digital’ world.

How do I find new bands?

This piece is really a companion piece to Make it Easy for me to hire your band, where I talk about the sorts of things I need bands to have to make my job easier. Basically, they need an online presence and a name. Or, in other words, they need to make it possible for me to a) find them, b) hire them, and c) promote them. And I buy a lot of music, because I’m also a DJ.
I don’t mind (I quite like) hunting down bands and musicians, but I have only limited time and resources.

In this post, I talk explicitly about how I find new music by musicians today.

Jeff James asked in

Whats the best music mapping tool to find new swing jazz bands? (28 March at 10:36)

And of course I had a one million word reply.
You know, my responses are always long because I type quickly, and because I spent 10 years in higher education learning to write and think quickly. It’s just a job skill. It helps if you can read quickly too :D
Anyway, on track.
This was my reply. I’ve used the facey links here, because they’re a useful way of demonstrating how it’s useful for musicians to have a facebook presence, so they can be tagged and see who’s talking about them and where.

Mostly my brain. :D

I use Bandcamp for new bands, particularly American and European bands  
As a bandcamp member, I then follow a bunch of people who are dancers or DJs, and their purchases pop up in my feed, which then gives me ideas about what to buy. I can also check out the ‘supporters’ of a band I like, and buy what they buy.

I <3 Bandcamp My other way of finding out about new bands is to see what bands a particular musician I like is playing in. eg Gordon Au turns up in lots of great bands. I might find good musicians by seeing who's in a band I like - eg Gordon Webster‘s band for the ‘Live in Rochester‘ CD included Aurora Nealand, Jesse Selengut, Gordon Au, Dan Levinson, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Naomi Uyama. I then google those musicians to see what bands they’re in, then I hunt down those bands on google, then follow links from their sites to their cd releases.

If you start with that list of musicians in Gordon’s band, you can find:
Aurora Nealand: Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses, the New Orleans Moonshiners
Gordon Au: The Grand Street Stompers, New Orleans Moonshiners
Matt Musselman: Naomi and her Handsome Devils, Sly Blue, Glenn Crytzer‘s bands,
Jesse Selengut: Tin Pan, Mona’s Hot Four
Dan Levinson: the Bix Centennial All Stars, Janet Klein and her Parlour Boys, David Otswald’s Gully Low Jazz Band, Dick Hyman, Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, Jeff Healy, Terra Hazelton
Cassidy Holden: Cassidy and the Orleans Kids, Luke Winslow King,

If you add Adrian Cunningham (who played on Gordon’s Live In Philadelphia album) you can follow him to Crytzer’s band with Musselman, Naomi Uyama’s Handsome Devils and the Baby Soda band.

…and then you can follow each of those bands to other good bands. That will give you a good overview of New York musicians. Mona’s Hot Four, for example, will lead you to Tamar Korn, which leads you to the Cangelosi Cards and Gaucho. Gaucho will help you find San Francisco musicians. Cassidy and the Orleans Kids will help you find New Orleans musicians.

I do the same with Australian musicians, but I’m finding the older generation (ie these guys’ parents or grandparents) are rubbish at using digital media, so it’s really hard to find their recordings. Unless you stalk the Sydney Jazz Club gigs, and look at their CD stall.

I was hiring a guy called Paul Furniss for a gig recently, and gave him a googling to see what I could find out about him. This led me to some great youtube videos, which helped me find some good bands and other musicians. Then I had to email the guys who ran their website and order a CD by mail. Laborious, but worth it.

And then, I see who the bands are in the dance videos on youtube. That’s how I found the Hot Sugar Band. I also see which bands are playing at dance events, and keep an eye on musician friends like Laura Windley, Eamon McNelis, Leigh Barker, Hetty Kate, Justin Fermino, etc etc etc.

I’m kind of a serial collector of musicians: GET ALL THE BANDS.