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
Recordings: not yet – hassle Andrew for some!

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


Ellington in the 1950s. Live.

MI0002769743 Though I have a STACK of Ellington, I’m late come to Ellington playing live in the 50s, and it’s such a joy to discover him now. DJ Ryan Swift put me onto ‘The Private Collection, Vol. 2: Dance Concerts, California, 1958’ and vol 6 of the same series.

This tip was part of a long, interesting discussion (fansquee?) between some very big Ellington fans and jazz nerds on the facey, when I was chasing a song called ‘Wailing Interval’ that I didn’t know the name of.
I’m a big New Testament Basie fan, and have stacks of live Basie from the 50s. It’s a joy to compare Ellington from this same period, and to think about the role of the Newport Jazz Festival in these band leaders’ lives.
Anyhoo, this album is quite wonderful. I intend to play it every single time I DJ until the mp3s explode. You can pick it up on itunes as I did, but you’ll miss out on the liner notes, which I have. And as we all know, you don’t learn much about jazz if you don’t know who’s in the band.

Metronome All Stars

The Metronome All Stars.


Metronome magazine had an annual comp between about 39 and 60-something, where the readers voted for their favourite musician. The ‘winners’ recorded a song or two that year.
BOOM. Good songs.

I think Brian Renehan first put me onto these recordings in about 2004, and I’ve since squeed with joy every time I find one on a Mosaic set or in some sort of collection. Many of them are on this little collection which I found in a cheapy throw-out bin in JB Hi-fi. But a lot aren’t. The outtakes are solid gold, because you get to hear a stack of fab musos talking shit in the studio.

I regularly DJ the 1941 recording of One O’Clock Jump (Cootie Williams, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Tommy Dorsey, J.C. Higginbotham, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Toots Mondello, Coleman Hawkins, Tex Beneke, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Buddy Rich), but my super favourites are the 1946 recordings with June Christy. I love June Christy. ‘Nat Meets June’ (top shelf, mate), and ‘Sweet Lorraine’ (my favourite song).

Look at the musicians in this recording: Charlie Shavers, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Bob Ahern, Eddie Safranksi, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, June Christy, Sy Oliver. Whenever people ask me to play Sinatra, wanting some gross crooner rubbish, I give them this. Because it’s amazing.

I wrote more about this group in the post Metronome all-stars 1946 from 2012.

Buy this CD now

Trust me. It’s fantastic. And some of the recordings are live.

Chic 7 & Friends cover web

Tom Baker’s Chicago Seven and Friends’ album ‘Dixieland Jazz’

This album features a veritable who’s who of Australian jazz greats:

Tom Baker, Don Heap, Lynn Wallis, Roger James, Paul Finnerty, David Ridyard, Paul Furniss, Pat Qua, George Washingmachine, Pat Qua, David Parquette.

Lynn Wallis is my favourite Australian drummer. He blows my pants off. He used to be in the great little band Virus with a top shelf guitarist John Scurry. If you ever get a chance, go see this bro play. He’s getting a bit fragile these days, so make it soon. Though he lives with his mum, who’s about a million years old, so he could just keep on playing forever.

The other guy I’d like to note on that CD is Paul Furniss, who is a really nice clarinetist. Nice in the sense of being a lovely person, and nice in the sense of being a really great musician with a lovely touch. He’s on a few great Australian recordings, and in bands like the Ozcats (sadly disbanded after their leader passed away a day or so after he did a memorable set for dancers in about 2009), on Monica Trapaga’s recording, Carol Ralph’s recording, and son on. Most importantly for ME he was a guest in the band we hosted the other week at our Swinging at the PBC party the other night. And it turns out his wife’s BFF is a student in our classes, who luuurves jazz as much as we do, and has mad dance skills.

Anyhow, I discovered this album after I googled Paul, when Andy Baylor suggested including him in the line up for the Swinging at the PBC gig (which is something we’ll be doing more regularly in the future… or perhaps a few more than the two we did in 2013 and two in 2014 – we have one on Wed 14th Jan, btw, to launch our new business Swing Dance Sydney). These Swinging at the PBC gigs are really nice. A small, friendly venue (which now has a piano!), with great acoustics, a great bar and kitchen, and community-run with NO POKIES. That’s where we teach our Wednesday lindy hop classes, and I love it.

…anyway, back to Paul. I googled him, and I found this fantastic live recording of Woodchoppers’ Ball which is actually on this CD.

This song is just too good. It’s my pick from the CD. But then I’ve also played their version of ‘Tar Paper Stomp’ a few times lately. Yes, I’ve been DJing ‘In the Mood’. But it is a CRACKER. I also recommend ‘Curse of an Aching Heart’ and ‘Careless love’. The whole track listing:

Weary Blues
Mable’s Dream
Ory’s Creole Trombone
Tar Paper Stomp
Curse Of An Aching Heart
Bugle Boy March
I Ain’t Got Nobody
Georgia Swing
Bogalusa Strut
Black Bottom Stomp
Wrought Iron Rag
Careless Love
Wood Choppers Ball

No surprises, for an album called ‘Dixieland Jazz’. But the musicianship is really special, and I think it gives you a good idea of the sort of approach Australian jazz musicians take. Informed by the NOLA tradition and the NOLA revival movement in the states, but with a unique Australian flavour. If there’s one thing Australians do well, it’s laconic humour. And that’s what this album has.

Totally fabulous dancing. Great listening.

WHATEVER. How do I buy it?

Go to the online store and click the add to cart paypal button, then follow the instructions. The CDs are about $20, which will seem exy to Americans, but that’s actually very reasonable for an Australian recording – it just costs more to do music here.
Mine arrived within a couple of days, but it was only traveling inside Sydney.

I don’t know what the other recordings are like, but I imagine the ‘live at the straw’b’ CD is good, and the Yarra Yarra Jazz Band is one of those groups that was a legend when I first started looking at booking bands when I was living in Melbourne. Unfortunately they were impossible to book when I was finally ready to get them (because they’d moved to Sydney).

Will you make sure you let me know what you think of the other CDs if you buy them?

Swing DJing. Start here: Count Basie

Start here.

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

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

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

Count Basie.


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

DJing thoughts

Because of the goddamm Swing Kids soundtrack, this was the only version of ‘Beir Mir Bist Du Schoen’ I’d DJ for years.

Benny Goodman Quartet (Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Martha Tilton) in 1937

This sort of song is one of the reasons I love Benny Goodman’s small groups. I don’t actually own very much Goodman Orchestra stuff at all, but I have all the small group recordings. Love that shit. And when he adds Basie’s rhythm section – !!!

Swinging with Duke

This is a post about Duke Ellington and dance, because he is on my mind at the moment.

I’ve recently discovered the 1951/52 stuff by the Johnny Hodges band on this dodgy digital download album Pound of Blues is really great for teaching dance, particularly choreography which recognises strict phrasing. It’s good, solid stuff, and I’ve used it for DJing in the past, though not with any particular enthusiasm. The steady, predictable phrasing of songs like ‘Wham’ on this album do not really reflect all of Ellington’s compositions, as anyone who’s tried to choreograph to ‘Rockin in Rhythm’ will know. But Johnny Hodges was, of course, a musician who played with Ellington for a long time. One of the soloists the band leader would compose for, and organise compositions around rather than forcing them to fit into a musician-shaped hole in his band.

I’d like to say that this ‘Pound of Blues’ album reminded me of the orsm of Ellington, but that’s not true. Ellington is always on my mind. I love him. I love his music and I own a lot of it. A LOT. I’m a massive fan of the Ellington small group stuff, but I’m also nuts for the bigger bands.
The Never No Lament: the Blanton Webster Band 3CD set was one of the first serious Ellington CDs I ever bought (though it was a lot cheaper then than it is now), and I bought it because dancers and DJs I admire recommended it on the SwingDJs discussion board. It’s great, but as with many of the Ellington recordings I have, the quality isn’t so great. There’s a lot of surface noise (ie scratchy crackly rubbish) and the high pitched stuff sounds awful when I’m DJing. And all that from a CD.
This last point is important, because I recently bought myself another Ellington set, Decca’s Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings 1926-1931. I’d somehow managed to miss this little chunk of Ellingtonia and I needed to rectify the problem. I went with CDs rather than the cheaper downloads because I’m finding download files – especially legit ones – are of such poor quality they make the songs unDJable. The rubbish files plus the scary sound quality of the recordings themselves are just unuseable on shitty sound systems.

I guess I do have kind of an Ellington problem. But then, he’s so interesting, he justifies a little obsessive collecting.
I used to have a long bus commute to uni which I’d spend reading my way through Gunther Schuller’s book The Swing Era: the Development of Jazz 1930-1945 and listening along with my whole Ellington collection on my ipod. I read music (haltingly), and Schuller spends quite a bit of his time examining scores in detail. I’m not entirely convinced by everything Schuller says, but Schuller’s is an interestingly scholarly approach to a musician who was as comfortable with concert halls as dance floors.

Today’s dancers are familiar with many of the soundies and film fragments featuring Ellington’s band. Mostly because they also featured dancers. The most famous of these is probably Hot Chocolate (Cottontail), with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers:

My favourite is Bessie Dudley and Florence Hill dancing to Ellington’s band playing ‘Bugle Call Rag’ in the 1933 film Bundle of Blues:

Bessie Dudley was married to Snake Hips Tucker, and she appeared with him in Ellington’s 1935 film Symphony in Black. There’s a scene in that short film where Tucker’s character throws Billie Holiday to the ground, and you can’t help but think of the verisimilitude – Tucker was a brutal, violent man who abused Dudley.

Ellington’s relationship with dancers was strong and complex. He worked extensively with dancers at the Cotton Club and on film, and travelled with Dudley and other dancers on tours. And later, as his music became more complicated and challenging, his productions with dancers and choreographers like Alvin Ailey also became more challenging.
There’s an interesting article by Patricia Willard called ‘Dance: the unsung element of Ellingtonia’ (Australians can read the full text version here, but there are other versions available online if you google). In that article Willard writes

Duke thought and spoke in dance vernacular. Maneuvering a remarkably stable roster of assertive, quirky, occasionally aggressive individualists into a consistently identifiable and cohesive big band through the decades demanded an accomplished psychologist and master manipulator, which he was. He proudly referred to his role as “The Choreographer.” (Willard)

This idea of Ellington’s music as dance music (which Willard pursues in that article) is nice. Ellington himself said “Swing is not a kind of music. It is that part of rhythm that causes a bouncing, buoyant, terpsichorean urge.” (Ellington, quoted by Willard) This idea that Ellington was at once engaged in popular culture and able to move on to all that difficult artier music and concert dance is just one bit of proof of his versatility.

Most of my love for Ellington is centred on his earlier stuff and on those small group recordings. My interest tends to wane at about 1950, to be honest, but that’s not a strict rule. There’s a song called ‘B Sharp Boston’ which Ellington recorded in 1949 and which used to get around on those dodgy ripped compilation CDs as ‘Sharp B Boston’. I picked up the Chronological Classics Duke Ellington Orchestra 1949-1950 CD in about 2006, and discovered it was actually called ‘B Sharp Boston’, and that there was a bunch of other great stuff on that CD that makes for top DJing (I’ve written about this before in Duke Ellingon’s Difficult 1949-1950 period). ‘Joog Joog’, for example, is one of my favourites (I like to pair it with Doris Day singing ‘Celery Stalks At Midnight’). A fair chunk of stuff on this CD is, however, already edging over into dissonance and confusing timing which makes for challenging dancing.

These sorts of awkward combinations of note and timing really heralds bop. But years ahead of other peeps. Listening to even Ellington’s 30s stuff, you hear a hint of the dissonance that was to come. I tweeted the other day “It’s like Ellington heard collective improvisation in NOla jazz and went “hm. Dissonance.” In 1938.” And @twobarbreak replied “Look where all of Ellington’s players were from, and who they learned from. your hunches closer to right on than you think!”

Again, though, it’s fascinating that Ellington could produce excellently danceable songs like ‘B Sharp Boston’ and ‘Joog Joog’ at the same time as he was really getting into much more experimental stuff. By the end of the 40s Ellington had well and truly begun to explore crazy arse stuff that doesn’t always work for dancing. Well, unless you’re Ramona and Todd at ILHC this year

I read an interesting blog post recently (cannot remember where, I’m sorry – PLEASE let me know if you know the one I mean), where someone cleverly pointed out a couple of recent lindy hop choreographies that worked with this sort of ‘difficult jazz’. One of them was Giselle Anguizola and Nathan Bugh’s 2011 Classic Lindy entry in ILHC:

I keep an eye on Giselle, because she’s been involved in some interesting projects over the years, from Girl Jam to working with jazz bands on the streets of New Orleans. Both are interesting, not just as exercises in jazz dance and jazz dance skills, but in the enculturation of dancers in jazz tradition.
One of the things I really like about the way dancers like Giselle and Chance engage with bands on New Orleans streets is their recognition of turn taking. Soloists in a band take turns, even (especially) the vocalists. In these street jazz groups, the dancers function as soloists, taking their turn, and then stepping back to let the musicians shine. They’re not only responding to the music they hear, but also functioning as part of the band, and part of the performance. Most modern lindy hoppers barely manage to look up and see the band they’re dancing ‘to’, let alone take a moment out to admire what they hear.

And of course, all this talk of New Orleans jazz, solos and recognising individual talent within a collective ensemble takes us back to that idea of Ellington’s most radical work being a response to the interests of the musicians in his band, many of whom were from New Orleans or taught by New Orleans musicians. The most radical ‘art’ part of Ellington was perhaps his references to tradition and vernacular, everyday culture?

Other things about Ellington and dance I couldn’t fit in this piece of writing:

  • My new favourite ILHC 2012 clip, Melanie and Joshua in the Lindy Hop Classic category dancing to Ellington’s 1941 version of ‘Jumpin’ Punkin’s’:

  • The Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra’s album Live in Swing City: Swinging with Duke.
    Probably the most overplayed, most popular, excellent modern big band swing album. Recorded live with a crowd of dancers, this album features the most accessible of Ellington’s work, and is an excellent gateway drug for new dancers interested in discovering swing music.
  • Todd Yannacone again, this time with Naomi Uyama dancing to Ellington’s ‘Main Stem’ in about 2006:


Willard, Patricia, ‘Dance: the Unsung Element of Ellingtonia” The Antioch Review, 57.3 (Summer 1999): p 402

Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, Oxford University Press: USA, 1989.

Jazz hands

(image from mindlessmunkey)

To make the perfect jazz hands, you must relax your hands, then extend your fingers. It’s important to leave your palm relaxed.
If you just stretch out your hands, they look too uptight and anxious.
If you just let your hands flop there, they look as though they have nothing to say.
But if you wake up your fingers, keep your palm relaxed, maybe set your fingers together and let your thumb stand up, then lift your arms from the elbow, out to your sides… if you do all that, then you will have excellent jazz hands. And you will be jazz dancing.