Category Archives: djing

Seoul: lindy hop capital of the world

So you know, when all that fucking awful sexual assault shit was going down, I was in Seoul, Korea, having the TIME OF MY LIFE discovering that the rest of the lindy hopping world? It is actually, in TOTAL, a quarter the size of SEOUL’s scene. And also, Seoul lindy hoppers? They are fucking amazing. The solo dance comp at that one weekend: better than any of the shit coming out of the American solo comps. It was so good, I had to stop and really think: was I just overcome by holiday feels? Were they really this good?

Look: they really are that good. Stop planning your trip to ILHC, Australia, and get on a fucking plane to Seoul.

There’s social dancing EVERY NIGHT. There are 5 different venues running social dancing parties on a Tuesday night alone. There were 200 people at one party the night I was there. And there are FOURTEEN different parties on Saturday nights.

And that is just normal. A normal week.

Also, Seoul is the fucking business. It is such a great city. Go there. GO THERE. It’s only 10 hours from Sydney, and you don’t get jetlag. It’s cheap to stay and eat there, and the food is really GREAT.

Not many live bands atm (just three that they use regularly – three more than a lot of small scenes) – but I bet, just like everything else in their jazz world, they will fix that shit by next year. Meanwhile, I know half a dozen Australian bands who are already planning their next Korean tour. The DJed music: fabulous. One hundred times better than Sydney. There’s so much social dancing, and it’s so important, that the big name DJs have facebook pages where they list their gigs _each week_. And dancers follow their favourite DJs around town.

Just think about that. So many dancers that you choose your DJs to compete with other venues.

Stop reading this post. Go to Seoul. I’m going there again in July. Because, fuck. Seoul is fantastic.

Remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer

There’s recently been a fairly loud and emotional discussion about sexual violence in lindy hop. I don’t want to rehash it here, because I find it very upsetting. Rehashing this stuff in detail disempowers me. I don’t want to discuss the male teacher named in this discussion, because I don’t want this to be all about him. Again. I want to take that power away from him. I want to find power in this, for me, and for other women.

Here is something I wrote on facebook today, in response to Gwen Moran’s piece How We Can Help Young Girls Stay Assertive. This piece described Deborah Ann Cihonski’s article ‘The experience of loss of voice in adolescent girls: An existential-phenomenological study’. I don’t know what that original research is like (haven’t read it yet), but it’s an interesting place to start.


This article is particularly relevant to the current discussion about assault and safety for women in the lindy hop scene.

I am deeply disturbed by comments emphasising how we might ‘protect’ women and girls in our communities. I think it is problematic (to say the least) to perpetuate this idea of femininity as vulnerable (and passive), and masculinity as dangerous (and active).

It’s important to remember that most sexual assaults happen in privates spaces (dance halls, practice rooms, bedrooms, lounge rooms and so on), and most women are assaulted by people they know. ‘Rapists’ aren’t wild bears or volcanoes: they aren’t forces of nature that we have to protect women from. They are people who need to fix their behaviour.
We need to remind women that they are powerful and capable of caring for and protecting themselves, and for making decisions about their bodies and lives.

So I think that one of the most effective tools for making safe spaces in lindy hop is is empowering women. Some practical tips:

  • Do use gender neutral language in class (ie follow does not = female by default). I have heard many male teachers resist this, saying that it’s ‘too hard’, or ‘not important’. Believe me: it is important. If you are a woman leading in that class (or thinking about leading), it makes you feel part of the group. It makes you feel like a lead.
  • Follows are not passive; following is an active process (ie leads don’t ‘tell follows what to do’, and follows don’t ‘carry out’ leaders’ creative ideas)
  • All partners should take care of each other (ie it’s not that ‘leads look after follows’, it’s that we all should look after each other). eg follows are responsible for floor craft too.
  • List the female dance partner in a teaching team first. This is ridiculously rare in lindy hop, and we need to make up for lost time by over-representing women as the ‘first’ member of the teaching team.
  • Teach female students how to say “No thank you” if they are invited to dance, but don’t want to. Teach yourself how to say this.
  • Don’t use sexualised humour in class. This makes it clear that classes are learning spaces. If all the sexy jokes in the world were gender-win, it’d be ok. But most of the sexualised jokes teachers make in class use gender stereotypes that disempower women.
  • Have female role models in your scene: women MCs at big events, women musicians (!!), women organisers, women teaching on their own, women DJs, women publicly making decisions and solving problems (ie female managers), women doing physical labour (beyond cleaning, aye?), women eating well-balanced meals with enthusiasm at shared tables (and not talking about ‘being bad’ when they eat delicious food).
  • Value other types of work, particularly the types of work dominated by women. Working the door is as important as DJing. Make that clear. Name all your volunteers in your PR copy.
  • Talk about old timer dancers who are women. Al, Leon, Frankie: they’re all wonderful. But so are Norma, Sugar, Josephine, Dawn, Big Bea.
  • Research women dancers and teach their material, in their names. And that means more than just another class on swivels. Talk about women choreographers, troupe leaders, and managers.
  • Teach solo dance. Women dancing alone is an act of agency and power in a partner dancing world. And teach a variety of styles: sexy, sweet, powerful, aggressive, humorous, gentle, sad, athletic, witty, cerebral….

Congruently, men in lindy hop need to be taught some things too:

  • Work on your own strategies for speaking up when you hear a sexist joke. You know you should call that guy on it, but what exactly will you say or do? Will you walk away? Will you laugh along?
  • What are your limits, when it comes to ‘blokey’ or ‘boys own’ behaviour? Sexy jokes? Talking about women you see in the room in a sexual way? Competing with other men to ‘get’ a woman? Know your limits, then act on them.
  • Defer to female opinion and example: if you’re in a discussion, listen to women before you speak. In all matters, not just sexual safety. Once you’re good at it, then start working on ways of expressing your opinion in a collegial way.
  • Don’t call women girls unless they are actually girls (ie under 13). It’s patronising. Don’t call women or girls ‘females’, unless their gender is what you want to discuss: eg “Female dancers are as capable of leading as following” is as good as “Women dancers are as capable of leading as following” but “Females are good leads too” is not ok. Women are not meerkats.
  • Encourage women to take up leading. Encourage women who lead. Encourage women to comment on leading. A compliment on their technique is good, but asking a woman for her opinion on leading is even better. If a woman chooses to lead in class, don’t make a big deal about it, and make it easy for them to stay in that role (deal with uneven follow/lead ratios in other ways – eg talk about how if you’re standing out, this is a chance to work on your dancing)
  • Seek out women DJs. They may be harder to find, but don’t default to the usual male DJs at your events. Men are more likely to speak up, so you need to keep your eyes and ears open for women DJs.
  • Proactively encourage women DJs, women leads, and women organisers.
  • Use your online time to support women, and to support other men. Men are less likely to chime in with a supportive comment on a general thread about dance than women are. Men generally speak up more often, but they aren’t as likely to just say something like “Hey, great idea!” and then leave it at that.
  • Support men who are doing good gender work: compliment or say ‘yeah!’ when you see guys doing good stuff.
  • Support male follows: don’t make that sexy “wooo!” noise when you see two men dancing together. When you make that noise it announces to everyone that you are uncomfortable with two men dancing together. Probably because you think that two men dancing together is a sexual thing. Which means you probably think partner dancing is a sexual thing. Which means you need to check yourself.
  • When you thank the teachers for a class, say thank you to the female teacher first.

There are a bajillion ways we can be better humans in lindy hop. They don’t have to be formal policies or official responses. Be the change you want to see: men should assume that if they’re not pro-actively changing things, they are part of the problem.

The nice thing about all this, is that being a better human is really quite nice: you get to be nice to people, and that makes you feel good. Doing genderwin stuff can be an empowering thing for you. If it feels a bit hard (eg some guys say using gender neutral language is too hard), then remind yourself that you are a jazz dancer: we love hard things! We love challenges! We dance the most complex, wonderful dance in the world, because we love complex, we love challenge, we love creative solutions!

The point of this, of course, is that feminism is good for all of us. Change can be confronting. But that’s why we love break steps, right? Because change is exciting and stimulating too!

A final note: it’s ok to have heroes. It’s totally ok to fansquee for a big name dancer. Having a crush on your dancing hero (no matter what your sex or theirs) is also ok. It means that you are inspired by what they do.
But don’t stop there. Use the inspiration they bring to become a better dancer yourself. Tell them you love what they do, but stop there. Then move on and tell someone else you love what they do, even if they aren’t a big name dancer.

And remember that if we are all to be held accountable for our actions, we need to be sure that we all have the power, the agency, to make our own decisions, and to control our own bodies and actions.

I have written about these issues many, many times here on this blog. I am an old school feminist, and I believe in the idea of patriarchy, and in discourse and ideology. The bottom line is that I believe that if you want to prevent sexual assault, locking up rapists is not the solution. The solution is in dismantling ‘rape culture‘, or a culture of sexism and patriarchy. I know! It seems like so much work! Good thing we have jazz to sustain us, aye?

Here are some of these posts:

Another teaching/DJing rant

There’s a discussion about DJing for dancers happening on the facey, and I’ve been doing some pretty hardcore ranting. I need to spend less time in Jive Junction – it’s making me too stroppy.

Anyways, I was ranting about how new DJs often don’t actually play any decent music, and then I was thinking about how that’s usually because they don’t understand what makes a good song, and then I was ranting about teaching lindy hop and how classes need to teach people about the music and how that then helps us get decent DJs.

I wrote this today, and I want to keep it here, because, for once, I actually wrote something with some degree of brevity. Well, brief by my standards.

I’m always a bit sad that people don’t make it easy to love swing music in classes. This music is super fun and super funny, and it makes you feel really good.
Things I wish teachers did more in class (besides just playing more and better music) with beginner students:

  • Play the song the whole way through, and let people dance to it the whole way through.
    How’re you gonna learn to recognise 32 bar chorus or 12 bar blues structures if you don’t hear the whole songs all the way through a lot? How’re you going to learn that swing is _so_ formulaic (and so quite ‘safe’ and unscary to dance to) unless you get to hear the whole song’s whole structure in a safe place like a class?
  • Stop teaching strict patterns or sequences in class.
    If you teach a range of developing steps or feels, then let students dance their way through them in their own time, for a whole song, they get really good at social dancing straight away. They learn to work with a partner, to relax and enjoy the music, to lead and follow, to see how steps work together. They get on top of the ‘moves’ and then start to add their own flavah flave because they’re relaxed. They start listening to the music to find something new and interesting. Then they win lindy hop.
  • Use just one or two songs in class, and play them over and over again, from the beginning to the end.
    It can be a different song each class, but if you work with one song over a whole class, you start to know it really well, and get comfortable with it. You make friends with it. And it has to be a good song, or you’ll go nuts. Classic swing is robust enough to be listened to so many times – hence its overplayedness.
    I think the ‘teach a set sequence of steps’ thing means you then have to do things like push the tempos up to make it interesting. So you then work through a heap of songs in the class, and you don’t get to the song the whole way through.
  • Talk about the song while you’re teaching.
    eg make a joke about a tinkly vibraphone solo, or use Fats Waller’s nicely complicated 4th 8 in a phrase to demonstrate how the break steps in the shim sham hit the breaks in a song. Use different types of music to demonstrate different types of bounce/pulse.
  • Let students count themselves in.
    Do it the first couple of times, but then let them do it. Humans can do this, even in their first class. And it is SO EXCITING to see it!
  • Start students dancing at the beginning of phrases in class.
    So they can hear where phrases start and end. Again, humans figure out how to do this in one class.

If you teach this way, you realise that musicians like Buble or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy don’t do what you need them to do. You realise that My Baby Just Cares For Me (Nina Simone’s) is a great teaching song because it has that nice steady bass line and those weirdo tempo changes. And you realise that Splanky isn’t so great for the very first moments of a very beginner class because its dynamics are so intense, but it is great for dancing it out later in a class.

Being legit: music, intellectual property rights, and licences

APRA. The Australasian Performing Right Association Limited.
This is just one Australian body regulating the intellectual property rights of musicians and people involved in the music industry.
It’s not the only body that could apply to the swing dance world’s intellectual property rights issues. But it’s the obvious one.

The next important step in running a dance business or putting on a dance is dealing with music intellectual property rights. In other words, if you use someone else’s music at your dance, you have to have a licence.

Luckily, APRA have a list of licence types.
NOTE: APRA is an Australian organisation, and this stuff varies between countries, so you’re going to need to look it up yourself if you’re not in Australia.
ALSO NOTE: Do NOT take this post as a legit, final word on how to do this stuff. I’m just randomly speculating as I skim through the APRA site. You need to do some proper research yourself, and contact APRA for more help.

Let’s have a bit of a look at the licences you’ll need for running a dance business in Australia.

It’s quite complicated. Basically, APRA have a heap of different licences for using music, depending on how you use it, how many people in the room can hear it, whether they’re dancing or not, how it’s reproduced and copied, where it’s played, whether it’s featured music or background music, and so on. Their site offers advice for specific users, describing which of these licences you’ll need. So, for example, there’s not so much a ‘nightclub licence’, but there is a set of licences that apply to people who play music in their nightclub.

  • Classes
    If you are a dance school (or otherwise teaching classes – however you choose to think of yourself), you’ll need to pay an annual fee for a licence. There are three types of licences APRA sees as relevant to the work that dance schools do.

    1. Public performance. If you use music in class.
    2. Reproduction of music. If you copy music and give it to your students (eg for a performance).
    3. End of Year concerts.

    If you teach one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year.
    If you teach more than one day a week, you’ll need to pay $68.54 a year plus $34.28 a year each extra day. So if you’re teaching two days a year, you need to pay $102.82 per year. And it increases for every day after that.

    Note: I know some people say they don’t need an APRA licence because they are an educational body, but if you are taking money for classes, then you need a licence.

    • Sam’s critical engagement with this
      I suspect this is definition of ‘dance class’ dependent on a ‘ballet class’ idea of dance schools, where dance is necessarily performance. A particular ideology of dance pedagogy informed by western, middle class concepts of learning and teaching which are teacher-centred, chalk-and-talk approaches where students are ‘injected’ with knowledge, rather than developing knowledge themselves. I wonder how vernacular dances and classes like African dance with drummers are licensed?

      In the former, the people drumming (providing music) are often also students participating in the class as drumming students, rather than as ‘featured musicians’. They don’t play set ‘songs’ so much as series of rhythms and rhythmic patterns (I guess that’s the definition of a rhythm – it’s an audible pattern, rather than random noise).
      In the latter, particularly if you use the ‘Lennart approach’ with lots of self-guided learning (I’ve talked about it ad nauseum in posts like Student Centred Teaching – some rough ideas), classes can become what is essentially social dancing (rather than strict choreography).

      And how would you classify a class like this one we did with musicians at Jazz BANG, where the ‘teaching’ was more a discussion, and where the ‘students’ were at once the people playing the instruments, the people listening (who also stood up and danced), and even the ‘teachers’ playing the music, talking, and demonstrating.

      I wouldn’t like to try to argue your way out of a fine using this logic, though.

  • Parties with live or DJed music
    This is an interesting one.

    Let’s assume you’re using an established venue (not just a ‘space’ that you fit out for a party).
    If you’re using a venue that regularly uses live music (eg the PBC where we run our live music parties), then the venue is responsible for providing the licence (Hotels/pubs/taverns/bars licence).
    But if the music is a DJ or other featured recorded music (not just background music), there’s another licence they need to look at (Featured or Recorded Music licence.)

    Wait. It gets more complicated. If the venue is using music specifically for dancing (ie they have a dance floor), then they also need a Recorded music for dance use licence.

    There are additional licences required for copying music onto your ipad or phone from CDs, and how many devices you play music from affects the cost of that licence.

    If you are running a private event at a licensed venue like a pub, then you will need an event licence on top of all this.

    • Sam’s critical commentary
      You can see how it makes sense to use an existing venue for your dance classes and events. And how important it is to develop a very good working relationship with event managers. If their management is handling most of the APRA licensing (not to mention the liquor licensing and noise zoning issues), then you don’t have to. That’s why you pay rent to them – not just for the use of the space, but for all this administration. This is also why you have an obligation to run sustainable events that bring money into the venue.
      We’re lucky enough to be working with a venue that has a strong commitment to local community arts practice. The PBC is a community-run venue with a board and membership that anyone can be a part of (I’m a PBC member), and the members vote on everything from what colour carpet to buy to whether to get solar panels or not. They’re also really nice people with lefty politics.
      I see it as our responsibility to run classes that are in keeping with the PBC’s broader ethos of being a good citizen (ie treating people with respect), of being engaged with decent arts practice, and with being accessible for all peeps.

      But it is in the APRA laws about music for dancing where we see Australia echoing the totally rubbish laws in New York about dancing. If you are playing music specifically for dancing, you have to pay a particular licence.

      What if you are playing jazz? This is an interesting one, because if you’re a lindy hopper, this is dancing music, straight up, no question. But if you’re a jazznick, a jazz fan, it’s listening music. It’s even art music. Despite the history of the music, its original function and intention, jazz has largely shifted in cultural meaning and function to ‘music for listening’, art music. Not functional music.

      But I guess the key issue would be whether you had a dance floor set up and cleared. Whether you briefed the musician on what they should play and how they should play it. How you promoted the event, and to whom.
      This issue is one I want to think more about, because I’m getting more involved in promoting the live music events I’m part of to ‘non-dancing’ crowds – eg the Sydney Jazz Club, a particular musician’s fans.

      The last is particularly relevant with musicians like Adrian Cunningham, Tuba Skinny, and Andy Baylor, who have substantial fan bases who aren’t dancers. They’re music fans who want to come and sit and watch the musicians. It’s interesting to note here that if your band is paid more than $2500, and they’re performing in a hall or function space, the event holder will need another licence in addition to the venue’s licence. This becomes relevant when you’re hiring a big band, which typically costs more than $2500 (about $3000 if you’re looking for quality).

      In reference to the final point above, having bands in residency becomes a good idea for the venue, because they are no longer featured performers, but part of the regular night. So you can avoid some licensing issues. Perhaps. Do not quote me.

  • Events
    This section should really be part of the section above, but I think we usually draw the distinction ourselves, even within the dance scene, between ‘regular social dancing parties’ and ‘special events’. So a weekly DJed party or social dancing event is quite different to a special christmas ball.

    The event licences are super complicated, and there are lots of different licences applying to an event. Things like whether you use live music or DJed music, whether food is involved, whether it’s a free or ticketed event are all important.
    You’d think that a DJed lindy hop party would count as a ‘dance party’, but it doesn’t, because

    Dance parties [licences are]…
    For Dances or Dance Parties that are one-off or occasional events, charging an entry fee, and playing APRA Works for dancing as the primary form of entertainment at the event. It does not extend to:
    …. 2. private function, or an event which features ballroom or similar traditional dancing;

    That bit about ‘traditional dancing’ caught my eye. Is lindy hop a ‘traditional’ dance? If they’re including ballroom, I guess it is. But lindy hop isn’t codified the way conventional ballroom dancing is (though we all know ‘ballroom dancing’ was a vernacular dance at heart… and after all, lindy hop has a long association with ballrooms)….

    Looking at the list of licences on the APRA page, it’s impossible to figure out exactly how a lindy hop party would fit into this system. You’d have to call up APRA and find out. Good luck with that.
    This is the next thing on my list of jobs. Wish me luck with that, will you.

    • Sam’s commentary.
      This issue of ‘regular social dancing’ vs ‘special balls’ is a tricky one. In my position with my last employer, my role involved running a number of ‘special events’ (not the fortnightly social dancing party) during the year. Last year I ran seven ‘special’ events for the business (in addition to the four independent parties I ran). Some of them were things that are run annually, some were one-off things, and some were part of big workshop weekends. Interestingly, the annual things have been run for years and years, both here in Sydney and in Melbourne, so you could argue that they’re not really special events any more, but regular events. They’re certainly very formulaic (or they were before I started messing about with them).
      I don’t think the distinction between regular and special events is actually all that important for APRA licensing, but it does assume more importance when you add things like insurance to the mix. Typically, your regular dance school insurance covers you for events which you run primarily for your own students (ie they’re not ‘public’ events, but ‘private’ parties). But when you start running events which target audiences beyond your own students, the insurance policy has to change to accommodate this.

So different dance events are regulated by different laws (I’m using the word ‘laws’ a bit inaccurately here): tax laws, insurance laws, intellectual property laws, liquor licensing laws, industrial relations laws, residential zoning laws, and so on. When you remember that these laws are different in different countries, states and local councils, you get this fascinating little nexus in lindy hop. I get very excited about this, and wish I’d done more cultural policy studies in my PhD work.

It’s all very interesting. As someone setting up a new business, it can be overwhelming, but most of it isn’t that hard. Because you can get help, and it’s actually useful help. Just call the various organisations up.

When you are planning a business, you need to think about:

– tax
– APRA licensing
– insurance
– industrial relations (OH&S in particular, but also agreements and contracts with contractors – teachers, bands, volunteers, sound engineers, and DJs)

You can sum all this up with a nice, clear Code of Conduct that sets out:
– your social policies (eg how you deal with sexual harassment)
– your industrial policies (eg whether you pay DJs, teachers, etc, and how much you pay them; how you deal with volunteers; your terms for hiring international teachers, etc etc)
– your creative policies (eg how you value choreography and credit choreographers)
– your cultural policies (eg whether you’re into historical dance and music, and how you acknowledge these sources)

I like to aim for being sustainable – culturally, economically, socially, sustainable. That means that I’m aiming for doing things in ways that let me carry on doing things for a long time. If you are screwing people over, if you can’t pay your bills, if you’re risking people’s safety, you are eventually going to implode your community, business, and scene.
I also like to aim for longer term development. I don’t just want to go dancing now, and to put new dancers on dance floors now. I want to see lindy hop music and dancing changing and growing and becoming more creatively sophisticated. Because it’s more interesting that way. And jazz is complicated. So we need to continually level up to keep up with it.

You can do a one-off party and not bother about this stuff. You can even run a bunch of parties and not bother about this stuff. But once you do start doing these things regularly (or even irregularly, but more often), you’re going to need to start thinking about best practices. Not just to stop you copping a massive fine or getting up on some sort of charge. Lindy hop is a social dance, and that means you’re working with people. Lots of them. Planning your projects effectively means you are less likely to fuck people over. And that’s my priority: to not fuck people over.

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?

How to run a lindy hop party

Ok, so here’s a sample approach to running a lindy hop event in Sydney. It has a bit of planning involved, but I’ve found you do need some plans. If you play the whole thing by ear, you will screw someone over.

This is a long post. Every now and then someone comments that they find my posts too long. To them I say: sucks to be you, bro.

You need to keep track of your spending. Even if you’re not legit, and are just treating this like a private party, you will need to be sure you have enough money in your bank account to pay the bills. Even if it’s a little dance.
So what’s in your budget? Everything. I put everything in it. Because it’s things like petrol to drive a sound system to a gig that get left out, when they’re actually a fairly big expense. Put everything in your budget. I usually do an ‘estimated income/expense’ budget, and then fill in the ‘actual income/expense’ parts as they’re finalised.

Here’s a draft budget for a little DJed gig in a venue with a sound system in-house already.


  • Venue hire: $150 (5 hours @ $30 per hour) -> make sure you include bump in and bump out time, usually an extra two hours. So for a 3 hour event, you’re paying for 5 hours venue hire.
  • Venue hire bond/deposit: $0 (you’ll get this back after the gig, but you still need the cash up front for a lot of venues, especially council or church or big corporate venues).
  • Cash Float: $140 (for a smaller event, $200 for a bigger one) -> in $5 notes (that’s important). You get this back, but you need the cash up front.
  • DJ pay: $75 (3 hours @ $25 per hour).
  • DJ rider: $20 (soft drink or chips or whatevs) -> you don’t have to do this, but I’ve found it’s a very cheap way to make your DJs happy.
  • Stationary and extras: $50 (envelopes to put pay in, cash box, paper for printing out signs, dodgy hand flyers, and running sheets, clean up kit, etc)

[NB: I have also started adding in the cost of public transport or Goget hire for my event management. That’s an added cost for me (especially car hire), and I need to count that in there, as transport is an ESSENTIAL part of any event. Same goes for including petrol and parking. I use Goget rather than cabs, because they are less stress, and are actually free after midnight.]

=> That’s $435 right there. Which is ridiculously cheap for a dance event.
So you will need 44 people paying $10 each to break even. I’d allow 50, because shit happens. That’s if you’re not paying tax or being legit. This is totally achievable in Sydney. I actually like to aim higher, so I have a little cushion, and perhaps a bit of profit to make into a nest egg, or heck, to just cover your time. If you’re lucky. I find my smallest mid-week events are usually about 60 people. My larger independent weekend events pull about 90-100. And the bigger events I ran for my previous employer, with the promotional pull of a big dance school, can sit on about 140.

That’s all here in Sydney, with a competitive live music and events scene. Other cities run huger events. But remember: 20 people is a party. That’s good shit. You don’t need to be huge to be successful. I’ve run bigger events in Melbourne that pull in hundreds of people. I don’t actually like it so much – my latest plan is for a mini-event in a mini-venue. Fun!

Ask yourself: is your venue big enough for 50 people? 90? 140? Can you afford a larger one? How will you handle too many people arriving? I’ve actually had that problem: it’s exciting to have hundreds of people turn up, but it’s not safe to mash them into a tiny venue. And they will only remember having a shitty, crowded, hot time.

Some people run their events assuming they’ll make enough money on the night to cover their costs, so they don’t bring any extra cash. I don’t do this. I always bring enough cash to cover my expenses, just in case. So I have a little envelope with the DJ pay all divided up and ready to go. And I think about how to protect my cash against theft. Because shit happens. I also make sure it’s all in useful denominations – $5 notes for the float, etc etc. I usually try to divide it up ahead of time, because it’s really hard to count cash in a dark, loud, sweaty room full of dancers at 3am when you are totally exhausted.
Important: pay everyone promptly, and correctly. Do NOT wait for them to ask you for cash. Don’t be a dick.

aka ‘stuff you need’

  • Door kit (desk lamp; cash box or pencil case or something to put the cash in; mints and a bowl for them; door sheet to keep a tally of the number of punters arriving (I usually divide it up by door shifts, so I have an idea of when most people arrived, and when we were most likely to have door cash count problems); cash count sheet (so you can count all the money quickly on the night, then do a second count a day or two later when you’re recovered – put it all on one piece of paper); door list to record all the comps getting in for free; sign with the event price on it; a copy of the running sheet for you, for the DJ, for the door; pens, pencils, sticky tape, gaffa tape (the real stuff), scissors, blue tac; a sign up sheet for your email list; hand sanitiser); your emergency plan.
  • Clean up kit (roll of strong garbage bags (don’t use cheapies, they’ll make you cry), chux cloths).
  • Toilet paper. Trust me – you will be glad you have it.
  • Sound gear (RCA cable to connect laptops to the sound gear – always bring your own), power board, extension cord, small torch (yes, this is important), adaptor plugs for the RCA cable.
  • Desk lamp, for the DJ or the door desk. Better to have than not have.
  • Plastic cups, bottle opener, chocolates, bottles of water for you and the DJ, your own drinks/snacks, especially if you are doing BYO drinks.
  • First aid kit. If you’re doing this a few times, buy one. At least buy some ice packs – good for injuries, heat distress, etc etc. I buy mine from the St John’s Ambulance people because they are a good cause, and their products are the best quality. Don’t scimp on first aid gear.

-> all this can cost about $50, maximum $100. But once you have all this junk, you’re covered for the future events.
Special note: Don’t get the cheap gaffa tape. I’m SERIOUS. The cheap stuff is impossible to clean off, and yet it doesn’t stick properly. Use good gaffa to do things like tape down trailing cables, stick fabric to mirrors (extra important in a dance studio venue). And then it comes off easily, and doesn’t make a mess. It’s also easier to tear.

Running sheet:
Make one. DO IT. And start it well before the weekend. And put EVERYTHING in it. I’ve been at events that don’t include everything in their running sheets, and it’s total bullshit.

Things to include:
– Venue hire confirmation.
I’ve been involved in approximately one million dance events where the organiser hasn’t confirmed the venue, and we’ve turned up to a locked or double booked space. I usually ring and inquire and leave my details and name, then I make the booking, then I ring and email to confirm (this is when I usually ring to ask about key collection – about a couple of weeks or a month out), then I ring and email to confirm again the day before the gig. This last one is when I double check key collections or organise a key collection time.
A note: if a venue organiser gives you a sad story about being double booked, implying that they’d like you to change your booking, don’t do it. Be properly sympathetic and understanding, but don’t let them push you into changing your date. It will be a massive pain for you, and it’s important to learn to be strong when dealing with venue managers, bands, sound guys, etc etc. You are the boss of this gig. I find that older men try this on me quite regularly. So I just put on my no bullshit, polite but capable voice and body language whenever I deal with people.
Sadly, the cheaper end of the venue hire scale (where we lindy hoppers tend to live) is where the dodgiest venue mangers also live. Learn to smell their bullshit a mile off. Follow your instincts – if you feel like they’re dodgy, they probably are. Run away.

– Event start and finish times
– Bump in start and finish times, bump out start and finish times
– All the specific details for the bump in and bump out.
List exactly what has to happen. DJ set up. Door set up. Rubbish pick up. Toilet tidy. etc etc. You’re less likely to forget something important this way.
– Door set up and tidy up times (the door close time is often before the end of the event).
– Sound gear set up start time (be detailed).
– Leaving home to travel to the venue time.
– Time to arrive home after the event – if it’s 4am, will you make that 8am key return time?
– When to collect the venue key (even if it’s the day before)
– When to return the key (especially if it’s the day after – will you be up at 8am to return a church hall key?)
– Any gear collection/delivery times.
Getting sound gear delivered? When will it arrive? Allow extra time for fuck ups and late delivery. Do you need to collect anything on the day? Bag of ice? DJ? Lights? Slab of beer? Add that into your running sheet. This one is REALLY important, and something most people forget.
– Volunteer shifts: start and finish times, who does what, etc.
Include door shifts, bump in, and bump out times. This one is IMPORTANT. Don’t play it by ear. Roster your volunteers into spots that suit their skills and preferences. Are they great with people? Put them on the door. Are they fantastically organised? Get them to handle the first door shift. Are they rubbish with people, but very diligent and responsible? Put them on tidy up.
– DJ shifts.
Which DJ is DJing when? Don’t do this randomly – they’ll have set preferences, and will be best suited to some shifts. If they’re a crazy hardcore fast DJ, don’t put them on first. If they’re good at blues and lindy, maybe put them later in the night so they can do both. If they’re great at making dancers feel relaxed and comfortable, put them on first, so they can warm up the crowd.
Circulate this information well ahead of time.
– Cash drop times.
If you make heaps of cash, do you have a time set for when you’ll collect that extra cash and squirrel it away safely?
– Door close.
When will you close the door? Set aside time to do a quick cash count and door tally. It probably won’t be accurate, but it’ll give you one extra layer of accountability.
– Performances.
Allow 5 minutes for every 3 minute performance. It takes time to do announcements, applauding, getting performers on and off stage.
– Comps.
Even a jack and jill needs to be slotted into a running sheet. If you are running a comp, even a little one, you’ll need a whole other running sheet and plan for that. If you do this stuff, keep it short and sweet.
– Any snowballs or welcome dances or birthday dances or any of that stuff. Most DJs can just pull a song out of their bum, but newer DJs can’t.
– Any important announcements.
If there’s an after-party, announce it at a set time, and put that in the running sheet, so you won’t forget. Welcome people to your party at about half an hour in, or an hour in. That way people will know who you are, and they’ll feel welcome. MCs are actually great for helping a party flow. But keep your speeches short, light hearted, and friendly. DJs can do this, but that’s not their job – it’s an MC’s job.
– Introducing and back announcing DJs.
Put it in your running sheet, so you won’t forget.
-> I recommend putting these things between DJ sets, so you don’t mess up a DJ’s flow.

Emergency plan:
This is my latest addition to my door kit. It is very very important. It’s like a birth plan when you go to have a baby – you won’t be in a good position to make good decisions when it happens, so plan ahead.

I include:

  • Contact phone numbers for the local police station (as well as the emergency number 000) – the NSW police have an easy search box on their site. This will be very important to have on hand if you have randoms turn up at 1am.
  • Contact phone numbers for an ambulance – even if it’s just 000, it’s important to have it written down.
    -> I write all this on a little card that is stuck to the back of the door sign, so people can see it ALL the time.
  • Put your first aid kit right there on the door table in plain view. Do NOT hide it. It tells your punters you are serious about safety, and it makes it easier to find.
  • Make a plan for accidents: what will you do if someone falls and can’t get up? Think ahead, and plan out what you would do. Would you call an ambulance? When would you make the decision to call the ambulance? Would you move them? Would you stop the music?
    Make a plan now, because you won’t be able to when it happens. If you are running the event, it is your responsibility to think of this stuff. Write out this plan – don’t just think about it. Write it down, and have it in an accessible place, and tell the door volunteers about it.
  • NEVER assume that because X ‘is a doctor’ that they will handle an emergency at your gig. That is a big mistake: you don’t really know if they are competent, and you don’t know if they’ll be there and willing to help out.
  • Do you have the venue manager’s phone number? Why? Five reasons:
    1) One MLX I turned up at the late night venue to set up, at about midnight, to find someone had knocked a pipe in the kitchen (which was also the band room) and water was gushing into the room. We couldn’t reach the venue manager, we didn’t have the brain to call a plumber, so we just taped that shit up with gaffa tape. Seemed legit.
    2) Another year I turned up at the late night venue and the security code did’t work, and the alarm went off. So I had to call the event coordinator, who then called the venue manager. Meanwhile, I got to say hello to a particularly unappealing security guard. And his gun.
    3) Earlier this year an alarm went off during a huge dance with heaps of people and a big band, right in the middle of a students’ performance. The venue manager came running to fix the alarm, and luckily we didn’t have to interrupt the performance. Much.
    4) One MSF I was just pulling into my accommodation’s drive way, after a 30 minute drive home, when the first late night DJ called to tell me he’d arrived at the venue and there was no sound gear in the main lindy hop room. None. So I called the event coordinator, and she called the venue manager. Meanwhile, I had the ‘blues’ DJ in the other room play ‘lindy hop’ music at slower tempos until they got the situation in the other main ‘lindy hop’ room fixed. Thing I learnt: DJ coordinators need to be on-site at the beginning of every party in the weekend. Even if it’s the second night.
    5) Last year at Canberrang there was a fire alarm, fire engines came, and everyone had to empty out into the street in the middle of the night. To sub zero temperatures. Someone actually contracted pneumonia.

    Shit like this always happens, so be prepared. And buy good gaffa tape

This is a tricky one, and depends on what you want to achieve with your event. Decide ahead of time: do you want millions of people? Do you want just a few people? What is your ‘vision’ for your event? Are you planning a solid old school scratchy hot jazz party with hardcore lindy hop? Is this a late night beer-and-cake party with lots of shouting and a wide ranging style of music? Think carefully – all your PR decisions will be shaped by these ideas.

Things to think about:

  • what tone will your PR talk take? Will you be friendly and chatty?
  • will you use lots of in-jokes (and alienate peeps who don’t know you)?
  • will you be professional and kind of distant?
  • will you be talking to new dancers, who need a lot of things explained to them (eg ‘social dancing’, ‘hardcore lindy hop’, ‘hot jazz’, etc etc)
  • will you be talking to experienced dancers who travel a lot?
  • are you addressing blues dancers, lindy hoppers, balboa dancers?
  • How will you contact people?
    I like a three-pronged approach: paper flyers (cheap photocopies are actually cool for smaller or more ‘indy’ dance parties), word of mouth (your volunteers talking about their gig, for example, you talking to all sorts of people, your teaching friends mentioning it in class, etc etc), and online. Online is a big one (facebook is most powerful, but twitter, instagram, a designated website, and EMAIL are very powerful too), but face to face is actually your most powerful promotional tool.
  • Make a PR plan.
    You don’t want so spam all your friends on fb 6 weeks before the event, then go silent for six weeks. Plan it out. Designing, making, printing, and distributing flyers takes time – more time if you have less experience. Are you friends with lots of peeps on facebook? Do you have good relationships with teachers in your scene? Do you have access to an email newsletter?
  • Only tell people useful information.
    Don’t just randomly spam them on facebook with useless shit. They want to know: when it is (so perhaps a post about why Saturday the X of X month is a great date is important), where it is (a post about the venue itself – use a photo! – is great), what music will be on show (who are the DJs? tell people! use a youtube link to a song that really captures the vibe you want for your event), and what will actually happen at the event (is there a comp? are you byo or selling drinks? Do you want peeps to bring a plate to share? Tell people!)
  • Use a friendly, open, yet professional tone.
    You can be personable, but don’t tell everyone all your personal information. Be accessible and friendly, but not stalkery and creepy.
  • After the weekend:
    Follow up on your FB event with a nice note thanking your volunteers, DJs, and other workers by name (ALWAYS do this). Post some photos. Link to other people’s photos. This is PR for your next event. It’s also just a fun thing to do. Part of the fun of lindy hop is remembering past events that were really great.
  • Don’t play the martyr card.
    Don’t ever beg people to come, cry about having spent a million dollars on food or the venue or whatevs, and don’t shout that no one is buying tickets for your party. Nobody will like that, and it will make them cranky, and they will AVOID your parties. Also that is weird shit – don’t do that.
  • Be honest and open, and run events that actually meet people’s needs.
    Just because you want a late night blues party with a hip hop DJ dropping phat beats, doesn’t mean other people do. And perhaps someone else is already doing this, but better than you ever could. Know your scene, know what they want. And do not ever try to ‘educate’ or ‘give people what they need’. That’s patronising shit. Stop that.

All this stuff is important, even if you’re just running a small dance in a studio. You have bills to pay ($500 remember), and you want people to come to your party. So find a way to get them interested.

The venue:

  • Clean up
    It will take longer than you think. Will you be up for it at 4am? Plan it now, because you will be too tired to think straight then.
  • Set up.
    • It will take longer than you think. Just opening the doors, turning on the lights, and walking about being excited will take 15 minutes. It’ll take 15 minutes to set up the door. And other 15 minutes to set up the DJ table (if all the gear is in place, and ready to go. which it rarely is). If you’re decorating, allow at least an hour.
      If you’re doing all that by yourself, it’ll take 1 hour and 45 minutes. If you have volunteers, you’ll still need to explain what to do, and trouble shoot as you go along. Allow AT LEAST one hour bump in time for any event. Longer if you’re decorating.
    • Do you actually know how to set up sound gear? If you don’t, you’ll need to organise someone to come in and do it for you. Do NOT just assume the DJ will do it. They are there to DJ, not do tech support.
  • Rubbish disposal.
    This is a big one. One wheelie bin probably won’t cut it. If that’s all you have, you’ll need to be sneaky and see if you can put rubbish in other properties’ bins. But don’t get caught or fuck shit up for the venue manager.
    Does the venue have a skip? Where is it? Can you find it in the dark? When you look at the venue, go and physically touch the bin and see if you can open it – don’t rely on a verbal description from the venue manager. Ask the venue manager: “Are we expected to empty the bins into the skip?” Some venues are ok with you leaving the full garbage bags on-site. Most aren’t. Remember: dancers make a LOT of rubbish. Mostly empty plastic water bottles.
  • Lights.
    Where are they? Can you turn them off? Could you do it when you’re totally exhausted, at 4am, in the dark?
  • Cleanliness:
    • Is the venue clean before you start your gig?
      We use one great studio that often has quite dirty toilets, so we need to allow time to clean them before the gig. If you’re cleaning toilets, you can’t expect volunteers to do it without checking with them first. Allow time for this. Some volunteers have never actually cleaned a toilet before. inorite.
    • General cleaning.
      Say to the venue manager – “Will we be expected to clean the venue after use? What does that specifically involve?” If that means vacuuming the whole joint (I’ve had to do that) at 4am, perhaps that is too sucktown for you and your meagre volunteer resources. If you do have to clean extensively, put that time in your running sheet. DO IT NOW.
    • Venue manager contact details: get a phone number, and test it then and there. You will need it 5 minutes before the gig starts and you can’t get the front door open.
  • Electricity.
    Where are the power points? Take a photo. Does the venue have 3phase power?
  • Sound gear.
    Look at it, test it, try it out, take photos.
  • Furniture.
    What is there in the venue? Are you allowed to use it? Or move it? You will need a DJ table and chairs, a door table and chairs, and probably something for your punters to sit on during the night. Look at it all in situ, take photos of it, measure it, count it.
  • How big is the venue?
    Measure it. Take photos of EVERYTHING.
  • Toilet paper.
    Is there heaps? I usually allow about 5 rolls per cubicle, if there are 6 cubicles for the venue. So allow about 30 rolls. Yes, it’s a lot. But dancers use it for all sorts of stuff besides wiping their bums. Ask the venue: do they supply it, or do you? If it’s on-site, where is it? Physically touch the rolls, so you know it’s not locked in cupboard somewhere.
  • Soap.
    Bring some.

Once you’re at the venue and the party’s started, there’s more work to do. If you’re running this party, you have to manage this party. That means that you can’t just dance like a fool all night and then suddenly think at 4am “Oh shit, we have to clean up.” When you are running a party, you have to keep part of your mind on the the mechanics of the whole thing.

You need to keep an eye on:

  • The DJs.
    • Introduce them, thank them individually, pay them promptly.
    • If you need to give them feedback, or to get them to change it up during their shift, ask them, specifically: “Hey mate, peeps are looking to dance, but they’re having trouble getting into it. Could you please drop a favourite like ‘Easy Does It’ in there in the next couple of songs?” Don’t give vague advice or vague comments like “Everyone is really tired.” That’s an observation, not actually useful advice.
    • Don’t hover. Do not hover. Don’t hover. DJs are working, and unless they give you open body language that says ‘hey, talk to me!’ they won’t want you hovering – just let them do their thing. I find event managers do this quite a bit: they just. can’t. let. go. I personally find it absolutely maddening.
    • Don’t kiss DJ arse. Yes, they’re great, but too much sucking up is weird. Say thank you, and tell them “You rock!” when they pull something awesome, but mostly just them do their thing. Don’t micromanage.
  • The volunteers.
    Have they turned up for their shift? Are things going ok at the door? Have you had a crazy amount of people turn up, leaving your door people with one million dollars in small notes to deal with? Have you thought of a cash drop process to deal with this? Who’ll do it? Where will you keep that money? Have you thanked a volunteer coming off shift? Did you check in with the new shift of door volunteers? Are you being patient and kind during bump out, even though you’re absolutely shagged and kind of grumpy?
  • The punters.
    You need to keep one eye on the people in the room. You might be having the best time ever, but is everyone else? Are they sitting about talking? Are they dancing like crazy fools? Are they only dancing to the slow songs?

    My usual plan: I want people to have a lot of fun. If I’m running a dance, I want them dancing. Sometimes that means crazy fun, sometimes that means calm, gentle fun. I rarely aim for calm, gentle fun, because lindy hop. But a blues event is probably looking for calm, intense fun.
    If people are sitting down, why? Is it because they’re tired? Did you notice whether people were dancing the last five songs, and have only just sat down? Or have they been sitting down all night? Is the room too hot? Too cold? Too crowded? What time is it? All these things will help you decide what to do next. If you want them up and dancing, you might have to suggest (politely) to the DJ that they play a favourite – ‘Splanky’ or ‘Easy Doest It’ or whatever songs works as a nice friendly invitation to dance for your scene.
    But be prepared to change your ‘plan’ for the party: you might be aiming for crazy fun, but they might want to dance slowly, talk more. You might have wanted old scratchy super hot jazz, but they might be responding to sugergroove at moderate tempos… or getting their funk on with Aretha. You might have wanted calm, quiet chatting and slow dancing, but have ended up with a room full of adrenaline junkies shouting at each other and swinging out like fools.
    Go with it.

Managing people:

  • Means being able to delegate in a rational way. You need to look at a situation, assess the priorities, and then delegate jobs to deal with each issue. You can’t just do everything yourself. If you plan things ahead of time (eg estimate that it will take one hour to hang decorations), you’ll be able to put volunteers to work in a sensible way.
  • My rule: be polite to all people at all times. If you are cranky, take a time out. Be nice. Smile. Laugh. Problems are interesting challenges, not fucking terrible tragedies. Thank people. Don’t get all up in their grills hassling them and micromanaging them, though – let people be competent, trust them and delegate. Take responsibility for dramas or problems: the buck stops with YOU, so step up and take responsibility. Tell volunteers to handball difficult punters to you immediately. Be a manager, not a pain in the arse.
  • btw, if you are managing an event, you can’t DJ. It’s just the way things are. You probably shouldn’t teach or perform, either. Who’ll trouble shoot while you’re showing off?

Respect your volunteers and DJs. You can’t actually do this without them. They are actually more important than you are. Be polite at all times. Listen to them. Don’t micromanage, but don’t just assume they know what to do all the time. Explain clearly and simply what you want from them. Listen to their suggestions, and take them on board.
Volunteers are the people who help you promote your event. Just by telling their mates that they’re volunteering, they’re telling them that they think this event is important and good enough to be a part of. So make them happy bearers of good news, not shitty people with a gripe to share.
Also: just be a decent person, ok? Get over your issues, your insecurities, and just BE NICE.

And finally, enjoy this. Enjoy the real-time challenges and pressures. Enjoy the excitement. Enjoy the problems! Enjoy working with people. Be flexible, and able to amend your plans on the fly. Take suggestions and advice. You could be wrong – how exciting! New ideas that you don’t have to come up with!

I know a lot of people reading this will be all “Oh, that’s overkill. Chill out, man!” especially if they’re thinking about a smaller event.

You don’t have to do this sort of stuff. But I do. Because I’ve been doing this for fourteen years now, and I find that it’s when things aren’t planned out properly that people get screwed over. Me or other people. And it’s really stressful.
I’ve found that developing these sorts of processes with smaller events helps you prepare for running larger events. A large exchange, for example, is like running 6 or 7 huge parties in one weekend. Except you’re getting progressively tireder and physically trashed. So your plans are even more important.
If you have comprehensive plans, you can hand over your event to someone else. We developed this approach in the early days of the Melbourne Jazz Dance Association running the Melbourne Lindy Exchange. We were all volunteers, so we needed to be able to drop everything with no notice if our day jobs got intense, our families needed us, or our health failed. So we developed a good way of documenting our planning, and then sharing our planning. These days I use google docs to share documents: version control is gold. I use it even for little parties, so I can circulate DJ rosters, keep track of budgets, and so on.

And if you do document your plans, you can develop templates for future events. I tend to reuse running sheets, because the basic structure of a dance event doesn’t actually change very much – we still have to bump in and out, roster DJs and bands and volunteers. Same goes for budgets: complete budgets help you remember what to pay for, but they also help you remember what to actually buy in the first place. I often annotate budgets with notes about where I bought cheap beer, whether they delivered, etc etc etc. And running sheets with contact details for venue managers, DJs, and so on are just gold for subsequent event planning.

I think that planning out an event ahead of time can also help you decide whether this is something you want to do. It’s quite a lot of work the first few times, because you don’t have the time management skills, the patience and the people management skills. So it helps to see just what you’re getting yourself in to before you actually put down the cash and do the PR.
I think that your sense of scale also changes after you’ve done a lot of events. I now think of a ‘small’ band night like our Swinging at the PBC gigs with international and interstate bands as relatively small and simple projects. My idea of ‘big’ these days is a five day weekend event with half a dozen bands, international teachers, heaps of venues, stacks of volunteers and DJs. But if this your first time, a DJed party at your house might be ‘big’.
I’ve also found that the hugest events mean that you can’t give lots of attention to the tiniest things – being a proper host and welcoming or farewelling people as they arrive or leave the party. Making cute paper invitations. Planning a birthday jam for a friend. So a ‘small’ event can actually be quite detailed, and really much nicer… can you see why I’m moving away from larger events these days?

I think that a well-planned smaller, local event is much more important to a local scene than a huge exchange. It’s the everyday, cheaper, accessible local stuff that skills dancers up to run events, to social dance, and to be part of a socially sustainable community. So they are much more important. They also run on smaller budgets, at greater personal financial risk, make smaller profits, and are kind of relentless in the way they demand labour and time over and over again, from relatively inexperienced folk. But this is where we learn to DJ, we learn to be social dancers (not just social dancing, but being dancers in a social space), we learn to work with bands, we learn to create professional networks and relationships. So it’s worth putting time and care into them.

Band breaks at MLX14

MLX14: Friday evening band breaks from dogpossum on 8tracks Radio.

Straight Life Count Basie and his Orchestra 1953 Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings (Mosaic disc 03)

Ain’t Misbehavin’ Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf

Stompin’ At The Savoy Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf

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

Splanky Count Basie and his Orchestra 1957 The Complete Atomic Basie

Wham Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra (Emmett, Berry, Lawrence Brown, Al Sears, Leroy Lovett, Lloyd Trotman, Joe Marshall) 1952 A Pound of Blues

Don’t You Miss Your Baby Jimmy Witherspoon and Panama Francis’ Savoy Sutans 1980 Jimmy Witherspoon and Panama Francis’ Savoy Sultans

Jersey Bounce Ella Fitzgerald acc. by Lou Levy, Herb Ellis, Joe Mondragon, Stan Levey 1961 Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!

B-Sharp Boston Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950

Good Queen Bess Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra (Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 1940 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 10)

Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 1950 Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript

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

A Viper’s Moan Willie Bryant and his Orchestra (Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole) 1935 Willie Bryant: Chronological Classics 1935-1936

Flying Home Benny Goodman Sextet (Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool, Lionel Hampton) 1940 Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 1)

Sent For You Yesterday Benny Goodman China Boy
Ain’t Misbehavin’ Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf

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

Truckin’ Paul Asaro And The Fat Babies (Andy Schumm, John Otto, Beau Sample, Jake Sanders, Alex Hall) 2012 What a Heavenly Dream: The Fats Waller Rhythm Project

Fat And Greasy Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Herman Autrey, C.E. Smith, Eddie Anderson, Fred Robinson, George Wilson, Rudy Powell, Gene Sedric, George James, Emmett Matthews, Fred Skerritt, Hank Duncan, James Smith, Charles Turner) 1935 I’m Gonna Sit Right Down: The Early Years, Part 2 (disc 02)

My Baby Just Cares For Me Nina Simone The Great Nina Simone

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

C-Jam Blues Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 1998 Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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