Though I have a STACK of Ellington, I’m late come to Ellington playing live in the 50s, and it’s such a joy to discover him now. DJ Ryan Swift put me onto ‘The Private Collection, Vol. 2: Dance Concerts, California, 1958’ and vol 6 of the same series.
This tip was part of a long, interesting discussion (fansquee?) between some very big Ellington fans and jazz nerds on the facey, when I was chasing a song called ‘Wailing Interval’ that I didn’t know the name of.
I’m a big New Testament Basie fan, and have stacks of live Basie from the 50s. It’s a joy to compare Ellington from this same period, and to think about the role of the Newport Jazz Festival in these band leaders’ lives.
Anyhoo, this album is quite wonderful. I intend to play it every single time I DJ until the mp3s explode. You can pick it up on itunes as I did, but you’ll miss out on the liner notes, which I have. And as we all know, you don’t learn much about jazz if you don’t know who’s in the band.
Here’s a long post I wrote on the plane on the way to Snowball last December. As per usual, it goes on a long time, so get yourself ready. No complaints about long posts! This is a blog – that’s what they’re for!
As Ramona says in her talk with Ryan Swift on the Track, practice practice practice, and then when you get on the dance floor, just DANCE.
This post can be summarised as:
1. Make it easy for everyone to have fun.
2. What you play is not as important as the combinations you play them in.
3. These combinations are dictated by the crowd’s feels, not how you feel in your pants.
Here is the long version:
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I reckon most DJs think too much while they’re DJing. Normally, when someone tells me I think too much, I roll my eyes at them, because that’s fucked up. But I do reckon DJing is like dancing: it’s an exercise in being present. Be right there with the dancers. Feel what they feel. Read their bodies like you would your partner’s, and work with their feels. Respond with empathy. Help them feel good, because you want to feel good too.
And you know what? Your incredible collection of rare and unusual jazz means nothing NOTHING, if you haven’t looked at the dancers during your set. Get out of your ear phones NOW. Look up. STAND up! Get the feels. Your heart should be pumping like you’ve just danced all those songs. Get a contact high. Feel their feels.
Here’s the sad news, buddy: your music is pop music. A zillion people have already ‘found’ that song before. So take pleasure in fun songs, rather than in finding something rare that no one else has. Your JOB, your PURPOSE as a DJ is to share music with people. Not share as in ‘give this bounty to the people’ but share as in ‘do you like this song? Here, I’ll play it, and we’ll see what we think.’ Most of the most popular dance songs of today are popular because they meet dancers’ needs and are nice and simple and fun. And that is ok. Lindy hop: it’s not brain surgery. It’s FUN.
That’s how I DJ. I do all my thinking before I get out there, I practice practice practice.
What do I do before I DJ?
- I classify my music.
listen to my music and classify the songs. I note bpms. I note whether it’s ‘upenergy’ or ‘mediumenergy’ or ‘lowenergy’. Which are as simple as they sound: does this song make me crazy with excitement? Or not. If I think it’s ‘fun’, ‘lovely,’ or ‘nice’, I put that in the comments. Is it really long? I use the genre tag to describe city/style/etc – eg NOLA small group male vocal; 1930s big band instrumental; etc. I give it 3 stars or more if it’s something danceable. I classify it as a ‘kissing song’ if it’s ~110bpm, and feels like you want to kiss your squeeze rather than dance. I note whether it feels like ‘charleston’, ‘lindy hop’, or ‘blues. These last 3 are just for my own brain, and give me an idea of feel, rather than how people should dance – that’s their business. And if I think it’s great, I put it in my ‘should play’ folder.
- I listen to my music.
I have a really shitty memory, so I have to go back through my expanding collection to remind myself about what songs sound like. I move them around in my ‘should play’, ‘favourite’, and ‘maybe Event Name’ folders when I’m preparing for a set.
- I practice combining them in real time, as though I’m actually DJing.
This is the most important one.
- I make sure I know how to use my computer, and I keep my system really simple. I don’t want anything to stop me looking at the floor. So I practice with my gear, and I get rid of the fancy software.
- I get good noise-cancelling ear phones that won’t give me ear-itch.
These days I don’t do this preparation stuff as much as I should. I don’t listen to music enough. Teaching has changed some of my ideas about music: teaching doesn’t make you a good DJ, I’m afraid. You tend to pre-select for song without long intros (social dancers are fine with intros and outros), you prioritise ‘simpler’ songs for class demos and work (unless you’re looking at un-simple ideas in music for your class), and you’re more conscious of tempo. You also try to find a variety of classic swing styles for teaching lindy hop, because that’s part of a class: teaching people about the music.
DJing is not like selecting teaching music.
Don’t be a Dick.
I’ve heard a handful of DJs say things like this in the past year: “I like to challenge the dancers,” “I want to educate them [the dancers],” “I want them to hear things they never usually hear.” That last one was from a visiting DJ who’d never played in that Australian city before.
Total dicks, all of them. And all men.
I do not ever go into a set with an agenda. That is fucked up. Don’t go out there to ‘educate’, don’t go out there to ‘blow people’s minds’. Don’t assume your audience are plebs living in hicksville who’ve never heard jazz (that one happens a bit when American DJs come to Australia. Those DJs usually suck balls).
Go out there ready to be what the dancers need, right then. Be their friend.
While I’m DJing, my only rule or ‘agenda’ is:
MAKE IT EASY FOR PEOPLE TO HAVE FUN
That’s it. That’s all I plan.
That is 100% of my job. To make it easy for people to have fun. I don’t make them have fun; they do that themselves. ‘Challenge dancers?’ Fuck that noise. The opposite is my job: make it really easy for them to have fun. Whether they want to show off, to chillax, to go like the clappers, or whatevs.
My other only rule is:
OFFER PEOPLE REGULAR INVITATIONS TO DANCE
I try to offer people regular ‘ins’ to the dance floor. Regular chances to get on the floor. Sometimes that means playing something slower tempoed. Sometimes it’s a familiar song. Sometimes it’s less manic, more relaxed song. Sometimes it’s a crazy fun uptempo song everyone knows. Whatever. I want to give people a chance to invite someone onto the floor, whether it’s a teacher, a noob, that person they love, their favourite dance partner, or Chaz Young.
I know DJs who’d die before playing Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.
But for me, it’s the ultimate invitation to dance. It’s slow. It has a nice walking bass line. It has a lovely vocal about a lover who wants you because you’re you. But it also has interesting changes in timing, it has really satisfying phrasing, and it’s fun to dance to. New dancers have never heard it before. Experienced dancers know it’s ‘safe’ for asking a noob to dance.
Most of these ‘invitations to dance’ songs are medium tempo favourites, but not all. Mostly, I try to make them really easy to dance to – a song that’ll get those people who’ve been standing on the sidelines onto the floor. Wether they’re tired, old, young, unfit, exhausted, overstimulated or Chaz Young. I want them to feel brave enough to ask someone to dance. I want to make it easy for them to have fun. And I like to drop these in regularly, so people who like to talk a lot can step in and out of the dance floor occasionally.
I often like to follow these songs with something a little more. Maybe it’s faster, maybe it’s more exciting, maybe it’s unfamiliar. But it’s not a huge change (because that would feel like a betrayal – I just got them out there! They’ll probably dance two songs with this person, so let’s make this one good too!).
After that, I might change it up completely.
HOW do I start a set?
But I don’t go in there planning a set like this. I don’t think ‘Ok, this is my invitation to dance song, this is my challenge song, I’ll play them in these orders.’ I go in there thinking ‘Did you do a wee, DJ? Do you have your power cord? What is the previous DJ playing now? Stop, spend a bit of time looking at the room and observing what they’re doing and feeling.’ And then I think ‘Aw fuck, go do another wee anyway. Just in case.’
I get quite nervous before DJing, particularly for my first set of a weekend, so I like a few sets over the event. And to do a few wees before my set (not only because it’s a chance to sit down in peace and quiet and get it together; mostly because one time I got locked in the stall mid-set, and I’ve never recovered). And I need to be gentle with myself before I start DJing. No caffeine or sugar (it makes me stressy). I like to walk around the room before I DJ, not dancing, but just checking out the vibe, a bit separate to the dancing vibe. Are people grumpy? Happy? Tired? Manic? Frustrated? How do they respond to the DJ’s music? Enthusiastically? Dancing just because they want to dance?
I often dread following a really good DJ, because I just don’t feel I’m terribly good at clever DJing: I tend to just go for the fun. So if the DJ before me has already played all the crazy fun, I’m going to have to work harder. And that’s where I can really suck.
I also like to have a look and listen to my music while I watch the crowd. Does this song’s feel match their vibe?
What has the DJ before me played? Avoid those songs. But get an idea of the vibe they’ve had going on before. It really helps if I’ve been dancing during the night.
Incidentally, I don’t think you can be a great DJ if you don’t dance the dance you’re DJing for. So I am rubbish at blues DJing these days. And I try to dance to all the tempos, so I know what ‘fast’ feels like. The DJs I really admire do that – they social dance a lot, to all tempos, and they’re continually working on their own dancing, deepening their physical understanding of jazz.
But I like to start with a nice song that either starts mediumenergy and builds, or comes in with a bang. I tend to start with something like Basie or Hamp, or otherwise pretty meat and potatoes. HELLO PARTY HAM IS HERE! LET’S JUMP AROUND!
Unless I’m the first DJ of the late night, then I start with a completely different vibe.
So as you can see, I have strategies. But these strategies aren’t ‘rules’. They’re just ways of applying my knowledge of my music to what I see happening on the floor.
Make it easy for EVERYONE to have fun.
Everyone. Not just the rock stars and wannabe-rockstar cliques hugging the stage at the front of the room. They don’t really care what you play – they just want you to make them look good and play songs they like.
I play to everyone in the room, especially the middle 2/3 of the dance floor. That’s the bulk of the crowd. They come early, they leave last, and they dance a LOT with LOTS of people. The rockstarwannabes only dance with a small pool of their besties, and they have limited dance skills – they can only dance with their besties to ‘cool’ songs. I like to pitch to the bulk of the room. And as a DJ friend taught me, it’s good to play to people who aren’t dancing yet as well.
Having a full floor is my base line, rather than a mark of a successful set. A successful set is where the whole room loses its collective shit. Where they stay on the dance floor all night and occasionally run up to shout at you, all sweaty-faced, with their hair stuck to their cheeks and foreheads, and kind of wild-eyed and sweaty. They’ve forgotten to change their shirt. They’re dehydrated. They shout loud, incoherent stuff. Both up at the DJ and to each other on the dance floor. They just run and grab partners and leap back onto the floor.
I’m actually ok with an empty floor occasionally. Somewhere like Herrang, where it’s always overcrowded, a momentarily clear floor can be a good thing. Especially if it’s fast and exciting. You can follow up with an invitation to dance that capitalises on that high energy.
I usually spend the first part of a set letting dancers know they can trust me. I don’t play any shit songs. I don’t play wacked out songs that change tempo mid-way through*. Once they know I can be trusted, I play more risky stuff. I play stuff with the odd intros, because I know they know that I won’t play some piece of shit hip hop whatevs.
While I’m DJing I use my notes about energy and style to search my collection – eg I think ‘ok, they’re buggered, we need to back it off a bit tempo and energy wise. I need something mediumenergy and in the 150bpm range’ so I search for ‘mediumenergy’ and then arrange by bpm. Then I scroll through, listening to the song playing over the speakers, and looking for something that will meet these criteria and suits the feel and style of the song that’s playing. If I’m lucky a new song idea comes to me and I don’t need to search – I think ‘GOODMAN! NOW!’ and then I search through my Goodman stuff for something in a tempo range and energy style. Or I just look for a specific song.
I have to preview songs, because I have a shit memory. But I also like to listen to a song with one ear in the headphones, and one ear in the room, to see how the two songs sound next to each other. I want a nice, comfortable transition. Unless I want to shake things up (but that is a risky proposition).
Mostly, I’m trying to work a tempo wave (so they don’t die of exhaustion), and an energy wave (so they don’t die of overexcitement). I tend to work this wave with my attention 100% on the crowd, and how they look and feel. Are they physically tired? Are they emotionally tired? If it’s the former, drop the tempo. If it’s the latter, back off the NT Basie wall of sound and get some tinkly Goodman small group in there.
I do like to aim to get them worked up, so I like to get the energy really freaking high during a set. But people can’t sustain that, emotionally, for a terribly long time. Just like a panic attack only lasts about 15 minutes max (eg 5 x 3minute songs), I find the emotional highs have to come and go. Like waves. So while I build a single wave during a whole set (a tide if you will), that tide is comprised of smaller waves, working the energy up and down in steps. But once you get to about an hour, you kind of have to reset a bit and start again. Or else it’s a bit boring.
And of course, it depends on the crowd. Really experienced lindy hoppers in good physical condition at an exchange on the main night of the event (eg Saturday of a weekend) want to PARTY, so they make it easy for you: bring the adrenaline, and they’re into it. But if it’s day 5 of a 7 day event, perhaps they want something a bit more cerebral? Some Kirby small group, perhaps?
My big rules:
If I try to pre-empt the crowd, I will DJ to an agenda and fuck up.
Don’t DJ to an imaginary crowd that you’ve planned out before the set. DJ to the people right there in the room.
Like Mona says: practice practice practice, then get out there on the social floor and just enjoy yourself. Go for the feels.
*I’m surprised by how many dancers don’t realise that most tempo changes – from slow to fast – are usually where the tempo doubles. So you can just keep dancing at the same speed, except you’ll be dancing half time when the music gets faster. So be cool, yo. And like an old timer: half time is way radical awesome doods.
Look, I don’t think I’m all that excited about dancing to careful 3 minute transcriptions of recorded big bands. I like a little more chaos with my historical recreation. I’ve been listening to some live and radio recordings from the 30s and 40s, and some modern stuff like this video from the Kansas City soundtrack, and I like it when they go off-script. There’s a really great sax battle in one of the Kansas City songs, and it’s entirely not-historically-accurate, but it is entirely awesome.
What exactly are my issues?
I think it’s a bad idea to train dancers to dance to 3 minute songs.
Recordings of bands are amazing and important. But if we just reproduce those recordings exactly, we’re missing the point of jazz: improvisation, innovation, and taking risks within a shared structure.
We need to encourage song writers and arrangers to develop new music, to keep those skills alive and to foster the recording of modern jazz bands.
I LOVE seeing a good band leader managing a band, getting a musician to solo at just the right time, because that musician is on fire, responding to the crowd, working the vibe in the room up and down. Listening to the audience, bantering with them.
As I write this, I’m thinking about Adrian Cunningham, who’s currently one of my favourite band leaders. He gets fantastic performances out of musicians I might see every week at home. But the show is fresh and exciting because he’s innovating and improvising with the whole band and whole song, even while the soloists or individual musicians are improvising within that bigger shape. I know that these guys need decent transcripts to work with old songs. And I know a big band needs a big stack of charts, and that they rely lesson improvisation and more on the careful choreography of musicians and parts. But, to be honest, big bands aren’t the bands I book or see as often as small bands. Simply because lots of musicians = lots of individual pay packets = a big hire fee for the band.
I danced to a very nice and very faithful version of Lavender Coffin by Gordon Webster’s band at Snowball, and while I had a bunch of fun, I was actually left thinking, ‘Gee, I hear this song all the time. I’d like to hear something new.’ It’s a decent song, but it’s not amazing. And it gets DJed all the time. It’s very safe. What makes the recording good is the band’s performance on the recording.
I understand what Webster’s doing with his band: this is pop music, and playing favourites to make a party. His songs are quite formulaic, and have a very clear, almost identical structure. They’re great. They’re exciting. But they’re entirely predictable. This is great if you’re dancing a set sequence of steps, or want everything in your dance to be safe and predictable.
But I dance to live music because I like to be surprised. I want something new and interesting. Sometimes that new stuff is going to suck balls. But sometimes it’s going to be wonderful.
I’ve had a couple of emails this week alone asking me if my business would like the opportunity to work for free. I said no.
But I know a lot of DJs work for free for ‘experience’ or ‘exposure’, I know newer dancers perform for free for ‘exposure’ or ‘experience’, and I know teachers work at big events within Australia for ‘experience’. None of whom receive free entry to the event or any equitable compensation (eg a free pass). One of the bigger areas of exploitation in the dance world is administration – running large events or regular classes.
All of this is pretty much bullshit.
I’m particularly annoyed by the way volunteering is used to gain free labour from dancers, without providing safe, reasonable working conditions. Volunteering is a good thing in many cases (and the lindy hop community needs it to work), but you have a responsibility as the employer (because that’s what you are) to provide safe, equitable, and just working conditions and terms for all the people who work for you. Volunteers, employees, and contractors.Simply justifying this lack of pay as ‘growing the scene’ or doing it ‘for the scene’ is not ok.
If you really want to ‘grow the scene’ you pay people so they can then invest some of that money back into the scene (or you know, paying their electricity bill). A healthy, growing community is sustainable, economically and socially. In other words, you want to retain skilled workers (rather than overworking them and burning them out) so you can retain their knowledge and abilities and help your community improve what it does.
You want to offer people opportunities to develop these skills and interests, so that they can move on to run their own projects, develop their own ideas, and help your community become a more interesting, diverse creative space. In other words, you’ll get better dancing, DJing, and events in your scene if people stick around longer, and feel good about what they do. Eventually people get tired of being screwed over, and they drop out.
More importantly, when you exploit people, you are facilitating conditions which make it possible for your workers to be abused in other ways. Including sexual harassment and bullying. So when you say, “Oh, you should DJ/teach/manage the door for free because I want you to, and I’m just doing this ‘for the scene’,” you’re telling people that they should do unfair, unsafe, unpleasant, exploitative things ‘for the scene’ just because someone powerful or ‘important’ asks them to.
Whenever I hear the phrases ‘grow the scene’ and ‘doing this for the scene/community’, my alarm bells ring. Volunteers, workers, dancers, DJs, teachers, students ARE the scene. So you should – you have a responsibility protect their interests and rights.
Before I went off on my trip last month I did a little interview with the blokes from ‘From the Top’, a radio show produced by ig hop in Vienna.
The radio show is a good one. We have a bunch of lindy hop related podcasts and vlogcasts, but all of them are American, and show a decidedly American bias. To the point that I can’t actually bear to listen to most of them any more. I don’t like to hate on people’s creative projects, but I’m very tired of listening to discussions pitched as discussing ‘the lindy world’, but really only discussing a few people’s experience of contemporary urban American lindy hop. Booooring. The more I learn about lindy hop in Asia, Europe, and the antipodes (of course :D), the more embarrassing some of those American podcasts become. Bros need to travel.
An exception to this cringe is Ryan Swift’s the Track. At first glance, an hour and three quarter long podcast where two people just talk about dancing seems intolerable. Interminable. But Ryan manages to pull it off. Mostly because he chooses interesting people, but also because he’s a master of the well directed casual conversation. I am of course completely biased, because Ryan is an Internet Friend, but in this case, the bias is justified.
But From The Top is exciting. It’s short, just 20, 15 minutes. Professionally edited and presented, with good topics, well-constructed stories, and a far-reaching, open-eyed approach to truly international lindy hop culture. This is no accident. The presenter and producer Alexei Korolyov is a professional journalist, and it really makes a difference. Previous episodes have discussed Health, Well-being and Social Conventions; Being a Swing Musician Today; Regionalism vs Globalisation in Lindy Hop; and Time Traveling back to the ‘swing era’ (you can find them all here on soundcloud.) And they’re all really interesting and good listens.
The latest ep is about Gender Roles in Dance. I think it’s pretty good, but, to be honest, it’s not quite as good as previous episodes, mostly because I think it’s a complicated issue that could have done with a little preamble to define some terms and perhaps set the tone. I guess it did, in a way, but I don’t quite agree with the approach and definitions Alexei takes. But yolo, right? Despite this, I think he takes a very open approach to the issue, and has some interesting guests. This is a good piece, and it does good work.
I really liked hearing from Rebecka DecaVita, a woman dancer I’ve long admired and really wanted to hear speak about these issues. Jo Jaekyeong from Korea is an old friend of mine, and I really liked hearing her speak clearly about her experiences in Seoul, a city and scene I’m currently very interested in. I don’t know Gregor Hof Bauer or Patrick Catuz, and while Patrick’s comments were the ones I found most problematic, I was very interested to hear from some men in this discussion. And men who’d actually done some proper thinking about this issue, beyond the sort of glib jokey rubbish I’ve been hearing on the American podcasts.
It was particularly cool to hear from Gregor, who’s an out gay bloke, speaking about following. This was especially cool, because I do feel that a lot of the American and mainstream lindy hop commentary has been very coyly stepping around the issue of queerasfuck dancing, managing not to have any openly gay peeps speaking in podcasts, vlogcasts, or in public talks. I think this is one of the features of a European production: they simply are more politically and socially progressive than the American productions, so we hear a more grown up and interesting discussion. Or at the very least, this program is better journalism for its presentation of a more diverse range of voices.
I was the other interviewee on the program this month, and I wasn’t all that happy with how I did in the original interview. I feel like I crapped on too much, and could have been more succinct. But Alexei has edited the bejeebs out of me, so I come out of it sounding a lot more coherent than I actually was. Overall, it was exciting and flattering to be asked to be involved (SUPER flattering), and I enjoyed it. I admire Alexei’s work, and it was so nice to be a part of something I admire. Such an honour.
In the rest of this post, I’ll engage with just one part of the podcast, which is really just an accidental language slip. It is where Alexei says (as Laura pointed out) “Sam is actively involved with feminism”. This is a true statement.
It’s also kind of lolsome because I don’t feel like feminism is this thing outside myself (the way this statement implies). Feminism is what I am and do. To say “I am a feminist” is a way of saying “Hey, I think we need to talk about gender and power, and I’m not going to shoosh up about it.” Saying “I am a feminist” is a political act.
For a woman, speaking up like this, expressing discontent and generally disturbing the status quo by not being a quiet, conciliatory woman, is explicitly political. When a man says ‘I am a feminist’, the act itself means something quite different. Because we do exist in patriarchy. For a woman, the very act of speaking up, of dissenting, of being a ‘difficult woman’ is a political act. It’s dissension. It’s dangerous. It’s powerful. So it’s not so much that I am ‘involved with feminism’, it’s that I AM A FEMINIST. I don’t prevaricate, I don’t add caveats or qualifications when I say that. I just am a feminist.
And when I say this, it means that I think that the way we do things is a bit fucked up. I think that there are problems. I think that men have and take advantage of privileges and advantages that women don’t have. Yes, you, white straight guy. I’m speaking to you. I’m saying to you, you have advantages that I don’t. And if you’re not paying attention to that, if you’re not asking why that is so, you are just quietly maintaining the status quo. You are complicit in patriarchy. And I’m not ok with that. I’m not going to let you rest easy on that. I’m going to be the pebble in your shoe. I’m not going to sit down and shoosh. And it’s not going to be comfortable for you. It shouldn’t be. Because patriarchy is not fucking comfortable for me.
Our culture makes things easier for you, men. You have advantages. As I say in that podcast, I doubt anyone says to you, male lead, “Oh, you’re being the boy?” or even comments at all on the fact that someone of your gender is choosing to lead in a workshop. But for me, it is so common it’s normal. But it’s also a constant niggling question of my right to be in a class as a lead. It’s a continual itching doubt that I am a ‘real’ lead. Because apparently real leads are all men. And of course, women are complicit in patriarchy by doing things like policing gender roles by asking women if they are ‘being the boy’, or asking a teacher to have men give up following so they can lead (and rebalance the gender/lead-follow ratio).
So this is why I am not so much ‘actively involved with feminism’ or a feminist project. I am a feminist project. I am feminism. I am a feminist. And feminism is about dissension. It’s about destabilising. It’s about being a good goddamn pain in the arse. I’m quite used to being thought of as a ‘bitch’ or a ‘difficult woman’.
So when I enter professional relationships and interactions in the lindy hop world today, I go in reminding myself that I am awesome. It’s very important to enter these interactions with confidence. With rock solid confidence in your decisions, your ideas, your skills. A lot of confidence. You must be as iron-clad in your determination as a man would be. Even though a man doesn’t have to deal with all the niggling critiques and policing. Because as a woman, you will be confronted or bullied or tested by men.
I saw it happening in Herrang, in a range of contexts – male teachers testing female teachers, male students testing female students, male DJs testing female DJs, male everyone testing female organisers and administrators. Some things that happened to me at Herrang this year and last, as a woman DJ, that didn’t happen to male DJs:
– I had my ‘knobs twiddled’ without permission by other other DJs while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “You need to fix the levels” instead of “Are the levels ok? It’s a bit squeaky where I was?”
– Male DJs physically took up more space than I did in the DJ booth while I was DJing.
– Male DJs said “Do you just DJ locally?” instead of just assuming as they do with other men that I was actually an experienced DJ who’d DJed overseas and nationally for years (and hence meant to be there).
– A male DJ described going to DJ blues as “Going to get some pussies wet” in front of me, and blanched a little when I replied “I took a few dance classes today and that did the job for me.” Apparently pussies are things you do things to, rather than things you have for some male DJs.
– Male DJs assumed I was much younger than I am, and were patronising until they discovered my real age (and dancing and DJing experience).
…and there were many more incidences. These were all from male DJs who are very nice guys, who were generally very good to work with. But these are the sorts of micro-incidences that remind me that I am a woman, and that challenge me.
And the only real way to deal with this, as a woman professional in lindy hop, is to say to yourself:
“I am a professional.”
“I know my shit. I am a fucking good DJ/organiser/manager/dancer.”
“Here are my accomplishments, here is my history, where I did a bloody good job.”
“When I speak, I know what I am talking about, so I will speak with confidence, and in declarative statements, not questions.”
“When I make my needs and requirements clear to a man, I know what I’m saying, and I don’t need to justify myself.”
“When I challenge a man for his behaviour, I am doing the right thing. I am in the right. I am justified in my call. And he should respect that.”
“When I am challenged or tested by a man simply because I’m a woman and he’s used to being an alpha in interactions with women I should feel good about stepping up and pushing back. I should – I will – push back.”
“I will not second-guess myself and my actions as an employer or manager. I will not verbally justify my decisions or authority with someone I’ve employed. I am the boss, I’m good at it, and I am here to kick heads and take names.”
“As a woman boss or employer or manager, I don’t have to become a jerkface bloke, or take on hegemonic modes of management or problem solving. I can be collaborative and gentle. I can talk about how I feel, and I can take into account my peers’ feelings. I can be emotionally honest without being manipulative. And I can still be an arse-kickingly good boss. This does not make me weak or unprofessional.”
I also think it’s essential to be supportive of other women. And to remember that men who push or challenge are often feeling a lack of self confidence. The difficult male DJ is feeling doubts about his ability, and not sure you’re a decent manager. So you need to convince him, through your confident manner, that you are capable, and that he can trust you to set reasonable limits and be his guide and manager. Yes, it sucks to have to mother these fucktards (god, emotional labour, much?), but just assume that they’re little babies and need to be babbied.
When you’re working with other women, you need to let them know that you think they’re legit. Sisterhood is powerful, but collaboration is mighty. Lindy hop teaches us how to work with other people in close, emotionally intense partnerships. We can definitely take that to our off-dance-floor professional relationships.
So, yes, I am involved with feminism. In the most intimate of ways. I am a feminist.
This is an example of how not to play a late night lindy hop set. I started at 4.30am and finished at 7.30am. The first part of the set (35 songs before these ones) were high energy, lots of fun. It was a Tuesday night, which is usually a good night for lindy hop at Herrang, because the main room is slow drag, and people are looking to party. But I managed to kill this night well before it should have ended. Because I was tired, I was sitting down, and I played tired songs.
I really like all these songs, and I like the way they’re combined (though it’s a bit predictable). But they get gradually tireder and slower and less exciting. Bad idea. When it’s that late, you need to keep the energy (if not the tempos) up, so people don’t realise how tired they are. Silly DJ.
PS God I love Jimmie Noone.
(name bpm year band song length)
Deep Henderson 183 2014 Tuba Skinny (Todd Burdick, Western Borghesi, Jon Doyle, Barnabus Jones, Shaye Cohn, Robin Rapuzzi, Erika Lewis) Pyramid Strut 3:12
It’s Tight Like That 144 1928 Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Joe Poston, Alex Hill, Junie Cobb, Bill Newton, Johnny Wells, George Mitchell, Fayette Williams) The Jimmie Noone Collection 2:49
Deep Trouble 161 1930 Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Joe Poston, Zinky Cohn, Wilbur Gorham, Bill Newton, Johnny Wells, Elmo Tanner) The Jimmie Noone Collection 2:49
Davenport Blues 136 1934 Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra (Jack Teagarden) Father Of Jazz Trombone 3:14
Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home 137 1938 Pee Wee Russell’s Rhythm Makers (Max Kaminsky, Dicky Wells, Al Gold, James P. Johnson, Freddie Green, Wellman Braud, Zutty Singleton) The Complete H.R.S. Sessions (Mosaic disc 1) 3:19
Don’t You Leave Me Here 143 1939 Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Jazzmen (Zutty Singleton) Jelly Roll Morton 1930-1939 2:23
Borneo 184 1928 Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra (Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie Margulis, Bill Rank, Chet Hazlett, Irving Friedman, Lennie Hayton, Eddie Lang, Min Liebrook, Hal McDonald, Scrappy Lambert, Bill Challis) The Complete Okeh and Brunswick Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and Jack Teagarden Sessions (1924-1936) (Mosaic disc 02) 3:11
Fan It 151 1936 Bob Wills San Antonio Rose [disc 02] 2:42
Ad Lib Blues 156 1940 Benny Goodman Septet (Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones) Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 2) 3:21
Four Or Five Times 173 1937 Jimmie Noone and his Orchestra (Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, Frank Smith, Teddy Bunn, Wellman Braud, O’Neil Spencer, Teddy Simmons) Jimmie Noone: Chronological Classics 1934 – 1940 3:09
Southern Echoes 136 1941 Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra Walk ‘Em 3:19
I went pretty hard on the heavy, chunky stuff at Herrang this year. Mostly because I was hearing a lot of tinkly cerebral jazz and got a bit bored.
On Wednesday night I DJed a taxi dance for charity, where teachers danced with anyone who’d pay 20 crowns. It was a hard gig. The tempos had to stay low, but I had to keep the energy up and the dancing interesting so the teachers could bring their A game, the punters felt confident to ask them to dance, and we all had fun. So I played lots of favourites:
My Baby Just Cares For Me 120 Nina Simone
Be Careful (If You Can’t Be Good) 121 1951 Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra
Smooth Sailing 118 Ella Fitzgerald
Massachusetts 147 1956 Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall
Splanky 125 1957 Count Basie and his Orchestra The Complete Atomic Basie
Banana Split for My Baby 137 1956 Louis Prima, Sam Butera, Keely Smith
Knock Me A Kiss 147 Louis Jordan
Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby 141 2014 Naomi and Her Handsome Devils (Naomi Uyama, Adrian Cunningham, Matt Musselman, Jake Sanders, Dalton Ridenhour, Jared Engel, Jeremy Noller)
Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 135 1945 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra
Lavender Coffin 134 1949 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker and Joe James
B-Sharp Boston 126 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
Take It Easy Greasy 135 2014 Naomi and Her Handsome Devils (Naomi Uyama, Adrian Cunningham, Matt Musselman, Jake Sanders, Dalton Ridenhour, Jared Engel, Jeremy Noller)
Solid as a Rock 140 1950 Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys
Easy Does It 129 1958 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 )
Walk ‘Em 131 1946 Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra
Shiny Stockings 126 1956 Count Basie and his Orchestra
After that I DJed for a while, and did some of the best DJing I’ve done in ages. I was really proud of myself, and the dancers lost their shit. It was a mix of solid favourites, some of my personal favourites, some less frequently played stuff, and a whole heap of stompy piano.
I began with the hi-fi Ella ‘Jersey Bounce’, then I went solid chunk.
Tempo de Luxe 130 1940 Harry James New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln, 3:19
Everybody Rock 187 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 3:19
Savoy 166 1942 Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra (Trevor Bacon) Anthology Of Big Band Swing (Disc 2) 3:05
Feedin’ The Bean (Alt-2) 172 1941 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Al Killian, Ed Lewis, Ed Cuffee, Dan Minor, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Tab Smith, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Buster Harding) Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 06) 3:16
The Girl I Left Behind Me 206 1941 Bob Wills San Antonio Rose [disc 10] 2:40
Ridin’ On The L&N 170 1946 Lionel Hampton and his Quartet Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 2:53
Page Mr. Trumpet 167 1946 Pete Johnson, J.C. Heard, Jimmy Shirley, Al Hall, Albert Nicholas, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham Pete Johnson: Complete Jazz Series 1944 – 1946 2:53
Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee 134 1949 Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Sonny Parker Hamp: The Legendary Decca Recordings 3:24
Bearcat Shuffle 160 1936 Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy (Mary Lou Williams) The Lady Who Swings the Band – Mary Lou Williams with Any Kirk and his Clouds of Joy 3:01
Take It 174 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Georgie Auld, Pete Mondello, Bob Snyder, Johnny Guarnieri, Mike Bryan, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03) 3:13
Jesse 224 1939 Harry James and the Boogie Woogie Trio (Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty) Boogie Woogie And Blues Piano Mosaic Select 2:44
Answer Man 143 1940 Harry James New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln, 3:47
Keep On Churnin’ 146 1952 Wynonie Harris Wynonie Harris: Complete Jazz Series 1950 – 1952 2:56
It was interesting seeing how other DJs do things in Herrang, and I was struck by just how great an emphasis the Australian DJs that I admire most place on working the crowd. And how great an emphasis is placed on playing ‘rare’ or ‘hard to find’ stuff by some of the European DJs. There were other DJs at Herrang who’d never have played ‘Keep on Churnin’ or ‘Drinkin Wine’ because they’re too popular or too ‘easy’.
Me, I like to offer dancers invitations to dance – easy, friendly songs that are of a moderate tempo and easy to dance to – so they’ll get up and on the dance floor. And I like to work a tempo/emotional wave so we all get together and feel strong crazy feels together. The tempos in this range are quite moderate, and most of these songs are really easy to find. I have them on collected works CDs, for the most part. And Mosaic make it easy to find the more obscure stuff and go complete.
I think the most important thing a DJ does is make it easy for people to have fun. No wankery, no ‘educating’, ‘challenging’, or ‘pushing’ dancers. Just get up and entertain the peeps. What we do does require skill, imagination, and creativity. But it’s not brain surgery. The goal is simple: get everyone dancing, and then get them dancing til they go crazy. A full floor is just the starting point. The goal is emotional crazitude.
I played about 22 hours of music over a week as staff DJ in Herrang. Two of those hours featured Count Basie*.
My favourite was/is ‘Feedin’ the Bean’, I played ‘Shiny Stockings’ the most number of times (3 times), and I had most questions about the Metronome All Star Band’s version of ‘One o’Clock Jump.’ Which is as it should be.
One O’Clock Jump 175 1941 Metronome All Star Band (Cootie Williams, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Tommy Dorsey, J.C. Higginbotham, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Toots Mondello, Coleman Hawkins, Tex Beneke, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Buddy Rich)
Evenin’ 164 1936 Jones-Smith Incorporated (Carl Smith, Lester young, Count Basie, Walter Page, Joe Jones, Jimmy Rushing) 2:57
Solid as a Rock 140 1950 Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys 3:04
Stormy Monday Blues 121 1968 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Mahalia Jackson) 3:50
Pound Cake 186 1939 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Lester Young) 2:46
Sent For You Yesterday 163 1960 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) 3:10
Every Day I Have The Blues 116 1959 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) 3:49
You’re My Baby, You [Vocal Version] 152 1950 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Clark Terry) 2:56
Feedin’ The Bean (Alt-2) 172 1941 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Al Killian, Ed Lewis, Ed Cuffee, Dan Minor, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Tab Smith, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Buster Harding) 3:16
One O’Clock Jump 173 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Bobby Moore, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Freddy Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Eddie Durham) 3:03
Boogie Woogie (I May Be Wrong) 171 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Bobby Moore, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Freddy Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Eddie Durham, Jimmy Rushing) 2:51
Honeysuckle Rose 217 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Joe Keyes, Carl Smith, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughley Roberts, Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Jack Washington, Claude Williams, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 3:00
Splanky 157 1966 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:52
Moten Swing 127 1958 Count Basie and his Orchestra 4:51
Jive At Five 147 1960 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:03
Shiny Stockings 126 1956 Count Basie and his Orchestra 5:17
Straight Life 129 1953 Count Basie and his Orchestra 4:33
Basie Beat 179 1952 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:22
Splanky 125 1957 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:36
Blues In Hoss’s Flat 144 1958 Count Basie and his Orchestra 3:13
Till Tom Special 176 1939 Benny Goodman Sextet (Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 3:04
Ad Lib Blues 156 1940 Benny Goodman Septet (Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones) 3:21
*Lionel Hampton came in at 1 hour and 37 minutes, Ellington at 1 hour and 29 minutes. Harry James and Pete Johnson are my new Men.
Some of the songs I played as a staff DJ at Herräng in 2015 that included Australian musicians in the recording.
Georgia Bo Bo 137 1952 Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band Graeme Bell the AMI Australian Recordings
Tar Paper Stomp 176 2004 Tom Baker’s Chicago Seven (Tom Baker, Don Heap, Lynn Wallis, Roger James, Paul Finnerty, David Ridyard, David Parquette, Paul Furniss) Dixieland Jazz
Flat Foot Floogie 186 2005 Carol Ralph, Paul Furniss, Dan Barnett, Carolyn ‘Pine’ Packer, Geoff Holden, Richard Edser, Anthony Howe Swinging Jazz Portrait
Gone (alternate take) 206 2015 The Skellingtons (Emaon McNelis, Brennan Hamilton-Smith, Steve Grant, Jon Delaney, Mark Elton, Lyn Wallis) Jazz Is Dead Digital Two-Side
Glory, Glory 157 2012 Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts (Justin Fermin, Grant Arthur, Harry Sutherland, Ben Panucci, Sam Dobson) Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts
Tishomingo Blues 128 2005 Carol Ralph, Paul Furniss, Dan Barnett, Carolyn ‘Pine’ Packer, Geoff Holden, Richard Edser, Anthony Howe Swinging Jazz Portrait
Palm Court Strut 132 2012 Baby Soda (Emily Asher, Adrian Cunningham, Kevin Dorn, Jared Engel, Peter Ford, Kevin V. Louis, Satoru Ohashi) Baby Soda Live At Radegast
Honeysuckle Rose 154 2010 Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) Live In Philadelphia
Milenberg Joys 194 2010 Gordon Webster (with Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Cassidy Holden, Rob Adkins, Jeremy Noller, Adrian Cunningham) Live In Philadelphia