Today I picked up the complete RCA Victor Benny Goodman small group recordings (3 cds, $45, see ya later DJing money) and it ROCKS. I love early Benny Goodman so much. And this trio and quartet stuff makes me want to weep with joy. I also really really like the Sextet stuff, but, well, they’re not on this awesome collection. It really rocks: Lionel Hampton on vibraphone (!! I LOVE Hamp a crazylot), Gene Krupa on drums, Teddy Wilson on piano and Goodman on clarinet (of course). This stuff was so radical and amazing at the time – musically it was unique and exciting, socially the group was way radical, with 2 black doods and 2 white in the one band, on stage together, at a time when segregation was legally enforced in much of the USA. We’re talking about the 30s here, and the group were edited out of the films they starred in for films screened in the south of the US.
Musically, it’s fascinating stuff. The way those doods work together is awesome.
Yeah, so I’m loving this set. I was describing its wonderfulness to The Squeeze here, while he lay under the chenille bedspread reading a book about computers and I counted bpms: it’s a nicely packaged set, with nice black and white photos of the band. Krupa and Hamp are grinning like crazy people and Goodman and Wilson are more reserved. There are even photos of the band on the cds. Which prompted The Squeeze’s statement “like Buffy. Benny Goodman the vampire slayer.”
Well, I guess so. Into each generation a chosen one is born.
Name – Artist – Album – BPM – Year
Fine Brown Frame – Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra – Walk ‘Em – 113 – 1945
Undecided Blues – Count Basie and His Orchestra with Jimmy Rushing Cutting Butter – The Complete Columbia Recordings 1939 – 1942 (disc 03) – 120 – 1941
Spinnin’ The Webb – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – Stompin’ at the Savoy – 134 – 2002
Don’t Falter At The Altar – Cab Calloway Are You Hep to the Jive? – 138 – 1994
Jersey Bounce – Benny Goodman and His Band – Benny Goodman the Collection – 137 – 2004
Shoutin’ Blues Count Basie and His Orchestra Kansas City Powerhouse 148 1949
I Love Being Here With You – Ernestine Anderson – 135
Bli-Blip – Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – Live in Swing City: Swingin’ with Duke – 134 – 1999
Nice Work If You Can Get It – Sarah Vaughan – Ladies Sing the Blues (volume 1) – 145 – 2000
Love Me or Leave Me – Jennie LÃ¶bel and Swing Kings – He Ain’t Got Rhythm – 128 – 2001
Every Day I Have The Blues – Count Basie – Breakfast Dance and Barbecue – 116 – 1959
C-Jam Blues – Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Live in Swing City: Swingin’ with Duke – 143 – 1999
Shufflin’ And Rollin’ – Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra – Walk ‘Em – 153 – 1952
Four Or Five Times – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra – Tempo and Swing – 189 – 1939
Apollo Jump – Lucky Millinder – Apollo Jump – 143
Lavender Coffin – Lionel Hampton, etc – Lionel Hampton Story 4: Midnight Sun – 138 – 1949
Be Careful (If You Can’t Be Good) – Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra – Walk ‘Em – 121 – 1951
Til My Baby Comes Back – Ella Johnson with Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra – Walk ‘Em – 118 – 1952
Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby? – Dinah Washington – The Swingin’ Miss “D” – 140 – 1956
Blues In Hoss’ Flat – Count Basie – Big Band Renaissance Disc 1 – 142 – 1995
Till Tom Special – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra – Tempo and Swing – 158 – 1940
Flying Home – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra – Lionel Hampton Story 2: Flying Home – 197 – 1942
Tippin’ In – Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra – Tuxedo Junction – 144 – 1942
For Dancers Only – Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra – Swingsation – Jimmie Lunceford – 154 – 1937
That’s my set from last week (Thurs 11th May, first set, 8.30-10pm). It went down a treat. After analysing it in painful detail here, I notice how frequently I repeat myself. So I played a total of 24 songs. Four were by Basie, 4 by Buddy Johnson (of the one album, no less), 4 were by Lionel Hampton. That’s scary. 12 songs by only 3 artists. I mean, I did wander all over their careers with these jobbies – they’re not all from the one year or anything. But still. I need more variety.
That issue of variety has been cropping up on Swing Talk a lot lately, mostly from a couple (literally 2) of dickheads demanding we play ‘more variety’. By variety they mean Royal Crown Revue
I’m addressing some interesting points Brian raise in the comments to the unexpectedly entry from a couple entries ago.
Brian writes in that comment:
That of course leads on to the big question is: â€œIs playing a small amount of non-swing music at a swing event a major problem.â€ The smarty pants answer would be, just play some Neo. My real answer is I donâ€™t know. What I to know is that to put a non-swing song in your set and for it to go down will with all the dancers takes a lot of skill. I find you must first make sure all the classic hard core dancers are happy and maybe even some of them left (gone outside) the room. Play some hardcore classic songs in a row of upper tempo and you should achieve this. Then itâ€™s a matter is checking if those â€œnon-swing mood group are in the room and ready to dance. You then need to make the transition and then comes the non-swing song. And hey the songs selection is like bringing a cat for a walk.
This section really interested me. That’s a really clever approach. I’d been thinking “there’s no way I’m every playing neo because I hate it”. But this scheme offers me a new approach. It reminds me of Trev’s comment here on Swing Talk where he says:
Yes, the ‘wave’!
I was using it last night (will post set soon) – although lately i’ve been more brutal with my tempo changes – it’s great for shaking things up, and avoids things “sounding all the same”.
Don’t be afraid to drop in a fast, high energy one when you have the floor full at medium. I’m not talking crazy fast, but something around 190-210bpm. The folks that are into it will be hanging out for it, and if you keep the tempos too low (to keep the floor full) they will get bored/lazy. Even if you only get 2 couples dancing to a fast song, you get the benefits of:
a) lifting the energy/enthusiasm of the room even if they don’t dance; b) inspiring others to get better go they can do it too. It’s not the same for everyone, but when I was new watching a high-energy dance motivated me to keep at;
c) sending people to the bar to spend their $ on the venue!
If you do it right, the room will be buzzing, and you can follow up with something at around 150 and everyone will be right back into it.
I generally wouldn’t play more that 2 fast tempo songs in a row. People start getting pissed if they don’t want to/can’t dance fast, and tired if they’ve been dancing to it.
(NB the setlist he’s referring to is here, though I’m not sure which setlist he means)). For a description of ‘the wave’ check out this thread on swingdjs.
… ok, so now to address the point.
Basically, both Trev and Brian are suggesting that the DJ use the ‘wave’ – which is a way of describing the general ‘flow’ of mood in the room, to provoke a particular response from dancers. It’s hard to explain how it works with dancers, but
I’ve just been reading some fascinating articles referring to David Seamon’s book A Geography of the Lifeworld where he describes exactly this phenomeon – people making a space ‘place’ by repeated actions and social interaction. So, everyday a man makes a coffee shop ‘place’ by rising at 8, walking to the coffee shop, buying a paper, ordering a poached egg and coffee, eating and reading til 9 when he walks on to work. The man comments that he is only made aware of how ‘comforting’ and ‘warm’ this cafe space is when the series of actions is interrupted by something like the paper being sold out.
Seamon talks about this as people becoming aware of their ‘precognitive’ behaviour only when it’s interrupted. In other words, he’s interested in what happens when people are made conscious of the stuff they do habitually in particular spaces to make those spaces a ‘place’.
This phenomenological stuff really makes me laugh, because they write like no one has ever thought to investigate what happens when you make people aware of their unconscous habits. When of course, any physiotherapist, yoga instructor or dance teacher spends all their working hours helping people develop a ‘body awareness’, where they become conscious of the things they do habitually with their bodies and muscles.
That theory seems particularly relevent to this discussion of DJing, because DJs are basically people who develop the skills to manipulate the mood of a room full of dancers so as to get them all dancing. I’ve been absolutely fascinated, as a noob DJ, by the way the choices I make in playing songs and combining songs can affect the mood of a crowded room. While, as a dancer, I respond unconsciously to the music, either getting really ‘high’ with uptempo, upenergy music, or getting really ‘low’, and moderating my dancing (my unconscious movements and social behaviour), as a DJ, I’ve had to become conscious of this process and figure out how it works.
It’s important to note that ‘precognitive’ behaviour is essential to skilled partner dancing. I’m frequently reminding myself ‘stop thinking!’ and ‘just follow!’. It’s like driving a manual car – you suddenly reach a point when you’re learning where the combination of accelerator, clutch, gear stick, etc becomes unconscious. And when you’re suddenly made conscious of this process, it often stuffs up.
Leading, however, can be more comfortably ‘cognitive’ than following as you are planning and determining the course of the dance. I have found, though, that the best dances, the most effective ones, where I really use my centre to move their centre, are the ones where I relax and ‘just move my body’ naturally, rather than ‘trying to lead’ in order to effect weight changes which in turn move the follow’s weight – effecting their weigh changes.
So when Trev talks about manipulating the wave (ie developing a ‘mood’ or ‘vibe’ in the room, or, to use Seamon’s approach, making a space ‘place’ through playing music which will provoke particular social responses through dance), Brian talks about exploiting the wave/dancers’ response to the wave to sneak in songs which are potentially going to ‘break’ the wave. So he plays ‘risky’ songs (like neo) after a couple of faster, old school swinging jazz traacks, so that he can exploit the old school fans’ taking time out for a break to slip in some neo. So the potential ‘risk’ of playing the neo stuff is ameliorated.
Trev also talks about ‘breaking’ the wave constructively by making quicker transitions between tempos – dropping in a fast one, even if the floor was full at slower tempos, then dropping the tempo down again to ‘recover’ and pick up the dancers who’ve stepped off the floor for that fast song. And, incidentally, giving those who danced the faster song a break.
This is fascinating shit, because it all reveals how important it is as a DJ to be a dancer, but perhaps more importantly, to consciously recognise how dancers respond to combinations of songs and musical moods to manipulate the mood of the room, but also to ‘please everyone’. I adore this approach because of the way it contrasts with the comment “you can’t please everyone” a DJ (whose work doesn’t impress me at all) said to me recently. This comment ‘you can’t please everyone’ seems (in the case of this DJ) to serve as justification for not attempting to work the room and ‘wave’. Or rather, to me it seems like this DJ made this comment because they are simply unaware of these issues. Which holds true with their dancing, where they are similarly ‘unaware’ of other dancers in the immediate vicinity, unable to ‘feel’ their partners’ weight changes, and have a propensity for rough leads.
In my own DJing, however, I’ve recently discovered that I can actually keep the floor full for the entire set, at a 100% strike rate. This usually means playing mid-tempo songs, and not taking any ‘risks’. Yet one of the results of this approach is that some of the dancers (mostly that hardcore, experienced group), while they’re dancing every song and enjoying themselves, really want me to play some faster songs as well.
I’ve been a bit tentative about doing this, as the numbers on the floor immediately drop when faster songs are played (though I have noticed that they pick up or don’t drop if the song is very swingy and good quality). One thing I have learnt, as Trev has pointed out, is that it’s ok to drop the numbers for a song or two. I’ve also found that if the floor does empty (for any reason, whether the song was fast, or you’ve played a dud) there are ways to fill it again – I have a few ‘safety songs’ which will always fill the floor. So it’s ok to play fast songs, empty the floor, and then fill it again. As Trev has pointed out, playing the odd faster song will, while people stand out for a song or too, actually pump up the energy in the room. And, as Brian points out, it also gives you an opportunity to play something that group of experienced, old school faster dancers wouldn’t dance to anyway, even if they weren’t standing on the sidelines strugging to breathe.
Another trick that Brian has noted before, is that if you do take the tempos up really high, you can actually raise the overall tempos when you play the next song. So if you find the room is stuck at about 140bpm, playing something at 200, while it may clear the room for those 3 minutes, will actually make it possible for you to follow up with something at 160 or 180, because it feels so much slower, comparatively, people get out there and dance. So allowing you to up the general tempo of the room, and change the overall wave.
I have noticed, however, that while you can raise the tempos generally, you will have to bring them down again eventually, as people’s energy and stamina wears out. I had previously been obsessed with getting tempos up and keeping there, as if 200bpm was my ultimate goal. Now I realise that it’s about varying tempos over the course of the night – the wave is a wave, and not just an incline. The trick is, of course, managing these crests and troughs without dropping the energy and tempos prematurely.
So DJing is a really interesting way of putting into practice that phenomenological approach to media use in everyday spaces.
NB when we say ‘bpm’, we mean ‘beats per minute’. The average speed of house or ‘dance’ music is 120bpm. The average tempo for dancing lindy in the 1930s was 180bpm. I can follow comfortably up to 180bpm, then I have to work harder. I can lead comfortably up to about 160. 20s Charleston, however, requires faster tempos – over 200 is average. Over 300 is ‘fast’. We can dance to such high tempos in lindy because the music ‘swings’ – it doesn’t feel like you’re rushing, and in fact really swinging songs feel slower than they are. Which helps to keep you relaxed, as you can’t dance fast if you’re freaking. 20s charleston, however, is usually danced to ‘dixie’ or jazz from the 20s, which predates swing, and has a different timing – 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 rather than 1-2-3-4, 5-6-7-8.
FYI: 180bpm is more than 3 steps per second, as we actually make 10 weight changes (or steps) in the basic lindy rhythm and Swing Out (fundamental step of lindy).
I should probably explain some of the more exclusive language at work in this entry, but I had planned on posting it on Swing Talk, so I reckon we should all just be grateful I posted it here instead of starting a shitfight over there. Let it be known, though, that these comments are partially in response to repeated comments by some ignorami that all DJs are in fact carp, except perhaps for Gary. I beg to differ with this somewhat limited observation and perhaps add that there is really only one truly carp DJ in Melbourne. And that’s enough about that…
So, read on. Or go do something else.
Expectations of DJs
Iâ€™ve been thinking about our expectations of DJs â€“ mostly because Iâ€™m now having a bash at this gig Iâ€™m having to rethink many of my old ideas.
Perhaps the biggest deal for most dancers is what a DJ plays â€“ they want to hear â€˜more of Xâ€™ or â€˜less of Yâ€™, for whatever reasons (itâ€™s more authentic, itâ€™s less authentic, itâ€™s more interesting, itâ€™s faster, itâ€™s slower, itâ€™s whateverâ€™). Now thatâ€™s all well and cool â€“ we like to hear songs we like when we go out dancing. And perhaps, more importantly, we like to hear songs that make us dance like a crazy person. But there are some issues, here.
1. How do we let the DJ know what we want to hear?
There are a few options. The simplest and most effective is ask. But how? Frankly, asking for a song at a dance and then expecting it immediately is ridiculous. To even expect it that night is asking a lot â€“ I mean, we have DJs rather than a juke box because we think that DJing itself involves some special skills, more than just wacking a CD in the player. We trust their judgement. So why not do that â€“ trust the DJ to make the choices while you get on with the business of dancing?
But that fairly obvious point aside, hHow else might we request songs? Swing Talk? Sure, not a bad option. But Iâ€™ve noticed that some people tend to forget their manners, forget that theyâ€™re actually dealing with real people when they make requests on Swing Talk. I think itâ€™s best to remind yourself that the â€˜DJâ€™ is not some nameless, faceless, iron-constitutioned person we donâ€™t know. Theyâ€™re usually music nerds, who really worry about pleasing the crowd and doing a good job. And usually without any advice or training or constructive feedback. And at the end of the day, if you want something, itâ€™s best to play nice, to say please and to not feel that youâ€™re owed that song. Because the DJ owes you nothing if you donâ€™t give them some love.
2. Should the DJ feel obliged to play songs specifically because they were requested/they know a particular person (note the singular there) likes it, etc?
On the one hand, they could do their best to put together a set that â€˜pleases everyoneâ€™, specifically including songs they know people like. Or they could go with the flow on the night, mixing up new stuff, old stuff, favourites, wacky new stuff, etc etc. I prefer the latter approach, as a DJ and punter, particularly if the song(s) requested suck. And perhaps, even more importantly (and speaking as someone with a limited budget), I think about what it means to request songs from a DJ, or to expect them to have â€˜everythingâ€™ in their collection. As someone who has very little money to spend on CDs, I make very careful choices in the music I buy. I mean, letâ€™s remember â€“ a DJ is usually forking out at least $30 a pop on music. If youâ€™re me, living on my budget, $30 is a once-a-month deal at best. And when I go to buy that CD, should I choose a) to buy something that I really really like, b) to choose something Iâ€™ve carefully researched and found is excellent for DJing, c) choose something I hate because I know that 5 people love it? I’m looking at options a and b, here as most-likely.
3. To what extent should we expect DJs to pander to our tastes when theyâ€™re buying their music?
Personally, Iâ€™d feel like a poop if a DJ on a tight budget went out and bought some Vince Giordano which they loathed, just because Iâ€™d said I love it and want to dance to it. Iâ€™d much rather they went out and found an artist they adored and spent their money there. I like the idea of having a number of DJs, each with special interests, so that when I go to hear them play, I know what to expect, and I know Iâ€™ll be hearing X type of music, probably played by someone who’s devoted time to becoming a specialist in that type of music. I donâ€™t expect one DJ to play everything â€“ if they do, Iâ€™m damn impressed, because I know how hard it is to do â€˜everythingâ€™ in one set.
4. How should the DJ play requested songs?
Do they just slap the CD in then and there â€“ immediately, or do they work it in gradually? The first method is kind of problematic â€“ sure, that one person who requested Sidney Bechetâ€™s â€˜Slippinâ€™ and Slidinâ€™â€™ will be happy, but the rest of the room will no doubt look up at the DJ with a puzzled look that seems to say â€œdood, we were digging that mellow 110bpm groove vibe you had goingâ€. I like to assume that the DJ will have (or will soon develop) the skills to make the decision about when to play the songs, without my help. And if I want to choose the songs and in what order theyâ€™re played, then, hell, Iâ€™ll get up there and do it. You canâ€™t DJ and dance on the same night.
5. Because a DJ is being paid, how much should we expect of them?
Firstly, letâ€™s have a little look at how much DJs are paid, exactly. Now, if youâ€™re lucky enough to live in a city where DJs are paid (and not everyone is), whatâ€™s the deal?
In Melbourne, Iâ€™ve been paid $25 for 2.5 hours at CBD. Iâ€™ve also been paid $25 for 1.5 hours at CBD. Iâ€™ve been paid $30 for 1.25 hours at the Funpit. Iâ€™ve DJed for free at Camberwell, and DJing at the Blues Pit is $25 (or $30 â€“ I forget) for a 45 minute set.
Now, if I chose to work a shift at Safeway, Iâ€™d be better paid. And the working conditions would no doubt be far better â€“ I could handball difficult customers to a manager, I wouldnâ€™t have to spend hours, days, weeks researching my work, and thereâ€™s very little take-home work.
If youâ€™ve read the discussion on DJsâ€™ pay, on Swing Talk, youâ€™ll see that any â€˜profitâ€™ from DJing is actually eaten up by things like buying music and equipment, dealing with APRA, travel and so on. Add to that the fact that DJs donâ€™t get to dance, andâ€¦.
Just how fair is it to demand that they then also spend their money buying music you like so that they can play them for you at a dance? And how cool is it, then, to heckle and harangue DJs for not playing the music that you want to hear (and letâ€™s remember â€“ youâ€™re just one kid in a crowd of dancers, all with different tastes, which donâ€™t necessarily coincide with yours)?
Sure, there are other benefits and advantages to DJing. DJs may get into a venue for free (so, you may actually be paid $36 at the Funpit, for example). They get the respect and accolades of their peersâ€¦ no, wait, what was that about being hassled by dancers for songsâ€¦? Frankly, once the initial thrill (and fear) of DJing wears off, the fringe benefits of DJing are remarkably slim. The satisfaction of filling the dance floor and making people happy? Sure, yeah. Getting to hear music you love for hours on end? Hm. And not dancing to it? Assuming you get to play it at all, if youâ€™re not busy dealing with requestsâ€¦
And letâ€™s not forget the other side of DJing â€“ having to be at dancing exactly on time for your shift (add 15minutes for set up), and then if you want to do any kind of decent job, actually being there to hear the first DJâ€™s set to be sure thereâ€™re no repeats. Dealing with arseholes giving you a hard time (heckling online, in person at the doo, via email, etc etc etc). etc etc etc.
So, at the end of the day, next time you consider slanging off a DJ, or demanding they play your music, why not stop and think a minute. Cut them some slack. And if you really hate the music, why not DJ yourself?
I DJ because Iâ€™m enjoying the challenge of learning the skills of playing to a crowd. Iâ€™m interested in the music â€“ I like the challenge of researching and hunting down affordable and excellent music. I like the thought of giving back to the scene a little â€“ Iâ€™m volunteering my time and energy for other peopleâ€™s fun. And I think of it as pay back for all the times Iâ€™ve had a fantastic night dancing to a fantastic DJ. And I DJ because the more DJs there are in a scene, the more variety of music there is, and the more chances the DJs get to dance!
BTW: please feel free to add comments to this article. Spamming and sledging will of course be triumphantly, gloriously and satisfyingly deleted arbtrarily, with the righteous and highly likely possibility of rubbing it in.