New music: Cats and Dinosaurs

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Hej hej, Sverige!

‘Swing på barrikaderna’ – Cats and Dinosaurs– 2016

Disclaimer: I was approached by Tove Casén Nylander to review this album, and provided with a digital copy of the album.
I then met 
Filip Bagewitz, another band member, at Herrang, and we made friends.

This is another of those happy stories of a band working with dancers, or being a band of dancers.
Cats and Dinosaurs are a Swedish band, based in Gothenburg. More importantly,

The socialist-feminist swing collective Cats & Dinosaurs plays original lindyhop dance music with political lyrics in Swedish.

I was approached by Tove Casén Nylander by email to review this album in month, and then I failed completely to write a review. I think I seem to do my reviewing when I’m stuck on a bus or a plane, and have time to sit and think about the music without interruption. So apologies to everyone.

This is an interesting one. First off, all the lyrics are in Swedish. Which is both excellent and frustrating. Excellent because SVERIGE! But frustrating because the musicians are politically engaged and vocal. The band members I met are all fairly lefty, and very much interested in issues of gender and sexuality (providing a neat dovetail with our feminist fika that year). And the lyrics of these songs, and their delivery, are informed by this thinking. But I don’t speak Swedish, so I don’t know what they’re talking about!
Ah, well.

They remind me a little, musically, of the Underscore Orkestra, for their inclusion of a range of European folk musical influences, mostly in the violin and a few percussive instruments. There are strong New Orleans street jazz influences in instrumentation, delivery, and intensity. Some of the vocal deliveries are similar as well – sort of shouty, again informed by lefty folk pop. I hear echoes of bands like Tin Pan in the earlier days in the discordant bits, and Choinure Boys in the shouty exuberance. These seem particularly relevant to a music which always had one foot in the popular, and the other in the political.
Unlike the Gamble and Doyle albums, this is not a carefully mainstream swing recording. It is not going to attract a huge mainstream lindy hopping audience.

I quite like it. I like the vocalist’s almost androgynous quality. Is this a man or a woman? Does it matter? Not so much. ‘Jobba Mindre!’ is a fun opening to the album, with a shouted, repeated chorus which makes for good singing-along, and there are shouting and clapping bits, which everyone likes. It gets in and out in 2 minutes, BOOM. Total pop song material.
I do like the combination of piano and violin. It very much positions it in European folk music, but by way of American street jazz. There are bits in songs like ‘Sång till valfriheten’ where the instrumentation is particularly awesome at the beginning (though sadly it lacks a bit of variety later). And ‘Sex timmars arbetsdag’’s use of the vibes is quite lovely. I think this band would be a lot of fun live, especially at a rowdy party. The feels are strong, and convincing. I feel, even without any Swedish, that the musicians are committed to the story their music is telling, the feels they are communicated.

It is, though, the album of a relatively raw jazz band. They straddle styles in a way which many dancers would find uncomfortable. Your hardcore lindy hopping purists wouldn’t enjoy this band, but the more relaxed jazz dancers and newer dancers would.

I’m off to DJ in Seoul this week, so I might see how this song goes down. There’ll be Swedes in the audience, so I’ll enjoy seeing how they respond to the radical left wing lyrics in a fairly politically conservative city. I have a feeling it would go down well with Japanese dancers who are used to bands like Choinure Boys.

I wouldn’t recommend this band for hard core lindy hop DJing, but I would recommend it to people who are interested in this particular type of ‘jazz fusion’ (ie street jazz + european folk music + radical politics + fun). Buy it to support and encourage the musicians, who are also dancers.

‘Swing på barrikaderna’ – Cats and Dinosaurs– 2016

New Music: Doyle and Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

international balboa dj

I DJed for balboa dancers at SBOSS Today. I really liked it.

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This is what I ended up playing. I was going to make a spotify list, but I couldn’t find the first two songs so I gave up.
I can’t remember if I played all those live Ella songs at the end or not – there was a request for some faster stuff to practice jamming to for Bal on the River next weekend.
Basically: I LOVED this set, because I got to play music I adore and love to listen to. It reminded me of Herrang.

Songs that failed: really just that live version of Rock A Bye Basie. It’s a bit shit.
Surprise win: Let Yourself Go (Bunny Berigan and his Boys). I love that song SO much. Dancers really dug it.
I was delighted by how much the dancers liked the stuff I really at the moment: the classic big band stuff. Seeing people dance to that Basie version of Honeysuckle Rose: solid gold.

It Ain’t Like That 1941 Una Mae Carlisle 190 2:30 Complete Jazz Series 1941 – 1944

Jack, I’m Mellow 1938 Trixie Smith acc. By Charlie Shavers, Sidney Bechet, Sammy Price, Teddy Bunn, Richard Fullbright, O’Neil Spencer 199 2:49 Charlie Shavers and The Blues Singers 1938-1939

Seven Come Eleven 2016 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders 223 3:22 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders

“C” Blues 1941 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Ray Nance, Juan Tizol, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 187 2:53 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 12)

Feedin’ The Bean 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) 178 3:15 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 06)

Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Keyes, Buck Clayton, Carl Smith, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughey Roberts, Jack Washington, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Claude Williams, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Buster Smith 225 2:58 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 02)

Don’t Tetch It! 1942 Una Mae Carlisle with Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer 191 2:21 Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1941 – 1944

You Got to Give Me Some 2007 Midnight Serenaders (David Evans, Dee Settlemier, Doug Sammons, Garner Pruitt, Henry Bogdan, Pete Lampe) 187 4:02 Magnolia

Swing 39 2012 Ultrafox (Peter Baylor, Jon Delaney, Andy Baylor, Michael McQuaid, Julie O’Hara, Sebastien Girardot) 200 3:30 Chasing Shadows

One O’Clock Jump 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Ed Lewis, Buck Clayton, Bobby Moore, George Hunt, Eddie Durham, Dan Minor, Earle Warren, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing, Skippy Martin, Buster Smith) 181 3:00 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 02)

Date For Eight (1946) 1946 Billy Kyle’s Big Eight (Dick Vance, Trummy Young, Buster Bailey, Lem Davis, John Hardee, Billy Kyle, John Simmons, Buddy Rich) 218 3:00 The Complete H.R.S. Sessions (Mosaic disc 4)

The Girl I Left Behind Me 1941 Bob Wills 206 2:40 San Antonio Rose [disc 10]
Don’t Try Your Jive On Me 1938 Una Mae Carlisle with Dave Wilkins, Bertie King, Alan Ferguson, Len Harrison, Hymie Schneider 188 2:52 Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1938 – 1941

Slidin’ & Glidin’ 2016 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders 160 3:34 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders

Let Yourself Go 1936 Bunny Berigan and his Boys (Chick Bullock (vcl), Bunny Berigan (tp), Bud Freeman, Forrest Crawford, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Mort Stulmaker, Dave Tough) 168 2:50 The Complete Brunswick, Parlophone and Vocalion Bunny Berigan Sessions (Mosaic disc 4)

Benny’s Bugle 1940 Benny Goodman Sextet (Cootie Williams, George Auld, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Harry Jaeger) 203 3:06 Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 2)

Big John’s Special 1934 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Buster Bailey, Ben Webster, Benny Carter) 204 2:52 Tidal Wave

C-Jam Blues 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 185 3:23 At The Hollywood Empire

Rattle And Roll 1945 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Johnny Best, Conrad Gozzo, Billy Butterfield, Bernie Privin, Kai Winding, Chauncey Welsch, Dick LeFave, Bill Shine, Gerry Sanfino, Stan Getz, Peanuts Hucko, Danny Bank, Mel Powell, Mike Bryan, Barney Spieler, Buddy Rich) 178 3:18 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 06)

Rock-A-Bye Basie Count Basie and his Orchestra 193 5:05 One O’Clock Jump2

Moten Swing 1944 Jay McShann’s Kansas City Stompers 192 2:57 Kansas City Blues 1944-1949 (Disc 1)

Lunceford Special 1939 Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 235 2:52 Lunceford Special 1939-40

Jumpin’ at the Woodside 1939 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin, Corky Cornelius, Bruce Squires, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Bus Bassey, Fletcher Henderson, Arnold Covey, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 248 3:02 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 01)

Air Mail Special (Good Enough To Keep) 1941 Benny Goodman Sextet (Cootie Williams, George Auld, Johnny Guarnieri, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) 230 3:23 Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 3)

Losers Weepers (Live) Tommy Dorsey & Bill Abernathy 181 5:42 Tommy Dorsey Plays Sweet & Hot (Live)

Twenty Four Hours a Day (Bonus Track) 2016 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders 228 2:51 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders

Doggin’ Around 1938 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Ed Lewis, Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Bennie Morton, Eddie Durham, Dan Minor, Earle Warren, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing, Edgar Battle, Don Kirkpatrick) 256 2:58 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 03)

Panassie Stomp 1938 Count Basie and his orchestra (Ed Lewis, Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, BEnnie Morton, Dicky Wells, Dan Minor, Earle Warren, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Helen Humes, Jimmy Rushing) 249 2:48 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 04)

Stompin’ At The Savoy 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 226 2:55 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40

One O’Clock Jump 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 228 2:46 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40

Wrappin’ It Up (The Lindy Glide) 1934 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Buster Bailey, Ben Webster, Benny Carter) 208 2:42 Tidal Wave

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

get moar learnz

Tonight I DJ my most favourite set: the beginner half hour. Followed by the ‘everyone dance now’ half hour. And rounded out with the ‘just DJ already’ fifteen minutes of fame. Part 1 of ‘get ready for DJing in Seoul’.

hammonroe

Be a better DJ manager, Australia

Hello there. Seems it’s time for another reminder about working conditions for DJs in Australia. Particularly as event ticket prices are increasing, and DJ pay is not increasing at the same rate.

Here’s a tip: gender parity is often a result of good event management. So you’ll get the sisters if you run a good event and have a good reputation. BECAUSE the reasons women don’t DJ are structural and institutional, not individual.

If you are looking for gender parity in your DJing team, you will need to be sure your DJs are safe, your pay package fair, your working conditions just. If they’re not, women will avoid your event. Because omgicanteven.
And because women DJs face enough shit already. We don’t need the extra grief of DJing at a shitty event. Bro DJs get less hassle at dance events, so they’re more likely to volunteer for substandard events.

Here is my professional opinion, as an experienced event organiser and DJ. All of these things must be agreed upon in writing, well before the event.

RECRUITING DJS:
Have a clear vision for the musical program. If it’s a lindy hop event, get DJs who play classic swinging jazz. Do it right.

Do not do a ‘call for DJs’ for your event. This is not a casting call for some random chorus line spot. Nor are you some bullshit company running a competition for punters to ‘design your new logo!’ so you don’t have to pay a real designer. You are looking for talent to promote on your event program, so seek out the skill.

If you want good DJs to play your event, email those DJs directly. Woo them. Flatter them. Offer them a very attractive deal. Go above and beyond.

Hunt down new talent. Go to events. Ask DJs questions. Ask your interstate contacts about fresh young talent, for progress reports on newer DJs, for updates on older DJs.

Music should be your priority at a lindy hop event. So go out of your way to get the best DJs.
Then promote the buggery out of them. Brag that you got Reclusive DJ X to your event.

PAY:
– $30 per hour MINIMUM. This is a low rate.
DJs should be paid in cash on the night, before their first set, or at the end of their first set.
Or they should be paid by direct bank transfer by a specified date.
Or they should be paid in response to invoice by a specific date. They should never have to ask for the money.

– Band break DJs should be paid for the entire duration of the gig they are DJing, not just for the actual minutes they are playing.

– All DJs should receive free entry to the gig they are DJing.

– Use fewer DJs, and give all DJs a full free social pass to the event. Your event will suck if you use a heap of shitty DJs who have no skills, and you don’t give anyone a free pass. If you use fewer DJs and give them free passes, your event will be better.

MANAGEMENT:
– There should be a DJ coordinator, head DJ, or DJ manager, and they should be the DJs’ point of contact for the event. They should be available at all times during the event, and should reply promptly to emails before and after the event. They should provide the DJ with their agreement, terms, etc. All discussion with event management, musicians, sound crew, MCs, performers, and so on, should be mediated by this DJ manager.

– DJs should be given an agreement or contract before the weekend, which they should read and sign and return before the event. They should have adequate time to read and negotiate this contract.

– All DJs should be treated with respect by DJ managers: no shouting, no rudeness, no harassment, no bullying. All DJs should know who to speak to if they have difficulty with the DJ manager. And they should know this before the event.

SAFETY:
– DJ managers should ensure all DJs have a safe way to get home after an event.
– DJs should – as with all staff, contractors, and volunteers – know who to speak to if they feel unsafe, are harassed, injured, or in danger or injured. That person should be introduced to them, and the process explained, all in a quiet, calm place and manner.
– The sound set up should be safe, electronically and for hearing.
– The DJ does NOT set up the sound gear at a big event. EVER. Nor do they pack it down.
– DJs should not have to plug or unplug their own RCA cables to connect their laptop to the sound desk. There should be at least 2 cables ready at the desk at all times. Safety first, yo.
– The DJ must be behind the speakers, not in front of them, so their hearing isn’t damaged.
– There must be adequate heating or cooling. Both can serious issues at dance events. I’ve played gigs where it’s been so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers and couldn’t use the trackpad. I’ve played other gigs so hot and humid the trackpad didn’t work because I was so sweaty.
– There must be sufficient room behind the DJ booth/desk to sit and stand comfortably, and access to this area must be restricted to staff, or to the DJ’s friends with permission (so punters can’t just wander up and touch the DJ’s gear or hassle them).
– DJs must have a chair or stool to sit at the right height to DJ, but room to stand as well if necessary.

WORKING CONDITIONS:
A decent work space includes:
– adequate power outlets (which are safe) already set up
– a clear, flat, clean, safe area to setup a laptop, sound card, and various gear
– lighting (so they can see the dancers and gear properly)
– the DJs can see the dance floor well, from a raised platform, where dancers won’t bump their table (and damage gear)
– a copy of the event’s DJ schedule should be available in the booth
– DJs should know ahead of time (ie before the weekend, or at least before the shift) about all performances, snowballs, speeches, special stuff during their set. They should also be provided with a copy of performance music before the event. This music must be tested and of performance quality.

Let’s look at what’s happening around the Australian scene at the moment.

PAY:
At this point, $30 per hour + free entry to an event is standard. This includes band break DJing (which is often paid by the hour). This is not a good deal. It is in no way commensurate with the average rates for large events in Europe or America.

CONDITIONS:
– many events do not provide RCA cables already set up for DJs
– booths are frequently in front of speakers, where DJs can acquire industrial deafness
– many events do not have anything more than a basic code of conduct; they do not have clear emergency or safety procedures
– djs are not made aware of the event’s code of conduct, safety measures, or what to do in an emergency, or if they are harassed, feel unsafe, are injured, or endangered
– the dj gear is set up by inexperienced amateurs, who do not take proper sound and general safety precautions
– djs are often left to tidy up or close an event
– djs are doing more than just playing music during competitions
– djs are not given free event passes. They are offered unfair ‘deals’ on passes, or asked to choose between a combination of cash pay, free entry to some parties, or passes.

…and so on.

Breaking down the average existing pay rate:
If an event has only DJed music for 4 days, over 3 evening and 2 late night parties (ie 72 hours), with DJs paid at $30 per hour, that’s $2160 all up for DJ pay. Plus entry to that for a DJ team of about 15 DJs.
If an event has (as is more usual) one DJed night (4 hours), 5 band events (3 evening and 2 late nights), then they will need 10 DJ shifts (2 x 2 hours on Thurs; 1 x 4 hours, 2 x 2 hours on Fri, 1 x 4 hours, 2 x 2 hours on Sat, 2 x 2 hours on Sun). That’s 24 hours (give or take some) @ $30 = $720.
Get 4 DJs maximum to cover those shifts, and that’s 4 full social passes @ $120 = $480.

One band is paid $1500 on average for a 4 hour gig in Sydney. Each musician is paid about $250 each, plus a cut for the band leader.
The bands for this weekend would cost $7500 (usually a bit less if they work some good deals). Sound gear and engineer will cost them $4000 at top rate (usually less if they work a deal).
The basics of a weekend music budget, then, will cost $11850. 6 riders for bands and DJs @ $100 each (I just lump band break DJs in with bands for riders), and that’s $600 (which is more than you’d probably spend). That’s $12805, at the outside. The DJs are $1200 of that. Less than one band.

The value of a good DJ:
All those DJs are also dancers, often very good, experienced dancers, dancers who come with their friends to events (so for each DJ, add at least one punter you know will definitely come, and a handful of others who’ll come because your DJ talked about your event to them in person. Solid gold word of mouth PR). A good DJ is a draw in their own right. People (meaning more experienced dancers who care about music) will come to a gig if they know DJ X is playing. If DJ X also has a reputation for being associated with good music and good events, then that’s even more good PR for your event. Yes, there are plenty of dancers who don’t care about the DJs or bands on the program. But they are only part of the available market. You do want those more experienced dancers, because they have stamina, they give good photo, they bring energy to a party, and they’re another little part of the market to tap into with your event.

As you can see, underpaying and exploiting DJs is one way for dodgy events to cut their costs. Or is it?
Poor working conditions and pay make DJs shitty, and make good DJs avoid your event. Shitty DJs make for shitty dancing. That means you don’t get any good videos of good dancing to help you promote your event. Particularly if you have a shitty DJ DJing your competitions or other high-traffic events.
Shitty DJs give your event a shitty reputation. Neither of which is good business sense.

Another, very important aspect of hiring good DJs, is that you’re hiring an experienced professional. A person you can just trust to get on and do the job. You know that having a full floor is just a baseline. You know they’ll be able to run your dancers ragged, keeping the floor full, and your dancers full of strong feels and crazy dance CRAZY. Which they document like ranting nuts on facebook, document in photos, document in video. And talk about. Everywhere. Word. Of. Mouth. Gold.
Incidentally (and more importantly), a ‘good DJ’ is nice to work with. So your job as an organiser is easier. PHEW.

Let’s talk about band breaks.
When a DJ is doing band breaks, they are effectively working for the entire night, not just those minute they are actually playing music. A band break DJ is also:
– meeting and working with the sound engineer
– meeting and working with the band leader, watching them to be sure they are ready to go when the band finishes or starts
– meeting and working with the DJ coordinator, event manager, various performers, etc
– working with the band’s style so they don’t play the exact same type of music, or clash too much with that style
– they also need to avoid playing the same songs on the band’s set list. Which means coaxing a set list out of the band before the gig (good luck with that) or noting every song the band plays during their set (enjoy focussing on your dancing, DJ)

A reasonable (yet still not equitable or internationally standard) pay rate is:
– free entry for all parties (a measly $120 on average)
– pay per hour
– drinks and snacks
To make this cost effective for organisers, we should hire fewer, better DJs.

What is a top rate DJ deal for a big European (eg Herrang or Snowball) or American event which has about 1000 dancers in house during the event?
– free airport transfers (eg taxi to and from the airport to the venue)
– free flights for A rank DJs
– free food for the entire event
– pay per hour (this varies)
– full free pass for all parties and workshops for the duration of employment
– accommodation (hotel room, often shared)
– accommodation for partner (eg husband or wife)
– child care assistance
– free wifi
– office space/chill space (essential for working DJs at big events)

Additionally, their working space (the DJ booth) is set up by a professional sound engineer, who is also available at all times for repairs or assistance.

The ‘work space stuff’ is just basic amenities. Remember that DJs are working from anywhere between 1 and 4 hours at a stretch without a break.
They payment package obviously applies to the top rank events, and is less for smaller events.
A 300 person event is a moderately small event.

DJs also receive a contract or agreement, which sets out the terms of the gig (including all the above). This is sent to the DJ well before the event, signed by both parties, and agreed on. DJs are able to negotiate terms if necessary.

Finally, a word about good DJ managers:
If you want a good team of DJs who do good work, you’ll need someone to keep an eye on them. Someone to protect their interests, get the best possible work out them, keep them happy, and serve you up a good load of great music and happy dancers. So organisers need to look after their DJ managers. They need to hire good people-person type managers. They need to hire experienced dancers or DJs to be their DJ managers: head DJs is a term that means something here.

So DJ managers should have their own agreements and pay packages. They should also be happy, safe, and healthy, enjoying their job and doing good work.

…so, in sum, equity makes good business sense, and is economically as well as socially sustainable.

Amplification

“Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”

From Claire Landsbaum’s piece Obama’s Female Staffers Came Up With a Genius Strategy to Make Sure Their Voices Were Heard.

I’m quite surprised by how common it is to be edged out of conversations when I’m hanging with some DJbros or some jazzbros. As you can imagine, I’m not the quietest person in a conversation, and I’m usually reminding myself to let other people talk too. But there are definitely bros who aren’t interested in anything a woman has to say. Just because she isn’t a man.

My usual solution is to just walk away and find someone more interesting to talk to. While these women couldn’t really walk away from these bros if they wanted in to the power, we can in the jazz dance world. And if I want jazzbros (particularly musician jazzbros) to pay attention, I change my mode of interaction. All those years hanging out with punker musician bros and academic bros in my 20s has skilled me up.

But honestly. Bros. How dull.

Leading, following, and their relationship to the beat

Ok, so I’ve been thinking about the way leads and follows relate to timing and tempo. I’m not entirely sure what I know, and what’s accurate, because I’m still working my way through this stuff.

I have big problems with the insistence in some quarters that leading and following are interchangeable. They’re not; they’re very different. Not just because one of you leads and one of you follows. At first I thought it was because the lead had to ‘be more confident’ and initiate stuff (which we tend to associate with hegemonic masculinity). But now I don’t think that’s quite it. I have found that the biggest difference between leading and following, for me, is about my relationship to the beat. And this is why I am finding it harder and harder to switch between leading and following these days: I have to consciously change my relationship to the beat. I’m getting better at this (especially since starting tap), but I’m definitely not there yet.

I think that leads are closer to the beat, and follows swing a little more. They’re further behind the beat. Not just because of physics (ie leads ‘go first’ so they are closer to the beat, and follows physically a moment behind). But because of the way this makes us feel when we dance to swinging jazz.

I can’t remember the reference, but I’m pretty sure I read in Gunther Schuller’s book The Swing Era, about the different parts of a big band having different relationships to the beat. I think that we also addressed it in a session with a band a couple of years ago. The rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, guitar) all have slightly different relationships to the beat, and it’s the way each of them work together that then makes for this lovely complicated network that makes dancing so much fun. And so interesting. It’s not just that everyone is sitting way deep in the pocket. It’s that some people in the band are a little deeper than others, and this relationship – an almost-tension – is what makes the music feel so good.

Anyhoo, a drummer friend Andrew Dickeson linked up Ethan Iverson’s blog post The Drum Thing, or, A Brief History of Whiplash, or, “I’m Generalizing Here” on facebook recently, and it caught my attention. I don’t think it’s the most coherent or awesome of pieces, but it did ping my radar a little. So I wrote a long comment there, which I’m going to copy here:

I’ve been thinking about this article a bit.

Tuesday night in tap with Ryan we did this exercise where we tapped a rhythm straight, then swung it. The straight version was very stressful, because it feels like you’re rushing and there’s less time to move your body.
On Sunday at the Unity Hall Jazz Band gig, I danced to a nice swinging, yet faster, song with a lead who was rushing the beat, and it made the dance stressy because we didn’t have time to get through movements. I was following, and follows typically lag a little more than the lead. I found that the lead was cutting me off before I could finish my rhythms or movements, and this was stressy, and difficult, because I never quite had enough time to move from point A to point B, because he was starting the new move before I’d finished the last one.

Last night in class, Alice and I were looking at how slight changes in our posture, and covering less ground affected our timing and ability to dance faster. If covering more distance = using more time*, then it’s harder to dance fast if you try to cover more ground (ie move too far away from each other). So we were working on staying closer together, but with a free-er, less controlling lead**. So the follow had more time to complete her movements. If the lead (that was me) swings more – ie doesn’t rush the beat – then the follow, who sits naturally a bit further behind again has more time to finish things, and the whole dance looks and feels really relaxed. Hence the ‘swing’ in lindy hop. Or, in african dance terms, you get a ‘cool’ body with ‘hot’ legs (ie chilled, relaxed upper body, and energised legs and feet).

Anyhoo, we were testing stuff out with different songs. Because I’m still crushing on that Lester Young Mosaic set and listening to lots of Basie, we started with ‘Feedin the Bean‘ (Basie 1941, 180bpm). It feels really relaxed, and felt super easy to dance to. As a DJ, I often use this song when I want to build energy for a faster, more exciting follow up song.
Then we moved to ‘Pound Cake’ (Basie 1939, 186bpm). It feels similarly chillaxed and not fast at all. Then we tried ‘Lopin” (Basie 1947, 190bpm). It has a more exciting, energetic feel, so it feels faster.

The point is, these are only incremental changes in tempo, but when you dance fast, you need to relax your upper body so you can move faster. If the rhythm section is pushing pushing pushing the beat, you feel as though you have less time to move, so it’s stressier, and you tense up. If the lead is too close to the beat, and stressing, pushing the beat, the follow doesn’t have time to get shit done, and complete their rhythms nicely. The syncopated triple steps that are central to lindy hop just get flattened out. And that just makes a mess of the whole thing. It feels yuck.***

Anyhoo, we noticed that the chillaxed drumming was really important. The base gives you the tempo, but a chillaxed drummer takes the edge off, so you can make it swing.

When I DJ, I find this ‘feel’ or energy in the room is what I’m manipulating with song choices. I might move the tempos up and down, but I want to move the energy up and down too: I think of it as working the ‘feels’, and it’s about the way everyone in the room is sharing feelings. I don’t know why humans do this, but when I read the quote from Ellington in this article, it just articulated what it’s like when the room is ‘warmed up’ (that’s how I think of it – when I DJ or lead a class, I need to ‘warm up’ the room before we start going hard):

Sonny Greer and I were real tight buddies and, naturally, night creatures. Our first night out in New York we got all dressed up and went down to the Capitol Palace…

My first impression of The Lion – even before I saw him – was the thing I felt as I walked down those steps. A strange thing. A square-type fellow might say, “This joint is jumping,” but to those who become acclimatized – the tempo was the lope – actually everything and everybody seemed to be doing whatever they were doing in the tempo The Lion’s group was laying down. The walls and furniture seemed to lean understandingly – one of the strangest and greatest sensations I ever had. The waiters served in that tempo; everybody who had to walk in, out, or around the place walked with a beat.

Anyhoo, thanks for linking up this article, Andrew. It’s been rolling around in my head since I read it, and really joining up some dots for me.

*This is why the lead taking a huge rock step on 1-2 of a swing out is an issue. It extends the first 2 counts of that move, and changes the emphasis of the rhythm. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, we change rhythms all the time. But if you do it on every rock step of every move, you change the entire rhythm of the dance. It also means you take up lots of room on the floor, and you feel you like have to RUN to get to the end of the movement, as you’ve ‘used up’ a lot of time at the beginning. For the follow, it means that you have to take an enormous first step which throws off your balance and timing. If you want to dance fast, you’re really going to struggle, because there’s less time for each step, and the follow has to cover more ground in less time. It also means you won’t be emphasising the rotational part of a swing out (the 3-and-4), which means you won’t be getting that centrifugal force that you need to then sling shot back out again into open.

In dancing, distance = time. So you have to take that into account when you’re dancing to a specific tempo. It’s especially interesting when you’re looking at air steps, where gravity is a constant (ie it always takes the same amount of time to fall), and you have to take that into account when you’re timing a landing. This really struck me watching this video about the physics of Simone Biles’ turns. She adjusts her rotation and timing just by moving one hand against her body!

**By ‘freer, less controlling lead’, I mean a few things. First, that the lead doesn’t ‘steer’ the follow out of closed using their left hand. They just step back and out of the way, dropping that hand immediately so the follow can ping out of closed position, choosing their own speed, direction, and rhythm.
Secondly, the lead lets go on 5 of a swing out, so the follow can come out sideways rather than always coming out backwards. Follows who are always let go later and always asked to come out backwards tend to habitually turn themselves to come out backwards. Ain’t nothing wrong with coming out backwards. But if a follow always turns themselves to come out backwards, rather than having variations in directions, we have an issue. Even more importantly, taking time to turn your body 90* takes time and energy away from booming out of closed like a gun, or rocking out like a rhythmic jazz superstar.

But more important than the direction a follow comes out of closed, is the fact that by letting go earlier, the lead gives the follow more physical freedom, earlier. The longer I touch the follow, and keep that back connection, the longer she has to pay attention and respond to me and that connection. Well, she doesn’t have to. But by letting go, I’m making it super clear that she can do as she likes, and is 100% responsible for direction, timing, angle, etc. Experimenting as a follow, I also found that letting go earlier means that the follow needn’t go as far away from the lead. They can choose to reach the ‘end’ of the swing out earlier, and turn and be ready to come back in again earlier. They don’t have to end earlier, but they can.

I hope I’m making it clear, here, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. But if we always do things one way, then there’s an issue. We… well, I aim for flexibility and mindfulness. I want to make conscious choices about the way my body moves, so that I am mindfully responding to the music and absolutely present with each partner, rather than just dancing by rote. Because dancing by rote is boring and limited. And dancing mindfully with each partner makes dancing with everyone much more interesting.

I am suspecting that insisting a follow goes really far away into open (ie covering a lot of distance) + the larger rock step by the lead on 1-2 = changing the rhythmic emphases of the swing out. Instead of being a constant state of motion, the swing out becomes two extreme stretches in long, straight lines, with a tiny bit of rushed rotation in closed in the middle. I’d prefer my swing outs to have constant energy throughout, so that I’m not dividing the music up into blocks of 8 counts so aggressively. I want my swing outs (or moves) to just be different shapes put on top of rhythmic movement across the floor, where the emphasis can vary, and the rhythms are functional as well as fun. ie the triple step, with its added step, is not just rhythmically interesting, it also gives you an extra step to travel further, or to turn or to ground yourself as you rotate at speed.
And, to sum up this digression, if you give the follow more time in open, or with a less demanding, less intense connection, you give them more independence. This means that they a) bring their rhythmic wonderment, and b) pay more attention to you, because they don’t feel like they’re waiting for the rare chance to bring their shit; they know you’ll give them plenty of time, and that you’ll be working together, with their hot shit integrated into the dance, rather than slotted in as a separate ‘gap’ in the lead’s predetermined pattern.

***Or you change your basic steps, replacing the triple step with a kick. If you check out very early lindy hop, you see more kicking than triple steps, because the music had that more vertical feel. It feels super exciting, because it does push a little bit more, but it doesn’t make you triple step or swing out the same way. It’s not about tempo (ie speed), but about the relationship to the beat each musician holds.

Fundamental disagreements

I’m part of a very good facebook group about teaching lindy hop and swing dance, and there was a recent question about ‘heavy’ following, which referenced this 2010 article of Bobby White’s.
My first response was this:

One day someone will write an article about the heavy/light lead, and we’ll get to argue about whether or not it’s too do with men’s physical weight, physics, or their just not being a very good dancer.

…i’m sorry to be so snarky in such a friendly forum, but honestly. This discussion tires and depresses me.

While Bobby has updated his post with a little disclaimer, his post still circulates in the lindy hop community, frequently touted as an important or useful source of information. Me, I think it’s total rubbish. Questions about ‘heavy follows’ are rooted in a fundamentally unhelpful and flawed understanding of partner dancing. It is, as I’ve ranted elsewhere, based on the assumption that lindy hop is about successfully completing a series of moves. Leading them ‘well’ and following them ‘well’ for a ‘good dance’. In this context, if you can’t perfectly ‘follow’ the lead’s leading, you are a ‘bad follow’. This sort of thinking leads to nights where follows stand around the dance floor moaning that there are ‘no leads’, when there are in fact plenty of leads, it’s just that they are looking for leads who can set out a perfect sequence of moves for them to complete. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to women competing with each other for dances with particular men (yes, women do actually queue up around the edges of the dance floor), with big-headed leads convinced that they are the fucking business because they have these queues. It leads to the myth that we have a ‘lead shortage’ or, worse, ‘too many follows’, which in turn leads to bullshit registration deals for events, where leads receive cheaper registrations, or more flexible registration deadlines.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll know that I’ve really moved away from this idea of leading and following. If we stop thinking of a ‘good dance’ as a sequence of moves perfectly executed, then we can start thinking about a ‘good dance’ as one where we have just two rules: take care of the music, take care of your partner.

More importantly:

The term ‘heavy follow’ is profoundly sexist, places the power in the lead-follow dynamic firmly with the lead (who is usually male), and prioritises moving across the floor, performing a sequence of inflexible moves ‘perfectly’.

I think it’s fucked up, and I refuse to accept it as in any way legit.

But I think my immediate response to the post (which I’ve quoted above) wasn’t productive in this particular group, where the values we espouse in our jazz-centred dancing carry on into a discussion based on kindness, mutual respect, and listening to one another. So I apologised.

I did write a long comment in response, but when you find your comment is too long to fit in one comment on facebook, you know it’s time to write a blog post.

Interestingly, it seems Anaïs was writing a response at the exact same time I was. A post which sets out many of my own values, but in a much more gentle, productive way. Anaïs Sékiné’s lovely post about leading and following and dance as collaboration, is a nice alternative to the ‘heavy’ follow paradigm. I recommend reading it. It’s full of good feels.

But here is the long comment I wrote on facebook, but didn’t manage to post:

I don’t accept the premise of the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow.
I think it encourages a focus on moves-based dancing, rather than rhythm-based dancing. I also think it makes us focus on moving across the floor and executing moves perfectly, rather than listening to the music and connecting with another human being.

I’ve been thinking about my own dancing a lot lately, as I’ve done a few very useful and interesting workshops this year (Herräng most recently, but also the Little Big Weekend in May with Jenny and Rikard, and Snowball classes in December 2015). These, and the work I did last year, as well as lots of interesting talk in that facebook teaching group, and with my co-teachers, have been really inspiring. My general focus has been on simple shapes and solid rhythms, and is connected by the content and focus of the Frankie and Harlem Roots streams at Herräng in 2014 and 2015. I’ve also been inspired by Lennart Westerlund’s approach to teaching and learning.

Thinking about my own dancing hasn’t just been about getting my shit together (ongoing project, right?). It’s also about improving my dancing and understanding of what I do so that I can be a better teacher. And this in turn helps me improve my own dancing. I see my own limitations reflected in my teaching and hence in my students’ dancing: I’ve been thinking about how to dance faster, more relaxed, and with interesting rhythms at all tempos.

RE the swing out in particular, and how to make it work if one partner isn’t moving as fast as needed.
As a lead, my first response would be to change my plans. I don’t need a swing out to be a 360* turn. It can be 180* or 90* or any old degrees, fitting into the space on the floor, working with my partner, and the music.
I think this is the most important thing: leads need to work more actively with their partner. This is why I think we need to talk about ‘active leads’ rather than ‘active follows’: leads need to be able to change their swing outs and respond to what’s happening with their partner. Not just get cranky if a follow is ‘too slow’ to make the lead’s preferred swing out ‘work’.
1) Teaching translation: we say that to our beginners in week 1: You don’t have to have rules about the angle you cover. Just aim to be open, in closed, then in open. They immediately stress less.

My second response would be: am I asking the follow to move too far? My current bugbear is leads who ask the follow to go three million miles away in open, but still somehow run in and get around 360*, all at a million bpm. With this sort of swing out, the follows end up super fast and strong (in their bodies), but also more likely to send themselves miles away from their partners. So you get a kind of flattened out rhythm, where the emphasis is on horizontal movement across the floor, rather than a more nuanced rhythm-as-movement using different planes. I also see a lack of good, relaxed, swinging timing. There’s a lot of rushing, with a rhythmic emphasis on the extremes of the move – 3 and 4 in closed, and 7-8 in open. This emphasis often starts to look like a ‘dead spot’ where there’s a hold in the rhythm. Which is totally ok, but begins to ignore the music if it happens on every swing out.

So I fix this by staying closer to my partner, at all points of the swing out (closed and open). Rhythmically: I don’t go flat when the follow is in open – the rhythm I keep provides the timing for how long a follow should be traveling. And time = distance here.
2) Teaching translation: look at your partner; keep dancing leads, don’t stop when the follow goes into open. Don’t think of the rhythm as sets of 8, but as a continuous rhythm with the music.

My third and most important response: am I hauling arse? If a lead stands on the spot and asks the follow to do all the moving, then it’s twice as hard as it needs to be. If a lead steps up and moves their bodies, then the follow needs to cover half as much distance. If you stay closer together, then you can halve that distance again. And this means you have more time in the music for fun.
As a lead: I need step up and haul arse. I really need to hustle.
3) Teaching translation: leads, haul arse. Move your body. Do not let the rhythm drop. Everyone learns a new rhythm on their own first. Everyone has to carry the groove; it’s a shared rhythm. (all this keeps bodies active)

My fourth response: how am I oriented to my partner?
This is my current issue. I am trying to aim for a 3/4 profile for my partner. I describe this as the ‘perfect instagram selfie pose’ to our students: you want a 3/4 profile, and you want your weight on one foot, rather than split. If your butt’s out, then you are immediately ready to rumble. Or leap out from the blocks and beat Usain Bolt.
I am trying to stop myself ‘squaring up’ to my partner, because it’s inefficient, and makes it harder to recruit the bigger muscles that help me haul arse. It also lets your arms relax, and encourages an efficient weight change. A squared up profile is harder (this is 100% Rikard teaching btw).
4) Teaching Translation: 3/4 instagram perfect profile.

Fifth: I also try to be more ‘alert’ in my connection when we get into open. This is helped by having that 3/4 profile.
I use that triple step at the end of a swing out or move to say ‘Hello, I am ending the swing out earlier, I think, so please listen to see what happens next – we can choose something else to do.’
If I just go ‘dead’ or ‘limp’ in my arm as the follow gets out (at about 6), then the follow feels no signal, so they often just continue that last message or momentum I suggested. I’m not talking about ‘tension’ or any of that stuff – I’m talking about facing my partner, about moving my body, etc.
5) Teaching translation: leads, don’t let that rhythm or groove drop. Both partners – watch them move away from you, and be ready. Because you don’t know what jazz they’ll bring (a practical beginner exercise is just having them do a call and response jazz step – so as they move into open, one does a jazz step, and the other echoes it for 8 counts – they naturally have to watch each other, and stay closer together).

Sixth: out with the butts.
The other thing that’s important (when I’m following), is to not send myself so far away from my partner, and to check my posture. We’ve been talking to our intermediates about this – ‘out with the butts’ as eWa says. If you have your butt out, as a follow (but not sitting down into the shape), and you come out of a swing out sideways (ie the lead lets go earlier and doesn’t ‘steer’ the follow out with their left arm), then you are more engaged in your glutes, etc, and in a more athletic posture that helps you respond faster, or move faster, or just plain bring the shit.
Out with the butts is very important coming out of a swing out for follows. It stops them leading groin first (which makes it harder to balance or control yourself).
6) Teaching translation: out with the butts. Practical exercise: anything Frankie related.

Seventh: feel the love.
Asa and Daniel were crapping on about this in Herräng: get closer to your partner in closed. Treat it like an embrace. So they didn’t do this squaring up thing where the follows grip the lead’s bicep and clamp the lead’s right arm with their elbow. Instead they moved closer together. Learning from so many first gen revivalists in the Harlem Roots stream at Herräng stream, two things were made very clear: closed position is much closer (in a v-shape, where the follow’s arm can be further around the lead’s shoulder, and the lead’s arm further around the follow’s back). This embrace makes it easier to feel what your partner is doing with their body, too.
The second thing: follows are much more likely to do stuff like just go into open if they were sick of closed. Catrine, eWa, Asa – all those Swedes who worked with Frankie. None of them were worried about ‘backleading’ or ‘hijacking’. If they didn’t like a move, they just didn’t do it. And their leads were all 100% ok with this – they just saw it as normal. This signalled a fundamental shift in lindy hop ideology in the mid 2000s in America in particular: lindy hop follows stopped seeing this ‘just don’t do it’ as ok. They saw their goal as ‘follow perfectly’. To me, this is the most important point, the absolute total point of all this: FOLLOWS DON’T HAVE TO AIM TO ‘FOLLOW PERFECTLY’. Being a ‘good follow’ doesn’t mean ‘do exactly what the lead asks, perfectly and quickly.’ Being a ‘good follow’ means ‘go with your feels.’ Trust yoself.
7) Teaching Translation: when you’re in closed, check in with how you’re touching your partner. Ask them if this is ok. Remember that the way you touch your partner sends them information (eg the claw of panic from follows; the floating weirdo right hand from leads). If it doesn’t feel ok, tell your partner.

For me, these things have made lindy hop much easier: don’t move so far from my partner; feel the love in the embrace; out with the butts; perfect instagram selfie pose; take more time to feel the groove before you start dancing; clear rhythms.

Just in the few weeks since we’ve been back from Herräng and focussing on these things, we’ve seen massive changes in our students’ dancing. They can dance much faster, and have greater freedom to improvise.

I don’t worry about ‘follows being heavy’ because it’s simply not an issue. I don’t even recognise it as a thing.
I do worry much, much more about leads who don’t haul arse. I think the lazy arse lead is a much bigger issue than the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow. I also get very cranky about leads who never look at their follows: it makes for bad connection, bad vibes, and dancing that focuses on horizontal momentum rather than good solid rhythms, polyrhythms, and call and response. ie jazz.

…having said that, if a lead is physically slower or older or infirm or fragile (as with our lovely Extremely Elderly student), then hauling arse isn’t the issue. He has mad rhythm skills (tap dancer!), so the follows have to figure out how to make this work with him. Much more important skill set.

As Anaïs says in her gorgeous post,

Lindy hopping is about sharing through dancing and through jazz. That’s our common language. The rest is up to each and everyone of us.

As Lennart says,

…it is a very simple dance

As one of our beginners said in their first class

A swing out is when you are together and then you are away from each other.

And that’s it.