Why did I choose those songs for the competition?

Friends have asked questions about the music and competition from the weekend (set list for that is here), so here is some more info.

Michael Quisao asked:

Congrats on the accomplishment and for getting through it! DJing for comps is still very stressful for me and I admire the heck out of folks who do it.
If you don’t mind my asking, what was the comp format? What requirements did you have to account for with your selections?

Here’s my reply:

Here’s what the contestants had access to on the website. Plus they could email and ask questions/get support. I think that last point was important. Even if people didn’t end up emailing, hearing ‘just email Squish if you need anything’ was important for reassuring them.

We had done another version of the m&m at the previous dance (which was in July), and that was a great chance to test the format, and generally start people feeling ok about competing. Good practice for me too!

There were two comps:
1. mix and match (everyone welcome)
– heats: 3 allskate songs of gradually increasing tempos
– finals: 1 allskate warm up song, 1 ‘shine’ song for each couple, where they get to dance to the first 1.30mins of a song ; final allskate

2. strictly lindy (everyone welcome, no aerials)
– heats (which we didn’t do in the end)
– finals: 1allskate warm up song, then jam-style with everyone getting 2 shines (of two phrases) each. We used 2 songs, fading out the first one after the last couple had their shine. The second song started with shines, then ended with an all-skate. I was using that fun version of Flying Home, where that distinctive riff cuts in at the ‘allskate’ part.

I can’t remember if people paid to enter or not.
Prizes were medallions.
Judges were local teachers + guest teachers for the weekend.
I don’t know what the judging criteria were (beyond what’s on the site) or how they decided winners.

Criteria for my song choices:
I know the organisers well, so we were on the same page RE musical styles before we started. We had some chats on messenger to sort out little details (and for them to reassure me about my nerves 😃 ).

I went with:
All ‘old school’ recordings. ie nothing after 1950 (except that one Johnny Hodges song, which was 1951), unless it was for a warm up. I wanted to have all the songs have the same fidelity, as it’s never fair if someone gets a hifi recording that naturally pumps energy into the room. Organisers didn’t mind whether it was a mix or all of one.

All big band, rather than a mix of small and big. Again, I wanted a consistency of sound and style for every couple. And because I’ve been talking to Heidi Wijk, my DJing influencer, who keeps reminding me that big bands bring big emotions. We were also in a big ballroom, so it felt right.

All with that New York/Kansas/LA sound, rather than a Nola revival vibe from the 30s. So no Bechet. Again, I wanted to have a consistent ‘style’ for all the couples. I was a bit torn on this one, because what about people like Eddie Condon, my current passion? But I got over it, because BASIE and ELLINGTON and HAMP and WEBB.

I also avoided the later early jump blues/rnb sound of bands like Buddy Johnson, because I’m personally on a kick to reduce how much I DJ them. I’ve noticed that when I play that stuff, the dancers end up emphasising the second beat really heavily, so when you look out over the floor, they’re bobbing up and down, instead of having a more even bounce, or emphasising any old beat. This is a personal thing, but in Sydney, where rock and roll really dominates all dancing and has squished lindy hop almost to death, I feel it’s important to keep that lindy hop ‘four on the floor’ vibe whenever I can. You’ll notice, though, that I did play Solid As a Rock, which breaks that rule. That was in a heat for the m&m, and I deliberately chose a song that people knew, so they’d feel more comfortable and relax. It’s Basie in 1950, so it’s right on the edge, though.

Phrasing and so on. This is where I got nervous. I couldn’t find a good enough and long enough song that allowed 6 couples to have 2 shines of 2 phrases each. We’d decided not to use the band for the comp (which would be a simple solution) because we had a lot of plates in the air, and tbh, I know I couldn’t manage liaising with the band on music in addition to all the other things I’ve had on this week.

So we knew we had to use two songs. DJ bud Trev Hutchison suggested just fading out the first song, which was something I’d considered. Heidi had also suggested it. So I did it. I specifically chose a song everyone knows (though, considering this is Sydney, not everyone does), so, again, people could feel more confident and comfortable.
I had the next song in mind, a Barnet recording of Flying Home, which is one of my total go-to songs when I’m DJing big events and want to pump everyone up. It’s good because everyone knows Flying Home. But it’s better because it’s a less well known recording, so it feels fresher. For music nerds, there’s a sax solo in the middle (Barnet himself?) that is very unlike Lester Young’s famous one, but is fucking GREAT. I doubt the competitors noticed details like that in the heat of it, but the audience might.

Which brings me to my final point. I’ve never been a fan of competitions, until fairly recently. I know that a lot of people find them utterly tedious at social dances. And I know that one thing a comp should do (according to Peter Loggins 😃 ) is entertain the crowd. A comp should be about an organiser being able to sell tickets to people who are going to watch a comp. Because there are only a handful paying to be in the comp.
So the most important part of DJing, for me, was finding songs that are fun and good to listen to, and make you feel like dancing. Doing that first m&m a few months ago, I realised that DJing a comp is a bit like working a wave in a social set: you start calmer, but energised, and then you work up to a climax with higher energy and higher tempos. So I tried to do that again. This makes for a more comfortable listening experience, as I’m making smooth transitions between styles, speeds, and energy types.

I think this perhaps the best argument for using a band in a comp: it’s good entertainment for the audience, who if nothing else can simply sit/stand and watch/listen to the band.

As an addendum, over the years I’ve DJed little things like solo charleston comps, and I’ve run other little comps, but used bands because I cbf DJing when I’m running something. One of the best ones was in a smaller, cosier space (but still big), where we did a basic ‘strictly lindy’ style comp, open to couple registrations, but we also offered to help match people up with partners if they just wanted a go. The band played great music at not-blistering-fast tempos, and it was all over fairly quickly. We had real prizes from community businesses (who were there to watch). I can’t remember how we judged, but I really want to run a comp where we have a famous (but not necessarily a famous dancer) judge.

How to be a professional lindy hop teacher. How?

A famous international teacher wrote this in a public post on facebook today.

Hey y’all, real talk. I have encountered multiple people this week who have never taken classes from me, are not signed up to take classes from me, yet have told me they have seen my class recap videos and been practicing from them. The purpose of my recap videos is to help the people who actually have bothered to become my students and who have shown up to learn from me. Believe it or not, this is my livelihood, I make a living from teaching dance. I sell instructional videos from my website. Undermining that is an incredibly shitty thing to do. The same way I would hope you wouldn’t buy a friend’s band’s CD and then just turn around and burn copies for everyone you know (and would hopefully encourage them to actually support the artist and go buy their own copy), I would hope you would encourage folks to actually come take a class from someone who has built a career doing a thing. The easy option is I just don’t do recap videos anymore (shocking concept, but for much of my dance career, video recaps just weren’t a thing). But I actually care about students’ improvement and would love to provide that as a resource because I think it is helpful (as many folks also seem to), so the option I’d rather pursue is just be respectful of artists. Thanks.

This post was shared by a mutual friend. This was my comment:

I don’t buy this argument at all.
Recap videos are a brilliant way to market a teacher’s skills. They get people gigs, it gets people into workshops at events.

Recap videos often circulate between people who don’t have the money or opportunity to go to big workshops, and they’re an ongoing resource for a local scene. It’s also super common for someone to take a recap video back from a weekend to their home town, and then work on the material with their friends and dance partners (who may not have attended the workshop!) This is how dance knowledge permeates and spreads. It’s also a good strategy for people with low incomes to access knowledge.
To be honest, I have zero problems with people of colour, women, other marginalised folk doing this sort of ‘textual poaching’ from a white man 😃 😃 😃

This is not the same as people filming you while you’re teaching a class. That’s fucked up and not ok.
If you’re not ok with the way video footage circulates in the community, don’t let people film your recaps. Boom.
If you want to capitalise on the fact that your fanbase is sharing videos of you, learning from you, emulating you, get onto it! That is some powerful audience-engagement!
Things you can do:

  • Follow up on that conversation with that fan
    (which, tbh, is a hugely flattering thing for them to do), by saying something like “Oh, that’s so good to hear! We should organise a zoom session so you can ask questions as you work through things! I have pretty reasonable rates, and we can make it work for small groups.” This is effective because this fan is clearly ok with working from a screen (usually a tiny phone screen!), and a zoom session would be a step up! It’s not often that an audience makes their preferred mode of engagement so clear!
  • Regard that conversation as a fan being brave enough to approach their hero
    and respond with positive enthusiasm. Ask them questions about their dancing, ask them what they liked about the video, and what they’d like to do next. That fan will remember that conversation, take it home, and tell it to zillions of people. That sort of interaction gives teachers a rep as ‘a nice person’ and that rep convinces local organisers to hire teachers. You don’t have to put on a fake cheery persona; just respond like a decent human being to someone who’s telling you (in so many ways) that they think you are amazing.
  • Rethink the way you structure your recaps
    to take advantage of this free circulation and marketing. Add a little intro with details of how to reach you. Limit the content in the recap. Have students dance the recap material instead.
  • Don’t do in-class recaps at all
    but release them yourself from your own website (or a third party site), where you say to the group: “Give me your email addresses, and you can have access to the recap videos on my website” and then you can garner their email addresses for your marketing!
  • Be very clear in your T&C with organisers about recaps and filming them.
    I personally say to teachers that they are not obliged to do recaps, filmed or otherwise, and I make it very clear to all registrants that teachers may not offer a chance for them to film recaps (ie their registration fee does not cover the chance to film a recap).

The more I thought about this, the angrier I got.

In the replies to his post, where people offer suggestions for monetising or controlling the circulation of this footage, he says “I’m old school. I teach dance classes. Not trying to be a youtube/insta/whatever power user” and then another big name teacher chimes in with “this is great but it’s a lot of – more – work” and this made me furious.

Most of the people who put on events that host these sorts of teachers do it for free. They work very hard to give these teachers work and provide workshops for their local scene. There’s very little money to be made (most people hope to break even, or subsidise with other stuff). It _is_ a lot of work. And they do this _in addition_ to their day jobs, caring for families… and often, teaching weekly dance classes.

To hear a high profile teacher denigrate this type of work makes me VERY ANGRY. And yes, it is lots of work to do this sort of management and promotion. HAVE THEY ONLY JUST REALISED THIS?!

I hear this bullshit from white man musicians all the time. As though being ‘a musician’ means that you just ‘do art’ and the audiences magically come to hear you ‘do art’. NO BITCH, THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. Being a working artist means you WORK. You work on your craft, but sorry, white man, that means doing promotion, profile management, networking, all that distasteful plebean stuff. You also put work into being good at working with others (sound crew, venue managers, promoters, bar staff), you develop a sense of brand or how you want to be promoted, you develop actual promotional material (a bio, some photos, and – god forbid! – a website).

Argh this makes me so, so angry.

Anyway. This is why over the years as an organiser, and as someone who’s also been the ‘talent’, I’ve realised that the ‘talent’ is interchangeable, but the people on the ground who run events, who work the door, set up rooms, and clean up after parties, are the really irreplaceable people.

Digital business tools for dancers: Sam’s hack.

Topic: useful admin tools for dance businesses

[NB not tools for social media marketing or graphic design. Just basic business tools]

Last year I did some research into the various tools a dance business uses, and discovered some useful things. Note, I am based in Australia, so some of our laws RE storing personal data aren’t shared by other countries.

If you’re running a business that teaches dance and runs parties and workshops, you need a few digital tools:

– a website
– an email tool
– a way to take payment digitally
– a way to organise registrations
– You’ll also need some sort of accounting software too, but your local tax laws and accountant’s preferences will help you decide what you’ll use.

We’re all usually bound by pretty tight budgets, so it’s fair to say that we want the best we can get, for the least amount of money. And we all know that the cheapest isn’t always the best.
But we also know that not all of us have the technical skills or experience running a dance business (not to mention time) to learnt to use a bunch of new computer things.

Anyway, this is what I found. It’s not an exhaustive list, and it’s pretty much just for me here in Australia.

Let’s assume we have two users.
User 1: New to running a local dance business, lots of good _dance_ and teaching skills, very little experience marketing, handling income and expenses, no real experience dealing with computer software, etc. Limited budget, time-poor. So, a regular dancer.

User 2: Experience running a dance business, experience with a range of software tools, dance and teaching skills. Time-poor, small budget. Wants to upgrade from older tools, reduce admin hassle, and streamline the process. So, the other type of regular dancer :D

From what I’ve seen, there are a couple of ways to get all the tools you need:
1. An all-in-one tool that handles email lists, digital sales (both online, or via a phone in person at a dance), a nice looking website (with the analytics you need)

2. A host of individual tools (eg a sales tool, an email tool, a website tool (whether it’s one you build yourself, or one out of the box)

The first option can be (and usually is) more expensive. There are cheapy options out there, but most of them don’t do all the things a small dance business really needs. Sometimes the more expensive complete packages are a bit limited (eg the email option only lets you have 500 addresses on your list; the website sales integration only works with a particular bank or shop front app).

But the first option is easier because:
– you don’t have to spend lots of time learning to use a lot of different tools.
– you have one account that you log into, from which you can add other users/admin accounts
– the integration of all the tools means you can see when user X buys a product, cross reference it with how often they open emails from you, and track their progress through your site. To my mind, this is the BEST thing. But it’s not so useful if you’re not at the point where you need or can make use of this data.
Downside of this option: price. It can seem super exy for a small business that doesn’t have any seed money.

By far the best of these options is Squarespace. It’s not the cheapest, in fact it’s quite expensive, but it saves you a lot of things:
– security is better because you don’t have a heap of random tools with different log ins that you share with everyone in your team;
– security can be weaker, because you only have that one point of entry to all these essential tools. Good thing is that squarespace is pretty secure.
– the website templates are really really nice, and look really professional. This is essential for a business that needs customers to trust it’s online shop.
– the website design can be changed via the code directly, or using the design tools in the main dashboard. You can create a page quickly, and move images and blocks of text around quickly.
– the shop front tool is beautifully integrated from the front end (the customer’s point of view). It looks slick and professional, which is good for developing trust.
– you can add approximately one billion trillion ‘extensions’ to the basic website. ie you can integrate a bunch of other tools, from accounting software, to email marketing, store fronts, your social media accounts, and printing. Yes, you can create your own tshirts and sell them through your site without having to handle printing or inventory.
– it will help you through buying a domain, which is often another sticking point for new businesses.

The downside of squarespace:
– it’s expensive
– learning to use the website building tools can be tricky (I found it challenging, and I have a lot of experience building sites from code to using builders)

The second option (lots of different tools) is often the cheapest option. But it’s ‘messy’. If you go this route, these are the tools I’d recommend:

– Square for sales. It’s secure, it has good support (ie people to help you), you can use it with your phone (so you don’t need to buy any sales hardware). It has a simple online shopfront (very basic, but serviceable, and not too ugly), and it’s the cheapest. Cheaper than paypal or Trybooking. And more flexible.
It is ‘basic’, but that’s it’s appeal: it’s not too hard to learn to use. But don’t expect too many bells and whistles.
You can take your phone to class, and then when people arrive and want to pay, you can do it all right there with just your phone. No cash, no extra hardware. Game changer in a covid world.
Equity: many of us offer free or discounted tickets for students, low income, etc. I haven’t checked it, but I’m certain Square would offer a ‘reduced’ or ‘comp’ sales option for your items.
– Does it handle your inventory (eg how many items you have left to sell, etc)? I assume so, but I’m not sure.
– Does it handle registrations (which is another way of talking about inventory)? I haven’t tested this.
I haven’t used a separate registration tool for years, as most of the modern online sales tools handle that as a basic feature. As dance event organisers, we really want to know how many people are coming, how many tickets we have left, and then we want to know info about each sale (lead/follow, etc). Not very complex stuff, really.

– Website.
I’d go with squarespace. I’ve used a range of website building tools, from blogging tools (eg wordpress), as well as building my own from scratch (and hosting on my own server at home), but I think that for the time and energy, squarespace gives you something beautiful that’s quick and easy to administer. And because you can create multiple accounts for the one site, you don’t get that ‘webmaster bottleneck’ that has plagued the dance world. It also handles all that domain purchasing stuff, which is SO important.
There are cheaper options (eg Square’s simple website option), but Squarespace also has some nice analytics in the basic package, so you can see which page is getting the most traffic, etc.

– Email. You must have a proper email tool (you can’t just create a list in your apple Mail or Outlook Express; that way lies horrific privacy and security dramas). Email and website are the two most important things you must have as a small business. So people can find you, and then you can reach out to them directly.

Mailchimp is still the big email player. It’s recently gotten more expensive (ie your basic account gives you a smaller number of email addresses in your basic list), but it has wonderful features. You can see who’s opening your emails, and which links are getting clicked in your analytics. The template building tool is lovely, and the emails come out looking really slick. It has some lovely automated features (eg a series of automated emails to help customers; a series of automated steps that create lists of people who open emails quickly for you).
But if you’re not doing any of this email marketing stuff, it’s probably overkill for you. And it’s expensive once you get past X number of email addresses.

Squarespace does have an email option, but it’s limited in terms of analytics. And it gets expensive when you add heaps of email addresses. And you WANT to have a zillion people on your email list. That’s the gold.

Personally, I go with Mailchimp, as I have had an account for years, and it’s been grandfathered in. And because I’m super interested in learning about email marketing. ie more than just spamming your audience with ‘buy! buy!’ emails. I’m interested in sending the right message to the right audience. eg sending links to the new beginner course rego page to the people who registered in the last beginner course of 2022.

A practical covid management plan that is socially responsible

I’m currently working on a covid management plan for a dance school. I’m quite enjoying the process.
Here’s the process:

–The Plan–

Restating the org’s values

  • Which helped me understand how and why the org would develop a covid policy, what issues to focus on, and how to implement it,
  • Which ensured we were all on the same page.

Stating the covid plan philosophy

  • In this context, a philosophy is theoretical or ideological model for addressing concrete issues,
  • Which is basically applying the org’s abstract values to a concrete issue (covid),
  • Phrasing the philosophy as a list of clear applications of values to a specific issue (covid)
  • This could be a list of a hundred items, or a list of two.

Developing two goals for the plan

  • These are deliberately limited in scope (ie this isn’t a govt department managing the health of a whole city or state, it’s a small dance school),
  • They are very focussed and practical.

Putting all this into practical actions

  • There are four ‘actions’ which cover four general areas of covid management,
  • These actions can be phrased as ‘guidelines’ (ie covid rules) for the org, but they can also guide procedures.
  • They deliberately limit the scope of the plan to keep it very local and very practical.

So that’s the whole Covid management plan.
From here, I use the plan to develop:

  • Guidelines (or rules)
  • Procedures (eg if a rule is ‘you must provide proof of vaccination’, who does this checking, where do they check, what do they do if someone doesn’t have proof, what constitutes proof, etc etc)
  • Social media strategy to communicate all this, and also to provide information about covid that will encourage people to participate
  • Website materials (eg a public statement of the guidelines)
  • A handbook that contains all the procedures, contact info, covid facts, etc.

–Developing the plan–

At this point I have a first draft, and it’s been to the org’s boss for comment and approval to go ahead and develop it.
After some tweaking, I’ll send it off to the rest of the org (teachers and staff) to get their feedback, impressions, comments, suggestions, etc.
I’ll also do a model for public comment.

This Plan development process, and the plan itself, are guided by:

A key part of this process is an ethos of community strength, and collectivism. My experiences working on sexual harassment in dance has made it clear that top-down solutions are a) not effective, b) burn out the people doing the work, c) maintain existing power structures that _enable_ injustices like sexual harassment. As I learnt working on Melbourne Lindy Exchange (MLX) for years, you need to develop work practices that allow any one person to drop out or take a break at any time. Which is, of course, what flexible, healthy workplaces are all about.

–A final form?–

A key part of this plan is to be agile. It must be able to change and respond to social changes. Covid will change. The community changes.
An Important thing I learnt from working on sexual harassment stuff, is that we can’t just develop a code and leave it at that. That doesn’t work. We need to update it, to change and develop our approach, as we learn more, and as our communities change.
So putting this plan together, I’m assuming that it will need to be changed and updated regularly; I can’t just post it on the website and forget about it. There’ll be feedback from staff about the processes, there’ll be changes in covid, we’ll see things like the development of new vaccines and healthcare strategies.
This means that the Plan itself, and where it lives needs to mutable.
This is a very exciting idea. It’s a lot like lindy hop itself: you have basic structural elements, but it is, fundamentally, about innovation, improvisation, and responding to the needs of its users.

–Why am I doing all this work?–

I have a long history of writing and researching and lecturing, but I am rubbish at presenting my plans and projects in ways that make it easy for the audience to take my work and do their own projects with it.
So I’m deliberately learning how to:

  • Develop a plan
  • Present a plan to stakeholders who have different types of engagement
  • do good community/group consultation and engagement.

I’m also really interested in how social media management can be employed in social justice work, so I’m quite keen on using things like instagram, facebook, etc etc in new and interesting ways. Which, bizarrely (unsurprisingly?) circles back to my doctoral research and academic research, which was all about how small communities use media in unique ways.

–What have I learnt so far?–

One of the most exciting things I’ve learnt so far, is that if a project like this is equitable in design, it actually fights racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. I think one of the most exciting things about the Camp Jitterbug covid plan, is that it came from the experiences of people of colour, people of a range of genders, people with lived experience doing activist community labour. It’s proof that anti-racist work is good for all of us.

DJing on the internet! I LIKE it!

Yesterday I DJed a really nice zoom party/listening session for the San Antonio Swing Dance Society in Texas. I was in Sydney (still am), but perhaps one unexpected perks of a pandemic, is dance scenes’ refocussing on their local community. Quite a few local scenes have been running regular online meet-ups for the crews, keeping social and creative bonds alive.
In the days before COVID, it’s unlikely I’d have had a chance to DJ in San Antonio. I wouldn’t have travelled so far for a small gig that can’t defray costs, and I would have found it hard to make friends with the San Antonio peeps from Australia. But now – I can!

Anyhoo, the session was about 1.5 hours long, and is run weekly. It was so NICE to see a bunch of brand new people, and to make new friends! This sort of social interaction has just become so important for me during COVID. I’m used to traveling a lot during the year and meeting lots of new people. But it’s been a year of no traveling, and very little socialising. I’ve met far too few new people. But for this set, I only knew ONE of the participants!

I’ve done quite a few of these online/zoom sets now, and I’m really enjoying tailoring the session to the group and expectations of the organiser. Do they want solid party hits for dancing? Do they want a radio show style session with back announcing songs? Do they want history stuff? This session involves a fair bit of conversation in the chat, and there’s less dancing that pure social engagement. If everyone else is like me, they’re just soaking up all those faces on the screen.

Anyway, this one was a bit of talking (more than I usually do, but I checked with the organiser mid-set a few times to see if they wanted less talking, more music), but lots of good music, played the way I’d play a normal social dancing gig.

This is what I played:

(title year artist bpm album length)

Tippin’ Out 1946 Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) 112bpm Roy Eldridge: Little Jazz Giant 2:54

Hootie Boogie 1945 Jay McShann 148bpm Jay McShann: Complete Jazz Series 1944 – 1946 2:55

Tempo de Luxe 1940 Harry James and the Boogie Woogie Trio 130bpm New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln 3:19

Ridin’ On The L&N 1946 Lionel Hampton and his Quartet (170) Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 2:53

A Touch Of Boogie Woogie 1944 Teddy Wilson Sextet (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Edmond Hall, Slam Stewart, Sidney Catlett) 196bpm Teddy Wilson: The Complete Associated Transcriptions 1944 4:49

The Count 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Billy Butterfield, Al Davis, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Clint Neagley, Skip Martin, Vido Musso, George Berg, Chuck Gentry, Mel Powell, Tom Morgan, John Simmons, Sidney Catlett) 169bpm Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 04) 3:15

Take It 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Georgie Auld, Pete Mondello, Bob Snyder, Johnny Guarnieri, Mike Bryan, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) 174bpm Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03) 3:13

If I Could Be With You 1948 Kay Starr featuring Novelty Orchestra (Joe Venuti, Les Paul) 124bpm Best Of The Standard Transcriptions [Disc 1] 1:53

No Regrets 1936 Billie Holiday and her Orchestra (Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Cozy Cole) 130bpm Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday On Columbia (1933-1944) (Disc 01) 2:38

When Day Is Done 1935 Mildred Bailey and her Swing Band (Chu Berry) 218bpm Classic Chu Berry Columbia And Victor Sessions (Mosaic disc 01) 3:32

Rose Room 1944 Esquire Metropolitan Opera house jam session (Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, Sidney Catlett) 196bpm Sid Catlett: Chronological Classics 1944-1946 5:56

Well All Right! 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 183bpm Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove 2:31

Flying Home 1940 Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra 185bpm Charlie Barnet : Skyliner 2:57

Redskin Rhumba 1940 Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra 186bpm Charlie Barnet : Skyliner 2:41

Algiers Stomp 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, JC Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes) 219bpm Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat 3:08

Apollo Jump 1943 Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra 143bpm Apollo Jump 3:27

Harlem Air-Shaft (Rumpus in Richmond) 1940 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 191bpm The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 08) 2:59

Barney Goin’ Easy (I’m Checkin Out Goom-Bye) (WM 1036-A) 1939 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Rex Stewart, Juan Tizol, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy) 151bpm Duke Ellington: The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Mosaic disc 06) 2:59

Harmony In Harlem 1937 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 151bpm The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia And Master Recordings Of Duke Ellington And His Famous Orchestra (Mosaic disc 08) 3:08

Hello Little Boy 1950 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 180bpm Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 2:50

Hi Ho Trailus Boot Whip 1946 Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) 224bpm After You’ve Gone 2:46

All She Wants To Do Is Rock Wynonie Harris 145bpm Greatest Hits 2:34

Froggy Bottom 1957 Jay McShann and his Band (Jimmy Witherspoon) 155bpm Goin’ To Kansas City Blues (Mosaic) 2:37

C Jam Blues 1994 Statesmen Of Jazz 161bpm Statesman Of Jazz 6:32

Every Day I Have The Blues 1959 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) 116bpm Breakfast Dance And Barbecue 3:49

Hallelujah, I Love Her So 1958 Count basie and his Atomic Band 133bpm Complete Live at the Crescendo 1958 (disc 2) 3:03

What did you do?

I began with an acknowledgement of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, traditional custodians of this land (where I was speaking from), and a shout out to the Black history of jazz music and dance, to the elders of that community.

Why did you play that?

Then I played one of my favourite songs, Hootie’s Boogie.
It has good energy, but isn’t too up in your face crazy loud/fast. Also it’s LOLsome.

Then Tempo deLuxe, which is another of my faves. It’s a song I’ve started a jillion sets with in the past, because it builds from a mellow intro to an upenergy, fun finale with shouting and shit. It’s a live recording from the 1939/1940 New York World Fair. This is a pretty fun connection for dancers, as the Savoy Ballroom had an exhibition at the fair. And there’s footage of it:

Yep, that’s women dancing with women, and men dancing with women. Always has been, always will be.

There are HEAPS of photos of people dancing lindy hop (and of lindy hoppers and jazz musicians), including this one:

You might recognise that jacket logo from the repro Chloe Hong from Seoul did a few years ago for Frankie100. When you think about the fact Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were promoting the Savoy, it makes complete sense that they were basically walking billboards.

Apparently working the World Fair gig was HARD WORK, with long hours, few breaks, hot sun, and bullshit working conditions. It gave us footage like the Hot Mikado, but it also pushed the Black dancers far too hard. Check out Frankie Manning’s bio for stories about his experiences, and the Alan Lomax bio, ‘Man Who Recorded the World’ for stories about how Lomax’s original ideas for showcasing Black music were curtailed by bullshit.

There’s a heap of stuff from the World Fair in the NY Public Library, so you should defs hunt that down!

Anyhow, I played that song second because it’s by Harry James’ Boogie Woogie Trio (though I think it’s more than three musicians :D) and I dig the boogie vibe.

Then it was Ridin On The L & N, which is one of my most faves. It also has a boogie piano feeling, this time feeling like a train (the L&N) riding down the track.

Then we had radio transcript, ‘A Touch Of Boogie Woogie’ by Teddy Wilson and his Sextet. I had intended to play the 1941 Wilson Orchestra version, because it’s such a surprise to hear that band play something so chunky and exciting and pulse-poundingly good. But the sextet version is equally good, BUT it features some interesting musicians: Sidney Catlett and Slam Stewart. We all know Teddy Wilson for his work with Billie Holiday, and then Benny Goodman’s small groups, but Catlett is a drummer who played in Goodman’s band too. But only for a few months.


Apparently Catlett was so charismatic, so exciting, and so popular, that Goodman fired him in a fit of jealousy. I don’t know if it’s true. But luckily we have some of his recordings with Goodman’s band, including the live album ‘Roll Em!’ from 1941. I don’t have that album, but there is photographic evidence of the gig:


(from the Gottlieb Collection in the Library of Congress)

And of course, Slam Stewart we know from Slim and Slam, and thinking of him in Mr Tighty-Whitey Rules Mc Rulesington Benny Goodman’s band is just weird. But there are recordings of him with the Goodman orchestra, and they are FANTASTIC.


(Stewart and Goodman waiting for something in 1945 (source)).

Anyway, I played ‘The Count’ by Goodman’s orchestra, featuring Catlett, so we could feel just how exciting the band was with this drummer. Incidentally, this song is a nice follow-up to the previous one, as it carries that big energy, lindy hopping fun with it. NB it’s just as great for balboa :D

I followed up with another Goodman Orchestra recording from the same year, this time with Dave Tough (our beloved Dave) on drums. Still amazing, but also different. Two songs by one artist in a row? Don’t mind if I do!

A Note: Catlett and Stewart are Black. Goodman was putting mixed race bands on stage for years, and copped flack for it.

After that, it was a complete change of pace, with Kay Starr singing ‘If I could be With You’. This is another transcript, and the band features Joe Venuti, which is weird, because I associate him with gypsy jazz. But by this point, he was major famous. But it’s also wonderful. This photo of them in the ABC Studios was taken ~1945, while the song was recorded in 1948.

circa 1945: EXCLUSIVE American jazz violinist Joe Venuti (1903-1978) and American vocalist Kay Starr smile and sing while playing a violin together. They stand by an ABC microphone. (Photo by Metronome/Getty Images)

Onwards!
Then we had some Billie Holiday, because I wanted to hear some more nice female vocals, with a bit of charm. 1936 put us back into the period I wanted to explore next.

Then ‘Day Is Done’ by Mildred Bailey and her band, featuring her husband Red Norvo.

This song is a nice companion to the previous two female vocals, and she and Holiday match well. But I wanted to play these two artists because they were important in the story of Goodman’s small groups. The story is that Bailey used to host great parties at her house, and at one of these in 1935, Goodman and Teddy Wilson met, and started jamming together. Later that year the Goodman Trio was born.

Bailey herself is super important as this sort of social lubricant, but also as a musician.

Then I played ‘Rose Room’ by an Esquire band, because it’s a live recording, and it features Catlett talking to the audience directly. And it has an epic drum solo at the end.

Then I just went with that exciting big band sound, and another live recording, this time Ella Fitzgerald with Webb’s band in 1939. I wanted to just play some good hard party music. YEAH!
Same for the next song, really: straight up party music. I ADORE this version of Flying Home.
And again – just another uptempo party song.

Then a slight change in tone, with Algier’s Stomp by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. I do recommend reading up about them. This song features Lucky Millinder.

Which was my segue to playing Apollo Jump, classic lindy hop party song.

Then I switched it up a smear, to play Harlem Air Shaft, by Ellington of course. I like this song for the story about it: that Ellington composed it to reflect the sounds that carry up the internal shaft in an Harlem apartment building.

Now I’m reading about airshafts in Harlem, it’s FASCINATING! Here’s a little article about them.

I dropped a word here about the extreme crowding in Harlem in that 1920s-40s period, where thousands of Black Americans travelled north in the Great Migration, fleeing lynching and violence, and looking for jobs. This crowding led to extremely high rents, rent parties, and competition for housing. It also led to the burst of creativity and political activism that was the Harlem Renaissance.

[I didn’t say it, but in my mind, I was thinking about how these close conditions, everyday stuff like Mildred Bailey’s parties, etc all led to people living and working and writing and thinking and playing music in very close quarters. Harlem really was an important place in that moment.]

Then on to something else by Ellington, but one of his smaller groups, playing something calmer. Here, I wanted to chill us out a bit, emotionally, but stick to Ellington and that period and sound.


And another Ellington, Harmony In Harlem. Because Harlem. Musically, it’s a bit chill, but it grows in energy. It’s a nice dancing song at first, because it’s quite simple and calm, but it gets louder and more exciting. Break over. Party time.

ANOTHER Ellington, but this is one of my super faves. It has a chill start, but a snappy tempo, and what makes it really interesting and fun, is the combination of characteristically weird Ellington harmonies with a solid, chunking beat, all over an old school blues structure and blues vocals. It’s about as Ellington as Ellington can get. You can enjoy it for the stompy rhythm and salty lyrics, for the clever harmonies and almost-dissonance, or all of it combined.

Then I just went hardcore with ‘High-ho trailus bootwhip’, which is loud and fun and exciting. In my head, I was thinking ‘let’s strengthen that blues structure and element, and go further towards jump blues. But I didn’t say that. I was just thinking it.

That song is quite quick, but it feels EXCITING. So I pulled a standard DJing stunt, and built energy with that, then followed up with a solid party hit at an accessible tempo, with shouting and clapping. Something that would fill the floor after the faster song. Wynonie Harris is straight up party music.

Then I just felt like it was a party.
So Witherspoon.
Then I realised I hadn’t cued up a song :D So I fumbled, and pulled out the Elder Statesmen of Jazz, playing ‘C Jam Blues’.

Then back on party track with ‘Everyday I have the Blues’ from Breakfast Dance and Barbecue, the first Basie album I bought. It has a great story: held at about 3am, a party held by the American Disc Jockey’s Association, and everyone was drunk and tired. Then Basie’s band hit the stage, and it was PARTY TIME. Worth buying the CD for the liner notes!

And then the final song, a party version of Basie’s Atomic band playing ‘Hallelujah I love her so’. This is from a huge, multi-CD set, ‘Complete Live at the Crescendo 1958’, which you can listen to on youtube. Or buy for the liner notes.

WHAT a fun set. Lots of nice people talking and having fun. I love it.

What about solo jazz classes in Sydney?

It’s still very high risk, because:

  • we’re still very close to each other (we need a lot more space than other activities)
  • the puffing and huffing spreads more respiratory droplets than normal breathing
  • we spend more time indoors together (two risk factors)
  • you have to clean up the space before and after the class, which is a lot of work
  • you need to have staff to manage crowding and lines

…and so on. This is why the actual _class_ is high risk. All this, and then the business has to handle contact tracing and other covidsafe regulations. The teaching model that was happening before covid barely (if ever) managed to handle insurance and other safety stuff. This added layer of work is too much for most dance businesses.

But in addition, the businesses that ran classes before have all been devastated by the shutdowns. No support from the government means businesses have failed or had to close down. Teachers have had to look for other work. So the _businesses_ have had to pause.

There’s no money to fund class expenses: advertising, insurance, rent/room hire, etc etc. All dance classes take a financial risk on this stuff, and then if numbers aren’t solid, they make a loss. Solo jazz has always been a higher financial risk because it doesn’t attract as many students as lindy hop.
I’ve run a dance business, and taught for my own business and others. Including the first weekly solo jazz class in Australia (brag! brag!). At this stage the safety issues of covid are a big deterrent, but it’s all the other administrative issues that are the real killer. We don’t make much money from single classes; to make money you have to run a bunch of classes and/or big classes. That’s not going to happen during this moment.

But hold on. We need a vaccine, and we need 100% take up, before we start teaching classes safely.

Things you can do to get lindy hop happening again:

  • Hassle your local MP to get arts bailout packages for small businesses like dance schools;
  • Make sure you and your family and all your friends are ready to get vaccinated, and then get vaccinated. If you’ve got anti-vaxer friends, or an anti-vaxer yourself, you’re a big health risk for all of us;
  • Don’t spread misinformation about covid (because that leads to outbreaks which slows things down again);
  • Support teachers, DJs, and other dance professionals who are working online: always pay for classes (even if they don’t ask for money), share and recommend good classes and organisations, drop supportive notes to people who are doing this work;
  • Encourage support for local venues where people run classes: independent venues (like our beloved Ruby’s), bars where live jazz lived (because it’s another important part of the lindy hop ecosystem).

No. Don’t run your dance event.

Everybody knows that a big international lindy hop event is the definition of a perfect pandemic super-spreading event?

– You get a heap of people together from different regions
– They do a heap of exercise, and they generate lots of saliva and snot and then they rub it all over their faces and and hands…
– And then they touch a zillion different other people, and they touch a zillion more, and then you have eleventy zillion people covered in goobs
– Oh, and everyone is shouting and laughing and coughing and sneezing and blowing respiratory droplets everywhere, including all over nondancing audience
– Then there’s a band full of people on a raised platform, blowing respiratory droplets out of canons and all over the crowd and each other.

That’s pretty shitty, right. But it gets worse.

The virus has an incubation period of 1-14 days. That means:
– You could get the virus, leave your home, fly to the event, attend the week long event, and fly home. All before you showed symptoms.
– You could be contagious during this period. And not know it.
– Even if you only dance with 2 people the entire week, they may then go on to dance with 10 people and 20 people respectively. Who dance with anywhere from 2-50 people. And then they dance with 50 people… and so on.
– But you’re also coughing and touching elevator buttons and eating at the buffet breakfast.
– And you’re standing in line at registration. You’re toting about a bag and sweat towel and drink bottle. All covered in germs.
– All inside an air conditioned hotel with a closed air circulation.

Even if you think you’ll wash your hands and wear a mask, do you have the hygiene skills of an experienced surgeon who never makes mistakes and never gets fatigued?
No. You do not.

And that’s if only _one_ attendee is infected with the virus. Can you be sure that _all_ of the attendees are clear?

Even before we look at the health costs, what are the financial costs?
– Flights are far more expensive, and more likely to be cancelled with no notice. Can you handle a cancelled teacher at the last minute?
– What teacher would work at the event without a massive cancellation policy and huge pay rate? An idiot or a less-good teacher.
– Could your budget handle a smaller ticket sale?
– Insurance rates and policies have changed; are you properly insured?
– All staff will need additional hygiene and safety training. We can’t get organisers to do this to prevent rapes at events.
– You will need to provide masks and gloves, and know how to dispose of them all safely. And so will all your staff. If they’re prepared to take that risk.
– You won’t be able to use wristbands (because they need to be removed for proper hygiene), which means you’ll need a new rego system;
– You’ll have to clean all the class and workshops spaces to a much higher than usual level.

And what are the social costs?
– Your staff are going to be doing lots more work. And it’s stressful, skilled work.
– Your

….look, it’s not going to work. And it’s irresponsible to try.

Speculation:
We know that sexual harassment and assault tend to happen within a spectrum of exploitative behaviours. If we see an event where workers are routinely underpaid, overworked, asked to do things they don’t want to or that are unsafe, then we are likely to see sexual harassment as well.

So if we see a dance even being run at the current moment, then can we assume that an event taking risks with the virus is also risking the safety of workers and attendees in other ways? ie are they ok with hiring sexual offenders and with putting attendees and workers in positions where sexual harassment and assault happen?

Black music, white bands: Racist discourse in lindy hop institutions

Eric Heveron-Smith
fb post 25 June at 05:47

A question was posed on a Facebook group called Swingopedia, and I have decided to finally voice my answer. Hey, it’s quarantine, I don’t have any gigs to lose right now…

“I’ve noticed that music trends in the global swing dance community have changed, since I started in 1995.
I’ve heard a mix of Big Band, RnB, Groove, Soul, Hip Hop, lounge/elevator jazz in early 2000s, Gypsy Swing, Ragtime etc. I’ve even heard Madonna!
What do you believe constitutes swing music and what style of music should we be swing dancing to?
Also should musicians only play recreations of original classics by Basie etc or should they be creating their own music?”

I got a lot of opinions about this. I’m a bass player, trombonist, and singer. I’ve been playing the Lindy Hop scene since 2004, with Solomon Douglas, Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble, and basically anyone else you can think of. I co-founded Moonshine Rhythm Club. As much as I love playing with all the musicians in this scene, my opinion and my approach to music definitely diverges from a lot of them. And I think it also addresses the lack of a serious Black presence in lindy hop.

Here’s what I think:
The way we approach this music, AND this dance, is not at all in the spirit of those who created it.

Let me unpack that just a little bit. Back in the day, musicians were inventing new music that they dug, and that made people want to move their bodies. So they drew big crowds of people who invented new ways to move their bodies to it. That’s it. Does it feel good? Does it make you want to move your body? Then move your body. How? I dunno, let’s make something up together. Does it sound good? Is it fun? If not, whoops, nobody showed up to your gig.

Today, we have a historical dance taught with a preservationist mindset, and we play historic music with a preservationist mindset, or we almost reverse-engineer what music needs to be played so that we can dance this specific dance to it.

We are starting to see more new, original swing music, and I love that. But it still falls within pretty strict guidelines. We are also starting to see more swing audiences actually caring about the music itself, not just as a utilitarian function to dance to; I would definitely credit Michael and Jonathan and the Lindy Focus community for encouraging that, and I think the transcription projects have been a big part of that. It’s been really cool playing at Lindy Focus the past few years and seeing crowds of people standing by the stage just DIGGING the music.

But when you think about what was happening in the 30s and 40s with music and dance, it was a popular movement, and an organic thing. You wanna know what happened to Black musicians and audiences? They didn’t stop playing music, and they didn’t stop dancing. They created new genres, and they created new ways to dance to them. Every single decade up to the present. How can you expect to attract Black musicians and dancers to a scene that is frozen in time?

So ok, what am I proposing instead? I don’t have all the answers, for sure. And yes, I am still a musician that loves playing vintage jazz, and loves playing for dancers. But I look at musicians like Kansas Smitty’s, Bria Skonberg, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Gunhild Carling, and so many others that play amazing, badass, swinging, move-your-body music, and who aren’t even CLOSE to cutting-edge far-out modern jazz, and I hear crickets from the lindy hop community.

Here is my point. There is SO much music out there that swings. Modern stuff. Stuff that feels really good, deep in your body, and makes you want to move and groove. And because it doesn’t fit the specific historical constraints of the dance that this community commodifies and REPLICATES, lindy hoppers want nothing to do with it.

Like, how can you ask the question “what constitutes swing music” or “what style of music SHOULD we be dancing to,” and then turn around and act bewildered that you don’t have more BIPOC in the scene??

I envision a world where the historical preservation of swing music and dance can meet the modern world, where there are all kinds of dances being done to all kinds of killer music. You don’t have to drop the preservation stuff, you SHOULDN’T stop studying and presenting and talking about the history of jazz and swing and lindy hop. But what you have done is put walls around this whole situation, and it keeps you in, and it keeps a whole lot of other people out. It’s religion, in the restrictive sense of the word. And if you ever manage to notice how many badass vintage jazz musicians don’t bother with the swing dance scene anymore, it’s because they don’t fit. They got too big for the walls.

Personally, I would love to be able to continue playing swing music for lindy hoppers. But I can’t tell you how many frustrating gigs I’ve had where either the audience barely noticed there were real musicians on stage, or I was playing with really poor musicians, but nobody really cared because they fit the constraints of the dance. I think my favorite gigs are where some people are dancing (whether it is a dance or not, because they feel it in their bodies), and some people are listening (because they actually hear and enjoy the music), and I can stretch out with my fellow musicians beyond the artificial, misinformed, dance-centric constraints of “around 3 minutes song length, not too fast, not too slow.”

Oh yeah, I thought I was wrapping up, but that’s another thing I gotta address. Not every song has to be danceable for every person. That’s another aspect of the utilitarianism of music in the dance community. You think that because all we have are 3-minute songs from the swing era that that was what musicians did live. I can’t possibly believe that’s true. Not gonna go too deep down that rabbit hole, but here’s something to think about: as soon as the long-playing record was invented, Duke Ellington released a 12-minute version of Mood Indigo, and it is glorious. My favorite version of that song ever. SO swinging, so beautiful, makes me want to move, makes me want to play.

Jazz is a living art form. It’s an improvisational art form. The very best times I’ve had playing jazz with people, we’ve found our way to the special spark, the moments that make people look up and shout, the moments that inspire dance. If I’m hired to perform a utilitarian function for your specific dance style, and I’m fired when I go outside the specific constraints, you’re not gonna get my best. You’re not gonna get the magic, the spark. You are missing out. (I have a couple dancer friends in Rochester who figured this out years ago, and started going to the international jazz fest there and checking out all sorts of amazing music. They GET it.)

Music and dance have been co-created since humans have existed. In my opinion, the lindy hop community is creating neither one right now. I don’t think it has to stay that way; but you’ve gotta tear down the walls, if you want it to change.

(Disclaimers. 1. Even though I’m speaking somewhat harshly about the scene, I still love parts of it, and I love a lot of the people in it, and when I play at Lindy Focus and walk around those hallways, I’m proud and glad to be part of it. 2. I’m talking about some historical stuff in here, but I am far from a swing historian. Michael Gamble, Jonathan Stout, Jon Tigert, and a bunch of other musicians and dancers probably know quite a bit more than me about the specific history of the music and dance. The depth of my musicianship is what makes me feel like I have something to offer with this commentary.)

I have problems with the American-centredness of this post. He is generalising from what he sees in the US (at huge events) to the entire world. And it just doesn’t hold up. I’d argue that the ‘mega-event’ is a very different animal (and product) to smaller events that focus on a regional audience, or even hyper-local audience. The usual issues apply to a huge event: you need to entertain trillions of people, you have to appeal to the widest audience (rather than niche audiences), you have a lot of money at risk, you need to do quality control. You and and should (perhaps) use this big budget opportunity to do more big band gigs. The events he’s talking about are largely in the US, and these are unlike things you see in other countries (with the exception of Camp Swing It, which is MASSIVE). So you end up with a relatively homogenous, palatable menu of music and dance held in a boring big hotel, isolated from the local host community.

Because he’s generalising from big US events, he ignores all the smaller, more interesting events. There’s no Upside Down here. No Rhythm Korea. No Jazz BANG. He also conveniently ignores the work being done by Black event producers. Teena Morales, anyone? She’s been running the biggest events in the US for years. And she runs the Houston Jazz Dance Festival, which has all-Black musicians and teachers, and is firmly positioned within the modern Black community’s culture.
He says:

“But when you think about what was happening in the 30s and 40s with music and dance, it was a popular movement, and an organic thing. You wanna know what happened to Black musicians and audiences? They didn’t stop playing music, and they didn’t stop dancing. They created new genres, and they created new ways to dance to them. Every single decade up to the present. How can you expect to attract Black musicians and dancers to a scene that is frozen in time?”

Well, they’re at Teena Morales’ event, doing dances that actually relate to them, with people who make them feel welcome. But let me address this issue: how to attract Black dancers to lindy hop. I’m guessing he means the US? This issue is a lot like the issue of attracting people of colour to other institutions. It won’t work if you don’t deconstruct or analyse whiteness itself:

As result of the invisibility of whiteness, diversity initiatives are often about including diverse bodies into the mainstream without critically examining what that mainstream is” (source: Diversity Means Disruption ; I speak more about this here: A Lot of White People Will Be Uncomfortable).

And if we’re going to deconstruct whiteness, we also need to deconstruct patriarchy, because white supremacy is built on the dominance of heterosexual masculinity.

If I follow that thinking, to truly change the nature of jazz and music in the lindy hop world, do we need to kill off the mega-event?

Here’s the thing. Covid19 has already done this. This is another thing that I see missing from so much of the online talk about lindy hop culture: this moment of change/crisis is the result of a global pandemic. Push has come to shove. BUT, white people have the time and energy to dig into ‘racism’ because they are in iso, or because their usual lives have been disrupted. Black people and marginalised people are busy trying not to die, whether they’re killed by disease, an dangerous ‘healthcare’ system, or the police.

So why does this white male musician assume that things will go on as they did before? They’re not going to. The world has changed irrevocably. The mega-event is not coming back any time in the next few years. That means the the existing market/audience for the mega-event will have disappeared (we know the lindy hop ‘generation’ is only about 5 years long). We also know that all the necessary infrastructure for a mega-event will also have disappeared: international airlines have folded; the arts are in disarray, from sound engineers to restaurants; international guests will not be visiting the US with its unchecked covid. It would also be horrifically selfish for dancers to attend a mega-event… lindy hop = superspreader.

So I think the question has to be,
What will jazz music and jazz dance look like in a covid19 world?
At first I was all ‘no one wants jazz dance during a plague’ and then I remembered that people really want music and dance during hard times. Who gets to dance will be the issue.

My government has taken advantage of the virus to introduce frightening laws, and expand awful powers. The same company that runs our offshore-detention camps for refugees is in charge of the quarantine hotels. Poor, refugee, and migrant people have been detained in housing commission towers for fear of covid spread. The federal police have expanded search and detain powers. … and so on.
The people who are suffering most from this are the Black members of our community.
I haven’t quite gotten there in the thinking, but I think that it’s obscene to consider running a mega-event in this climate. I mean, I have huge, massive ethical problems with fundraising for white people to transcribe Black recordings so white people can play them for white audiences in THIS moment. It’s a great promotional gig, but how does it fight white supremacy?

So if we can’t do mega-events, what do we do?
The same thing marginalised events and dance communities have already been doing: smaller scale events that cater to the local community’s needs and interests. And by local community, I mean the musicians, sound engineers, DJs, dancers, teachers, performers of a particular city. There’s no budget to fly in the same old crew of white men. So we get local. And that, as with governments*, means we have a more diverse body.

We subsidise local dancers on lower incomes with volunteer spots. We see a more sustainable labour model generally. And we see greater diversity in event types and event staff and attendance. The thing about smaller events, is that they often don’t enforce those rules about what bands should play. For all sorts of reasons. But you’ll get the odd funk number, you’ll get 10 minute songs, and you’ll get a range of tempos. Because the organisers don’t have the ‘knowledge’ to control the music like that. And they don’t particularly prioritise that issue – they’re trying to find the light switch or get the key for the late night party.

I think that this ‘definition’ of ‘good music’ is a matter of power and privilege, not objective value or ‘truth’. As the OP says, insisting on ‘good songs for dancing’ gives us a boring menu, and promotes a conservative palate. This in turn gives us boring dancing. None of those sparks of real creativity and emotion.

I think that DJing plays a big part in this. The lack of diversity in the highest profile DJing ranks is a direct result of some serious gate keeping: DJs are selected for their social skills (do they network like a white man?), their availability (do they have the money and time to drop everything for a weekend gig? Or do they have kids and family to care for?), and then, finally, their music taste (how do they talk about songs – loudly in a crowd, or with a quietly brilliant set at 11pm?). This type of musician hierarchy and power structure marginalises anyone who’s not a straight white guy.

If we want to see more diversity in the songs being played by musicians, we need more diversity in the cohort of musicians.
Which means WHITE MEN NEED TO STOP RAPING AND HARASSING EVERYONE ELSE.
And
WHITE MEN NEED TO STOP _EACH OTHER_ DOING THIS SHIT.

* Local governments have more women, poc, and other marginalised groups represented. As we move up tiers of government (state, federal, commonwealth, etc), we see diversity disappear and white patriarchy at work.

….RE sexual assault in the jazz music scene:
That’s my next job. I was starting work on it before covid, by deliberately setting up gigs and sessions that promote women musicians (ie sessions that are safe workplaces). But it’s been derailed. I figure we can use the methods we’ve developed in the dance world to tackle the music world.
One of the things we’ve found in Sydney, is that if we address sexual harassment and assault, we get a safer, more diverse scene generally. More people of colour, more queer folk, more trans folk, more kids.
This why this OP musician needs to address his own power as a white man in America. He is one of the obstacles we need to deconstruct.

Michael Gamble
fb comment on above post
25 June at 10:30

Hey friend, we have talked about this a bunch, and I know we have a lot of common ground, so i feel comfy talking about this “publicly” with you. I also wanna say I appreciate that going out on a limb can be stressful, and I respect you getting into it regardless.
That being said, I think you’re coming at this from a strange angle, one that on the surface looks extremely relatable (I see a “successful” post/video/blog/etc on this topic about once a month for, I dunno, the past 15 years or so) but to me totally falls apart when you zoom in. My issue is that the thing you’re critiquing isn’t some firm opinion that anyone holds, it’s just the emergent properties of a bunch of different people’s subjective taste. And I’m pretty sure you’re ok with it on the micro level, you just don’t like the overall effect, yeah?
Like, I play music in a style I like. To you it’s narrow, but for me it’s actually a wild experiment in combining elements of different swing era rhythm sections with elements of early new orleans & chicago looser collective improv, moving familiar riffs to new contexts, and yes, paying homage to inspiring classic (but never heard live by current audiences) recordings. There’s a ton of room to play there for those of us that are deeply in love with the performers, arrangers, and composers of that era, and importantly, the current dancers, instructors, and organizers are also deeply educated fans of a wide range of old styles, and enjoy playing in that space – that’s why they hire these bands. (They’ve been geeking out on these rare recordings that they and their friends uncovered over the course of years of musical archeology, and look!-> someone’s playing that live?? Hell yeah I’m gonna hire them, that’s a dream come true!!) And unless I read you wrong, you probably think that’s cool, you just wish that wasn’t ALL there is, or something?
Here’s where I point out that there are a million other places to play music, to dance, and to explore like, every iteration of every art under the sun. The WCS scene has much more modern taste. The Blues scene, and especially the Fusion scene know how to break the mold and push boundaries. (also, there was a generation of Bebop dancers at the Savoy, and there is a push within the modern lindy movement to explore that.. which I think is great. Just FYI!) Do you know about those? The swing scene isn’t this philosophy-driven “preservation movement” in the way you’re making it out to be; it’s a loose collective of folks that happen to have a lot of taste in common. That’s…it. Trying to say their taste should be different is just… weird to me.
Like, there’s nothing stopping anyone from experimenting with other flavors like those scenes do, or like another theoretical new scene could do. There are plenty of folks that don’t dig Ella Fitzgerald & Chick Webb, Billie Holiday & Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rushing & Count Basie. I wouldn’t wanna live in a world where what we’re doing is the only thing.. and it’s not!
I think that’s my other issue with this type of takedown —> do you realize how small the modern swing scene is? Like, compared to virtually any other hobby or “art scene”? It’s a niche within a niche within a niche. We are people who love what, in our evaluation, is actually a very broad range of dance and music forms that one could spend many lifetimes studying and never master. We’ve carved out a little space to do our thing. And still people feel the need to tell us to stop. All. The. Time.
Last thing: I see “this” being the thing that’s blamed for lack of blackness in our scene very casually, on a regular basis. Y’all, the causes of that are soooo much worse than this one singular artistic impetus. Our scene alienates black folks in basically every way that appears on the racism bingo card. Don’t make vintage music the scapegoat for this. Our scene has historically welcomed and elevated racist individuals and ideas for as long as I can remember, to our shame. Also, though it is somewhat rarer (remember: niche within a niche within a niche), there are a lot of great black musicians that play great swing and early jazz. Mostly we honestly just can’t afford them. (yet) And yes, also the overall whiteness of our scene makes it a less attractive place to seek work, which makes sense. THAT is something we can change. I can’t even remotely pretend to speak for any black person in this, but I think at the very least you are making a ton of assumptions about what’s causing what, and there’s a lot more going on.
(and here’s my social media caveat – my life is nuts right now and I totally don’t have time for an extended FB debate, AKA what the hell am I doing?? Regardless, I do love you, Eric Heveron-Smith!)

I’d add this as an example of Michael’s missing some of the political point:
“My issue is that the thing you’re critiquing isn’t some firm opinion that anyone holds, it’s just the emergent properties of a bunch of different people’s subjective taste.”

There’s a chunk of literature about how ‘individual taste’ isn’t about individual subjective choice, but about cultural forces. So while these aesthetics might seem ‘subjective choices’ from the inside, they’re clearly part of broader patterns and structures of patriarchy and white hegemony. As soon as we see patterns, we can look for the forces that are invisible to the dominant group because they are so ‘normalised’.
ie we have normalised the idea that a bunch of white people playing Black music at an event promoted as ‘preserving the past’ is a good thing. We haven’t engaged with the idea that white people are gaining cultural power from this work, that modern Black musicians are marginalised, and that only seeing white people on stage supports the myth that Black people don’t like jazz or do it well.

This is another difficult bit for me:
“There’s a ton of room to play there for those of us that are deeply in love with the performers, arrangers, and composers of that era, and importantly, the current dancers, instructors, and organizers are also deeply educated fans of a wide range of old styles, and enjoy playing in that space – that’s why they hire these bands. (They’ve been geeking out on these rare recordings that they and their friends uncovered over the course of years of musical archeology, and look! someone’s playing that live?? Hell yeah I’m gonna hire them, that’s a dream come true!!)”

My feminist brain is saying “Who is ‘those of us’? And ‘their friends?’?”
Who is running these large events?
Who is managing the music?
It’s mostly white people, and mostly white men.

My follow up question would be, “If white men are doing the music stuff, what jobs do women do on these events?” and “What jobs to people of colour do on these events?” Are they handling the low-profile stuff like catering or volunteer management or budgets? Events like Focus spend a lot of time convincing people that music is the most important part of an event. The jobs men do. When punters might say, “Actually, the person who met me at registration and made me feel welcome was the most important person I met this weekend.”
The dominant discourse of modern lindy hop prioritises and values the work that white men do most highly.

Here’s another issue:
“The swing scene isn’t this philosophy-driven “preservation movement” in the way you’re making it out to be; it’s a loose collective of folks that happen to have a lot of taste in common. That’s…it. Trying to say their taste should be different is just… weird to me.”

This is a misleading premise.
This isn’t how ideology works. If it’s a fascist state, it might. But hegemony in the modern capitalist patriarchy works in a different way. We don’t have a scene spokesman standing at a mic declaiming, “We will only enjoy bands from 1935-1945. We will only dance to bands from the US.”
…wait. :D

But hegemony is more subtle. We get this message that ‘preservation is prime’ from a whole heap of sources and texts:

  • The only bands that get hired at mega-events are preservationist bands led and staffed by white men. Each of those independent messages tells me that big organisers don’t value the work of women or people of colour. It also suggests, implicitly, that the only _valuable_ or ‘good’ musicians are white men.
  • The only DJs who play those mega-events are white. And often white men (those the latter is changing, I’d argue that most of those white women DJs (myself included) are people who engage with dance in a particular way: assertive, relatively ambitiously, etc -> characteristics usually ascribed to hetero white men).

…and so on.

I’m interested in how this works in places like Seoul. There we see white bands flown into the country for big gigs. And they’re the same bands we see at American mega-events. But we also see local gendered and ethnicised relationships of power at work. Interestingly, Sage Minn’s band, one of the very few in Seoul, has women members. I wonder if it’s because they’re playing western music, Korean mores and values don’t apply in the same way? I actually saw a fab conference paper about pop culture in Seoul a few years ago that discusses this.

“Like, there’s nothing stopping anyone from experimenting with other flavors like those scenes do, or like another theoretical new scene could do. There are plenty of folks that don’t dig Ella Fitzgerald; Chick Webb, Billie Holiday; Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rushing; Count Basie. I wouldn’t wanna live in a world where what we’re doing is the only thing.. and it’s not!”
…so you can do all that other stuff, just not here?

“I think that’s my other issue with this type of takedown —”
This is where this post gets a bit defensive. The original post was actually really gentle (I thought). But you know that saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
If you’re used to adulation, a little light supposition feels like a take down.

“Last thing: I see “this” being the thing that’s blamed for lack of blackness in our scene very casually, on a regular basis. Y’all, the causes of that are soooo much worse than this one singular artistic impetus.”
This is a deeply problematic comment. I’ve seen this quite a lot in white discussions about racism (I actually did a Masters on it). If we only define racism as white cops killing Black kids, or KKK lynching Black men, then anything ‘less’ can be positioned as ‘not-racism’.
But we know that racist discourse is far more complex. All those white DJs and white bands and white MCs? That’s racism.

Here’s an example:
“there are a lot of great black musicians that play great swing and early jazz. Mostly we honestly just can’t afford them.”
This is racism.
In this sentence he is literally saying that he/we** do not value Black musicians enough to pay them what they’re worth.

It’s racism because of what is not said, and because of the implicit valuing of ‘historic’ Black work, and devaluing of contemporary Black work. We’ll only raise a zillion dollars to fund the transcription of work by dead Black men; we won’t shell out some of that money to pay living Black men and women a living wage.

More importantly, this statement presented with no facts or evidence, will become a ‘truth’ repeated all over the scene. It will become what we describe in cultural studies as a ‘myth’: a valuative statement that is repeated so often it becomes a ‘fact’ with huge, powerful status.
The effect of this type of cultural myth is that other events and organisers won’t book Black bands or artists because ‘they’re too expensive’. And the myth will grow.

But why. Why is a Black musician more expensive? Does he mean that he’ll only hire a brilliant Black musician, but won’t hire a less awesome Black musician, and is quite ok hiring mediocre white men musicians?

I can’t continue down this reasoning: mediocre white men. Oh to have your confidence and power.
**The way he elides ‘we’ and ‘I’ is telling – he positions himself with an important ‘many’/majority, rather than taking responsibility for his own choices. This establishes his position as part of a powerful ‘many’.

“and here’s my social media caveat – my life is nuts right now and I totally don’t have time for an extended FB debate, AKA what the hell am I doing??”
While I have sympathy for him, I’d like to remind the white world that Black Americans have been fighting like demons while their society rapes and murders them with official sanction. Women work on sexual harassment and assault issues while they are being harassed every day.
This is why we call it disruption: it disrupts the status quo. And if you’re a white man, it’s often the first time you’ve had to do this work while also managing your daily dramas.

As a final note, I’m gonna quote Audre Lorde:

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change (source: Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

In this context, I mean that accepting the premise of the original post is misleading. Following the instructions of a powerful white man will not help us deconstruct racism. We need to do something completely different.

I’m going to direct you to this post.
Diversity Means Disruption.

Why hire First Nations people into your mostly white structure and expect/want/demand everything to remain basically the same?
… diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives … are often shallow exercises as they are seldom created to challenge and disrupt whiteness within and outside the sector. We cannot change institutional racism without first changing institutions and without disruption, nothing will change.

Covid19 provides an opportunity for this disruption. Or does it? In the US and here in Australia, people of colour are disproportionately affected by the virus and its effects. They’re too busy fighting racism to think about jazz. Here is a really clever twitter thread, where the writer Abu Owaisi connects up the Victorian government’s locking 9 housing commission towers, the SES removing donated goods, white journalists’ influential commentary, and the devaluing of work by migrant community groups.

So, allies, time to dismantle the master’s house. Let’s do something completely new.

How to be ‘public’ dancers in a covid19 world

I think you all know that I took a break from teaching and running classes last year in about June, before I went away for a long trip. I found it gave me a real break, and I liked it. Though I truly missed the actual teaching part, I didn’t and don’t miss the everyday pressure of management and promotion.

I pivoted a bit, and put more energy into DJing, running live band gigs and weekend events, and I got a bit more into pattern drafting (completely non-dancing related creative fun). And then I started doing 3 days a week of dance practice with a partner, and I was much happier. It’s been many years since I just did dance stuff for my own pleasure and satisfaction. More, please.

This week I’m actually beginning to feel like being creative in a dance-related way. I was really inspired by the little bit of the WHO fundraiser I saw. It was so nice to see people in my timezone and region (Asia) doing normal dance stuff (Vietnam were social dancing), and to hear and see Sing talking about dance <3 And it was lovely to be an audience and listen to friends DJ. I liked it because it was a new thing for me. When I stopped running the classes, I feel a disconnect a few other dance friends have expressed lately. What should I write in email newsletters? Who was I talking to? What did I have to say? I felt like my personal voice was subsumed by the 'voice of the business', and I was uncomfortable with that. So now I'm working on 'stuff I love' and 'stuff I want to do‘.

I’ve been thinking that small events and projects are going to come first in the post-COVID and living-with-COVID world, for safety’s sake. And that a smaller, local focus will perhaps be much more fulfilling and personally stimulating than huge-market stuff. Whether it’s a small class, or a small party where people just socialise in a normal human way, with talking and food and drink and music and dancing, rather than the strange modern lindy hop way, which is nothing but dance.

This hard reset could be a good thing for all of us. As Jon Tigert says in a fb discussion, “Im much more fulfilled by local interactions,” and perhaps this could be a much better, healthier and sustainable direction for lindy hop. Small scale, fulfilling participation in local culture, that can focus on equity and justice and joy and satisfaction on a smaller, more sustainable scale. Rather than thinking ‘I have to spread and preserve lindy hop’, we can think ‘I want and need to have meaningful social interactions because we could go back into iso any time, and I know I miss this real human contact. It’s what feeds my heart.’

And our ‘marketing’ could take that angle: real social interactions that help us get through hard times.

I’d like to see the Australian Ballet do THIS

Dance people! Argh! You’re home, you can’t dance or see your mates, you are going nuts. What can you do?

If only we had a pool of highly motivated, experienced volunteers and managerial types with time on their hands. If only we had an extensive network of local, national, and international people who liked doing community stuff. If only we had fb groups and email lists and instagram accounts! IF ONLY.

Wait. We DO.
The international lindy hop community is fully sick on the whole organisation thing.

Need a group of tired and confused people sorted into groups quickly and efficiently? Have I got the class-levels-audition judge or competitor marshall for YOU.

Need someone who can organise food and beds for hundreds of people? Have I got the housing coordinator or catering team for YOU.

Need someone who can balance a tight budget, weedle cash out of reluctant individuals, or write a shit-hot grant application? I have the event organisers for YOU.

I haven’t had a chance to think about this properly, yet, but I do know there are a lot of worried, disheartened people in my immediate community looking for something to _do_ to help. Why not put your big brains to work?

Here are a couple of things I’ve come up with:

Hassle our MPs:
– If the dole (newstart, pension, etc) is increased to a liveable wage, we’ll all be better off when we lose a lot more jobs. People with an income spend money, and that means they feed money into the economy. Which is good for all of us, not just those of us who sell bread or run restaurants.

-> So we want to hassle our members of parliament about this. Write letters. Send emails. Get tapping, folk.

Support our local charities:
– Local charities like The Exodus Foundation and Addison Road Community Centre have had a huge increase of people coming in for help in the past month. They need food, basic health stuff (TP, pads, etc), and they need volunteers.
– Lots of us are going to be needing these services soon.

-> So we need to take our extra groceries down there in person. This will give us a chance to scope out the place, and get familiar. Which will make it easier to…
-> Volunteer at places like Exodus or Addison Road. They always need people to do jobs like making food, cleaning up, driving cars, washing things, and so on.

It kind of sucks at the moment, but things will probably get worse. BUT there are things we can do. And the international dance community is kind of crazily competent. I mean, we operate huge cultural events with virtually no government funding. I’d like to see the Australian Ballet pull off the shit _we’re_ capable of!