I found a fantastic album on iTunes recently, Van Alexander’s The Home of Happy Feet, released in 2012, and I want to talk about a few of the songs on it. As mentioned in my previous post, Soulacious Mr. Ben turned me onto Van Alexander when he featured “Let’s Get Together,” the first track on this album, on Mr. Ben’s Songs of the Week.
Van Alexander was born in Harlem in 1915 – what a time to be alive, am I right? – and learned classical piano from his mother before he started getting into band leading and arranging in high school. (Reminds me of me – my father, a professional pianist, taught me to play at a young age, and then I betrayed him by becoming a swing dancer instead.) I love all the music on this album for its passionate, punchy sound, and the arrangements are super tight, as one would expect when a band’s arranger is also its leader.
“Let’s Get Together” is a great tune from Van Alexander and His Orchestra that clocks in at about 188 BPM. It alternates between an infectious chorus melody and super fun solos. One of my favorite parts is the trumpet solos at about 0:55 and again around 1:30 – they have a marching feel, but the band maintains splashes of the original chorus behind them, so they feel tied in with the rest of the piece. Overall, this song lends itself well to fast Lindy or slow balboa, and I’m definitely putting it on my reference list of songs for competition finals!
“Stompin’ At the Savoy” is another gem from The Home of Happy Feet. Rather than the feverish tone that renditions of this popular tune usually strike, it has a very chill feeling, almost zen, with some phenomenal usage of what I think must be a xylophone. It’s a great introduction to “Stompin’ At the Savoy” for beginners, with a very friendly tempo of 124 BPM.
Not many people know that Van Alexander created the original arrangement of “A-Tiskey A-Tasket” that Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald made famous. Here is his own orchestra doing an instrumental version that features a sweet minor modulation around 1:20. I love the opening – it really just makes you want to move your feet.
I absolutely love this song – I think it might be my favorite on The Home of Happy Feet. “Blue Rhythm Be-Bop” comes from a smaller group, Van Alexander’s Blue Rhythm Band, and it has a bright, poppy melody that makes me want to hit the floor as soon as I hear it. At 162 BPM, it’s fast enough to keep the floor hopping but not so fast it wears people out, and the trumpet and clarinet solos strike a phenomenal balance between gentle and totally crazy. To top all that off, around 1:45 it has some stops that just MAKE it for me. It tics all my boxes for a great swing song, and I guarantee you’ll be seeing it around the blog quite a bit in the new year!
A fun bit of news before I let you go – I will be DJing at the Jam Cellar on Tuesday, January 9! If you’re in the DC area, I would love to see you there!
Happy holidays to all, and Merry Christmas!