I hope you had a great New Year’s Eve – I spent mine sitting by the fire reading a murder mystery, with my dog curled up at the other end of the couch. Then I rang in a new year of DJing with a night at the Jam Cellar, one of my favorites scene to visit when I’m on the East Coast.
The Jam Cellar is a Lindy Hop dance scene on Tuesday nights in the Josephine Butler Parks Center, a beautiful historic mansion across the street from Meridian Park in Washington, D.C. It’s in the U Street district, which is really cool because in the 1930s and 40s U Street had a lot of jazz piano bars where Duke Ellington and other well-loved swing musicians were frequent guests. Today, the U Street district still holds a lot of African-American culture and history, including an apartment complex called the Ellington. Be sure to drop by if you have the chance!
I shared the evening with my co-DJ Suzanne, known to DC regulars as DJ Suzy Q. We traded mini-sets of five songs back and forth all evening, and I loved hearing her stuff – she has a great ear for swing music, and played Gordon Webster’s rendition of “Lavender Coffin,” which I thought would be boring, and then I fell in love with it.
The above image represents four sets of five songs each. Suzanne took the first set, so I started in around 9:30pm with Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket,” which previously I had only known from the Boilermaker Jazz Band. I love their punchy, faster version, but I also love the sweetness and slower feeling of Ella’s version, so that’s what I chose here. To help out the beginners, I also put on Van Alexander’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” which is a slinky, vibes-infused rendition of a favorite tune. It’s a quieter piece, and I noticed that in the Jam Cellar’s big and oddly shaped room (it’s shaped like a backwards letter L), it was a bit difficult to hear, especially during the bass solo midway through. I also tried out “Slightly Frankie” by the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-women jazz orchestra from the 1930s, and it went over really well!
My second set, numbers 6-10, again started with a favorite Ella tune of mine, “Clap Yo’ Hands,” which really picked up the room. I featured the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s song “Bolero at the Savoy,” which is new to my collection from their album Pass the Bounce. And I had Helen Humes’ “Exactly Like You,” my favorite version of that song – it was quite the night for favorites!
In my third set, numbers 11-15, I had a brief moment of panic when I put on Ella Fitzgerald’s “Them There Eyes” and realized it was five minutes long at 172 BPM – I had my DJ software arranged so that I couldn’t see the time of the song in my “Now Playing” panel. I fixed that right away, so I’ll never do that again! I do like “Them There Eyes” – I may have to edit it to make it a more accessible length, but it made a nice setup for Sarah Vaughan’s “If I Were A Bell,” which is a lovely tune and, at 122 BPM, it got a pleasant response once everyone was all tired out.
In my last set, numbers 16-20, I slowed things down a bit with Cootie Williams’ “Block Rock,” a funky tune that I love playing for beginners. Peter Liu’s rendition of “The Frim Fram Sauce” shares that kind of funky vibe, and wanting to finish strong since it was the last song of the night, I chose Ella Fitzgerald’s “Hallelujah I Love Him So” – another one of my favorite Ella tunes. (What can I say? Ella’s a queen and all of her songs are my favorite.)
Michael Quisao, the Jam Cellar’s DJ coordinator who graciously found space for me on short notice, brought us this awesome cone!
Thanks to everyone at the Jam Cellar who danced to my tunes! I look forward to DJing for you all again the next time I’m in town!