The year of 300 songs

I recently invested in an upgraded laptop, and in the process of transferring my DJ library, I trimmed it down to the songs that I really like to play.

Looking through my newly pared-down library, I noticed that I tend to stick with certain artists that I know I like, and I want to expand my musical comfort zone. This year I am setting myself the challenge of adding 300 new songs to my DJ library!

While I often consult jazz-on-line.com for free music, I am privileged to be able to buy music from iTunes when I want a particular version of a song, and to buy modern music from Bandcamp or directly from artists at events to put more proceeds towards supporting their music.

My plan for collecting music this year is to spend more time listening to swing jazz on Spotify while I’m at work – I spent the last three or four months slowly acclimating my colleagues to music in the lab, so I don’t have to wear my DJ headphones all day. They have great sound quality, but the huge ear cushions can hurt my ears after a few hours. I’ll collect songs I like into a Spotify playlist, and then hunt down or purchase 5-7 songs from that playlist every weekend.

The artists I want to explore more this year include Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington, LaVern Baker, Cootie Williams, Mildred Bailey, and Jimmie Lunceford. Watch for them in my sets!

Album review: I Love The Rhythm In A Riff by the Boilermaker Jazz Band

I Love the Rhythm in a Riff

The Boilermaker Jazz Band recently released their newest album, I Love The Rhythm In A Riff, to celebrate 30 years together as a band! Can you believe it? I can’t. Paul Cosentino, the band’s tenor and alto saxophonist, clarinetist, and bandleader, offered to send a copy of the new album to any swing DJ who told him they wanted one, and I couldn’t write my email fast enough!

Paul Cosentino explains the album’s dual theme in the liner notes:

During the wonderful but all too short time known as the Swing Era, band leaders, jazz musicians, and singers were superstars…All of the bands had a book of great tunes for people to dance and listen to. Often filling the book was a collection of catchy riffs – songs with snippets of repeated melody that get stuck in your head and are great vehicles for jazz improvisation. Another requirement was wonderful vocal numbers – usually about love…This recording brings to life those two seminal categories of swing music.

The album overall has a bright, energetic feel, with a number of songs fast enough for balboa and competition-level Lindy Hop. Special guest Gordon Webster joined the usual suspects in the studio, and his piano solos shine on every track. I’ll go through the songs individually and note what I like about each.

920 Special, 4:13, 190 BPM

This cover of the popular jazz standard “9:20 Special” has marvelous solos from several band members, including Tony DePaolis on bass and guest Gordon Webster on piano. It chugs along just like the train it’s named after!

They Say It’s Wonderful, 4:26, 130 BPM

Paul Cosentino leads the way with vocals on this sweet track. Its gentle movement is accessible for beginners, but there’s some expressive piano in there from Gordon Webster for more advanced dancers to play with.

Squatty Roo, 3:59, 204 BPM

I love every version of this Johnny Hodges tune I’ve ever heard, and this one is no exception! The melody is just so bright and engaging – it was hard not to get up and dance when this came through my headphones. Gordon Webster does some mindblowing solo work on this track – especially admirable at this tempo.

I Had The Craziest Dream, 4:09, 108 BPM

This song feels like walking through a garden in the sunshine on a day when you have nothing else to do. It’s very slow, and that only adds to its loveliness – Jennifer McNulty on vocals doesn’t hurt, either.

Esquire Bounce, 3:47, 180 BPM

This happy little riff has a more intimate feel than the cover recently released by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra on their own album, Pass the Bounce, since it opens with just Paul Cosentino and Jeff Bush leading on saxophone and trombone (as opposed to the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s, well, orchestra).

Sweet and Slow, 4:10, 101 BPM

Normally, I’d rather dance to something faster – but if anyone could change my mind, it would be the Boilermaker Jazz Band. Artful piano notes from Gordon Webster sparkle over a rumbly rhythm, held down by Tony DePaolis on bass and vocals, and Thomas Wendt on drums.

Oh! Look At Me Now, 4:39, 124 BPM

Jennifer McNulty and Paul Cosentino share the mic on this tune, made famous by Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra, according to the album liner. I enjoy Jeff Bush’s trombone solo, as well as the smooth and easy pace.

Main Stem, 4:20, 192 BPM

This Duke Ellington instrumental features a driving beat, helped along by Paul Cosentino nailing his saxophone solos, and develops into a foot-tapping swinger by the end. I’d love to DJ this song for balboa!

Any Old Time, 3:15, 126 BPM

The word “pleasant” may feel a bit bland, but it truly captures the vibe of this song – chill, but kind and sweet. Jeff Bush has a lovely trombone solo, and Gordon Webster’s piano is understated but perfectly fits the mood.

Dickie’s Dream, 3:34, 192 BPM

I love Gordon Webster’s piano opening for this tune – it sounds silky and sneaky, and makes you want to get up and start bouncing along in time. The riff develops with Paul Cosentino’s clarinet whistling along and Jeff Bush doing some dope mute work on the trombone.

You Oughta Be In Pictures, 3:25, 127 BPM

As soon as I heard this song, I knew I would be humming the melody and mumbling the words for weeks – and I was right! It’s catchy as all get out, and the lyrics are beautiful to boot. Jeff Bush’s vocals fit right in with the easy beat from Thomas Wendt on drums and Paul Cosentino on saxophone. Tony DePaolis’ bass solo on this track is not to be missed.

Neal’s Deal, 3:27, 200 BPM

This song opens with a relatively quiet riff that belies its tempo. It takes its time, working first into a light melody with Paul Cosentino on clarinet, and then developing into a full-blown swinger with an energetic trombone solo from Jeff Bush. Gordon Webster plays supportive background piano that helps fill out the sound.

There Are Such Things, 4:10, 120 BPM

Jeff Bush opens on trombone, followed by Jennifer McNulty’s soaring vocals, supported by Paul Cosentino whistling along on saxophone. This song’s length would make it perfect for playing in a lesson context and having dancer switch partners every minute or so.

Tippin’ In, 4:27, 137 BPM

I’ve been a big fan of Erskine Hawkins’ version of “Tippin’ In” for some time, so it was refreshing to hear this new take on it. The main melody happens on Paul Cosentino’s saxophone, and boy does he have fun improvising! Jeff Bush on trombone, Gordon Webster on piano, and Tony DePaolis on bass all contribute engaging solos.

It Could Happen To You, 3:50, 165 BPM

Jennifer McNulty leads with vocals on this track, while Paul Cosentino pipes along on clarinet and Jeff Bush adds in some delightful trombone. This is the only track on the album that falls in the 140-170 BPM range, so I anticipate I’ll end up playing this one a lot!

I Love The Rhythm In A Riff, 2:42, 205 BPM

This track is worth listening to, if only to hear Paul Cosentino and Tony DePaolis scatting together! Jeff Bush and Gordon Webster bring the heat with racing trombone and piano solos, and Thomas Wendt has a dope little drum solo midway through. The energetic instrumentation brings it together as a perfect finale for the album.

I noticed as I was writing this up that one of the strengths of the Boilermaker Jazz Band is that, in spite of having a small group – only five members, plus Gordon Webster – they make excellent use of every musician – they all get frequent solos, even while keeping their songs down to danceable lengths, and they play off each other incredibly well. I hope you check out I Love The Rhythm In A Riff, and enjoy the music as much as I did!

Whistle Stop, November 16-18, 2018

Almost six months after moving across the country, I returned to the Midwest to reconnect with friends at Whistle Stop, the dance event that everyone should go to because it’s ridiculously cheap, thanks to generous subsidizing from Purdue University. My friends at Purdue Night Train generously accepted my offer to DJ, so I picked up band breaks for Naomi and Her Handsome Devils on Saturday night.

whistlestop_181117

Songs 1-7 comprised my first band break. Jimmie Lunceford’s “Honest and Truly” is new to my library and has a perky melody that I really enjoy – chunky trumpet and trombone work interspersed with gentle sailing saxophones. The vocals are a little cheesy, but I think it’s fun to hear what “pop music” of the era sounded like.

Songs 8-13 were my second band break, and I tried to capture a more energetic vibe, using “Windy City Hop” from Slim Gaillard and “When You’re Smiling” by Louis Armstrong back to back. I don’t understand why I don’t hear “When You’re Smiling” more in the dance scene – it has an easily recognizable melody and a strong rhythm, and it’s super danceable – especially with Louis Armstrong blowing that trumpet! I also included a moment of sweetness and a different feel with Sarah Vaughan’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It” – the accompaniment is mostly piano, and midway through it transitions into a dope saxophone solo, but the overall feel is still light and lovely.

Songs 14-18 came after the band finished up and everyone got ready to leave and go to the late night venue across town, so I mostly just played what I really like to hear at the end of the night. Of course that included the muted tones of “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” by Peter Liu and the Pollcats, which I think is the best song off their new record Count On Lindy – well, maybe it’s tied for best with “Wham Rebop Boom Bam.”

Now that I’m in California, I may be flying to events more often – aside from all the events in San Francisco (so many), most of the events I want to go aren’t driving distance. Maybe I’ll have to write a post about how to fly to a dance event, once I pick up some tips of the trade!

And before I go, here’s a TV version of a tune I ran across randomly in my library while writing this post and really enjoyed:

Midtown Stomp, October 26, 2018

One of the things I really like about being a swing DJ is that, even though I’ve cultivated a collection of hundreds of songs, I only get 20-30 songs each set to work with, so I’m always trying to combine them in new and creative ways. I had a couple of fun juxtapositions in this Midtown Stomp set to share!

midtown_stomp_181026

One great pairing came early on – “This Can’t Be Love” by Joe Williams with Count Basie, which has a smooth and polished sound, followed by the much more free-flowing energy of “Windy City Hop” by Slim Gaillard (and Slam Stewart).

Another fun transition was between “Jersey Bounce” by Peter Liu and the Pollcats, a modern band with a professional sound and soft piping saxophone and clarinet, and “Sing Me A Swing Song” by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, a very peppy, very vintage piece.

Finally, I was so happy to play “Rag Mop” by Ralph Flanagan and His Orchestra. The first time I ever recall hearing the song “Rag Mop” was from a live band – #TrustInTheRuss? – at SwingIN 2017. I danced with Sonia Ortega to that song, and Sonia, who speaks Spanish primarily, sang along with every word! It was a wonderful dance, and I always think of it whenever I hear or play “Rag Mop.”

Practical Ways to Make Lindy Hop Welcoming for LGBT+ Dancers

(Note: In this post I will use LGBT+, a shortened acronym, to refer to the LGBTQQIAP+ community. As someone who falls under the G, the Q, and the A, it is important to me to acknowledge that there are more letters in our beloved acronym than are sometimes convenient to spell out.) 

During my tenure as a Lindy Hopper, some of which was spent at an extremely conservative educational institution, I’ve become especially sensitive to and appreciative of scenes and events that go the extra mile to make the LGBT+ Lindy Hoppers feel safe and welcome. Here, I’d like to offer a compendium of tips and ideas I’ve compiled from my experiences, and from conversations with other LGBT+ dancers, to assist you in making your scene or event as queer-friendly as you can!

Making us feel welcome in class

We want to know that we can dance any role. All of your classes should open with a vocal acknowledgment from the instructors that anyone may dance any role. This may seem almost too obvious to say out loud, but I promise, this is really important – it makes us feel seen, and it makes us feel like we have the instructors’ support in case we experience discrimination from other dancers in class.

We want beginner classes to offer a non-gendered way to explore role preference. A great beginner class will include an exercise that involves really basic components of leading and following, like connecting with both hands in open position and practicing leading or following each other around the floor. I wish that the first Lindy Hop class I took had done this!

We want to have an easy way to identify our role preference in class. Please – please – do not ever start class by saying, “Okay, everyone partner up!” This makes it incredibly difficult to tell who’s doing which role, and I have often experienced the isolation of being the “odd one out” after all the women have partnered up with all the men. Instead, consider having everyone hold up an American Sign Language letter L or letter F with one hand to indicate which role they will be dancing for that class, and then let people partner up.

We want to feel acknowledged by the instructors’ language. Instructors, please take note – it is perfectly acceptable to use a gendered pronoun if you are talking about your teaching partner. For instance, you might say of the female follower teaching with you, “And then I put my right hand gently around her waist.” But when referring to your students, you should use gender-neutral pronouns instead. For instance, you could say, “Okay, leads, take your follower’s hand and lead them through the turn.”

Using “them,” which is a gender-neutral pronoun, makes space to acknowledge all the followers in the class – including those who may not identify as female. Here are a few more examples to help you think about which pronoun to use when referring to your teaching partner versus your students:

  • Partner: “I’m listening for him to pull me back into tandem position.”
  • Students: “Followers, make sure you listen for your leader to use their left hand to pull you back into tandem position.”
  • Partner: “She uses those four counts to do something expressive that she chooses.”
  • Students: “Leaders, remember to support your follower as they choose what to do during those four counts.”

But Mary, you sigh. I’ve definitely taught classes in which all the women were following and all the men were leading. Do I really have to do this then? 

That’s a great question! Remember that in the LGBT+ community, it isn’t always obvious from appearances which gender someone may identify with, or which pronouns they may prefer. I have several dance friends who are nonbinary and use they/them pronouns, but are often mistaken for women because of the way they look. Using gender-inclusive language helps to make sure everyone feels welcome, even if it doesn’t always seem necessary.

We want to see ourselves represented. If it is an option for your scene or event, it’s a really dope idea to have same-gender instructor pairs teach together. This lets people who dance a nontraditional role feel represented. Some of my favorite styling variations have come from taking classes from other women who lead!

Making us feel welcome at the dance

We want to be visible. If you really want to go the extra mile towards pronoun visibility, get those nametags that say “My name is:” and “My pronouns are:” on them, and encourage everyone – including cis people – to use them. This helps trans dancers feel included, and gives people an easy way to know what other people’s pronouns are!

We want to feel safe inside the bathroom we use. It may seem so simple as to be almost unnecessary, but it makes a huge difference to hang up a sign outside the restroom indicating that people of all genders are welcome. Here are a couple of creative examples I’ve seen at different venues and events:

  • Pirate Swing 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan hung up signs that said “And non-binary” under the “Men” and “Women” signs outside the bathrooms in their main venue.
  • The inimitable Mobtown Ballroom in Baltimore, Maryland has a sign in the hallway outside the bathrooms: “This bathroom has urinals. [arrow to the right] This one doesn’t. [arrow to the left] Use whichever bathroom suits you.”
  • The Switch 2018 in San Francisco, California hung signs outside each of the single-use bathrooms that said “All genders welcome in this bathroom – just be sure to wash your hands!”

A personal aside: at Pirate Swing 2017, I was at a place in my life where I was dressing very androgynously, and as a six foot tall person with short hair, I was frequently mistaken for a man. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see a sign on the bathroom that said “Women and non-binary.” It made me feel safe to enter the bathroom and know that no one would be startled or make a disparaging comment towards me. I do not identify as non-binary, but that simple sign still made a difference for me.

We want to be danced with! It truly makes all the difference when an organizer, instructor, or experienced dancer asks an LGBT+ dancer who is new to the scene for a dance. If you are in a position of power, influence, or experience, you have the opportunity to make this a reality!

We want others to ask about our preferences. I’ll admit it – I don’t always ask people their role preference. I know that some people want to only follow or only lead, and that’s fine. But if I’m not sure, or it’s a person I’ve never danced with before, or a friend with whom I will occasionally switch roles, I like to ask, “Is it all right if I lead?” or “Do you want to lead or follow?” If they seem unsure, offering up “Want to switch?” as an alternate option floats some people’s boats.

Because it can be easy for scene regulars to forget about doing this when they’re accustomed to dancing with the same people week after week, I really encourage instructors and organize to say, repeatedly and with a microphone if possible,  “Here in our scene/at our event, if we’re not sure of someone else’s role preference, we like to ask!”

A nonbinary friend of mine told me this:

As a queer person and often femme-presenting person, it’s super exciting when someone notices that I lead and asks me to, or even just asks if I lead or follow instead of assuming I follow.

Which I think is reason enough to encourage scene regulars to be observant of others’ preferences and to ask if they’re unsure!

We want to be jammed in a way that respects our preferences. Okay, but for real, guys – can we make it an all-the-time-everywhere rule that all birthday jams must be preceded by getting the people in the middle to specify which roles they dance? Again, ASL hand signs are useful here. I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t cut in to dance with someone because I haven’t been sure which roles they could dance, and I suspect the same has been true of the times I have been jammed in the past. Especially for dancers who are newer to the scene, being given the opportunity to communicate this information is a must!

We want a safe person to talk to if needed. I really like it when scenes or events explicitly appoint one of the organizers to be a “safety coordinator” or something similar, whose job is basically to be a really understanding and informed person who is the go-to contact point for code of conduct violations.

Making us feel welcome in competitions

We want the competition name to reflect what’s actually going on. As we all know, for random partnered competitions, “Jack and Jill” is out, and a variety of new monikers are in – my favorite is “Mix and Match.” Just be mindful when naming your competition of what the title will say to people who dance a nontraditional role, or identify with a nonbinary gender.

We want to know that everyone else in the competition will welcome us. In some Mix and Match competitions, I have occasionally felt worried that I would be paired with someone who didn’t want to dance with me because I am a female lead. Thankfully, this has never happened, but I would really like to it become standard operating procedure to put language somewhere – maybe in the competition sign-ups, maybe announced by the emcee – that part of a Mix and Match is dancing with whoever you are paired with, regardless of their gender. This is a nascent idea of mine, and I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on how to put this into practice – toss yours in the comments!

We want to know that alternative fashion choices are acceptable. Many Lindy Hoppers are into vintage fashion, which is awesome…but it’s also from the 1940s, and tends to dictate shirts and trousers for men, and skirts and blouses for women. I would love it if we all took a moment to acknowledge that people tend to get pretty dressed up for competitions, and for queer people, formal wear can be a confusing and awkward endeavor. (As dance photos of me continue to attest.) Just…do your best to love and support and cheer for people in the competition, no matter what they’re wearing.

Incorporating ambidancing into your scene

This is a topic I have been hesitant to address, because my own feelings about ambidancing – which means being able to both lead and follow – are complicated at best. Even though I am technically an ambidancer, because I know how to both lead and follow, I am much more comfortable identifying myself as someone who leads primarily, and I have mixed feelings about the efficacy of ambidancing as a class format. Regardless, ambidancing does have some wonderful benefits of which you should be aware.

Ambidancing encourages open-mindedness and flexibility throughout your scene. People who are accustomed to ambidancing as a concept, regardless of their sexuality or gender, are way more likely to be cool with asking about role preferences, dancing with people of their same gender, and generally fostering an LGBT-friendly community atmosphere.

Ambidancing helps people appreciate each other. I’ve noticed that when people try the role they don’t usually dance, they develop a great appreciation for people who do dance that role! This is a wonderful attitude to have, and I think everyone should try the other role, at the very least to gain a better understanding of it.

Ambidancing can be an avenue towards greater musicality. Based on my own experience, I believe that when you start to dance in both roles, you start to notice some similarities between them – the biggest one being that dancing with the music, and inserting styling, breaks, stops, and footwork that matches the music, is important no matter which role you’re in.

Ambidancing is a queer-friendly class format. If you want to relieve anxiety about gendered roles, making it unnecessary to choose between those roles is a solid option. I may not personally enjoy learning both roles in a single class, but I know that there are many people for whom this learning style is a perfect fit, and it may be a good experiment to add some ambidancing classes to your scene or event to gauge interest.

Switch dancing is incredibly fun! I didn’t hold this opinion quite so adamantly until I moved to California and went to the Switch, where I had some switch dances that absolutely blew my socks off. Switch dancing means that the partners trade leading and following back and forth throughout the dance. Even as someone who isn’t super into following, I find switch dancing to be a spontaneous, creative, and exhilarating experience, and I think it’s something everyone should experience!

My friends Calvin Lu and Sam Nguyen, who help organize the Switch, did this awesome showcase at Midwest Lindy Fest this year, and you should watch it! They are incredibly hardworking dancers and so much fun to watch!

If you’re interested in learning more about ambidancing, this podcast from Michael Jagger and Evita Arce is a good place to start: https://michaelandevita.com/018-ambi-dancing/

Thank you for reading this post! If you have additional tips or suggestions to share, please drop them in the comments! I would love to hear your thoughts.