The Switch, July 27-29, 2018

I had a total blast at The Switch in San Francisco last weekend. It was an opportunity for me to connect with the California ambidancing community, and explore San Francisco for the very first time – a double win!

The Switch is an incredible workshop weekend focused all around ambidancing, and the attendees were so friendly and fun to dance with. They were also very responsive to my music, which I appreciated.

I started out Friday evening playing a few songs after the community panel on ambidancing, giving the band a chance to sound check. I chose the first four tunes in the list below to start out the evening – “Jacquet Bounce” by Illinois Jacquet and His All Stars is new to my library, and I was so glad the expressive tenor saxophone from Jacquet picked up the floor!

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My first band break started out with “Sometimes I’m Happy” by Sarah Vaughan, which I love just because it’s fun to hear the lyrics that accompany the familiar melody. When Lori Taniguchi, the event emcee and resident sparkly unicorn (you probably think I am joking. I am not joking), complimented me on choosing a live recording that kept up the energy in the room, I just laughed and said I wished I had that cool of a reason to play it! Sometimes the tune that “just feels right” to me in the moment ends up suiting someone else’s taste for a completely different reason, which is always funny to me.

I was so pleased when someone came up to ask me about “Loose Wig” – “Of course it’s Lionel Hampton,” they said, “but what is it?” Its happy hand-clapping feel and unique melody catches everyone’s attention!

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The above list was my “late night” set from 12-1am on Friday night, after the band finished. Lori and I had a good laugh over the song title “Celery Stalks At Midnight,” by Les Brown, and how it gave Lori the mental image of literal celery stalks in a row doing a side-step dance while waving their…leaves? It does have kind of a high stepping feel!

I also had the chance to play “As Long As You Live” by Maxine Sullivan, a delightful live recording that I just can’t stop listening to. Her energy is infectious and it fills the floor every time. And “Charlie Was A Sailor” by Lionel Hampton was a major hit with some balboa dancers and folks who wanted to take their fast Lindy for a spin.

A huge thanks goes to Calvin Lu and Sam Nguyen, who generously let me sleep in their apartment even though they were pulling eighteen hour days running around organizing the Switch. I certainly hope to come back next year!

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, June 1, 2018

For my last DJ gig before I leave Michigan to move to California, I went up to Ann Arbor and spent an evening with the dear friends I’ve come to know over the past few years.

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The first song in this set was actually the one I chose when the organizers decided, spur-of-the-moment, to do a farewell jam for me. As I noted in my last post, Maxine Sullivan does my favorite version of “Exactly Like You,” and it was so much fun to dance with all my friends to a song that I love.

I spent the rest of the set playing with songs that are new to my library, including some pieces I featured in my Lionel Hampton roundup – “Loose Wig” and “Royal Family.” I also tried out “Jacquet Bounce” and “Lean Baby” by Illinois Jacquet, which people seemed to like, and I got a great response when I played “Loch Lomond” by Maxine Sullivan. “Charlie Was A Sailor” by Lionel Hampton, at 192 BPM, got some balboa happening!

It’s sad to be leaving Michigan and all the wonderful dancers I know around the Midwest, but I’m looking forward to lots of new dancing adventures up and down the West Coast! Check in here to keep up with my travels, and if you’re an organizer on the West Coast looking for a DJ to add some delightful tunes to your event, get in touch!

 

LAFLX, April 13-15, 2018

I feel like maybe I should have asked this further ahead of time than, you know, one in the morning at the Saturday late night, but that was when I found out that LAFLX stands for Lafayette Lindy Exchange. Isn’t that delightful?

This was my first LAFLX, but I truly enjoyed every moment of it – I stayed with a great group of people, the dancers were responsive to my music, and best of all, they were interested in finding out more about what they heard! I think I had more people coming up to me this weekend and asking, “What song was that?” than I’ve ever had before! In light of all that interest, I wanted to go ahead and share my sets from yesterday, which was kind of a marathon day – I had an hour and a half set in the afternoon, and then band breaks all evening, a competition, and another set after that. Read on for more!

LAFLX 2018-04-14 AfternoonI started the afternoon off with “Shorty’s Got to Go,” which is one of my favorite tunes from Glenn Crytzer’s new album, Ain’t It Grand. After that, I played around with a mixture of vintage and modern pieces, hopping back and forth between Maxine Sullivan, Artie Shaw, and the Boilermaker Jazz Band, among others. I want to highlight one moment here in particular that was a huge success – just after I played the five minute version of “Surrey With the Fringe On Top” by Mary Stallings, I put on “Hit That Jive Jack” by Shout Sister Shout, which clocks in at 194 BPM. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t follow a long song with such a fast one, but it seemed to hit the floor in just the right way and people started moving to it! It probably helped that “Hit That Jive Jack” has a bold, distinct sound and it’s a lot of fun to dance to.

LAFLX 2018-04-14 EveningThis screenshot contains everything I DJed during the evening, with the exception of the LAFable competition, which is below, so this will take some explaining. I caught two band breaks for the Gaslight Squares. My first band break was pretty short, just the first four songs, including “Crazy About Lester,” which a tune by Michael Gamble that I don’t often hear and that I think I should hear more – it’s got a perky melody and a super tight rhythm.

My second band break got going with “Jump Children” by the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, which I’ve talked about on here before, and then I put on the “Dipsy Doodle” and let the floor rock out with the Tranky Doo! (I may or may not also have Tranky Done some dancing in the process.) That band break went on for longer, ending with “Blue Rhythm Be-Bop” by Van Alexander and His Orchestra.

Once the time for the competition rolled around, I played “Day-In, Day-Out” for a warm-up song, and then we dove into prelims. Because the LAFable competition at LAFLX is a really ridiculous competition, where the emcee yells out silly suggestions the crowd submits beforehand and then everyone has to dance like that or risk getting tapped out, I chose mid-tempo music with a very clear beat that would be easy to move to, and all instrumental so the emcee would be easier to hear.

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Once it was narrowed down to two couples, finals took place, with the couples facing off to the prompt “wizard duel.” (Props to my friend Val for coming up with that amazing suggestion – she won the prize for best idea!) Funny story – on Saturday, I remember an organizer coming up to me and saying, “Hey, for the LAFable finals, do you have any music that would fit the prompt wizard duel?” And I was like, “Ahahaha…no…WAIT.” And I remembered that I had this delightful swinger by Ella Fitzgerald whose lyrics are all about the Wizard of Oz! It was a perfect choice for finals, as Ella’s elegant voice spun along and the competitors got very, very silly.

After the LAFable competition (you might need to scroll up to take another look at my evening set), I started back in with “If It Ain’t Love” by the Boilermaker Jazz Band, and I DJed all the way until the late night started at 12:15am. I got to play “The E and D Blues (E for Ella, D for Duke),” which is one of my all-time favorite songs – it’s infectiously swingy, kind of like “C Jam Blues,” but…it also has Ella scatting, so it’s even better. It was fun watching people on the floor as the song stretched out towards its 4:54 endpoint – at one point I was actually just cheering them on in my head. No, keep going! Two more minutes! You’re so close! 

LAFLX was a really enjoyable event, and a great way to spend a relaxing weekend. If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend attending!

FLEx, April 6-8, 2018

The very first dance event I ever DJed at outside of my home scene was FLEx 2017, so it was a lot of fun to be invited back to DJ this year! FLEx, or the Falcon Lindy Extravaganza, is a small workshop weekend at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. I started with a set on Friday evening, and while the floor was not super crowded, I enjoyed the challenge of getting people out on it anyway.

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I started with a tune that’s rapidly becoming a staple in my library, “Frankie and Johnny,” which is an instrumental Frank Sinatra tribute by Count Basie that really swings! I also featured the hard-swinging Brooks Prumo tune “Bolero At The Savoy” pretty early on. After that, I hung out with a mix of faster tunes (“Clementine,” “Paper Moon,” “That Old Black Magic”) and chiller ones (“In a Mellow Tone,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “The Ugly Duckling”). I tried heating it up with the Louis Jordan version of “A Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But A Bird,” and people seemed to enjoy its peppy feeling!

My next set was midnight to 1am on Saturday night, so this one looked a little different. I knew we were heading into late night, so I dug deep into the slower end of my library and came up with some really nice slow stuff that was pleasant to listen and dance to at that hour (but was still Lindy-able).

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Highlights from this set include Della Reese’s amazing rendition of “Goody, Goody” (seriously, go listen to it if you haven’t, it’s incredibly swanky and fun), “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” by Ernestine Anderson – I feel like everyone only knows her for “I Love Being Here With You,” but she has some other delightful stuff as well – and (of course) Joe Williams and Harry “Sweets” Edison on “Until I Met You (Corner Pocket).” Even though it’s 112 BPM, I will never get tired of swinging out to that song. Williams’ vocals are so warm and inviting, and the instrumentation is light, but present in all the right places. I love it.

And speaking of the rich vocal abilities of Joe Williams, here’s an extra little treat for you that I dug up on YouTube:

I cannot believe the scatting abilities of these folks. Sarah Vaughan is one of my all-time favorite jazz vocalists, and she sounds just as good in 1981 as she does on some of the recordings I have of her in the 1940s. Watch all the way to the end and you might catch a glimpse of Sarah and Joe swinging out!

The Stomp in Lansing, March 24, 2018

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to feel “inspired” when I DJ. Like in this set, for instance. I sat down to DJ and felt like I was lacking some inspiration. Maybe it’s because the floor wasn’t very full at first, or because I didn’t know many of the people there that night.

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I guess it’s unreasonable to expect myself to feel amazing about every single set I DJ…but still. What is it that makes me inspired to play a great set? I think some things would be if the floor is already really full, if I’m picking up breaks for a great band, or if I just got new music that I really like. Those all lend that indescribable energy that I need to help hit every moment with the right tune.

My favorite songs from this set were the last two, “Shorty’s Got to Go” from Glenn Crytzer’s new album, Ain’t It Grand, and Maxine Sullivan’s rendition of “Massachusetts.” Both alternative takes of more popular original versions, but I love Glenn’s perky vocals on “Shorty,” and Maxine’s sweet take of “Massachusetts.” The piano part on “Shorty” is one of the most recognizable parts of the original tune, and I think Glenn Crytzer’s pianist nails it.

I’m traveling a lot in April: see you at FLEx at Bowling Green State University this weekend, and LAFLX at Purdue University the following weekend!

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, March 9, 2018

Because my spring break covered two Friday nights, I got to return to Ann Arbor for a second stint in the DJ booth just a week after I spun some tunes there on March 2nd. This week went hard for a punchy feel with a strong lead-up to some fast-swinging tunes, and although I tried to chill the mood a bit after that, the dancers kept pushing the tempo on me! It was great to work a floor with so much energy – it made me search for the songs that would keep the floor moving even when people got tired, and I think overall I was pretty successful.

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The songs “Beaver Junction” and “Circus In Rhythm” from Count Basie are new to my library, courtesy of my friend Scott’s generosity with a new CD of his, The Chronological Count Basie. The album contains hits from Basie’s orchestra from 1943-1945, which was right when they were recording some of the their best dancing music, so there were some gems on the album, including “Taps Miller,” which I had already, but is still one of my all-time favorite fast Lindy tunes.

I hadn’t played “Keepin’ Out of Mischief” by Louis Armstrong and His All Stars in a while, and I’m glad I did – it’s a sweet classic, and no one beats Louis Armstrong belting out those vocals in his unmistakable voice. Every time I listen to Louis Armstrong sing, I’m reminded of the magic of being unapologetically yourself. The man most certainly did not possess what anyone would call a classic jazz voice, but he owned his sound and now people get nostalgic when they hear it. I think that’s an amazing approach to art, and to life in general.

Finally, just two days ago I got my copy of Glenn Crytzer’s new double album, Ain’t It Grand, and folks, this one is a doozy. I’m listening to it right now and every single song rocks along, each striking a different mood but all lending themselves beautifully to dancing. If you preorder it from Bandcamp now, you get $5 off the retail price and 5 tracks right away! (You’ll get the rest when the CD is released on May 9.) And no, one one’s paying me to say this – I really just think the album is that good and worth you’re time. I’ll be doing a full album review soon where I discuss some of my favorite tracks, but for now, take it on good faith that this is one modern jazz collection you don’t want to miss.

Keep on swinging, and I’ll see you at the Stomp in Lansing on March 24th and at Bowling Green State University for FLEx from April 6-8th!

Rapid Rhythms, March 5, 2018

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Although I’ve long been great friends with the Grand Rapids dancers who run Rapid Rhythms, I don’t see them a lot – Grand Rapids is two and a half hours away from me, and a five hour round trip on a Monday night can hard to fit into my schedule. But that changed this week – I’m on spring break, and while I chose to break in place, I gave myself a fun little overnight trip up to GR on Monday and Tuesday! The good folks of Rapid Rhythms were kind enough to let me DJ a set at their beautiful weekly venue, a downtown art gallery called Lions + Rabbits.

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I genuinely enjoyed playing this set, especially because Rapid Rhythms as a scene has such a robust mixture of experience levels, from first-time-this-week beginners to 5-year Lindy Hop veterans. I pulled out a few old favorites – “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” by the Boilermaker Jazz Band and “Second Balcony Jump” by Earl “Fatha” Hines among them – to settle in and get the floor moving. In between times, I experimented with some songs that are new to my library.

You might notice that there’s a secret star in this set – Maxine Sullivan! I recently discovered her album A Tribute to Andy Razafand I’m in love. Sullivan’s beautiful voice is accompanied by an all-star lineup, including Buster Bailey on clarinet, Dick Hyman on piano, Charlie Shavers on trumpet, and Jerome Richardson on saxophone. Every single piece on the album is lovely to listen to, and eight out of twelve tracks are Lindy-friendly – what a great find! At Rapid Rhythms, I featured “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Massachusetts,” and “Christopher Columbus,” but I also really enjoy Sullivan’s renditions of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Blue Turning Grey Over You.”

On a related tangent: When I was researching this album, the name Buster Bailey sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before. A quick YouTube search turned up this mindblowing clip:

In this clip from a late 1950s TV show, Buster Bailey plays a four minute clarinet solo while his band backs him up and swings along. I recognize the melody, but can’t remember the song title – can anyone help me out? I wish I could find a recording of this – it sounds great!

As it’s International Women’s Day today, I also wanted to shout about the tune “Jump Children” by the International Sweethearts of Rhythm – an amazing all-women jazz orchestra, of whose music a pittance of recordings have survived, or were even made, for that matter. Regardless, however, in “Jump Children” the Sweethearts pump along behind the vocal power of Ernestine “Tiny” Davis, who managed to be both the best female jazz trumpet player in the U.S. and also an outstanding vocalist. I hope to find more of their music and add it to my collection in the future!

This YouTube clip isn’t the same recording as the one that I have in my library, and I don’t think it’s Ernestine Davis on vocals, but it’s fun to see the orchestra in action – check it out!

And finally, some exciting news as promised: I will be DJing at the Falcon Lindy Extravaganza this year at Bowling Green State University! It’s April 6-8, and I would love to see you there – click through the hyperlink for more information about the event!

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Thank you to Sammi for the picture at the top of this post! 

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, March 2, 2018

As I DJ at scenes outside of my home scene with more regularity, I feel like I’m getting better at catering to different crowds. The Friday night scene in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, for instance, tends to draw a lot of community members and folks who are newer to jazz dancing, which is great! It’s fun to play music that will pick up the ear of folks who maybe don’t listen to much jazz, and yet still swings and inspires cool things for the more experienced dancers.

A2FNS 2018-03-02Renee Olstead’s version of “My Baby Just Cares for Me” has a robust bass line and some great stops that make it fun to move to, and I paired it with the modern sound of Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles doing “My Rhythm.” To ease back into the classics, I bridged the gap with Dinah Washington’s “I Diddle,” a song so infectiously delightful I have to prevent myself from playing it in every set!

Another highlight here is “It’s Later Than You Think,” a song off of Joe Williams and Friends, June 1985: I Just Want To Sing, a recording that magically combines Joe Williams’ warm vocals with some outstanding trumpet playing from Thad Jones and tenor sax work from Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Benny Golson. Jerry Peters on keys and Gerryck King on drums hold down the rhythm, and between the funny lyrics and the delightful beat, it’s almost impossible for me not to dance to “It’s Later Than You Think”!

I’m still playing with the songs from Pass the Bouncethe new album from the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, but “Jump Jack Jump” was a winner for me in this set. It brought some people to the floor who were working on their bal, and at 183 BPM, it’s fast enough to have fun while not intimidating new bal dancers. I also appreciate that it’s really easy to hear the beat, even during the brass and sax solos – so important for balboa!

I have another post coming soon about my first time DJing in Grand Rapids, and in that post I’ll be releasing some exciting news about where I’m DJing next – stay tuned!

Friday Night Swing, February 9, 2018

Due to a freakish blizzard and a miraculously cancelled speech tournament, I was able to attend Friday Night Swing last night at my own scene, the Hillsdale Hepcats. (It’s hard to be the president when you’re constantly away at tournaments and dance events!) I took over DJing second set for one of my dear officers who was in bed with the flu, and it was a fun little set to do.

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Before open dance, my teaching partner and I had taught week 2 of our Charleston series, so I tossed in “Wham Rebop Boom Bam” by Peter Liu and the Pollcats, which is a great alternative to the Jimmie Lunceford. I love Jimmie Lunceford, don’t get me wrong, but the version I have of his rendition of “Wham Rebop Boom Bam” is scratchy and the beat can be hard to hear. Peter Liu’s version is much clearer and easier to follow.

Otherwise, I tried out a few tunes that are new to my library, including a rendition of “Mr. Rhythm” by Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles and a sweetly hilarious live version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” by Ella Fitzgerald from the recently released album Live at Zardi’s. In this version, she copies a few famous singers of the day to humorous effect, and it’s fun to dance along as the audience laughs.

I’m heading to Ann Arbor tonight to take care of band breaks and a Mix & Match competition at a Valentine’s Day swing dance. Stay warm, and I look forward to sharing tonight’s set with you!

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SparX, February 2-4, 2018

Every year, older friends in the Hillsdale Hepcats scene would go to SparX, and come back and tell me that it was awesome and I should go. I somehow managed to put it off until this year, and I’m so glad I finally went. Although it involves being in Cleveland in February, something I don’t recommend unless you are prepared to dress up like the Abominable Snowman every time you go outside, SparX is a fun event with outstanding instructors. I got to take classes with both Bobby and Kate and Adrienne and Rafal, and they were a genuine delight. Adrienne is especially good at not letting me get away with fudging my way through things and making me lead clearly, and I really appreciate that.

I also DJed band breaks on Friday night! It’s hard to follow a band like Chelsea Reed and the Fair Weather Five, but I did my darndest and people seemed to enjoy my music. Peter, one of the instructors, kept trying to guess which artists I was playing – he got Artie Shaw right at the end of the second break with “Love Walked In.” Good job, Peter!

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Songs 1-8 here comprised the first band break. I tried to kick the tempo up, knowing there were balboa dancers in the room, but I chickened out at “Hop, Skip, and Jump” at 181 BPM and reverted to a safe song, “Things Are Looking Up” by Ella Fitzgerald.

In the next band break, songs 9-14, I resolved to get faster, reminding myself that it was okay to clear the floor a little bit (especially since it was so crowded!), and played “Let’s Get Together” by Van Alexander and His Orchestra at 188 BPM. It’s a tune I love and I have no regrets – and the balboa dancers seemed to appreciate it too!

Someone came up to ask me, “What was that song?” after I played “Frankie and Johnny” by Count Basie. It’s an instrumental Frank Sinatra tribute that contains snatches of familiar melodies, and definitely went over well with the Lindy Hoppers. “Frankie and Johnny” is new to my collection, so I’m glad it was so successful.

You’ll probably hear “Frankie and Johnny” at the Ann Arbor Valentine’s dance, coming up this Saturday on February 10! I’ll be taking care of band breaks and I hope to see you there!

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Photo credit to Mike Will Art.