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!

SparX 2018-02-02

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!

28166451_2083920055160198_2052876610555812687_n

Photo credit to Mike Will Art. 

 

The Stomp, January 20, 2018

Barely a week after arriving back in Michigan from my holiday break, I had the opportunity to DJ for my friends up in Lansing at the Stomp! I love this scene – its leaders are working so hard to cultivate an engaging atmosphere for all the attendees, and very soon they will be making the switch to weekly Saturday night dances, which is super exciting. I’m always happy to make the drive up to Lansing and support them!

Stomp 2018-01-20

The best song in this set was definitely “Corner Pocket: Until I Met You” by Joe Williams. It’s new to my library, but is rapidly becoming a favorite, as so many dancers are familiar with the Count Basie instrumental version of “Corner Pocket” and don’t know that the song actually has really sweet lyrics! And of course, Joe Williams has delightful, energetic vocals, so this track is perfect for picking up the floor, which is exactly what it did in Lansing.

One thing I noticed was that when I played “Simple Sweet Embrace” by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, which at a respectable 127 BPM should be a good tempo for beginners, it felt reeeeeeally slow after enjoying a few songs at a faster clip, and it totally cleared the floor! I was okay with that, because then playing “You’re The Top” (always a good recovery song) went off really well, but it was interesting to observe how that energy drop didn’t attract any beginners onto the floor like I was hoping – they seemed much more interested in music with a stronger energy, even if it was faster and a bit more difficult to follow.

If you’re going to SparX 2018 in Cleveland, OH, I’ll see you there! I’ll be DJing band breaks on Friday night, so come jazz out at the Forest City Brewery with me and Chelsea Reed and the Fairweather Five!

 

Mobtown Ballroom, January 12, 2018

While on holiday in Maryland, I had the amazing opportunity to DJ at the Mobtown Ballroom in Baltimore. I had only visited Mobtown for the first time a few weeks before, so it was a real act of trust on the part of the organizers to let me in, but I’m so grateful to Michael and Nicole and all the other cool cats at Mobtown for making it possible.

As a venue, Mobtown is both beautiful and unique – it’s in a renovated church, so the outside is imposing stone, and the inside is only made cooler by the silks and hoops hanging from the ceiling for the circus arts classes they host! There’s also a bar and soft mood lighting, and people seem to love it – there’s a huge beginner lesson and a solid crowd starting at 9pm that lingers on the floor long past when most people would be tired out. My set started at 10:30pm, and I had such a great time watching the floor respond enthusiastically to each and every song that I ended up staying until about 1am – definitely the longest continuous set I’ve ever DJed!

Mobtown 2018-01-12 1

This first half of my set features a lot of bouncier, faster tunes, as I was noticing that people really seemed to want to swing out. I fit in “When Lights Are Low” by Lionel Hampton, which is a poppin’ tune that at 200 BPM is perfect for balboa, although I also love doing solo jazz to it. My other favorite choice here is “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket” by the Boilermaker Jazz Band – it’s an energetic, fun tune, and it has the virtue of having a faster tempo and very clear instrumentation, so it’s accessible for newer dancers who are eager to experiment with the upper end of the speedometer.

Mobtown 2018-01-12 2

With the way my screenshots worked out, in this latter half you can see that I slowed down the tempo flow a lot as the energy petered out and people began to spend less time on the floor and more time lingering at the bar. People were still swinging out when it got down to about 120 BPM, though, so I never really made the transition into blues – I just sank the energy down into a slower, comfier place that the dancers seemed to really appreciate. Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “This Can’t Be Love” captures that vibe really well – it’s a tune people know well from the version by Naomi and Her Handsome Devils, but in Ella’s rendition the vocals stretch out while the horns punch along underneath, making it fun to dance to even though it’s a lot slower.

I had such a blast at the Mobtown Ballroom – I would highly encourage you to visit if you’ve never been. It’s a rare and magical place that can make alcohol and social dancing play nice, and Mobtown makes it happen with remarkable class in a way that feels both safe and fun. I can’t get enough! And I’ll definitely be back the next time I’m on the East Coast – hopefully I’ll get to spin some tunes while I’m at it!

The Jam Cellar, January 9, 2018

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.

Jam Cellar 2018-01-09

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!

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, indoor

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!

 

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing Holiday Party, December 15, 2017

My final exams ended at 2pm on Friday, December 15, and that evening I hightailed it up to Ann Arbor to DJ band breaks at the Friday Night Swing Holiday Party, featuring the Aston Neighborhood Pleasure Club.

A2FNS 2017-12-15

This playlist contains two band break sets – the first was “Love Walked In” through “Count on Lindy,” and the second was “The Gentleman Is a Dope” through “Blue Rhythm Swing.” You’ll notice that a few artists appear in these brief sets twice – Van Alexander’s Blue Rhythm Band, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, and Peter Liu and the Pollcats. I heard Van Alexander’s phenomenal tune, “Let’s Get Together,” on Mr. Ben’s Songs of the Week, a podcast from Soulacious Mr. Ben, a Lindy Hop DJ in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Or Sweden. I’m not sure.) When I looked up Van Alexander on iTunes, I found a fantastic album called The Home of Happy Feet and fell head over heels for its joyful sound, so of course I immediately bought the whole thing. In this set I played “Blue Rhythm Be-Bop” and “Blue Rhythm Swing,” both of which are from the smaller group that appears on the album, Van Alexander’s Blue Rhythm Band. The album also features songs from Van Alexander and His Orchestra.

The Brooks Prumo Orchestra and Peter Liu and the Pollcats both who released albums in the last few months, which I heard about from Hey Mister Jesse, another great swing music podcast. Their new albums, Pass the Bounce and Count on Lindy, are full of wonderful swing music with incredible recording quality – always a treat amongst all the scratchy vintage stuff we put up with. The links above are from Bandcamp, which I really encourage you to use if you buy these albums – the bands get much more of the proceeds from Bandcamp than they do from iTunes, so it’s a good way to support them and help them record more great music! “Count on Lindy,” the title tune from Peter Liu and the Pollcats, is an especially vibrant swinger – I encourage you to check it out!

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, November 24, 2017

I had such a pleasant Thanksgiving – full of friends and amazing mushroom gravy and the best roasted veggie salad. To make it even better, the day after Thanksgiving, I visited my dear friend and her cats, Nami and River. That evening, we drove to Ann Arbor (sans cats, sadly) and went dancing, and I got to spin a few tunes!

A2FNS 2017-11-24

Let’s talk about this set. The crowd at Friday Night Swing in Ann Arbor is wonderful to play for – there are a lot of beginners who appreciate the clear rhythm and fun instrumentation of songs like “Stiff Upper Lip,” “How About You?” and “Dancing On the Ceiling.” However, to keep my life interesting, there are a few more advanced dancers, so I tried to include faster songs like “Sing Me A Swing Song” to give them a challenge.

I found that songs with a gentle feel became a theme in this set, notably “East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)” by the original Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (I just heard that the modern Tommy Dorsey Orchestra played live last night in Milwaukee!) and Artie Shaw’s “I Get A Kick Out of You.”

img_1709

img_1711

Yes, that’s actually how big Nami’s eyes are. No, I don’t understand it either. 

The Stomp, November 4, 2017

While all the cool people were dancing to live street music in St. Louis this weekend at the Nevermore Jazz Ball, I was home in Michigan spinning tunes for my friends at the Stomp in Lansing! I had the opportunity to teach a drop-in lesson with my teaching partner from Hillsdale, and when it turned out that most of the class already knew six-count basic, we quickly regrouped and turned it into a lesson on six-count circles, tuck turns, inside turns, and inside pass bys. Our students did really well – I’m so proud of them!

Stomp 2017-11-04

I took first set, and I started out with some energetic tunes – “Let Yourself Go,” “I Love Being Here With You,” “Sunday” – to get the room moving. People seemed to chill out about twenty minutes in, so the songs got gentler – “Perdido,” “My Heart Stood Still” – and I almost cleared the floor with “A Jumpin’s Something.” (The energy picked back up, though, so it was okay.) The new song here is “Booze Brothers” by Count Basie, which is a great tune with a punchy rhythm that really fills the floor (for alllll five minutes and seven seconds of it).

img_1667

We got to bring two freshmen from Hillsdale to the Stomp with us, and they said they really enjoyed it. (Fist pump.) I hope we get to return soon!

Swing Ann Arbor, October 25, 2017

Happy Halloween! Here’s a fun little set I got to spin last week for my friends at Swing Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s swing dance club. Even though I’ve danced regularly (read: once-a-month-ish, or whenever I can get out of Hillsdale) at Swing Ann Arbor for more than a year, this is somehow the first time I’ve DJed for them. I had a great time, and I hope all the dancers did too!

SAA 10.25.2017

I recently went on an Artie Shaw and Chick Webb binge on jazz-on-line.com, so some songs from this set were new ones that I had to try out – “Love Walked In,” “Rhythm and Romance,” “Kasbah,” and “Pack Up Your Sins and Go To the Devil.” I’m really loving “Kasbah” these days – it starts out with this suspenseful feel that kind of reminds me of Lawrence of Arabia, and then gradually turns into this driving swinger that is super fun to dance to.

I had to throw in “Tain’t What You Do” since Swing Ann Arbor hosted a Shim Sham workshop that evening, which I attended and really enjoyed! I learned a variation on pushes that involves hopping on the kick…it was good. And I also played Count Basie’s “Jive at Five” so that I could practice the Trickeration routine I learned at Rocktober this year.

I had a brief moment of panic at the end of this set where I told the organizers I had one more song coming, and then they asked for two more songs, and I ended up going with “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” which is pretty similar to “All the Things You Are” in terms of energy and sound.  I wish I’d picked something a bit more different – but they’re both such great tunes, I don’t think anyone minded!

Coming soon: I’m DJing at the Stomp in Lansing this Saturday, November 4! Come swing out to some sweet tunes (you might hear “Kasbah” again…) and dance with me!

Friday Night Swing and the Stomp, September 15-16, 2017

This Friday night was my college’s annual Garden Party – a.k.a. meatballs and cupcakes, a photo booth background made of paper flowers, and heart-thumping amplifiers blasting the music of “Detroit’s most popular cover band,” all outdoors in the college arboretum. After about an hour of that, enough of us were feeling overwhelmed and tired that we retreated to the usual location of our Friday Night Swing event and danced for another hour or so.

FNS 2017-09-15

Because we were all tired from Garden Party, I tried to stick with mostly relaxing songs that were fun to swing out to – hence the theme of the comments section. “Smooth feel,” “Awesome energy!”, and “Bright sound” all effectively encapsulate the atmosphere I was going for. I’d rediscovered earlier in the week what a silly song “Clementine” by Bobby Darin is, so that one was fun to pull out.

Stomp 09-16-2017

On Saturday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to DJ an hour and a half set at the Stomp in Lansing, MI! This was a special treat because there was a beginner balboa lesson beforehand, taught by the amazing Angel Jenio and Connor Cole, so I played a lot of faster music that I wouldn’t normally play.

Seeing how the dancers responded to some of the faster stuff – which is to say, they pulled out some really bomb Lindy when I was expecting them only to bal – encouraged me to try playing faster music more often! It can be hard to remember that the vast majority of the dancers are not analyzing the horn section or trying to calculate the BPM of every song that is played – as long as it inspires good movement, they will most likely enjoy it (even if they’re exhausted afterwards). “Tap’s Miller,” for instance, is a Count Basie song at 190 BPM, but it absolutely filled the floor, because it has this really catchy and infectious melody and (I think) I played it a moment when the room’s energy was high.

I hope I get to visit Lansing again soon! In the meantime, I’ll be hanging out with the Hillsdale Hepcats and tuning up to DJ at even more places! (Swing Ann Arbor, I’m looking at you…)

Reunited with my epic co-DJ, Val! 

Ann Arbor Friday Night Swing, August 25, 2017

On August 25, I took the GRE in Lansing (and I’m happy to report that it went well!), and then hiked over to Ann Arbor and spun some tunes for my friends at Friday Night Swing. This weekly event is put on by the Ann Arbor Swing Dance Association, or AASDA, and they recently moved to the beautiful Campus Chapel on the University of Michigan campus. I love it there – the smooth floor and big arched ceiling make it a beautiful space to dance in, and some hot tunes makes it even better!

A2FNS 08-25-2017

Because my birthday was the next day, August 26, I really tried to let myself feel some freedom with this set to play all my favorite music, so this set is probably a fairly accurate reflection of what I like to play the most. I got to use some great songs that are new to my library, including “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” and “Stairway To the Stars” by the Boilermaker Jazz Band (from my new CDs!) and “That Old Black Magic” by Ella Fitzgerald. I also queued up some old favorites – particularly “Available Lover” by Cootie Williams, “Jump for Joy” by Sarah Vaughan, and “This Can’t Be Love” by Naomi & Her Handsome Devils. For my birthday jam, I chose “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”

This recap comes so late because I have been busy starting a new school year with my home scene, the Hillsdale Hepcats! We are just starting to work on swingouts in our lessons, and I am teaching my officers how to be great DJs. (I even have some of them using MusicBee!) I hope all are enjoying a great start to the semester!