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.

Stomp 03-24-2018

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.

A2FNS 2018-03-09

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

28660968_2055974747750650_7191093817053806592_n (1)

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.

Rapid Rhythms 2018-03-05

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!

IMG_1907IMG_1910

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.

FNS 2018-02-09

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!

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, table and indoor

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!

 

The Home of Happy Feet Is A Van Alexander Album Not To Be Missed

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!