Monday, March 23, 2009

Battle of the Bands II

Here's how it went down at the Battle of the Bands at the Galaxie last Saturday: Lippy had constructed an elaborate bracket scheme for the 6 djs in the competition (it is March Madness time, after all). See the bracket above, which was assigned by random draw. For the first round, each DJ has to play a 20 minute set of music exclusively from their chosen artist or band. They are then judged (by audience applause) against the other two DJs in their bracket, and one of the DJs is eliminated. Each of the DJs from the left bracket then has a 15 minute set versus one of the DJs from the right bracket, and only one of them survives (again judged by audience applause). This leaves 2 final DJs, who battle it out trading sets of 2 songs a piece, currying favor from the audience. Cash prize for the winner.

After a beginner lesson and then a little warm-up music, the battle kicked off at 9 p.m. with Doug "Doberman" Hillman representing Oscar Peterson, followed by Chris "The Man with the Middles" playing nothing but Jimmie Lunceford, and then John Joven playing Benny Goodman. Oscar Peterson had another gig later that night, so basically Lunceford and Goodman got a first round bye.

I kicked off the second set of three DJs starting at 10 p.m., representing Louis Armstrong. Here's my first set:
  1. Cabaret - Louis Armstrong - Louis Armstrong - 3:59 - 155
  2. Jack-Armstrong Blues - Louis Armstrong - Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars - 3:00 - 185
  3. Who Walks In When I Walk Out? with Ella Fitzgerald - Louis Armstrong - The Wonderful Duets - 2:21 - 135
  4. A Fine Romance - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Ella and Louis Again - 3:56 - 170
  5. Georgia Grind - Louis Armstrong - Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography Disc 1 - 3:19 - 115
  6. I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby - Louis Armstrong - Satch Plays Fats (Remaster) - 4:28 - 162
As you can see, I played it pretty safe. I tried to cover a range of styles that Louis Armstrong played, from the popular hits from the 60's, to more straight-up jazz from the All-Stars, to the pop-jazz with Ella (and Oscar Peterson in the backing combo). My set was followed by Dave "Lippy" Rentauskas representing Lionel Hampton, and then Riley "Big Tyme" Wymes going out on a limb by spinning Sam Cooke. The second set was a close call, but Lionel Hampton was eventually sent back the the bench.

The semi-finals started off with Benny Goodman versus Sam Cooke. From a "flow" standpoint, I thought it was a little odd to have two all-Sam-Cooke sets separated by just 20 minutes, but that's how the bracket fell out. Sam Cooke progressed to the finals by a comfortable margin.

After that round of voting, Armstrong was up against Lunceford. Here's my second set:
  1. I Love Jazz - Louis Armstrong - Louis Armstrong - 4:39 - 170
  2. My Bucket's Got a Hole In It - Louis Armstrong - An Evening With Louis Armstrong And His All Stars - 4:24 - 145
  3. Sugar Foot Stomp - Fletcher Henderson - Ken Burns Jazz: Fletcher Henderson - 2:50 - 205
  4. My Sweet Hunk O' Trash - Louis Armstrong - The Complete Decca Studio Master Takes 1940-1949 - 3:20 - 95
I opened with I Love Jazz because the announcements immediately prior gave me an excuse to play the longer intro that everyone seems to know so well. I followed up with another solid, mid-tempo song that was still energetic, then kicked it up a notch with a hot charleston number. (Was gonna play my other version of that number, but I thought it would clear the floor to much--it's a rollicking 255 bpm.) I closed out the set with a slower, bluesy number where Louis duets with Billlie Holiday.

Lunceford's second set followed on mine, and included the requisite Shim-Sham, followed the Lunceford Special, during which a jam broke out. For sheer entertainment value, it seemed like a great call--that Lunceford cat sure puts up a tough fight. Armstrong eeked out the victory, and was on to the finals against Sam Cooke.

Finals were a challenge--Riley played two soulful Cooke numbers, which meant I had to transition the room back to a jazz sound. Here's how I followed up:
  1. Honeysuckle Rose - Louis Armstrong - Satch Plays Fats (Remaster) - 2:56 - 170
  2. Perdido Street Blues - Louis Armstrong - The Complete Decca Studio Master Takes 1940-1949 - 3:08 - 145
Honeysuckle Rose starts out sounding like a lazy slow-lindy number, but then eases into the main chorus at a lightly swinging 170 bpm. I thought it worked well as a transition. I followed up with a DIRTY DIRTY blues number that's still in a lindy hop tempo.

Then we were back to Sam Cooke for two songs, and then I had a final two songs to try to bring folks back into Louis' corner. Here's what I chose:
  1. Love is Here to Stay - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Ella and Louis Again - 4:01 - 102
  2. Hello, Dolly! - Louis Armstrong - Ken Burns Jazz - 2:24 - 155
I opened with a slow groovy ballad, trying to appeal to the dancers' sentimental side, and then closed with Armstrong's traditional closer. In retrospect, it didn't work all that well. If I could try it over again, I would have skipped this and gone out in a blaze of 1920's glory with Cornet Chop Suey or I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas, highlighting the difference between my guy and Cooke, rather than trying to beat Cooke at his own game. Anyways, Cooke came out the winner, so Riley finished out the night.

All in all, a very fun evening of dancing, and an interesting challenge for the DJs. I thought the bracket system worked really well, and forced all the DJs to select songs very strategically. Instead of just blowing the best 20 minutes of Lunceford that there is, Chris had to spread it out over several sets so that he could remain competitive. Hopefully the format will be preserved for next time. to figure out who I should represent in the next battle.....


  1. well, thought out and VERY strategic DJing... It was a really good night for it. It was really unexpected that there were no obvious bumps or gaps with the flow b/t DJs.. it was nice... Well Done!

  2. this sounds so cool! i'd love to borrow the idea sometime, if i can get the other local DJs to go along with it -- it'd be great for subtly strengthening the local music knowledge without trying to outright teach jazz history... congrats on getting louis to the finals!