Wednesday, September 30, 2009

EMusic bargain on Benny Goodman

Holy Cow! You can get Benny Goodman: 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert Plus 1944-47 Small Group And Big Band Masterpieces, which contains over 3 1/2 hours of music (65 tracks), for 12 credits. This works out to about $7.00 total or $0.11 per track (though costs may differ depending on your EMusic plan). The sound quality isn't ideal, but I'd say that most of the tracks are still playable, especially the small group recordings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

If you're looking for some nice jazz to play in the background...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

"Jazz to play in the background" sounds vaguely derogatory, though I don't mean it to be. I really mean "jazz that's meant to be enjoyed while sitting and listening." Practically speaking though, that often ends up being while I'm doing the dishes or putzing. Frankly, most of my knowledge about jazz runs dry after about 1950, but I still like listening to music from later periods. Here are some of my personal favorites, with little rhyme or reason behind their mention.

...and are looking for some very accessible jazz albums, just to stick a toe in the water...
  • Do you have a copy of the top-selling jazz record of all time (and probably forever to come)? If not, stop reading this and go purchase a copy of the Miles Davis masterpiece Kind of Blue immediately. Listen to it several times and then we can talk some more.
  • Do you have a copy of Ella and Louis? What about Ella and Louis Again? The two most recognizable, most loved voices in jazz history (suck it, Sinatra!) sing some of the best popular songs ever written. Many of the songs are actually danceable too, but I mention these albums here because the music is so captivating, it is worth listening to them without any distractions. Plus, the voices are backed by the Oscar Peterson trio, a masterful group in their own right, and amazing in their supporting role here.

...and want some great female vocals...
  • It's not a cliche. Billie Holiday is not just for sensitive, wine-drinking romantics. Get yourself some of her music and see why Billie is for everybody. One good starting point is the disc A Musical Romance, which highlights the special musical rapport she shared with saxophonist Lester Young.
  • Sarah, for Sarah Vaughan, is often the third name mentioned in the same breath as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Sarah's style differs from the others because she is a bit younger than Ella and Billie, and never sang with the classic big bands of the 1930's. She came up with a different generation of musicians who were busy inventing bebop, the challenging, sophisticated style of jazz that would really take hold after World War II. The timbre of Sarah's voice (the slight shadings and coloring of the notes she sings) is amazing and unique. Try the album Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown, which has many ballads that really highlight her strengths.
  • For a completely different sort of vocal, check out Carmen McRae. Like Sarah Vaughan, her style is more related to bebop and later styles than to big band jazz. She is fascinating to listen to because she has a totally original, very personal interpretation of the songs she sings. She breaks the rules and sings just what she wants, even if it is dissonant or intentionally painful or even ugly-sounding. I recommend her albums Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics and Carmen Sings Monk. The latter is interesting because she sings lyrics to many (originally instrumental) tunes by Thelonius Monk, one of the giant figures of modern jazz.
  • I also love Anita O'Day, who is a complete original yet again. At a dance, you may have heard her singing "Let Me Off Uptown" with Roy Eldridge and the Gene Krupa Orchestra, but much of her interesting material is less pop and more in-your-face jazz. Her voice, style, and interpretation are like Carmen McRae's in a way, in that they are totally unique and her own--she doesn't actually sound anything like Carmen. I don't have a great album recommendation for Anita O'Day, but you might try a compilation or best-of album like Anita O'Day's Finest Hour. (And if you fall in love with Anita like I did, check out Anita O'Day - The Life Of A Jazz Singer, a documentary about her life. I posted about it here.)

...and want some great male vocals...
  • Joe Williams, the main vocalist with the New Testament Count Basie big band, had a warm, dignified, and charming voice. On his album Nothin' But the Blues, he stretches out with a small jazz combo, giving him a chance to show off his mastery of jazz and scat.
  • Jack Teagarden was a trombone player and band leader during the big band era. He also happened to have a great baritone voice, with a Texas drawl and a world-weary quality that complemented the voice of his friend Louis Armstrong very well (the two sang together in their later years). His album Mis'ry and the Blues, recorded late in his career, is an intimate and melancholy session. Teagarden's instrumental solos are stunning in their virtuosity, and his vocals are steeped in blues.
  • Kevin Mahogany is a contemporary jazz vocalist with an amazingly deep voice, like the Barry White of jazz. I recommend his album Another Time Another Place, and especially the slow, after-hours ballad "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," a tribute to Lester Young. Like the Carmen McRae album I mentioned above, the tune comes from an instrumental modern jazz recording (by Charles Mingus), but with lyrics added to it. Same thing is true of "Parker's Mood," which is from a Charlie Parker record.

...looking for some ivory-ticklers...
  • Pianist Junior Mance began his career in the early 1950's, and is still going strong today. He has even played at several lindy hop events in New York City. His album Sweet and Lovely features tunes ranging from blues, to classics from the swing era (including Main Stem and Swingmatism), to bebop standards.
  • Ray Bryant is another favorite pianist among lindy hoppers. His most famous tune might be "The Madison Time" (yes, the one that goes with the line dance). I really like his album Alone with the Blues--it's a recording of him alone at the piano, playing a variety of tunes that all have a blues feeling to them.
  • Duke Ellington's reputation is largely due to his work as a composer and band leader; serious people who are mostly interested in classical "art" music have nonetheless called him the greatest American composer of the 20th century. But he could also play the piano a bit. The album Live at the Whitney finds Duke without his big band, backed only by bass and drums, playing his own compositions--some well known, some obscure. The album also captures some of his banter with the crowd, giving you a glimpse of his impeccable manners, wit, charm, and aristocratic demeanor.
  • Sticklers and snobs would probably classify Dr. John under rhythm and blues, not Jazz, but I don't care. He's an incredible piano player, who knows how to play music that moves and rolls. He plays and sings traditional blues songs, gospel, and rock-and-roll on Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack: The Legendary Sessions, Vol. 2. (The title of the album is a joke--Dr. John's real name is Mac Rebennack.)

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

...if Blues is your middle name...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

I love blues, but I'm no expert on the music and I've never actually DJed for blues dances. Since I'm not any sort of authority, I asked someone who knows what she's talkin' 'bout to help me pick some good starter albums for blues dancing. My friend Sara Cherny is a fabulous blues dancer, instructor, and organizer on the Chicago scene. (In fact, she's giving a dance workshop called Blues for One coming up this Sunday, Sept. 27th--details here.) We put our heads together and came up with a few recommendations:

...if you like it Chicago-style, with plenty of guitar...
  • Sara explains: to me, Chicago-style blues means a solid, driving beat and a full, amplified sound. Everything is electric: most importantly, the lead and bass guitars, but also sometimes keys, horns, and harmonica.
  • Muddy Waters is the father of Chicago blues. Like many of his contemporaries, he actually grew up in the South, soaking in the sounds of the Mississippi delta before moving north. The amplified, aggressive sound that he developed became the signature style of Chicago. His band included some of the most talented names of all time: Otis Spann, Little Walter, and Willie Dixon. His repertoire included dozens of songs that became blues standards, and many that also became big hits for rock & rollers like the Rolling Stones. If you just want one album from Muddy, try His Best: 1956 to 1964. For the definitive box set, go for The Chess Box.
  • The next generation of Chicago blues musicians included Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, both of whom played with Muddy at one point or another. Their 1970 album South Side Blues Jam captures an incredible session, full of languid, lusty music.
  • Blues wasn't exclusively a male domain. For a female vocalist who could stand up to any man out there, check out Big Mama Thornton. Her album With the Muddy Waters Blues Band 1966 will blow you away.
  • If you like Big Mama, Koko Taylor will also be right up your alley. Try her classic sides from What It Takes: The Chess Years or one of her live sets on South Side Lady (Live in Netherlands 1973).

...if you like it jazzy...
  • James explains: Ever since there has been such a thing as jazz, its purveyors have drawn on the sound and feeling of the Blues--so much so that it's a pretty pointless exercise to argue about whether a track is one or the other. They're not exclusive categories, they're more like fraternal twins. Sara adds: As far as music for blues dancing goes, jazzy tunes will be more likely to have instruments like clarinet, trumpet, and trombone, and the rhythms are more likely to have a swing feeling.
  • Dinah Washington was a star vocalist in the 1950's who spanned Jazz, R&B, and Blues. (That's how the record companies would categorize it, at least. Like we said, they aren't actually different things.) On her album Dinah Washington Sings Bessie Smith, she pays tribute to one of the most famous and influential blues singers of the 1920's. The supporting players on the album include some big names from the jazz world: Max Roach on drums, Clark Terry on trumpet, Wynton Kelly on piano--and the tracks have lots of great little instrumental fills and flourishes. And Dinah's singing is electrifying.
  • Take a listen to Allen Toussaint's album The Bright Mississippi. Toussaint is a diverse and talented musician who embraces the roots of New Orleans jazz and blues, but also dips in to soul, boogie-woogie, rock.
  • You might enjoy the album Cat by Catherine Russell, a contemporary New York singer. The album has a number of good blues numbers, plus a couple songs that are good for lindy hop. All of the blues tunes are "jazzy"--for an example of what I mean, listen to "My Old Daddy's Got a Brand New Way to Love," sung by Catherine with only a piano accompaniment. Other tracks on the album feature mandolin and accordion, not instruments that your average Joe usually associates with blues music (even though mandolin actually does have a rich tradition in blues).

...if you like it with a lot of rock-and-roll energy...
  • James explains: Rock-and-Roll music embraced blues music from the start (and quite lustily!). And I do mean the entire genre--practically every artist from Elvis to the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix to Jack White (though the verdict is still out on Coldplay). Gradually, some rock influences began to seep into blues music too, with some younger blues musicians becoming known for their heroic guitar solos. In general, rock-influenced blues music tends to have big, amped up guitar solos and a heavy back beat from the drums.
  • Eric Clapton is one rock superstar who has continually gone back to traditional blues music for inspiration. His album From the Cradle contains nothing but classic blues tunes by bluesmen such as Leroy Carr, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon. James recalls that it was one of the first albums that sparked his interest in blues music. Sara also recommends Clapton's album The Blues. She appreciates it because he respects the true origin of a song, but then riffs it up with his own personality and creativity.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan, tied with Lyle Lovett for the funniest-looking famous person from Texas, is worshiped by many as an electric guitar god. While Sara and James would both agree that he's really a rock musician with a bit of blues influence, his music is still a rollicking good time. Get his classic album Texas Flood.

...if you're still looking for your favorite style...
  • There are a bunch of different styles and feelings that are collectively known as blues, and there's no way we could cover them all here. Honestly, we haven't even begun to do them justice. Maybe in some future posts... In the mean time, here are a few more album recommendations, from all different styles, that don't fall into any of the categories above.
  • ...if you want a sparse, gritty sound, with acoustic guitar and male vocals, then your roots are in the delta, where the blues was born. Try the legendary Robert Johnson's The Complete Recordings.
  • ...if you like it country-style, with lots of whoopin' and hollerin', then check out Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. They've got a bunch of good albums, but you might start with An Introduction to Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. It amazes us that a combo as simple as guitar, harmonica, and two dudes singing can sound so full and really make you want to get up and dance.
  • ...if you like it soulful, polished yet heartfelt, then get Ray Charles: The Genius Sings the Blues. You can't go wrong with Ray Charles. There's a reason they call him The Genius.

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

If you're discovering the world of Balboa...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

...and need music to practice your basics...
  • Pretty much any music that you have for East Coast Swing or Lindy hop will do. In general, I would say that "Balboa music" encompasses an even broader array of music than does "Lindy Hop music." The dance was born to music from the Big Bands of the 1930's, so that is a great place to start searching.
  • Kyle Smith, a well known DJ and the music coordinator for the annual All-Balboa Weekend in Cleveland, posted a list of his "Top 20 Balboa Songs of All Time" on his blog. It's a great run-down. Try typing any of these titles into your music service of choice and you'll get a bunch of hits that are probably good balboa music.
  • As far as specific recommendations, I recommend the album B.G. in Hi-Fi, by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (even though it was recorded much later than the 1930s). Every track is danceable, they're all classic big band music, and the tempos range from 125 beats per minute all the way up to 230+, so you'll find tracks that are very easy to dance to and some that are very challenging.

...and like dancing to guitar-and-violin combos...
  • ...then you probably already know about Django Reinhardt. Minor Swing is probably his most well-known and popular track (at least among dancers). From what I can tell, some dancers love Django's style of "gypsy jazz" for balboa, while others don't care for it at all. If you want to decide for yourself, you might start with a basic compilation like The Best Of Django Reinhardt or the double disc set Swing from Paris.
  • For dancing, I also highly recommend the album The Swing Sessions, Vol. 1. It's a bit different than most of the Django you may have heard, because most of the tracks feature larger bands, with horns, reeds, and drums instead of just the usual fiddle and bass. The music is still as exotic and interesting as you expect from Django, but the style is closer to what you'd hear from other big bands around that time.
  • For modern recordings of Django-style music, you can't beat the Twin Cities Hot Club, led by guitarist Robert Bell. Their self-titled album has lots of interesting, danceable tunes. You also really should try to catch these guys live. Last time I heard them, Gary Schulte, the group's violinist, had everyone in the room completely hypnotized. This group (and Robert in particular) has a special gift for reading and responding to dancers, adapting their music to what they see and pushing dancers to listen closer and try to respond in turn.

...and want some old-time music but without all the scratch and hiss...

  • If you're looking for very authentic 1930's-style big band, but want a modern recording, look no further than Mora's Modern Rhythmists, a very talented and polished group from Los Angeles dedicated to playing music from the 1920's and 1930's. You can buy their albums and even download individual tracks on their website. Mr. Rhythmist Goes to Town is a good album to start with for balboa tunes. But heck why not just take advantage of their special offer of 4 albums for only $40. Can't beat a deal like that.
  • I guess it makes sense that bands that play good music for Balboa should come from California, since that's where the dance was invented. Another good current band, this one from the San Francisco area, is the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. Their music has that solid beat that's perfect for shuffle-shufflin'. Try their album Radio Rhythm.

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Billie Holiday - Life Begins When You're in Love

Available on Amazon, EMusic, and iTunes.

This is basically just another Billie Holiday record, with backing from Teddy Wilson & his orchestra.

Which is to say, it's great, charming, everything that I love about old jazz. I mention it because I played it at the end of the night a few weeks ago, and thought it was a nice note to end on. I usually DJ the early set at Fizz, passing things off to another DJ at 11:00 p.m. who keeps things rolling, so I seldom have to pick out a song to end the night on. Back when I lived in Boston, the DJ at one of the regular dances ALWAYS played Lou Rawls as the last song of the night. Like clockwork. When I do have to pick a closer, I usually like to go with something a little upbeat and/or catchy to put a spring in people's step when they leave (and just in case anyone isn't totally worn out at the end of the night). I'd be curious to hear from other DJ's--do you do anything particular? Or just keep rolling as you would normally, until the clock runs out?

I like this particular track for the end of the night because of the mood it leaves you with. I also like that it opens with instrumentals: we get a nice trumpet solo from Chris Griffin (from the Benny Goodman big band) and brief saxophone response before the vocal comes in, nearly a minute into the song. The beginning is all janky, and then Billie's vocal comes in very stretched out and languid, creating a nice contrast. Then after the verse, we get longer statements from the tenor sax (Teddy McRae), piano (Teddy Wilson), and clarinet (Rudy Powell), and the whole thing resolves quickly. And that's it for tonight.

Hat-tip to Alex Protopopescu on SwingDJs for the personnel information. In addition to the soloists mentioned above, the track has John Trueheart on guitar, Grachan Moncur on bass, and Cozy Cole on the drums.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

If you're crazy about Charleston...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

...and find yourself dancing on subway platforms, in elevators, or while preparing dinner...
  • Be cautious if listening to the Cats and the Fiddle's album We Cats Will Swing for You. The Cats are a guitar-driven group featuring male vocal harmonies and lots of janky, catchy tunes. If you put them on your iPod, you may end up embarrassing yourself in public, or chopping off your finger at the knuckle if you're not careful.
  • Even though I mentioned this one in an earlier post, I still recommend Firecracker Jazz Band: Firecracker Jazz Band Explodes. High-energy, off-the-wall music from a group that includes some former Squirrel Nut Zippers. Lots of hot tempos. You won't be able to sit still.
  • I also already mentioned the Boilermakers, but not their albums Give Me Your Telephone Number or You Do Something To Me. Both have a number of tunes that are Charleston friendly. I think it's something about the banjo in the rhythm section.

...and really wish it were the Roaring 20's again
  • Start with some early Louis Armstrong, like The Best of The Hot 5 & Hot 7 Recordings. These are some of the most influential recordings in the history of Jazz, and are endlessly fascinating to listen to.
  • For more hot 20's trumpet blowin', there's also Jabbo Smith: 1929 - The Complete Set. The recording of "Jazz Battle" is awesome.
  • The compilation album Harlem Big Bands features recordings from 1925 through 1931, and provides a great sampling of dance bands from that era. I particularly like Cecil Scott & his Bright Boys.
  • Or for modern recordings of tunes from the late 1920's, try Celebrating Bix! from the Bix Centennial All Stars. The group includes Randy Sandke, Dan Barrett, and Vince Giordano, top-flight musicians who all share a love for playing jazz styles from the 1920's, 30's, and 40's. Giordano leads a group called the Nighthawks, who specialize in the music of the 1920'. To get a taste of what they can do, check out this track: Shake That Thing. Unfortunately their albums are not widely available, but you can order them by mail or get them in person at their concerts. (I did the latter, picking up a copy of their album "Quality Shout" and got Vince's autograph to boot.) Details on the Nighthawks MySpace site.
  • Another modern group, hailing from Britain and called simply Harlem, plays a lot of music from Duke Ellington's earliest groups. Check out their album Harlemania.

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hey Mr. Jesse podcast

I just finished listening to the latest episode of one of my favorite podcasts, "Hey Mr. Jesse!" and thought I should mention it because this month was another great show. The podcast is hosted by Jesse Miner and Manu Smith, (both San Francisco-based lindy hoppers and DJs), and features news, reviews, and interviews all focused on swing music and jazz for dancing. This month's show features an interview with pianist and band leader Gordon Webster, a feature about a Twin Cities big band called the Americana Jazz Orchestra, a run-down of new music that's great for dancing, and plenty of song recommendations, quips and banter.

To me, the musician interviews that Jesse lands are the best part of the show--it's SO interesting hearing the musicians' perspective about their work, their stories, and even just how their voices sound. Over the past 45 shows (45 shows! They've been podcasting since January of 2006!) they've talked with Ernestine Anderson, Barbara Morrison, Paul Tillotson, George Gee, Jonathan Stout, Dawn Hampton, Bernard Berkhout, Daniel Glass (the drummer from the Royal Crown Revue),...the list goes on...and even includes the legendary saxophonist Frank Foster (who played with the Count Basie Orchestra).

If you're not familiar with the podcast, I highly recommend checking it out. See their website or the podcast listing on iTunes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

If you're getting more into lindy hop...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

...and want to dance to bands that play the lindy hop circuit nowadays...
  • Check out Jump for Joy, the latest album from the Boilermaker Jazz Band. The selection of tunes is interesting, the music is peppy and fun, and the tempo range is pretty wide, so you'll find plenty of music to push your boundaries.
  • Swingmatism by the Seattle-based Solomon Douglas Swingtet is tailor-made for lindy-hoppin'.
  • From the Los Angeles area, Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five are also frequent featured performers at dance weekends. Try their album Moppin' And Boppin' (or any of their others, they're all good).
  • Can't forget George Gee and the Jump Jivin' Wailers, a great swingin' big band from the birthplace of lindy hop, New York City. Their biggest influence has always been the New Testament Count Basie Band, as on their album Swingin' Away. On their latest, If Dreams Come True, they branch out into some interesting older material.
  • For a whole lot more links, see my blog post listing bands whom I featured on Yehoodi Radio. Nearly all of the groups listed can currently be heard at dances or in night clubs around the country.

...and also smoke pot...

...and like groovy jazz...
  • For upbeat, swingin' dance music that is still solidly blue, check out Let the Good Times Roll by Helen Humes.
  • Oscar Peterson's Night Train has lots of tunes that people have been part of the lindy hop D.J.'s repertoire for ages (or at least as long as I've been dancing). If you like dancing to piano trios, you'll be in heaven. But even if you don't, you should get this album because the music is phenomenal. Sit and listen to it, and you'll see what I mean.

...and are wondering what music people danced to back in the day, like at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem...
  • Get yourself some Chick Webb, either the album Strictly Jive or the cheap box set Stomping at the Savoy.
  • Investigate Mills Blue Rhythm Band--the album titled Mills Blue Rhythm Band: 1933-1936 is a good place to start.
  • Check out An Anthology of Big Band Swing 1930-1955. Over the past couple years, the Silver Shadows dance troupe (Skye, Frida, Peter, Ramona, Todd, Naomi, Andy, Nina) have used music from this album for several of their routines, including Savoy (by Lucky Millinder) and Rock and Rye (Earl Hines). The album has a wide variety of classic big band songs that you would not find on your average "Best of the Big Bands" compilation. Lots of the tunes are fantastic for swinging out.

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If you're just learning to lindy hop...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

...and like your tunes big, bold, and brassy...

  • Count Basie is your man, especially his records from after 1950. His live album Count Basie at Newport has some great dance tunes at various tempos, and is also just awesome music. For mostly slower tempos, try April in Paris.
  • Live in Swing City: Swingin' with the Duke by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is a reliable favorite. The disc contains modern renditions of classic tunes by Duke Ellington, making for interesting, dynamic, and playful music.

...and you like blues-influenced music with a lot of character
  • You can't beat Jimmie Witherspoon. Start with the compilation Jazz Me Blues.
  • Check out Alberta Hunter's Amtrak Blues. It's got several songs that are between 100 and 150 beats per minute--nice slow, mostly chill music to practice your swingouts, with a beat that is easy to follow. Alberta Hunter was 80+ years old when she recorded this album, but her voice is still very spirited and memorable. This album also has "Darktown Strutter's Ball," which is a perpetual favorite among lindy hoppers--it starts off slow but then gets more energetic.

...and like stuff from the Rat Pack, Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, that sort of thing...
  • Check out the album With Respect to Nat by Oscar Peterson. Peterson is one of the most virtuosic jazz musicians of all time. He also does a dead-ringer impression of Nat King Cole on songs such as Walkin' My Baby Back Home and When My Sugar Walks Down the Street. The tempos on this album are mostly pretty slow, so you can lindy hop without breaking a sweat.
  • You might dig Joe Williams, one of the most talented male singers in the history of jazz. Try the album One More for My Baby, where he is backed by a big, brassy orchestra, or the compilation The Definitive Joe Williams.

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Labor Day setlist from Fizz (9/7/2009)

Fizz last night was a tough one for me and it's hard to say just why (as is often the case when you're DJing). The crowd was a mix of people who seemed to respond to peppy big band music and people who prefer groovy piano jazz with female vocals, with very few folks falling into both categories. Or maybe that was just my read because I'm stuck in a rut. It was also Labor Day and a long weekend, perhaps people were in a mood to drink and gab rather than dance the whole night.

Whatever the cause, during my set they floor was more lightly populated than usual. See the run-down below. And here's the BPM frequency distribution and spark line.
  1. My First Impression of You - Chu Berry - Classic Chu Berry Columbia and Victor Sessions - 2:52 - 145 (At the start of the night, a few lindy hoppers and some folks in a corner, teaching each other how to East Coast.)
  2. Ponce De Leon - Charlie Barnet & His Orchestra - 1941-Transcription Performance - 2:26 - 135
  3. Flying Home - Benny Goodman - Perfect Jazz - 3:20 - 164
  4. Coquette - Teddy Wilson - Teddy Wilson, His Piano Orchestra With Billie Holiday - 2:45 - 150
  5. Hey, Ba-Ba-Re-Bop - Lionel Hampton - Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop - 3:21 - 140 (Sticking with big band for the next couple...)
  6. Sent For You Yesterday And Here You Come Today - Count Basie - Ken Burns Jazz - 2:59 - 160
  7. What's Buzzin' Cousin - Cab Calloway - Are You Hep To The Jive? - 2:42 - 190
  8. On The Sunny Side of the Street - Benny Goodman - The Yale University Archives, Volume 3 - 3:11 - 135 (Thought I was being clever with a Jimmy Rushing reprise, but it didn't really work.)
  9. Tain't No Use - Maxine Sullivan - The Lady's In Love With You - 3:48 - 125
  10. When I Grow Too Old To Dream - Della Reese - Song Book, Vol. 3 - 2:35 - 145
  11. The Darktown Strutters' Ball - Alberta Hunter - Amtrak Blues - 5:23 - 150
  12. Opus One - Tommy Dorsey - The Fabulous Swing Collection - 2:58 - 165 (This was a last minute pick, which bombed. Recordings with background strings are a tough sell.)
  13. Gettin' In The Groove - Panama Francis & his Savoy Sultans - Gettin' in the groove (Paris 1971) - 3:06 - 130
  14. Never Make You Move Too Soon - Barbara Morrison - Doing All Right - 3:34 - 135
  15. Jump Through The Window - Roy Eldridge - Little Jazz Giant - 2:44 - 145
  16. TV Is The Thing This Year - Dianne Reeves - Good Night, And Good Luck - 1:43 - 160 (Played this one for Marie. Got a good response from the floor.)
  17. Stay Cool - Count Basie - Blues By Basie - 3:12 - 155
  18. Tea For Two - Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie - Ella And Basie! - 3:18 - 140 (I wanted to keep running with New Testament Basie, but this track fell flat.)
  19. Rhythm Itch - Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five - Moppin' and Boppin' - 3:11 - 170
  20. Honeysuckle Rose - Louis Armstrong - Satch Plays Fats - 2:56 - 170
  21. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It - Papa Bues Viking Jazzband - Live In Copenhagen - 3:36 - 135
  22. 5-10-15 Hours - Blue Harlem - Talk To Me - 3:17 - 130
  23. Easy Does It - Paul Tillotson the Love Trio - Lindy Hop Blues - 2:57 - 130
  24. Love Me or Leave Me - Peggy Lee - Black Coffee - 2:10 - 135
  25. Jersey Bounce - Twin Cities Hot Club - Twin Cities Hot Club - 4:46 - 160 (Trying to transition based on the violin in this song and the next, but it didn't work. In retrospect, didn't really make sense.)
  26. Somebody Loves Me - Stuff Smith - Cat On A Hot Fiddle - 3:42 - 150
  27. Don't You Miss Your Baby - Jimmy Witherspoon - Jimmy Witherspoon & Panama Francis' Savoy Sultans - 3:55 - 140 (This song is a crutch for me lately.)
  28. Moten Swing - Barney Kessel - To Swing Or Not To Swing - 3:57 - 160
  29. The Flat Foot Floogie - Slim Gaillard - 1938-46 - 2:50 - 175 (This one got a BIG response from the floor so I figured, okay more Charleston music. But then the next one didn't work.)
  30. South - The Solomon Douglas Swingtet - Live at the Legion - 3:17 - 182
  31. Dark Eyes - Fats Waller - Happy Birthday Fats Vol. 1 - 3:22 - 160 (From an ILHC classic routine.)
  32. Splanky - George Gee - Swingin' Live! - 3:18 - 130 (Birthday dance. One of the birthday girls, also a DJ, requested the song.)
  33. My Daddy Rocks Me - Benny Goodman - Benny Goodman et son orchestre: 1945 Vol.2 - 2:48 - 100 (See my post about this song.)
  34. I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me - Sidney Bechet - Jazz in Paris: Sydney Bechet et Claude Luter - 2:40 - 145

Monday, September 7, 2009

If you're just learning East Coast Swing (a.k.a. 6-count, jitterbug)...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

If you're new to this whole swing dancing thing, you probably have no idea where to start when it comes to music. Below I lay out a bunch of suggestions for you. The suggestions are organized by different styles of music, because there are many different types or "flavors" of music that people like for swing dancing. Try reading over the headings to see if any of the different styles ring a bell. If one does, then check out the suggestions in that category--hopefully you'll find something you like. And if none of the categories make any sense to you, just ignore them. Instead, you can skim through the suggestions and click on some of the links I provide. Try previewing a track or two, and I bet you'll find something you like. Happy web-surfing.

...and are nostalgic for the big band era
  • Start out by getting yourself a compilation or two--they tend to be cheap, and will give you some of the big hits. Here's a good one: The Fabulous Swing Collection. Or look for other compilations that have artists such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmie Lunceford, Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, and Glenn Miller.
  • Preview the album Are You Hep to the Jive? by Cab Calloway and his orchestra. If you like the style, get it. Every track on this album is danceable, catchy, and sometimes the lyrics are funny too.

...and you like Rockabilly or early rock and roll...
  • Check out a group called the Blue Vipers of Brooklyn, especially their album Forty Days & Forty Nights. They're a very talented bunch of musicians that plays jaunty traditional music--sort of rockabilly in that it's got rhythm guitar and some great bass-slapping, but their song selections include some tunes you're probably not as familiar with.
  • From the opposite end of the country, Stompy Jones is a great San Francisco-area band that plays jazzy jump blues. Their self-titled album has lots of good dance tunes.

...and you like Neo Swing like Brian Setzer, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin' Daddies
  • In my very humble opinion, BBVD and The Royal Crown Revue (Mugzy's Move) are better than most other neo swing bands. BBVD even has an album How Big Can You Get?: The Music of Cab Calloway where they cover some classic big band jazz.
  • Definitely check out Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, especially the album Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing. They were a very popular band among swing dancers back when the Swing Craze hit in the late 1990's. Lavay's vocals are great and the band has all the energy of Neo Swing, but the arrangements and playing are a little more authentic, a little closer to classic big band music.
  • I have always had a soft spot for the Squirrel Nut Zippers, since they were the band that first inspired me to get into swing dancing (with their album Hot). If you like the zany circus energy of the Zippers, you might be interested to know that some of the members now play in a group called the Firecracker Jazz Band. Their music is still very zany and crazy (dare I say, perhaps even zanier than the Zippers!), and it is also very danceable. Check out their album Firecracker Jazz Band Explodes.
  • Katherine Whalen, the female vocalist from the Squirrel Nut Zippers, also has a very solid solo album, with many danceable tunes. It's called Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad. Unfortunately it is out of print, so it might be hard to find. Her newer album is more pop than jazz.

...and like stuff from the Rat Pack
, Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, that sort of thing...
  • Do you have It Might as Well Be Swing? On this album, Frankie Boy sings with the Count Basie Orchestra, one of the great powerhouse big bands. It's a little jazzier than some of Sinatra's other stuff. If you like this one, Sinatra also sung and swung (?) with the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James big bands.
  • If you don't have any Ella Fitzgerald, then you really need to get to know her. The Complete Ella In Berlin: Mack The Knife is a good place to start, with lots of good dance tracks (That Old Black Magic, Just One of Those Things, Too Darn Hot, and the famous performance of Mack the Knife).

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Starter albums for the jazz-curious: introduction

I've heard the same advice from many dance teachers, including some big-name instructors: "If you want to get better at dancing, listen to the music often--not just when you're out dancing." I've found it to be true in my own experience as well. Getting familiar with how swing tunes are put together, how different jazz musicians phrase a solo, how breaks work, etc. will help you be more musical in your dancing. It may also motivate you to get better, since you'll start to hear little things in a song and say to yourself, "hey how can I dance to that bit?"

But where to find some good music? Many swing dancers don't really know much of anything about the music they dance to, though I've met some who are curious to learn more. If you fit that bill, I thought I would try to provide a few recommendations to help you get a toe in the water. Over the next several posts, I will make suggestions based on several different "jumping-off" points. Hopefully one of them will more-or-less describe you. Or if you don't fit into any of them but are looking for a recommendation, post a comment or email me and I'll see what I can dig up for you.

I try to suggest albums that have a lot of tunes that you can dance to (as oppose to just 2 or 3) using whatever style(s) you can do. I also try to suggest music that is close enough to something you may already be familiar with, so it won't sound too strange. I provide links to full albums on Amazon, but practically all of this music is also available as electronic downloads from Amazon, EMusic, or iTunes (see my earlier posts about these different websites), so you can also easily cherry pick a few tracks from these albums.

Here are links to the series of posts (all tagged with "starter albums"). If you're...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Setlist from First Friday at Big City Swing

There was a lively crowd at Big City for the First Friday dance last night. A bunch of folks took the beginner lesson, and like last month, we transitioned in to the dance by having Jenna tell the folks there for the lesson that I was going to play something faster and peppier and more fun. I played until just before 10:00, then my friend Jason took over. The plan was for him to go for an hour, and then pass it back to me. Come 11:00 though, we switched over and I played a few more, but then Jason took over again and finished off the night. Fine by me, I wouldn't want to stop a guy who's on a roll.

Set list is below. Here's the BPM frequency distribution and spark line. (Neither is all that good a representation of the night as a whole, because Jason played stuff that was faster and slower than the songs below.)
  1. Closer To The Bone - Louis Prima - Ultra-Lounge, Vol. 5: Wild Cool & Swingin - 4:12 - 180 (This one was still part of the lesson.)
  2. Jump, Jive, An' Wail - Louis Prima - Ultra-Lounge, Vol. 5: Wild Cool & Swingin - 3:31 - 200
  3. Big John's Special - Don Neely's Royal Society Jazz Orchestra - Radio Rhythm - 3:18 - 170
  4. Oh Marie - Stompy Jones - Stompy Jones - 2:32 - 165
  5. Good Evenin' Good Lookin' - Benny Goodman - Benny Goodman - 3:10 - 150
  6. My Blue Heaven - Artie Shaw - The Very Best Of Artie Shaw - 3:47 - 164
  7. Deed I Do - Katharine Whalen - Jazz Squad - 2:42 - 170
  8. Honey Pie - Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers - Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing! - 4:10 - 150
  9. I'm Beginning To See The Light - Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington - Compact Jazz - 3:26 - 132
  10. Hey, Ba-Ba-Re-Bop - Lionel Hampton - Lionel Hampton Story 3 - 3:21 - 140
  11. Touch And Go - Wynona Carr - Jump Jack Jump! - 2:14 - 165
  12. Apollo Jump - Lucky Millinder - Classic Big Band Jazz - 3:26 - 145
  13. Lavender Coffin - Lionel Hampton - Lionel Hampton Story 4 - 2:47 - 135
  14. It's De-Lovely - The Boilermaker Jazz Band - Give Me Your Telephone Number - 4:04 - 150
  15. Honeysuckle Rose - Louis Armstrong - Satch Plays Fats - 2:56 - 170
  16. One O'Clock Jump - Benny Goodman - An Anthology Of Big Band Swing 1930-1955 - 3:10 - 177
  17. Gettin' In The Groove - Panama Francis & his Savoy Sultans - Gettin' in the groove (Paris 1971) - 3:06 - 130
  18. Shine On Harvest Moon - Pete Fountain - Dixieland's Kings - 2:50 - 160
  19. How'dja Like To Love Me? - Maxine Sullivan - The Lady's In Love With You - 2:58 - 130
  20. Tain't What You Do - Jimmie Lunceford - Jimmie Lunceford - 3:06 - 160 (Shim-sham.)
Jason took over after the shim-sham for a lively hour. I played a few more starting at 11:00:
  1. L.O.V.E. - Nat King Cole - Ultra-Lounge, Vol. 5: Wild Cool & Swingin - 2:34 - 150 (By request.)
  2. Alligator Meat - Joe Swift With The Johnny Otis Band - Joe Swift With The Johnny Otis Band - Swing Time Jive - 2:57 - 120
  3. Twenty-Nine Ways - Koko Taylor - South Side Lady (Live in Netherlands 1973) - 3:53 - 125 (For Sara.)
  4. I'll Do Anything But Work - Ray Charles - Ray Charles - Swing Time Jive - 2:38 - 135
Then Jason took the reigns again and finished out the night.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Papa Bue's Viking Jazz Band - My Bucket's Got a Hole In It

Available on Amazon, EMusic, and iTunes.

On several recent occasions, I've had dancers come up to me asking about this track, or giving me a thumbs up when it finished. It's from Arne "Papa Bue" Jensen and his Viking Jazz Band, a Danish trad. jazz group that has been active since the 1950's. I find it interesting that it works so well for dancing, because as music it's, dare I say, second rate. There's very little variation, the vocal chorus just keeps getting repeated over and over (why the vocalist doesn't sing one of the many verses that exist is beyond me!), and most of the playing is just imitation or caricature of Louis Armstrong. (Compare to this Louis Armstrong recording (EMusic, Amazon, iTunes), which sounds like it is the model for the Viking Jazz Band recording. Louis' vocal has more depth, nuance, and humor. Edmund Hall's clarinet solo is great. The group improv, the give-and-take, is much stronger. Of course, it IS unfair to compare somebody to one of the single greatest jazz musicians to ever live.)

Critical faults aside, the Viking Jazz Band track is basically perfect for dancing. It starts out with the piano in the lead, nice and chill, with a bass behind it walking a strong, steady rhythm. The trumpet comes in and the energy builds. Then the vocal cools things off. Following that, the trombone solo ratchets things up a little bit, before the trumpet comes back in with the whole group backing him up. The ending is energetic but not so wild or momentous that it's beyond a dancer's range to match it. The solid rhythm, the variation in voices, the way the energy goes up and down and then up, are all great qualities for dance music. Actually, I'd say that the Armstrong-sound-alike trumpet and vocal are also advantages--they make the track vaguely recognizable to someone who's never heard of Papa Bue Jensen. Try playing this one at your local dance, and I'm sure you'll get a good response from the crowd.