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.

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