Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 3/23/14

This week we had fun with pop turns and inserted one into the middle of a swingout on the 5 and 6!

Come join us every Sunday at 6pm at the Zendah Grotto for more lessons!

Visit for more info.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Down South Camp Meeting" - Benny Goodman

That's My Jam!

When two guys as brilliant as Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman put their heads together, you get songs like "Down South Camp Meeting."

You might be more familiar with Benny Goodman.  He was, after all, the King of Swing and helped to bring Swing Jazz into public acceptance. This was the 1930's and conservative whites were not comfortable with their children listening and dancing to what they considered to be "colored people's" music. Benny Goodman began a trend that happened again and again in every generation of the 20th century - he was the white guy playing the black people's music who helped bridge the gap. Some would consider him the Elvis of his time.

What you might not know is that the musical genius behind the scenes who composed much of Goodman's music was a man named Fletcher Henderson who did not happen to be white. Together Henderson and Goodman would influence the entire progression of popular music.

If you pull up my Great Lindy Hop and Balboa Playlist on Spotify and sort by artist you'll see a whole bunch of songs by Benny Goodman. "Down South Camp Meeting" stands out to me because of just how dance-able it is.

First, it swings. It swings hard. The syncopations fall right into the pocket. It's one of those songs that just feels right. It feels comfortable. It rises and falls. It grows and shrinks. The themes repeat, but with enough variety that they are playful and familiar, not annoying or dull. It's a tune that makes you want to move your feet.

If you're interested in learning more about Henderson and Goodman I'd recommend checking out Ken Burn's documentary "Jazz" which is on Netflix currently, or the BBC documentary "The Swing Thing" which I've poste
d below. Both touch on this topic among a host of other awesome stories about swing.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Zendah Grotto Mini Workshop Recap 3/16/14

At the beginning of the year I started teaching a weekly 6pm mini-workshop class on intermediate Lindy Hop concepts at the Zendah Grotto.

The class is open to anyone who is comfortable socially leading swing-outs and using basic Lindy Hop techniques in their dancing.

The premise is to create an atmosphere where we all feel comfortable working on our dancing together, learning together, and generally growing in excitement for the dance we all love.

If you're in the Tampa Bay area I'd love for you to come on out and jump into the lesson.  Invite  and challenge your friends to come learn with you.  The more we lean together the better we'll all retain the information and get to use it on the dance floor.

The video above is a short recap from the lesson Melissa Reilly and I taught last week.  I can't wait for all the fun things we have planned!

See you on Sunday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Diga Diga Doo" - Artie Shaw

That's My Jam!

What's my jam for this week?  A little song with a lot of versions.  Searching Diga Diga Doo on Spotify brings up a long list of songs.

Many artists have taken a swing at this song over the years, but none of them sound more dance-able than Artie Shaw's version in the clip above.  You can check it out here on Spotify too.

This version swings so hard.  The beginning horns are like a siren's call to the dance floor.  The rhythm section is seated right behind the beat, right in the pocket.  Everything about this song is inviting the listener to get up out of their seat.  Also, if you listen carefully, you can hear what sounds like a "Hey!" from a band member right at 1:09.  The band is just jamming this out.

Another version of note is Duke Ellington's (original?). It contains aspects of Hot Jazz with a rhythm section emphasizing the bass on 1's and 3's but not the 2's and 4's for most of the song.  The beat feels more vertical and staccato.  Of course you can force dancing on anything, but it doesn't feel as natural as Artie Shaw's version.  It's also a less comfortable tempo.

What about more recent versions?

I've searched around and there are a few, but none of them have the same spirit and feel as Artie Shaw's.  Many push the song way faster, or take it back to a Hot Jazz feel, which make it less enjoyable for dancing.

Usually I stay away from mentioning Neo-Swing bands as a general rule.  They rarely play actual Jazz with most songs being dressed up Jump Blues or just Rock-n-Roll with horns (which, because of accenting the back beat, the 2's and 4's, are less comfortable and effective for Lindy Hop, and evolve dancer's movements in a different direction.  Think Boogie Woogie or Jive.), but I thought it would be interesting to shortly (or maybe longly) discuss Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's version.  Give it a listen.

I try to be fair and scientific.  I like to test things out and see the evidence before determining a judgement.  So how do the Big Bad's fair?

Well, they're all over the place.  I do find a common theme or feeling in a lot of their music.  It's as if they and the whole genre has the effect of feeling like it's trying too hard to be the cool kid - it's as if the band is more interested in showing off musically and being cool than actually catering to dancers and creating a solid and pleasant foundation.  There's also this strange feeling about the faux-vintage look.  It's as if they dress and present a false image of the past, similar to how you can pull up an 80's movie about the future and it doesn't really look like the actual future, more like the future of the 80's had trends never changed.

I'm a bit torn though because there are pleasing elements.  When the song gets past the overly complex and showy intro and into the first sung verse the rhythm chills out and breathes, giving a nice solid 4 on the floor beat with slight piano accents on 2 and 4 - which isn't overbearing.  It's actually kind of nice.  Then the trumpet solo comes in, which actually hearkens back melodically to the chorus, which is, again, surprisingly nice as a dancer.  The rhythm morphs again into more of a Hot Jazz feel, but it's better than a heavy snare back-beat.

Then the scat section happens, and there's a heavy snare back-beat.  Sigh.  Well, I thought we were staying away from Rock-n-Roll with this one since it is a Jazz standard, but I guess not. Modern drummers just can't seem to stay away from the snare drum.

The song continues to change feeling at every new section.  At one point you can feel an almost Electro-Swing influence.  They just can't make up their mind.

In my opinion, what might make for interesting and creative listening decisions removes some of the appeal for social dancing.  And although you could argue that the song as a whole "swings" it doesn't do so in a pleasing and uniform way.

Some of you might argue just the opposite, that a song like this gives you fun changes to play with and the rhythm differences keep the dance interesting.  But how many of you know 3 or 4 different dance styles to use to match the changes as they come?

Let's compare this to Artie Shaw's version.  The song structure sticks with the classic AABA Jazz structure.  The horn section holds out notes, the melody is less sharp and flows better, there aren't large and overbearing breaks between song sections - they just flow together.  The rhythm is just SOLID and swings consistently the whole way through.  Even the drum solos are short, unique and interesting whereas BBVD's drummer does that stereotypical low tom drum thing that all the New-Swing bands do.  There's a rise and fall to the overall song and the climax toward the end keeps it's cool.  The BBVD version gets abrasive and chaotic.

Though the recording of Artie Shaw's version is old, it's still clear enough to hear the elements (and people yelling "Hey!" in the background during the performance).  It's also not overly "compressed" like many of today's recordings.  Horns, especially, don't sound as good or natural with modern compression.  The BBVD version is harsh, loud, and compressed.  Yes, you can hear everything, but you hear it all at the same volume at the same time.  There's no space between the sounds - no individual volumes to different instruments.  Plus I generally prefer instrumental vs vocal songs for dancing if given the choice.

In many ways these versions are opposites.  The very things that draw me, as a dancer, to Artie Shaw's version are not present in BBVD's which they, in tern, replace with the very things that push me away as a dancer.  I would argue that Artie's version is actually better for both new and seasoned dancers at the same time.

In short, Artie Shaw's version works as a strong foundation with which to place your dancing on top of, to showcase what you can do to jam with the music with you and your partner's bodies.  The BBVD version takes all the jamming room for themselves and makes you, as the dancer, bend to them.

As always, check out The Great Lindy Hop and Balboa playlist on Spotify for more wonderful tunes for dancing!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"When I Grow Too Old To Dream" - The Cats and the Fiddle

I've decided after some time off from the blog that I'd start this baby back up with some new ideas.  The first of these is a semi-regular series where I highlight a specific song or artist.  I think we'll call it...
That's My Jam!

So what's my jam this week?

"When I Grow Too Old To Dream" by The Cats and the Fiddle.

I recently included this in the Advanced J&J Prelims a few weeks ago at the Zendah Grotto.

In my mind there is a category of song that screams, "Swing Out!" and this is clearly one of those songs.  Even if you can't exactly dance at the moment just listening to it makes me tap my feet and want to move.

Now, I'm no expert on this group, and very little is revealed in their Wikipedia article about what these guys were like, but I have my suspicions.  

As many musicians know, you spend a lot of your time hanging out and just jamming on the songs you know. This recording feels like the hundredth time they played this song - they've got this thing down and they've experimented with a hundred different ways to improv vocally and instrumentally with this, and now this song is all feel.  It just jams out.  It's been boiled down to it's primal instrumental groove, and the melody dances around the remnant of the original.

For contrast, here's Nat King Cole's version recorded a good decade plus later.

It's slower, groovier, and the melody is a lot straighter.  And it's still a good song.

An additional fun note.  Many of you will know of Lindy Hop instructor Mike Faltesek.  His band, Falty and the Defects, just recently released their first album and this song is one of their Jam's too.  Check it out at Reverb Nation and give them a like on their Facebook page.  Who knows, maybe someday we'll get them to come play down here in Florida.