Monthly Archives: February 2011

Andrew J. Nemr Talks Tap and Swing

Years ago when I was just a kid in a dinner theater production of Oliver, I met Andrew Nemr. We’ve been good friends ever since, and I have had the privilege to watch his career develop. Mentored by Gregory Hines, Andrew is an outstanding tap dancer with a deep passion for the dance and its history. He runs his own tap company, Cats Paying Dues (CPD), which will be presenting his show, Echoes in Time, on March 4th at Symphony Space in NYC. I caught up with him in preparation for the show to chat a bit about some of his mentors, the connection between tap and lindy, and the upcoming performance.

Craig: Welcome, Andrew, to All the Cats Join In.

Andrew: Thanks, glad to be here.

C: So, I remember attending your college graduation party a few years back (or more), and meeting tap legends Buster Brown and Brownie Brown. Can you tell me a little bit about those guys?

A: Oh wow. You know, I didn’t know they were going to be there. Buster and Brownie were members of the Copasetics, a fraternity of mostly entertainers, that included Billy Strayhorn (Ellington’s writing partner), Honi Coles, Cholly Atkins, and LeRoy Myers. All of the members came up at a time when tap dance was part of the popular culture of America, so we’re talking the 1920s until the late 40s, early 50s.

Buster and Brownie, specifically, were two of my personal examples of the joy that one can have being a tap dancer and sharing the dance with others.

C: Yeah, I certainly got to see that in them that day. The reason I mention them is that I distinctly remember them having some serious swing moves on the dance floor that day. I’m guessing they were in their 80s, but they could still man-handle a woman across the dance floor!

A: Yes sir. If my recollection serves me, Brownie danced with every girl at the party. Like I said, pure joy! And yes, Buster was 88 or 89 in 2001 and Brownie was around the same age.

C: Was it common for tap dancers to social dance as well? Continue reading

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Filed under community, History, Interviews, Jazz, Music, Tap, Video

They’re Doin’ Choreography

Lately, my dancing life is overrun with choreography. I’m currently working on a routine for the lindy hopping Midshipmen for the Naval Academy’s International Ball, choreographing a new solo jazz routine for the upcoming First Sunday Festivals in Annapolis, and working on some jam material for our upcoming dance in March. When I’m out dancing socially, I rarely think about what comes next, the benefit of years of experience and practice. But choreography forces me to think differently.

Choreography pulls me outside of real time, and gives me the opportunity to think about moves, transitions and styling on a much deeper level. Because its all preplanned and rehearsed, new levels of intricacy in footwork suddenly become possible, and I often figure out ways to link together moves in new and creative ways. Sometimes, I “invent” a new move, or at least a variation I had never done before. With all of the drill and repetition, I get very practiced at these new combinations, so they often work their way into my social dancing. Continue reading

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Lindy Hop Helped Me Survive Capitol Hill

After I graduated from college, I moved to Washington, D.C. and took a job on the Hill, first as an intern and then as a low-paid letter writer. I ended up at Glen Echo’s Spanish Ballroom with some friends during that time and just loved it. I wasn’t at all good, but oh, the music and the dancing was such fun. I had wanted to learn how to swing dance for years, but hadn’t come across anyone that could satisfactorily unlock the mystery of how for me until then. I continued going to the Saturday dances and eventually began lessons.

One of the side benefits I began to realize was that if I danced at the same places consistently then I would get to dance with many of the same people. As I made friends, I grew to appreciate the range of folks in the lindy community from high schoolers all the way up to retirees. The small liberal arts college I attended had a rich sense of community among students, faculty, and staff. At times, working on Capitol Hill felt like I’d fallen down some bizarre rabbit hole to an alternate universe where everyone was under 30. Continue reading

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Awesomeness has No Shape

It’s a common cliche to say “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Except the truth is that we all do it. All the time. And we judge dancers by their covers as well. Guys, I’m talking to you. You know you’re guilty of it. You look over to the side of the room, see two girls standing side by side, and you walk up and ask the “pretty” one to dance. I confess that I am also guilty of this, guilty of making those rash judgements.

But I also try to look past those snap decisions to ask everyone to dance. No matter what shape and size, how tall or how short, how old or how young. . .I am constantly surprised and amazed. I’ve danced with full-figured women who are as light as a feather and spin like a top. And I’ve danced with petite women who dance heavy into the floor so we can get a lot of rockin’ counterbalance and momentum going. I constantly have my expectations blown out of the water.

A beautiful face or the “ideal” figure isn’t going to make anyone a better dancer. A dancer’s passion isn’t determined by the fact that they are 21 years old or 61 years young. Having a great fashion sense won’t make anyone’s swingout better. But constantly making choices based on those instantaneous judgements does have an impact on our community. Do we want to create a space where women have to be enough? Pretty enough? Skinny enough? Young enough? Good enough? I don’t.

I want to create a space where you’re enough when you walk through the door. You are awesome enough. Awesome because you had the courage to try something new for the first time. Awesome because you light up every time you hear the sound of a big band. Awesome because you are dedicated and work hard to master that swingout or that swivel. Awesome because you are a passionate human being that wants to move and be moved, and you are willing to share that with me.

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Vintage Jazz Buffet (5 of 5)

Today is the final day of our 100 songs by 100 artists. I don’t know about you, but this jazz buffet has left me stuffed! I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and found it helpful and fun. I never meant for this to be a conclusive list, so if I left out an artist you love or there’s a song you feel deserves mention, please take a moment to leave a comment. Also, a lot of time and love went into this list, so I hope you’ll share the link with your swing communities.

Part 1 (1-20)
Part 2 (21-40)
Part 3 (41-60)
Part 4 (61-80)
Part 5 (81-100)

  1. “Fever” – Peggy Lee. I’ve heard it said that Peggy Lee knew she didn’t have the biggest voice, but learned that by singing with quiet intensity she could get people to listen. I don’t know if that’s true since she can sing with some power when she wants to, but it certainly holds true that her voice can mesmerize. She recorded throughout her life, adapting to changing genres over the years, her last album recorded in 1992.
  2. “Cheek to Cheek” – Ray Anthony. Ray Anthony started playing with Glenn Miller and then Tommy Dorsey before starting up his own band. He had a hit with “Dancing in the Dark,” not so much of a danceable tune, but a solid standard ballad. He also achieved fame for writing the theme to Dragnet.
  3. “Messin On Melrose” – Ray Bauduc. Bauduc was a drummer in the 20s and 30s who helped to transition jazz from Charlston/New Orleans jazz into the swing of the 1930s. He played in Ben Pollock’s band for six years, while sitting in on recordings for Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Louis Prima, Glenn Miller, and more.
  4. “Little Jack Frost Get Lost” – Ray McKinley Orchestra. Ray McKinley also co-led the Will Bradley Orchestra which recorded one of my favorites, “Celery Stalks at Midnight.” His own band was short lived as he entered the army during WWII, working with Glenn Miller’s army band. After Miller’s passing, McKinley continued to lead Glenn Miller’s legacy orchestra for a decade.
  5. “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” – Rosemary Clooney. The aunt of actor, George Clooney, Rosemary had a great career in movies and music. Her sultry alto voice stood in contrast to many of the innocent sounding songbirds of the day. Her skills as an actress showed through in her emotional performances, compensating for her lack of virtuosity.
  6. “Jump Through the Window” – Roy Eldridge. Eldridge was not a pretty trumpet player, he attacked the music, aggressive and forthright. His most memorable work came in the 1940s with Gene Krupa and Anita O’Day and also with Artie Shaw.
  7. “Hop, Skip, & Jump” – Roy Milton. Milton was a solid sender, literally. His R&B influenced band, The Solid Senders, benefitted from his driving work on drums. He has a string of hits in the 1940’s, this particular tune being one of my personal favorites of his.
  8. “Love Me or Leave Me” – Sammy Davis, Jr. Unlike the rest of the rat pack who started as crooners for big bands, Sammy started with a small group combo, Will Mastin’s Gang. As a tap dancer, he understands music on a deep level, and knows how to swing it, although his arrangements sometimes veer into his theatrical, vaudeville roots.
  9. “Ballin’ the Jack” – Sidney Bechet. Bechet achieved more success and fame in Europe than he ever achieved in the States during his life. He worked steadily in the 1920s, but had trouble finding jobs in the 1930s. His own attempts to start up bands usually flopped. In 1949, he played a jazz festival in France, and the warm reception he received convinced him to stay abroad where he finally achieved some success and recognition.
  10. “Shout, Sister, Shout!” – Sister Rosetta Tharpe (with Lucky Millinder). The Lord blessed us dancers with this amazing gospel talent who was willing to swing it hard in the clubs with us dancers. She popularized gospel music, becoming so successful as to be one of only two gospel acts recorded on the V-Discs for American troops in WWII.
  11. “Jump Session” – Slim Gaillard (and Slam Stewart). Slim Gaillard was never really taken seriously as a musician, perhaps because the man was hardly ever serious himself. He was immensely entertaining and versatile as a singer, guitarist, and pianist. He often included gimmicks like singing in his made up dialogue of “Vout” and playing piano with the back of his hands.
  12. “Eager Beaver” – Stan Kenton. Kenton came up playing piano in dance bands, but always longed for something else. He started his own band in the early 40s, and slowly built up some success. Adding June Christy as vocalist certainly helped. But Kenton wanted to be playing more complicated, “Progressive Jazz,” for a concert audience. Still, he could swing hard when he wanted to.
  13. “For Dancers Only” – Sy Oliver. A student introduced me to Sy Oliver recently. Sy only led his own band briefly, but he was a successful trumpeter and arranger. He arranged charts for Jimmy Lunceford in the 30s and for Tommy Dorsey in the 40s. In the 50s, he started doing freelance work that kept him busy and working until his death in the 1980s.
  14. “B-Flat Swing” – Teddy Wilson. Big bands were so plentiful in the 1930s that its easy to overlook some of the smaller combos. Teddy Wilson made a career playing in smaller groups where his accessible piano style shined. He often worked with Benny Goodman, and also taught at Julliard for a time.
  15. “American Patrol” – Tex Beneke. Beneke was a sax player, but made his name as a vocalist for Glenn Miller recording, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and other classics. He led the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the years after Miller’s death, but was unhappy with the limitations placed on the band by Miller’s estate and launched his own band.
  16. “Darktown Strutters Ball” – Tiny Hill & His Orchestra. Like all men named Tiny, this 350 lb. gent moved slow and steady. His band grew in fame over the 1930s to the point where they were doing national tours. In the 40s, he got a gig as the house band on the radio show, “Your Hit Parade.”
  17. “That’s the Rhythm” – Three Sharps and A Flat. Bill Spiedel introduced me to this song. I can’t find much about the group, but they are a vocal harmony group in a similar vein to Cats and The Fiddle. He and I would both like this song to catch on more.
  18. “Blue Moon” – Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra (w/Frank Sinatra). At this point, I’ve talked so much about Tommy Dorsey as I’ve mentioned all the people who came through his band, that I feel there’s little left to add. What I will say is that Tommy is my favorite of the two Dorsey Brothers.
  19. “Jack I’m Mellow” – Trixie Smith. Primarily a blues singer, Trixie recorded in the mid 20s with Louis Armstrong. Her fame faded with time, and she was primarily forgotten. Were it not for this pot-inspired song, chances are she wouldn’t be on this list.
  20. “Ain’t Misbehavin'” – Woody Herman. Woody Herman was an experimenter with his big band. Sometimes, its wildly successful, sometimes its wildly successful for someone who doesn’t have to dance to it. For example, his band recorded the Ebony Concerto which was written by Stravinsky for them. That takes some serious chops!

This post is part 5 of a series that lists one hundred different songs by one hundred different artists. It is designed to be used as an inspiration for dancers to explore the catalogs of our great vintage jazz recording artists. I’ve placed what I consider to be iconic artists in bold. If you are just starting to explore vintage jazz, I recommend you start with these artists.

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Vintage Jazz Buffet (4 of 5)

This post is part 4 of a series that lists one hundred different songs by one hundred different artists. It is designed to be used as an inspiration for dancers to explore the catalogs of our great vintage jazz recording artists. I’ve placed what I consider to be iconic artists in bold. If you are just starting to explore vintage jazz, I recommend you start with these artists.

Part 1 (1-20)
Part 2 (21-40)
Part 3 (41-60)
Part 4 (61-80)
Part 5 (81-100)

  1. “Come On-A-My House” – Kay Starr. Kay Starr is mostly remembered for her work in the 50s when she had the big hit with “Wheel of Fortune.” I’m not one for the sweeping strings and shmaltz of those recordings, but a little more digging and you’ll find a Kay Starr that swings hard with a powerful voice similar to Dinah Washington’s.
  2. “New Orleans Shout” – King Oliver & His Orchestra. King Oliver’s group was one of the last successful dixieland bands with a fully improvisational style. In it, he mentored many up and coming musicians including Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately, the recording technology of the day leaves us with only a faint impression of what the robust band must have sounded like in its day.
  3. “Glen Island Hop” – Larry Clinton & His Orchestra. As an arranger, Larry Clinton was known for taking classical music and well known songs, and transforming them into swinging hits. He had some success with his own band before Glenn Miller came along and took the spotlight from him.
  4. “Honeysuckle Rose” – Lena Horne. With a stunning figure and a beautiful voice, Lena Horne found success in both music and in the movies. But as an African-American, she was often unable to get respectable movie parts, and focused her career more on music. While ballads were her specialty (she’s known for “Stormy Weather”), she was just as comfortable with anything dripping with jazz.
  5. “Bizet Has His Day” – Les Brown. Launching Doris Day’s career made Les Brown a star, too. He was never a great innovator in jazz, but had a solid crew of talent. In later years, he partnered up with Bob Hope, and was able to maintain his success throughout his life. Continue reading

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Vintage Jazz Buffet (3 of 5)

This post is part 3 of a series that lists one hundred different songs by one hundred different artists. It is designed to be used as an inspiration for dancers to explore the catalogs of our great vintage jazz recording artists. I’ve placed what I consider to be iconic artists in bold. If you are just starting to explore vintage jazz, I recommend you start with these artists.

Part 1 (1-20)
Part 2 (21-40)
Part 3 (41-60)
Part 4 (61-80)
Part 5 (81-100)

  1. “Yacht Club Swing” – Fats Waller. Fats Waller was an amazing pianist who used to tear it up at the rent parties in Harlem. He was also one hell of an entertainer, and while not being the “best” vocalist, he was so expressive with his voice that it never mattered. I’m particularly fond of his appearance in the movie, Stormy Weather.
  2. “Blue Lou” – Fletcher Henderson. With degrees in chemistry and mathematics, Fletcher Henderson proves that geek-dom and jazz/swing/dancing have been intertwined since the beginning. Unable to find work with his degrees, he found work in music and became quite the success. Many of the musicians in this list came through his band at some point including Fats Waller, Don Redman, Roy Eldridge, and Louis Armstrong.
  3. “I Like Pie, I Like Cake” – The Four Chefs. This is the only song I know by them, and the only one listed on iTunes. There’s no entry on Allmusic.com for them, and I can’t find a website with any info about them. This one song is amazing, and I’d love to learn more about these cooking crusaders for harmonic justice. If you know anything about their secret identity, please share.
  4. “Swingin On a Star” – Frank Sinatra (with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra). Frank Sinatra started with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and I love this recording because it sounds little like the Sinatra most people think of at the mention of his name. Occasionally, I like to play this or another of his early recordings in response to people’s requests for Frank just to defy their expectations. Yes, his later work with Capitol records produced many iconic recordings, but looking at the whole of his work, he was a much more complex artist than those canonical recordings lead us to believe.
  5. “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails” – Fred Astaire. I own the complete set of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and watch them regularly. Although he was always self conscious about his vocal abilities, Fred Astaire was a solid vocalist with a smooth, light tenor voice that matched his easy dancing. There are many great recordings from all of the films he did, and he also recorded some.
  6. “Opus One” – Gene Krupa. Gene Krupa’s most easily recognized work is his drum solo on Benny Goodman’s recording of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” He was the first to use a full drum set on recordings and brought the drums to greater prominence through his use of drum solos. After a tiff with Goodman, Krupa started his own band which was well regarded.
  7. “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” – Glenn Miller. Glenn Miller had many hits including “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Kalamazoo,” “Pensylvania 6500,” and more. Many of these songs have been staples in the dance scene as long as I can remember because of their familiarity to both beginner and experienced dancers. His collection runs much deeper than those hits, though, and their are a lot of great songs that most dancers don’t know that deserve some attention. One of my favorites is “Sunvalley Stomp.” Continue reading

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