This past summer, Susanne and I spent a week of vacation in Memphis enjoying the sights, sounds, and barbecue. We left with many great memories: Beale St., Stax Records, Sun Studios, Ground Zero Blues Club, the Delta Blues Museum, Muddy Waters house, the plantation where Pinetop Perkins drove a tractor. We ate barbecue five of the eight days we spent there, and soul food on one of the other days. Our lovely dancer friends, Michael Quisao and Annabel Truesdell, took us to a couple of great little local joints, including Di Anne Price’s “court” and a gods-honest Memphis juke-joint. We are both so thankful to them for the time and treasures of Memphis they shared with us.
For me, visiting Memphis was transformative. I feel as though I have a much more visceral understanding of the blues and of rock and roll. I know more deeply the roots of decades of our musical heritage. Living in Baltimore, I am no stranger to poverty. I’m not blindly walled off into little white-picket fenced plots of suburbia. I see it around me, and I see it often. But the poverty I see and experience here is nothing compared to the swaths of empty store fronts nestled in between vast fields along the Mississippi delta. I’ve often heard the blues talked about as a catharsis of the soul, a release of the worries of the day. There on the banks of the Mississippi, I felt but a drop of the depths of oppression, poverty, and struggle that the blues emerged from. Blues isn’t just a catharsis. It is a triumph of the human spirit; to be lifted so high from such lows.
A warm ‘Hello’ from Rehoboth Beach, DE where Susanne and I have spent the week on vacation. This post is part of what was formerly the “Songs of the Month Club,” but we decided to mix it up. Frankly, I was tired of sharing all my carefully collected gems without hearing back from you all about your discoveries! So I’m hoping that everyone who reads and enjoys this series will share at least one of their favorite dance tunes from the past month to help me build my collection as well! Let me know what you’re listening to!
Onto the music, this was a bit of an odd month. I DJ-ed for a couple of July 4th patriotic themed dances, and went hunting for vintage WWII themed songs. We also hosted our annual Luau Dance in Annapolis, and I found some Hawaiian swing for the occasion.
- “Thanks Mr. Roosevelt” – Harry Leader & His Band. A peppy little vintage sounding tune that clocks in just over 205 BPM, but feels very laid back and approachable. I am particularly fond of the vocals which are backed by some great piano work. Sid Pimm is listed as the pianist for the band, and I may try to track down some more of his work.
- “Yankee Doodle” – Jack Teagarden. The vocals are just passing, but the band is swinging hard with some really tight ensemble work from both the trumpet and the reed sections.
- “You’re a Grand Old Flag” – Barrel Fingers Barry. Barrelhouse piano styling. It has a little more square, ragtime/early jazz feeling to it. If you need some patriotic music for dancing, it can fit the bill nicely, but otherwise I’d let this one sit for better options. Continue reading
Happy belated fourth of July, everyone! I actually DJ-ed that night, and spent most of my weekend tracking down patriotic music for dancing rather than writing this blog post. Thankfully, Christina Austin kept things going here with this awesome post on following. In addition to patriotic dance tunes, I also picked up some songs during my adventures at Stompology in Rochester.
Filed under Blues, Jazz, Music
Sorry for the delay. Susanne and I have been crazy busy lately running dances, traveling a bit, and enjoying some down time together. This past month, I’ve been listening to more blues and building that part of my collection a little more. I’ve also been looking for songs for Collegiate Shag since our friends Joe and Tabitha Robinson have been teaching beginner shag for us in Annapolis.
“You Can Leave Your Hat On” – Michael Grimm. Michael Grimm won America’s Got Talent, which I wouldn’t consider a ringing endorsement, but the modern soul man has some good chops. Looking through his catalog, his song selection isn’t always the greatest or lend itself well to dancing, but there are a few gems in there for the blues/soul DJ.
“Momma, Where’s My Daddy” – Keb’ Mo’. Susanne and I have tickets to see Keb’ Mo’ in September. He’s one of the artists on my list of “People to see in concert before I die,” so I thought I’d look through his collection again for some more great tunes to listen to before the concert rolls around.
“It’s Only a Paper Moon” – Benny Goodman. We held a USO themed dance in May, and I found this on a compilation of most requested songs from the 1940’s. Continue reading
Songs of the Month Club is a regular feature on All the Cats Join In where Craig lists his newest finds and old gems that he’s dusted off. Enjoy!
“No Me Voy Sin Bailar (When I Get Low I Get High)” – Ana Belen. This song sounds primarily like trad jazz, but there are a few little nuances that give it a hint of gypsy jazz. (I swear there’s an accordian or bandaneon in the background)
“I’ve Got No Strings” – Andrew’s Sisters. One of our April birthday girls in our scene is enamored with Disney, so I tracked down a couple of swingin’ Disney songs. Everyone knows the jungle book, but as a DJ, I don’t always like to go for the obvious if I can find a high-quality, unknown gem.
“Pure Imagination” – Boilermaker Jazz Band. Nice Work If You Can Get It, the Boilermaker’s new album, dropped this month. This is a fantastic song, one that I do with my band as well. Paul and his crew do a great job of it. I’ve heard him do it live many times, and am incredibly glad he recorded it on this album. Continue reading
Blues pianist and legend, Pinetop Perkins passed away yesterday at the age of 97. I remember the first time I saw him at Glen Echo. The room was packed, and there was a large crowd of non-dancers clustered at the front of the stage to watch him play. He hobbled out with his walker. . .I don’t recall if he had his oxygen tank with him that night, sat down at the piano with his frail looking body, and then tore that piano a new one. It was amazing to see, and I had a fantastic evening.
The last time I saw him, he had clearly lost some of his edge, but was still just as entertaining. The man filled with such joy when he played for all those people. Over the years, he played with all of the great blues men. Most notably, he toured with Muddy Waters for years. This past year, he won a grammy for best traditional blues album. I can’t imagine a better way to go out of this world than with another Grammy.
The Pinetop Perkins Foundation has been established to honor this blues giant. The foundation helps young musicians starting their career, and older musicians at the end of their career. Consider making a donation in honor of this legend, and the wealth of great music he has left for us.
Photo courtesy of the Pinetop Perkins Foundation.
In classes, I often get asked “Is that a six-count move or an eight-count move?” Of course, the answer to all such mysteries of life is 42. When you’re first learning, you need something to hang your hat on, some structure to help you hold all of this crazy dancing together. Six-count and eight-count provide that structure, but there comes a time when every dancer has to let go of the six and eight count training wheels.
At its core, all of swing dancing breaks down into two counts. Two counts are like the atoms of swing dancing, the most basic unit of dance matter. Within any two counts you either have an odd weight-change or an even-weight change. An odd weight change means your weight will shift from one foot to the other over the course of two beats. A single step is an odd weight change. So is a triple step. An even weight change means your weight will end up on the same foot you started on. “Rock-step” and “walk-walk” are good examples for even weight changes.
Breaking down a basic six-count, you have and even weight change (rock-step) followed by two odd weight changes (triple-step, triple-step). A basic eight count alters between even and odd weight changes. Those are your two basic structures, but the dance is not confined to those patterns. You can link together a string of even weight changes or a string of odd weight changes. Odd and even weight changes are there for the mixing and the matching.
What’s more, understanding the two-count/weight changes that underpin the dance opens up the rabbit hole of footwork variations. A rock step makes for an even weight change. If I put a little kick on at the beginning, suddenly, I have kick-ball-change. This is still an even weight change. As long as I have an articulate rhythm and clear weight changes, I can explore all kinds of patterns with my feet. I find that solo jazz and charleston steps are often a great source of inspiration for what’s possible, and I usually try to dissect the weight changes and the rhythm to see what makes it tick and where I might incorporate it into my dancing.
One last thought about moves, counts, weight changes, and footwork variations: There is no substitute for practice. Just because I understand something intellectually doesn’t mean my body will be able to execute it on command. Lots of repetition with attention to detail is the hard work that links theory with practice.