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
This post is part 2 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)
- “Till Tom Special” – Charlie Christian. In 1937, Charlie Christian started using an electric guitar. For the next five years, he defined what electric guitar meant for a generation of jazz musicians before his untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 25. At least he didn’t drink himself to death.
- “Lindyhopper’s Delight” – Chick Webb. Chick Webb never had the same commercial success as some of his peers, in part due to the limitations of recording technology to capture his powerful and innovating work on the drums. As the house band at the Savoy Ballroom, Chick Webb is the stuff of dancing legend, particularly legends of band battles at the Savoy that are still talked about today.
- “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” – Clarence Williams. Pianist, Vocalist, Jug player. Williams was at his best in a washboard band as his piano and vocal chops were merely passable. But his real talent was as a songwriter leaving us such classics as “Everybody Loves My Baby” and “T’Aint What You Do.”
- “Chattanooga Choo Choo” – Claude Thornhill. After training on piano in the conservatory, Thornhill worked his way up the dance bands in the Midwest, eventually playing for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. His own catalog often veers out of jazz/swing territory, but there are solid tunes in his collection, and his arrangements tend to be a little more mellow, later becoming an influence for the cool jazz movement.
- “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” – Count Basie. Count Basie had his first hit on the charts in 1937 with “One O’Clock Jump,” and produced a steady string of chart toppers after that. What I personally love most about Basie is how his piano playing can be full and robust or light and well-edited. He plays the piano as if it is an additional orchestra, sometimes commenting on the band and sometimes taking over.
- “Wave To Me My Lady” – Dinning Sisters. Three sisters from a midwestern family of nine, the Dinning Sisters started singing harmony in church, eventually moving to Chicago to sing for NBC radio and record for the Capitol label. While not as well remembered as the Andrews Sisters who they modeled themselves after, the Dinning Sisters were well-known and popular in their day. Continue reading
After talking about pop music as a gateway for beginners to connect to lindy hop, I started thinking about how to get dancers more deeply invested in and knowledgable about vintage jazz/swing/big band. Some of that comes from time and exposure. Some of it comes from encouraging them to learn about the music, talking about it, sharing favorite songs, proclaiming “I love this song” when a great song comes on. We also need to ensure that information is available to start their own journey of exploration.
Here is a musical buffet of vintage songs. One hundred different songs by one hundred different artists. I’ll post twenty a day for the next five days. I’ve listed them alphabetically by author’s first name because that’s how I searched my music collection. Also, there’s no rhyme or reason to the songs I picked for each artist. Sometimes, I picked a classic like Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail,” and sometimes I picked lesser known songs like Glenn Miller’s “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.” If I left out a favorite song or a favorite artist, it wasn’t meant as any kind of slight, and you should just add them to the comments.
Also, I didn’t list the recording info because the idea is for this to be an inspiration. Look up the artist and see what else they’ve recorded. Find different versions of the song by the same artist or by other artists. Allmusic.com is a great resource where you can look up artists, read their biography, see their discography, and get a list of similar artists. For beginners, I’ve highlighted some artists that I think are good to start with.
- “Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar)” – Andrews Sisters. The Andrew’s Sisters were the most successful female singing group of the time. Their collection goes far beyond the few well known hits that always get played. Its worth looking through their collection for some real gems like “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh” and “Hold Tight.”
- “Drinking Wine, Spo Dee O Dee” – Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy. Besides having the best band name ever, Andy Kirk recorded some solid tunes in the 30’s and 40’s. He never reached real fame with his band, but many great sidemen came through his band including Don Byas, Fats Navarro, and for a short time, Charlie Parker.
- “Watch the Birdie” – Anita O’Day. Anita O’Day started out with Gene Krupa’s band (featuring trumpeter Roy Eldridge), and these recordings from the 1940’s are the most approachable for dancers. In her later recordings, she started incorporating be-bop into her soloing. There are still some good tunes from those years, but you have to hunt for them a little more. Continue reading
Today, I watched clips from the 2011 Lone Star Championships. For the invitational jack and jill competition, competitors danced two songs together, one classic lindy hop selection and one that was “Sweet Soul Jam” or “Karaoke Grab Bag.” I got a big kick out of watching some of the best dancers of our day let loose during the second selection (Check out Peter Strom and Mia Goldsmith). It got me thinking about the role of popular music in our lindy hop scene.
Some dancers really enjoy dancing to non-traditional swing songs. Some dancers don’t enjoy it at all. For as long as I’ve been dancing, I’ve heard arguments, sometimes heated ones, about popular music and lindy hop. I’ve heard people argue that, because the aesthetic of the dance changes when danced to non-traditional swing songs, its no longer lindy hop. I’ve heard others argue that the lead/follow technique and the shared framework for creating the dance is the same in both, and so its a perfectly valid expression of lindy hop. Personally, I think there’s some truth in both perspectives. Continue reading
Confession time: I have a small love affair with Christmas music.
It started in college. I would come home for the holidays, and be subjected to my mother’s catalog of the worst Christmas music ever. Name an artist whose Christmas album would be worse than water-boarding and my mom owned it. Celine Dion? Check. Manheim Steamrollers? Every one. Kenny G? Of course!
It became my mission to find Christmas music that I found tolerable, and my Mom’s December birthday became the perfect excuse for adding them to her collection prior to my arrival home. Many of the great Christmas swing songs have found their way into regular play on the radio stations and in malls by now. Ever since Macy’s rescued Kay Starr’s “Man with the Bag” from obscurity in 2006, advertisers have been looking for the next great song. Likewise, every year, I scour around for enjoyable and danceable holiday music. Here are some of this year’s best finds along with a few lesser-known favorites.
With the Annapolis Dixieland Jazz Band dance coming up this Saturday, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the history of Dixieland jazz. Most people think of the 1920s with “King” Oliver, a young Louis Armstrong, and Sydney Bechet when you mention Dixieland jazz. Dixieland didn’t end with the advent of the big bands and swing in the 1930s. There are a couple of guys who kept the Dixieland sound alive, and we owe them so much. There is one in particular that I’ve been trying to rescue from relative obscurity, Matty Matlock.
Julian Clifton “Matty” Matlock was a clarinetist, arranger, and band leader. He started out by replacing Benny Goodman as the clarinetist in Ben Pollack’s band in 1929. Later, he worked with Bob Crosby, Bing Crosby’s younger brother, before finally starting his own band. He wrote many arrangements for television shows and movies. Essentially, Matty Matlock was the go-to guy in Hollywood whenever you wanted that vintage sound. He recorded several albums with his own band, and four of them were recently released digitally on iTunes and Amazon. All four of them are stunning.
Together, Matty Matlock and Bob Crosby have left behind a legacy of Dixieland Jazz that is both traditional and modern. The recordings of their bands benefit from all of the improvements in recording technology that weren’t available in the 1920s when Dixieland was first being recorded. Matty Matlock, in particular, was a great arranger, and would write arrangements for his band that maintained the loose feeling of that dixieland sound while being orchestrated for a larger ensemble. The recordings are lush and full while still retaining that easy playful sound.
“When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” — Matty Matlock, Four Button Dixie
“Wolverine Blues” — Bob Crosby and His Orchestra, South Rampart Street Parade