Upcoming Events

Wednesday, Sep 6th
7:00 pm New monthly session of Lindy Hop Classes starts at Cats Corner! (More info)
Monday, Sep 11th
7:00 pm New monthly session of Mission Mondays Lindy Hop Classes starts at the Women's Building, SF! (More info)
Friday, Sep 15th
8:00 pm Teaching Swing at Ashkenaz, Berkeley with Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums (More info)

Reviews & Testimonials

Nathan was our wedding DJ and dance instructor for our very recent wedding in November and we still can't get over how fun the wedding and our first dance routine were!! Sachiko & Nate
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I hired Nathan (DJ NateDiggity) for my Move to the Groove party at Cafe Cocomo and he exceeded all my expectations. He was the perfect DJ for the party! Jeremy Sutton
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Nathan is awesome... I highly recommend taking his group classes, or hiring him for private lessons if you wish to swing dance at your wedding. Claudine & Danny
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Nat Gonella

Full Name: Nathaniel Charles Gonella
Lived: March 7, 1908 – August 6, 1998

Summary: English jazz trumpeter, bandleader and vocalist best known for his work with the band he formed in 1935, the Georgians, with whom he played during the 1930s British dance band era.

Musical style notes:  punchy, rhythmic and bright horn playing and catchy vocal scat that is similar to that of his hero Louis Armstrong – albeit with a distinctly British accent and peculiar sense of humor

Danceworthy Tunes:

Popular Hits:

Played with: St Mary’s Guardian School Brass Band, Archie Pitt’s Busby Boy’s Band (1924-1928), Bobby Bryden’s Louisville Band (1928-29), pianist Archie Alexander, Billy Cotton Band (1929), the big bands of Roy Fox, Ray Noble and Lew Stone, Nat Gonella and his Georgians

Interesting Anecdote:

As a young musician playing in Archie Pitt’s Busby Boy’s Band, Nat received a used phonograph and a collection of jazz records, including one by coronet player Bix Biderbecke, as a gift from the bandleader’s wife, stage choreographer Gracie Fields. Shortly thereafter, Nat discovered the New Orleans jazz sound of Armstrong and transcribed and learned all his idol’s solos by heart. When Armstrong visited London in 1932, Gonella  met his hero by convincing a local music shop to let him deliver Armstrong’s trumpet, left at the shop for cleaning, to him at his hotel room. Armstrong was amused and impressed by such an ardent fan, and the two became friends.

A Mellow Bit of Rhythm: Andy Kirk and the Twelve Clouds of Joy

Andy Kirk & His Twelve Clouds of Joy, featuring Mary Lou WilliamsAndrew Dewey Kirk (May 28, 1898 in Newport, Kentucky – December 11, 1992 in New York City) was an American jazz saxophonist and tubist, who was best known as the bandleader of the Twelve Clouds of Joy, a band based in Kansas City.

Kirk started our playing for George Morrison’s Band in Denver, and later played with Terrence Holden’s Dark Clouds of Joy in Dallas. When Holden departed in 1929, the remaining band elected Kirk as the new bandleader. They established themselves in Kansas City, playing regularly at the Pla-Mor Ballroom at the corner of 32nd Street and Main and renamed themselves the Twelve Clouds of Joy.

One of their early hit recordings was the 1936 “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”, and another success was the 1942 song “Hey Lawdy Mama.” Also in 1942, their tune “Take it & Git It” was the first single to hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade, the predecessor to the Billboard R&B chart.

Pianist Mary Lou Williams rose to fame while playing with the Kirk band, although she acquired her spot while subbing for the original piano player, Marion Jackson. Williams also served as arranger for the Clouds of Joy, as well as picked up side work as composer arranger for other notable big bands, including those of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, Glen Gray, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines & Tommy Dorsey.

In 1948, Kirk broke up the band which had played together for an admirable 20 years and which had recorded mostly for Decca records. Kirk went on to manage a hotel and other real estate ventures, and also served as an official in the Musician’s Union. He played a single reunion concert using most of his original charts, although unfortunately with none of his original sidemen.

It’s interesting to listen to the work of the Twelve Clouds of Joy along side that of the early Count Basie band. Kirk’s band preceded Basie’s chronologically, but both bands took their roots in the Kansas City jazz scene, and share a certain, essential rhythmic drive. Still, contrasting the music of the two bands, you’re sure to notice a mellower, softer and gentler touch to the Clouds of Joy.

Here’s a great album to check out, that with hardly a tune that won’t compel you to cut a rug:

Or read more about Andy Kirk in this book by biographer Amy Lee:

Big Joe Turner

Blues Shouter, Big Joe TurnerBig Joe Turner (born born Joseph Vernon Turner Jr., May 18, 1911 – November 24, 1985) was an American blues shouter from Kansas City, Missouri. A blues shouter is a term for a blues singer capable of singing and projecting their voice over a band, usually without a microphone. Big Joe’s signature hit was his 1954 song, “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” and together with his piano accompaniment Pete Johnson, he help pioneer the transition of music from Big Band Jazz and Swing to Jump Blues and eventually Rock’n’Roll & Rhythm & Blues. His performance career stretched from the 1920s to the 1980s. His nickname “Big Joe” referred to his portly, 6’2″ 300+ lbs stature.  He also held nicknames as The Boss of the Blues and The Singing Barman, the latter a result from his start singing in Kansas City nightclubs while working as a bartender.

Turner’s early interest music began with his involvement in his church. His father was killed in a train accident when Turner was only 4 years old, which led  Turner to begin singing on street corners for money, and eventually into the Kansas City nightclub scene by the time he was 14. He eventually became known as The Singing Barman, and worked in such venues as The Kingfish Club and The Sunset, where he and his piano playing partner Pete Johnson became resident performers. Johnson and Turner first attempted to break onto the New York jazz scene in 1936, where they played alongside Benny Goodman, but after fruitless club auditions after that show, they returned to Kansas City. In 1938, notable music scout John Hammond invited them back to New York City to play at Carnegie Hall, where they scored a major hit with their song “Roll ’em Pete,” which was one of the earliest songs to feature a back beat…and helped introduce jazz and blues to a wider American audience.

Boss of the Blues, Joe TurnerTurner’s various gigs from 1939 to 1950 included a residency at Cafe Society, where he shared a bill with Billie Holiday and Frank Newton’s band, as well as playing in Duke Ellington’s revue Jump for Joy in Hollywood. He recorded many records for several labels including Decca, National and eventually Atlantic records, and sang not only with Johnson on Piano but also with small combos led by Art Tatum & Sammy Davis Jr. as well as the full Count Basie Orchestra.

His most famous 1954, “Shake, Rattle & Roll” featured a signature back beat as well as raw and risqué lyrics. He followed these up with several similarly joyful sounding recordings of “Well All Right,” “Flip Flop and Fly,” “Hide and Seek,” “Morning, Noon and Night,”, “The Chicken and the Hawk” and “Corinna, Corinna.” All of these songs are great for dancing, and helped cement Turner as an early Rock’n’roll star.

A great album to start your Joe Turn collection, which features all of the songs mentioned above, plus another personal favorite – The Midnight Special Train – is:

Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho

Last August, the 9:20 Special held a “Pro-Am” contest, in which “amateur” dancers paired with local teachers (the “pros”) and competed in a Strictly format. Nathan and I both participated; I ended up dancing in the first heat, while Nathan danced in the second. I was watching the second heat standing next to Trevor Gattis, of Swing Cats Rhythm Revue, and as the first song of the heat wound to an end, that wonderful hush came over the crowd as we all awaited the second song (the “interim hush” is actually one of my favorite things about competing). Then – a lively melody, forcefully expressed by a soprano saxophone, rang out over the dance floor. The audience began to cheer, and you could see the dancers add a little extra pep to their step as everyone recognized the tune. I’m quite certain that all of us who had danced in the first heat simultaneously thought, “Man, I wish I could have danced to this!” Then Trevor tapped me on the shoulder.

Trevor: “I love this song!”
Me: “Me too!”
Trevor: “Wait, what’s the name of this song?”
Me: “It’s called… wait, I don’t know!”
Trevor: “Damn, I’ve danced to it so many times, I know all its hits… but I don’t know what it’s called!”

Here’s a video of the competition, if you’re curious. Name that tune at 3:06!

So, I really should thank Trevor, because if it weren’t for him, I would probably not have made a point of finding out the name of this song that I had danced to dozens of times before. Ladies and gentlemen, the song in question is “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.”

Sometimes referred to as “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” this African-American spiritual was composed by slaves in the early 1800s. The jaunty melody and rhythm were meant to energize and inspire, while the lyrics, which referred to the biblical story of Joshua leading the Israelites into Canaan and laying siege to the city of Jericho, alluded to an eventual escape from slavery. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” has been memorably recorded by a number of artists, including Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Elvis Presley, and Kid Ory.

Click to buy from Amazon

My favorite rendition of this spiritual is by Sidney Bechet. It is this version that was played at the 9:20 that night, and it is one of the greatest songs to lindy to. Upbeat, but not too fast, just enough to put that extra pulse in your feet. A killer melody that will stick with you for days. Great hits that you can really play with. A song structure that keeps bouncing along, just predictable enough, but never tiresome or repetitive. Last but not least, that soprano saxophone, bearing Bechet’s signature – emotional, assertive, almost brash. You can find this recording on Bechet’s album, Runnin’ Wild.

I’m guessing that you will hear this song at least once within the next month of dancing. Maybe you won’t remember what it’s called. It’s okay. Hit those hits!

Trumpet Man: Harry James

Harry James, Trumpeter & Bandleader Harry James (born Henry Haag James, 1916-1983) was an American trumpeter and bandleader. He was one of the most popular bandleaders of the first half of the 1940s and he continued to play with his orchestra until just before his death.

Born in Albany, Georgia, by age 10, young Harry James began learning to play trumpet from his father, who was a circus bandleader. His father insisted on a strict practice regimen whereby James had to learn one page from the Arban method book every day, before attending to any other activities. At age 14, after his family had moved to Texas, James won a state music contest  playing trumpet which inspired him to pursue a professional music career.

After playing in local dance bands, he eventually signed on with the nationally known Ben Pollack Band in 1935, and later joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1937. In February 1939, James debuted his own band in Philidelphia, with which he toured well into the 1980s.

Around 1941, James changed up the musical style of his band, adding strings to the instrument line-up and incorporating a sweeter sound, a smart move which landed him a series of popular successes. His first Top Ten Hit was “Music Makers,” whose song title referred to the band’s commonly used name: “Harry James and the Music Makers.”  The 1941 song “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)” was his first to reach the Top Five, and established James as a musical star. In 1942, seven of his recordings reached the Top Ten, earning him a title as the second most successful bandleader after Glenn Miller. When Miller enlisted in the war effort, he passed his radio show, Chesterfield Time, off to Harry James.  James’ band was the first big name band to utilize the singing talent of then-little known Frank Sinatra and the band also employed singer Helen Forrest to great success.

When WWII-era travel restrictions by the musicians union limited James’ touring and recording opportunities, he found other chances to continue his music career through appearance in many Hollywood films. His first film appearance was Syncopation in 1942, followed by appearances in Private Bukaroo and Springtime in the Rockies that same year. Private Bukaroo has a great Collegiate Shag and Tap dance sequence in it:

Video Clip from Private Bukaroo

Springtime in the Rockies is significant because it also starred Betty Grable, who became Harry Jame’s second of three wives in 1943.

Signature Harry James swing dance tunes include:

  • I Heard That Song Before
  • I’m Beginning to See the Light
  • Strictly Instrumental
  • Music Makers

If you prefer lo-fi recordings, you’ll want to check out this album:

Some of my favorites from that album:

  • Two O’Clock Jump
  • King Porter Stomp
  • I Found a New Baby
  • Fannie-Mae
  • Sugar Daddy
  • Vol Vistu Gaily Star
  • Flash
  • Flatbush Flanigan
  • Strictly Instrumental
  • I’m Beginning to See the Light

Another great album, for those of you who prefer hi-fi recordings is:

Here are my picks from this album:

  • James Session
  • Moten Swing
  • Cherry
  • I’m Beginning to See the Light
  • Two O’Clock Jump
  • Strictly Instrumental
  • Barn 12
  • I’ve Heard that Song Before
  • Blues on a Count
  • Music Makers

Tuxedo Junction: Erskine Hawkins

Erskine Hawkins was a jazz trumpeter and bandleader from Birmingham, Alabama. He earned the nickname as “the Twentieth Century’s Gabriel” through his flamboyant playing style and ability to hit high notes. As a boy, Hawkins first learned to play drums, trombone & saxophone before settling on trumpet at age 13. His most recognizable hit is the 1939 tune Tuxedo Junction. The song title refers to a streetcar intersection of the same name on the Ensley-Fairfield line in Birmingham that was a center of nightlife for African Americans from the 1920s through the 1950s. Hawkins would often play music in the nearby park, and the sounds he heard coming from the juke joints and ballrooms at this location served as an early musical influence.

While attending Alabama State Teacher’s College, he played with and eventually led the Bama State Collegians which was regarded as the most talented of three bands playing on campus. While touring in New York in 1934, most of the Collegians decided to stay in New York, where they eventually formed the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra. The band played at the Apollo Theater as well as at school dances and local venues. One night at the Apollo, Louis Armstrong, whose records had been an early influence on Hawkins, surprised Hawkins backstage. Later, when Hawkins went on to play the Savoy Ballroom, Armstrong would invariably join him on stage.

While playing at the Savoy Ballroom, Hawkins’ Orchestra would alternate with Chick Webb’s Band, so that dancers had an uninterrupted night of music — there was no DJed music in those days. Hawkins’ Orchestra eventually played several years as the Savoy House band and participated in “battles of the bands” with the likes of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington & Lionel Hampton. Hawkins’ band remained popular throughout the 1930s and 40s, and his musicians, who genuinely enjoyed playing together, stuck together until 1953, when the band began to play as a smaller combo. Still the Hawkins big band played occasional reunion performances from time to time.

Erksine Hawkins three most famous hits were Tuxedo Junction, Tippin’ In and After Hours. Tuxedo Junction, which became a sort of anthem for WWII GIs, also serves as a great song for dancing the Shim Sham, a popular swing era jazz line dance. Indeed, Lindy Hop dance legend Frankie Manning who helped repopularize the Shim Sham among modern swing dancers included both Tuxedo Junction & Tippin’ In as selections on his “Really Swinging” compilation CD.

Some of my favorite Erskine Hawkins swing dance tunes are:

  • Gin Mill Special
  • Miss Hallelujah Brown
  • Holiday for Swing
  • Rockin’ Rollers’ Jubilee
  • Swingin’ on Lennox Avenue
  • Tuxedo Junction
  • Uptown Shuffle

You can find most of these tunes on these two albums:

Fletcher Henderson

A few weekends ago, some of you may have heard about (or attended!) Boogie by the Bay, a swing dance weekend in Burlingame. The event primarily caters to West Coast Swing dancers, but the organizers make sure to include some fun for the Lindy Hoppers — classes, social dancing, competitions, and performances. My partner Ben Polo and I were given a great opportunity to perform a routine choreographed by Carla Heiney, set to “Big John’s Special” by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra. It’s a terrific song (yes, even after hearing it over and over in practice) that’s got a little bit of everything you’d want in a swing composition: a catchy riff, easy and natural, yet creative transitions, a wonderful little smooth breakdown/build up, and of course, infectious swing. I realized after looking through my music collection that I was very familiar with Fletcher Henderson’s music, but I didn’t know anything about the man himself.

James Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. (1897 – 1952) was a pianist, bandleader, composer, and arranger. He was born into a middle class African-American family in Georgia. After obtaining a degree in chemistry from Atlanta University, he moved to New York in 1920 to work on a master’s degree at Columbia University. However, because of his race, it was extremely difficult to find work as a chemist, and Henderson fell into a series of jobs for several recording labels. In 1922 he started the resident band at Club Alabam on Broadway. The band moved on to become the nightly attraction at the Roseland Ballroom for a decade. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra were extremely popular, but Henderson lacked the management and promotional skills to control his musicians and stay financially stable. After the crash in 1929, he began selling his arrangements to Benny Goodman. To Goodman’s credit, he always acknowledged when he was playing a Henderson arrangement, and Henderson eventually joined Goodman’s band in 1939 as the staff arranger.

Fletcher Henderson was neither a phenomenal piano player nor bandleader; his true talent was as an arranger and composer, and he had impeccable taste in finding new musicians. His arrangements were clean and delicate, natural and swinging. During its span, his band boasted the likes of Chu Berry, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Louis Armstrong. In fact, many credit Henderson with changing the course of jazz history by bringing Armstrong from Chicago to New York. Armstrong brought the new jazz, the sound of the South, to Henderson’s band, and by exposing Henderson to new possibilities in instrumentation and orchestration, arguably had the biggest influence on its direction. Along with his bandmate Don Redman, Henderson would come to be recognized for establishing the “formula” for big band swing music and all swing bands to follow.

My favorite tracks:

• “Big John’s Special” You will be humming this riff for days!
• “Hotter Than ‘Ell” The name speaks for itself.
• “King Porter Stomp”
• “Gin House Blues” Henderson composed this with Henry Troy, and it was first recorded by Bessie Smith.
• “Soft Winds” Recorded by Benny Goodman.

Chick Webb: Lindy Hopper’s Delight

Have you ever witnessed a jam? Not the mellow birthday or out-of-towners kind of jam, but the kind where a circle will suddenly clear on the dance floor and couple after couple will take turns in the spotlight, showing off their best moves?

If you haven’t seen a jam, you need to keep your ears perked and your eyes open. Jams usually happen because a song comes on that is just so hot, fast, and swingin’ that everyone knows it’s time to clear out and throw down. Did a bunch of people just stop dancing and start running? Follow them, there’s probably a jam starting (or a fire, but in either case it’s usually best to follow the running crowd).

If you have seen a jam or two, then you’ve likely noticed that certain songs are particularly jam-worthy. In my humble experience, the two most common jam-starting songs are Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” — come on now, it’s the lindy hoppers’ anthem — and the aptly named “Lindyhopper’s Delight” by Chick Webband His Orchestra.

Strictly speaking in beats per minute, compared to other jam standards, “Lindyhopper’s Delight” isn’t very fast — but the rhythm section chugga-chugga-chugs along, driving that pulse into your head and your feet. In short, “Lindyhopper’s Delight” swings. Don’t let the tempo fool you; it’s a song that packs a punch. Come to think of it, “packs a punch” is a great way to describe Chick Webb himself.

William Henry Webb was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 10, 1905 (although sources vary anywhere from 1902 to 1909). He suffered from congenital tuberculosis of the spine, leaving him short-statured and hunchbacked for the rest of his life. As a boy he worked delivering newspapers, saving up enough money to buy a set of drums. By age 11 he was playing professionally, and by 1926 he was leading a band in Harlem, New York. Chick quickly became recognized as one of the era’s foremost drummers and bandleaders, with his orchestra becoming the Savoy Ballroom’s house band in 1931. The Savoy often held contests, called “The Battle of the Bands,” which would pit a guest band against Chick and his orchestra. Head-to-head even with the likes of Benny Goodman and Count Basie, Chickalways won the audience’s favor. Alas, Chick could not escape his condition, and in 1938 began experiencing health problems. He insisted on playing through the pain and fatigue, often passing out after sets, because he wanted to keep his band members working through the Depression. Following a serious surgical procedure, he passed away on June 16, 1939. Chick’s last words were reportedly, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.”

Chick Webb was known for his powerful, thundering drumming style, his outstanding technique, and his wide dynamic range. As you can hear in “Lindyhopper’s Delight,” his orchestra was marked by crisp sound over a relentlessly driving rhythm. Although he could not read music, he flawlessly memorized arrangements, and is recognized as one of the first purveyors of “swing.” He discovered and featured a teenage Ella Fitzgerald, who took over the band after Chick’s death until 1942.Chick’s sound directly influenced Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, and Buddy Rich. Gene Krupa, who rose to fame drumming for Benny Goodman and later started his own band, credited Chick Webb with bringing drummers and drummer-led bands into the spotlight.

As I find is always the case when it comes to all things swing-related, Frankie says it best. Check out this great snippet about Chick Webb from Ken Burns’ “Jazz” documentary. It features two iconic lindy hoppers, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, talking about the night Chick Webb and His Orchestra took on Benny Goodman at the Savoy. In this clip you can actually listen to the two bands playing the same song — did Chick outswing Benny? You decide!

For your additional viewing pleasure:

“After Seben”
I just have to share this clip from 1929; it features Chick Webb’s music with dancing by George “Shorty” Snowden (that’s right, Shorty George). Watch it and you’ll basically see the very beginnings of Lindy Hop from Charleston and Breakaway.

9:20 Special Performance Class
When I first started lindy hopping, someone showed me this video of none other than Kevin St. Laurent and Carla Heiney doing a demo routine to a shorter edit of “Lindyhopper’s Delight.” I have to admit it was this video that introduced me to the song. Whenever I dance to “Lindyhopper’s Delight” now, I still steal moves from this choreography.

For your listening pleasure:

  • “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”
  • “The Dipsy Doodle” : Known to some as “the song you Tranky Doo to.”
  • “Harlem Congo” : So fast it hurts!
  • “Liza” : Chick did not solo very often, but many say his solo in this song trumps that of Gene Krupa’s on “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
  • “Stompin’ at the Savoy”
  • “T’ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” : Known to some as “the song you Shim Sham to.”
  • “Who Ya’ Hunchin’”

King of Swing: Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman (1909-1986) was an American jazz musician, clarinetist & band leader, often referred to as the King of Swing. He led one of the most popular, successful and iconic big bands of the Swing Era. His band is also noteworthy as one of the first racially-integrated bands during an era of segregation.

Goodman started out learning to play clarinet at his local synagogue, and by age 16 he was playing with the Ben Pollack Orchestra, one of the top big bands in his hometown Chicago. In the late 1920s, he moved to New York City where he enjoyed a successful career as  a session musician, playing with the likes of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti while recording for Victor records. Under arrangements by John Hammond to record for Columbia, Goodman also played along the with greats such as Jack Teagarden, Joe Sullivan, Dick McDonough, Arthur Schutt, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins, and vocalists Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday.

Goodman’s success as a dance band owes much to the influence of African American bandleader Fletcher Henderson. In 1929, Goodman helped Henderson out by purchasing his songbooks and hiring Henderson’s musicians to teach his own. Indeed it was Goodman’s band playing Henderson’s arrangements that set dance floors crazy during the band’s three-week engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles.  Because of his role in helping popularize traditionally African American jazz music to white audiences, Goodman has been compared to Elvis Presley, who played a similar role with respect to Rock’n’roll and Rhythm & Blues music.

A good place to start your exploration of Benny Goodman’s music is with the quintessential Ken Burns Jazz compilation:

Some of my favorites from this album are:

  1. Roll ’em
  2. King Porter Stomp
  3. Don’t Be That Way
  4. Flying Home
  5. Rose Room
  6. Benny Rides Again
  7. Why Don’t You Do Right

Another album that’s got some good solid rhythm for dancing is:

Favorite tunes on this album include:

  1. Madhouse
  2. House Hop
  3. Sing me a Swing Song and Let Me Dance
  4. Bugle Call Rag
  5. Jam Session
  6. Did you mean it?


Moten Swing(s)

Audrey and I recently taught a musicality workshop at the 9:20 Special in San Francisco in which we asked students to get familiar with the melodies and structure of some quintessential pieces of swing music — in order to better dance and enjoy those pieces. For the first incarnation of the workshop, we focused on a popular swing dancer’s anthem: Moten Swing.

The “Moten” in the song title Moten Swing refers to the composers’ last names, bandleader Bennie Moten and his nephew, piano and accordian player Ira “Buster” Moten. Bennie Moten was a pianist/bandleader who was at the center of the Kansas City jazz scene of the 1920s and 30s. While early music by his Kansas City Orchestra reflected a rhythmic stiffness rooted in ragtime music of the 20s, their later works — including Moten Swing — helped define a looser, blues-influenced style that used repetitive phrases and riffs.

Moten formed his band by raiding another Kansas City band, Walter Page’s Blue Devils, and in the process acquired such top talent as Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Hot Lips Page, Eddie Durham and Ben Webster. After Moten’s death in 1935, Count Basie took leadership of the group which evolved into the Count Basie Orchestra, and which adopted many of Moten’s charts and musical  innovations.

In the notes to his book Jazz Styles: History and Analysis author Mark C. Gridley says, “‘Moten Swing’ is a thirty-two measure AABA form that is based on the chord progression to a song called ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy.’” Here are a couple of fun versions of that song:

See if you can hear the similarities in Bennie Moten’s original:

Moten Swing – Benny Moten Orchestra (1930 -1932).

And now, for some of my favorite versions of this tune:

Moten Swing – Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy — retains some of the original punchiness and zing

Moten Swing (2003 Digital Remaster) – Count Basie — featuring the smoother and polished sound of the New Testament Basie Big Band

Moten Swing – Charlie Barnet, The Everest Years — one of my favorite versions to DJ for dancers, due to it’s creamy, textured horns, and rich crescendos that make you float, even while the rhythm section drives forward steadily

Moten Swing (2000 Digital Remaster) – Jonah Jones, Jumpin’ with Jonah — after hearing DJ Jesse Miner spin this classy, jazzy and uptempo version I had to go home and download it right away. I loved it so much, I ended up putting together a performance routine to it for my Sunset Lindy Hop Intermediate/Advanced Students

Moten Swing – the Jonah Jones Quartet — the next time I conferred with Jesse about the Jonah Jones version, he clued me in to this awesome slow version by the same musician. WOW! This is a great version to play with dancing and expressing the silent parts and pauses in the music.

Moten Swing – Barney Kessel – okay, back to fun, lively upbeat versions

Moten Swing from Kansas City: A Robert Altman Film – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack — and this version with a chunky rhythm section by Jesse Davis & James Carter could possibly warrant the purchase of the whole soundtrack CD. I don’t know…don’t ask me how I got my copy of the track 😉

Dance/Musicality exercise:

  1. Listen to a particular version of the song, and see if you can learn and hum the main theme. In which phrases and beats do you hear accents, hits, or breaks?
  2. Once you feel like you can hum the theme on your own, listen to another version and hum along with it. How do the two versions line-up? How much do they share the melody? How would you describe the differences in the way the two bands express some of the same accents, hits or breaks?
  3. What types of dance moves or body movements could you use to  match the character of each selection?
  4. Try it!

When it comes to musicality, there really is no right or wrong way to do it, and it’s really a matter of personal interpretation and creativity. I personally find that knowing the general tune of the song adds to my dance enjoyment because, well, it’s fun to hit the breaks with my partner. At the same time, it’s always worth a good laugh with my partner when I hit a break that I thought was there because I was singing a different version of the tune in my head than the one actually playing. There’s the real challenge: knowing the basic tune enough to inform your big picture dancing, while staying present in the dance moment enough to express the nuances and subtleties as they arise.

Alright, enough commentary…happy dancing and listening!