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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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:

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:

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?

Enjoy!

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!

The Cats and the Fiddle

1930s R&B vocal groupThe Cats and the Fiddle was one of the premier R&B vocal & small combo groups of the 1930s, who followed on the heels of the success of the popular Mills Brothers. In contrast to the smooth, flowing sound of the Mills Brothers, the Cats and the Fiddle pioneered a much more rhythmic and percussive style and which featured lyrics with hip lingo and popular slang. The band formed in 1937 as a 4-man amalgam of two earlier groups. The original line-up featured lead vocalist Austin Powell of the Harlem Harmony Hounds combined with Jimmie Henderson, Chuck Barksdale and Ernie price of another Chicago-based group. The band’s name referred to it’s musicians who were hep “cats”, and the stand-up bass — the fiddle — that anchored many of their arrangements, along with guitar and an actual fiddle. The band made guest appearances in the movies “Too Hot to Handle” (1938) and “Going Places” (1939).

Check out this album, a steal deal at $8.99 for all the great music you get (44 tracks, most danceworthy!):

Listen to just a few tracks, and you’ll realize that most songs have a common musical structure, chord progressions, and rhythmic attack. Learn the breaks for just one song, and you’ll be well on your way to anticipating and dancing to the breaks in other songs. The jovial, uptempo & bouncy style of the music makes it great for charleston moves and fast lindy…and it always makes me want to jump around and put more “hop” in my lindy hop.

Here are my selections of danceable tunes:
  1. Thursday Evening Swing
  2. That’s On Jack, That’s On
  3. Public Jitterbug Number One
  4. Gone
  5. Gangbusters
  6. Mr. Rhythm Man
  7. One is Never to Old to Swing
  8. Nuts to You
  9. Killing Jive
  10. Swing the Scales
  11. Hep Cats Holiday
  12. The New Look Blues
  13. Stomp Stomp
  14. Blue Skies
  15. When I Grow To Old Dream
  16. I’m Singing, So Help Me
  17. We Cats Will Swing for You

And a dance routine by Manu Smith, Nathan and Michael Terkowski performed to “Stomp Stomp” at the 9:20 Special:

Lady Day: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday (born: Elinore Harris, April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and song writer. She earned the nickname “Lady Day” from her friend and musical partner Lester Young, and was regarded for the way she manipulated musical phrasing and tempo as well as her personal and intimate singing style.

She lived a difficult childhood that involved her mother being frequently absent, truancy from school, getting caught up in juvenile court, and perhaps most egregiously working as a prostitute in Harlem, NYC. It was in the late 1920s that Elinore began singing songs that she had learned in the brothel.  It was in late 1929, after being released from a workhouse that she started using the name Billie Holiday and singing with a neighbor, tenor sax player Kenneth Hollan at various New York clubs. John Hammond discovered her in 1933 while she was singing as a replacement for Monette Moore, and he soon introduced her to Benny Goodman, with whom she made her recording debut singing “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and “Riffin’ the Scotch.”

Soon after in 1935 she collaborated with pianist Teddy Wilson, producing “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown To You”, which helped to establish Holiday as a major vocalist. She began recording under her own name a year later, producing a series of extraordinary performances with groups comprising the swing era’s finest musicians. John Hammond signed the pair onto Brunswick Records to record swinging versions of current pop tunes for the jukeboxes that were becoming popular. Holiday recorded for Commodore Records, starting with a recording of “Strange Fruit,” a song whose subject matter — a lynching — was considered too sensitive for Brunswick.  Her final recording days were with Decca, where she recorded the hit “Lover Man.”

I’ll admit that one of the first reasons I started beefing up my Billie Holiday collection was for DJing wedding receptions, where her gentle, fragile and rhythmic vocals and matching backing bands often help set a romantic mood. I was lucky to discover some sweetly swinging tunes, that I love to DJ at lindy hop dances:

  • Miss Brown To You
  • Nice Work if You Can Get It
  • Sugar
  • Blue Moon

Charlie Barnet

Charlie Barnet was an American saxaphonist and bandleader in the 1940s. The peak of his musical career was between 1939-1941, beginning with his first hit, “Cherokee” in 1939. Another popular dance hit was Skyliner in 1944. He was an outspoken admirer of Count Basie & Duke Ellington, so much so that when Barnet lost his music charts in a Los Angeles fire, Count Basie loaned Barnet his charts. Barnet was one of the first bandleaders to integrate his bands, that is to have both black and white musicians playing together. He began to switch from playing swing to bebop music in 1947, and eventually retired altogether in 1949, as he was one of a few heirs in a wealthy family.

My first encounter with Charlie Barnet’s music was shortly after returning from the 2003 Harlem Jazz Dance Festival in NYC, which was also my first experience of a world-class Lindy Hop competition, in which amazing competitors danced to blazingly fast music. After that, I was so fired up to dance to fast lindy hop music, that I not only took workshops in “Fast Lindy Hop”, but I also asked a local DJ friend to make me a fast lindy compilation to practice too. He did, and several of the tracks became some of my favorite dance tunes, including:

Some other great tunes performed by the Charlie Barnet Orchestra that I came across later on included more moderate tempo songs like:

There are literally tons of great swing dance tunes by Mr. Barnet, so here are a few albums to help you get your collection started:

 

Easy Does It: The Big Eighteen

I was recently pleased to finally locate one of my long sought-after CD albums online at Amazon.com: The Big Eighteen: Echoes of the Swinging Bands. If you have ever taken a lindy hop workshop with the late Frankie Manning, then you should know at least one of the songs on this album by heart: Easy Does It. Frankie invariably played this song, a cover of an original Count Basie tune, as he taught the basics of the dance that he helped create. You could be in any city in the world, amidst a room full of 100 or more dancers all lined up and swinging out to this delicate, graceful, elegant and simultaneously grand song.

When I first heard that song at a Frankie workshop around 2002, I fell in love with it instantly and rushed up at the end of the class find out the song, band and album names. That was easy. Actually finding the album online, however, was another story. I did find details about the album online, however, the album was no longer being produced. I talked to Jessie Miner, an authoritative swing DJ, who confirmed that the album was rare and that my best likely bet would be to find someone selling it used.

Fast foward to 2010, just this past March when I was at the 24 Hour Cancer Dance-a-thon, and directing my teammates to line up as couples to dance a swingout line: one whole song of nothing but swing outs.  I was hoping that the band playing at the time would play a nice easy song with a solid beat and moderate tempo, and as if reading my mind they started to play an uncanny rendition of Easy Does It. It was a perfect moment, and I could not have chosen a better song.

The week after the dance-a-thon, I received some videos of our team dancing the swingout line. Here it is:

With echoes of that grand song in my mind, I decided to look up the elusive album online again…and was happy to find out that Amazon.com was finally selling it. Woo-hoo! Talk about a 1-click purchase. The CD arrived about a week later and I have been playing it in my car ever since.

From www.swingmusic.net:

The Big 18 was a studio only big band assembled by RCA Victor Musical Director Fred Reynolds in 1958. Reynold’s idea was to use some of the great songs and arrangements of the big band era while showcasing some of the star sidemen of the great bands by allowing ample time for extended solos.

If you’ve ever wondered why recordings of classic big band swing music tend to be around 3 minutes long, it’s not so much about keeping the songs short for dancing. In fact, the 78rpm LP recording format forced band leaders to create shorter arrangements and reign in their musician’s solos. The studio recordings of the Big 18 were specifically arranged to give the musicians a chance to stretch out and play, which is evidenced by the song lengths, most of which are 4 minutes or longer. Just when Easy Does It seems to be winding down around 3:30, the powerhouse orchestra hits it home with a chorus that just about bowls you over.

The single track, Easy Does It, was reason enough for me to purchase the whole CD, but the many other swinging tunes on the compilation are a sweet bonus. Some of my favorite tracks are:

  • Summit Ridge Drive
  • Swingtime in the Rockies (also a tune originally by Count Basie)
  • Celery Stalks at Midnight
  • Skyliner
  • Organ Grinder’s Swing
  • Ton O’Rock Bump