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.
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
- Organ Grinder’s Swing
- Ton O’Rock Bump