Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

DJing

Taking on the Wandering and Pondering DJ Challenge

A few weeks ago on Feburary 25th 2014,  Jerry Almonte from Wondering and Pondering issued the following challenge,

I have a challenge to all DJs. Lindy Focus inspired me to hunt down music by all the great musicians that played at that event. This got me thinking that I can do a whole night of DJed music using bands that play for dancers today. I’ve done it a couple of times now, to a really positive response. People get really excited when they hear a good song by a band, and you tell them that they can hear that music live at a dance or event sometime in the near future. This is my challenge to DJs far and wide: Do a whole set or even a whole night of music just by musicians making a living playing jazz music today. Ellington and Basie are great, but they don’t have to make rent at the end of the month. The key our exciting dance scene is the interaction between dancers and musicians. Show a little love. And if you don’t have the music to pull something like that off, then use this as an opportunity to go find some. Hey Mister Jesse(the longest running and probably only swing dance music podcast out there) has a lot of great recommendations as well as sites like Swing DJ Resources. I’m also going to be posting some of my own in the near future. Swing Music! Let’s do this!

After reading this challenge and realizing that I had an upcoming DJ set in Boston at Monday Night Practice I decided to give it a shot. I interpreted Mr. Almonte’s rules as the following:

Rules:

  1. All songs played must be by bands who have musicians making a living today.
  2. I have to last the entire set at Monday Night Practice (about 2 hours)
  3. Music has to be good a.k.a no playing novelty tunes just to play something that is modern.

I made a facebook event for the night and advertised that this special theme was occurring. I’m happy to say that I passed the challenge and in addition we had a much larger turnout than usual that night. I have posted my set list below but I encourage if you are a DJ looking to mix things up to give it a shot. The challenge served the Boston community well!

Challenge Accepted
Set List for March 17th, 2014 at Monday Night Practice in Boston, MA:

  1. Indigo Swing – Ruby Mae
  2. Hippocampus Jass Gang – Your Smile’s A Moonbeam On My Heart
  3. Blackstick – Si Tu Vois Ma Mére
  4. Caroline Fourmy – All of Me
  5. Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles – A Smooth One
  6. Glenn Crytzer and His Syncopators – Mr. Rhythm
  7. Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys – Take a Number from One to Ten
  8. Hippocampus Jass Gang – The Mooche
  9. Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders – King David (live)
  10. Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators – Fortunate Love
  11. Smoking Time Jazz Club – Percolatin Blues
  12. Smoking Time Jazz Club – Sugar
  13. George Gee And His Make Believe Orchestra – Stompin’ At The Savoy
  14. Gordon Webster – Sweet Potato Fries
  15. Hot Sugar Band – Jericho
  16. Norbert Susemihl, Erika Lewis, Shaye Cohn, Jason Marsalis, Kerry Lewis, Gregory Agid – Love Me Or Leave Me
  17. The Hot Club of Cowtown – Rosetta
  18. Jonathan Dole Quintet – The Fed Hop
  19. Blackstick – Blackstick
  20. Mora’s Modern Rhythmists – Smoke Rings
  21. Cassidy and the Orleans Kids – Shake That Thing
  22. Boilermaker Jazz Band – When Your Lover Has Gone
  23. The Solomon Douglas Swingtet  – Bizet Has His Day
  24. Gordon Webster – Sweet Sue
  25. Mora’s Modern Rhythmists – Four or Five Times
  26. Jonathan Stout and His Campus – Swingin’ On Nothin’
  27. Boilermaker Jazz Band – Someone’s Rockin’ My Dreamboat
  28. Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders – Dickie’s Dream
  29. Rachael Price and The Tennessee Terraplanes – Just A Little Bit South of North Carolina
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Song Progression: Why Don’t You Do Right

One of the things I like to do to pass the time is something I call “Song Progression”. What I do is find as many versions of one song that catches my eye and then play them in chronological order while looking up the history of each. Besides being entertaining, it is educational for myself as DJ to see which artists influenced others and possibly find new finds for my collection.

I was listening to the latest Yehoodi Talk Show the other night and caught a unique version of Why Don’t You Do Right which I will go into further into toward the end of this entry.

The Weed Smoker’s Dream – Harlem Hamfats (1936)

The song was written in 1936 by a gentleman named Kansas Joe McCoy with the title of “The Weed Smoker’s Dream”. Fun fact for those of you who are classic rock fans, McCoy was also one of the co-writers for the song When The Levee Breaks which was famously covered by Led Zeppelin.

Kansas Joe McCoy performed the song with his brother Charlie and other band members of the group famously known as the Harlem Hamfats. Something to note is lyrics to this song are also different (much less family-friendly) then in Why Don’t You Do Right and is listed below,

Sittin’ on a million
Sittin’ on it every day
Can’t make no money givin’ your stuff away
Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

Fay’s a betting woman
She bets on every hand
She’s a trickin’ mother for you every-where she land
Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

May’s a good-lookin’ frail
She lives down by the jail
On her back though she got hot stuff for sale
Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

Why Don’t You Do Right – Lil Green (1941)

Kansas Joe McCoy after putting out the 1936 version of the song rewrote modifying the composition and changing the lyrics entirely as listed below.

You had plenty of money in 1922
You let other women make a fool of you

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

You’re sittin’ down wonderin’ what it’s all about
You ain’t got no money that will put you out

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

If you have prepared twenty years ago
You wouldn’t be wanderin’ now from door to door

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

I fell for you jiving and I too you in
Now all you’ve got to offer me is a drink of gin

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

The result was “Why Don’t You Do Right” and it was recorded by Lil Green with guitar provided by Big Bill Broonzy.

Lillian Green was born in Mississippi 1919, however her parents died when she was young and in result she moved to Chicago where she started performing in local nightclubs as a teenager. A website Acrobat Music wrote in respect to Green,

“[…] She became noted as a highly individual singer with a fine sense of timing and a distinctively sinuous delivery.”

Why Don’t You Do Right – Benny Goodman Featuring Peggy Lee (1942)

 On July 27, 1942 in New York with Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee covered Lil’ Green’s version of “Why Don’t You Do Right” which later sold over a million copies and launched her into the national spotlight.

According to wikipedia the story of how this came about is below,

Peggy Lee often stated that Green’s recording was extremely influential to her music. In a 1984 interview she said “I was and am a fan of Lil Green, a great old blues singer, and Lil recorded it. I used to play that record over and over in my dressing room, which was next door to Benny’s (Goodman). Finally he said, ‘You obviously like that song.’ I said ‘Oh, I love it.’ He said ‘Would you like me to have an arrangement made of it?’ I said, ‘I’d love that,’ and he did.”

The first video of Peggy’s performance is her trading off with Benny Goodman’s clarinet.

This second video has a different feel by making Peggy the spotlight and putting the band in the background.

Lee had a stage presence that could just captivate you, in the second video notice how she seems to use every facial expression to accent what she is singing in the music. A quote that I think describes her well from her website is,

“Lee’s most lasting influence was the fact that she could be both a pop and a jazz singer. Her main quality was a marvelous sense of subtlety. She never overpowered you. You could hear her voice after it stopped.” – Jazz Critic, Nat Hentoff

Peggy Lee

Why Don’t You Do Right – Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

A box office hit and and wildly popular (a dance move at the time was named after it), the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was released in 1988.  The plot of the film according wikipedia writes,

“The story is a murder mystery set in 1947, in a surreal world where cartoon characters, commonly called “toons”, are living beings who act out cartoons in the same way that human actors make live-action productions.”

In the film Amy Irving sings a cover of the song “Why Don’t You Do Right” providing the voice for the character in the film Jessica Rabbit.

Due to the widespread popularity of the movie, the song was again brought back in the national spotlight over 40 years later after Peggy Lee’s national success.

References:

  1. Wikipedia article on Kansas Joe McCoy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_Joe_McCoy
  2. Wikipedia article on Harlem Hamfats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlem_Hamfats
  3. Memphis History’s article on Kansas Joe McCoy: http://www.memphishistory.org/Music/TheBlues/BluesArtists1/KansasJoeMcCoy/tabid/287/Default.aspx
  4. Weenie Campbell’s website, discussion on “The Weed Smokers Dream” lyrics: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=661.0;wap2
  5. Wikipedia article on Lil Green:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lil_Green
  6. Acrobat Music article on Lil Green: http://www.acrobatmusic.net/?cid=24&NewsId=113
  7. Wikipedia article on Peggy Lee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peggy_Lee
  8. Remembering Miss Peggy Lee, article from her personal website: http://www.peggylee.com/solos/accolades.html
  9. Wikipedia article on Why Don’t You Do Right: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_Don’t_You_Do_Right
  10. Wikipedia article on Who Framed Roger Rabbit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Framed_Roger_Rabbit

It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing

I don’t dig that two-beat jive the New Orleans cats play. My boys and I have to have four heavy beats to the bar and no cheating.
— Count Basie

Recently I have been visiting a lot of venues. These are small scenes that are often somewhat isolated. I have been thinking about the music choices played there by the DJs, which frankly baffle me at times. This post which I read recently over at the blog, The Casual Discourse of a Socially Awkward Lindy Hopper, the author writes about her experience saying some of the things I have been tempted to say in public, but refrained from due to apprehension of the exact situation she experienced.

For those of you who want the quick summary, the author visited a venue she used to regularly attend. In this visit she experienced mostly songs that were simply undanceable. The songs that were danceable consisted of the cliché neo-swing (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) material that makes most experienced Lindy Hoppers cringe. In result people (including herself) were complaining to other regular swing dancers at the venue about the music. The DJ maturely responded to this by leaving a nasty comment on her facebook wall referring to her friends and herself as “snobs” and defriending her on Facebook.

Honestly, I wish there was a more tactful way of going about this then complaining to the venue organizer/DJ or trying to politely suggest to the venue organizer/DJ something. (Better then handing the DJ what is pictured in Figure 1.0 below) But as I am keenly aware of being a DJ myself, it is often a very personal endeavor and unfortunately we can be quick to take offense to people who criticize our abilities.

[Figure 1.0]: DJing for Dummies

I am not going to write a guide about how to be a better swing dance DJ, that is covered in multiple places over the internet. Just a message for be organizers and people who are concerned for their local venues or scene in general.

What music is DJed greatly affects not just how your dancers at your venue dance, but the reputation your venue has.

Frankly, one could be surprised how fast things via word of mouth can travel in the Lindy Hop community. I know several venues, in different states, that intermediate and above dancers avoid because of their reputation for bad music. There tends to also be a correlation with bad dancing and bad music as well. How can you expect your new dancers to be able to dance on beat if they rarely hear swing dance music with a decent rhythm section or be musical when they can’t make out clear phrasing? It confuses me how some places will go to great lengths to create an inviting and fun atmosphere then overlook this one big aspect of running a venue.

Carl Nelson, a jack of all Lindy related trades (teacher/competitor/performer/organizer) wrote this in his blog which provides some insight,

As a traveling dancer I’ve seen far too many communities on the decline or, worse yet, falling apart altogether.  Why is that?

As dancers we’re all too often misled into believing that a passion for dance is enough, that effective business strategies don’t apply to performance art.  Yet what happens when your classes are empty, your teachers are disheartened by the lack of interest (and a paycheck), and your events are poorly attended.- – Carl Nelson

Carl makes the very valid point that running an effective scene is just like a business. DJing, like teaching is something that should be done by someone who takes the position seriously and is qualified. I have seen many venues let people who shouldn’t touch a DJ booth, do so because they do not want to hurt that person’s feelings or create drama. Organizers, avoid that common trap and have people who know what they are doing as DJs. In result you will foster an environment for dancers to improve and a positive reputation for your venue.