|1997 in Review|
It was a Great Year!
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Why Does it Swing?
We spent a lot of time during the summer of 1997 delving into this question at some detail. The discussion was kicked off by this letter from Bill Frankenberger, who is a professor at Foothills Junior College in California.
Maybe you can help me understand something: Why do some pieces SWING, while others don't?
There are some things I think I can articulate, like if a piece is in 2/4, then it ain't gonna' swing, because like Norma says, you need 4 quarter-note beats per measure to match our Lindy Hop dancers' 8-count (8 eighth-note) patterns. Now, I can hear the difference between Charleston (or even more, ragtime and other pre-'20s music) and Swing: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to have to do with removing the thud-thud-thud on each down beat of the pre-swing music, and replacing this with a lighter on-going basic beat and emphasizing melodic syncopations, yet keeping the beat strong enough so the syncopations don't become a confusion of abstruse rhythm (as in later jazz). And in ragtime, the melodies tend to be long and symetrical, whereas in swing, each measure of melody seems to add a new off-beat idea, like the way we dancers "syncopate", or vary, each "8-count" 4/4 swing-out.
But why "Segue In C" swings so great and "In the Mood" simply JUST DON'T SWING is beyond my ability to analyse and use words! Can you put into words what is going on in the music between two such pieces? What IS the difference?!
From: Frank and
You have asked the critical question!
The most concise answer is that "Segue in C" is in the Smithsonian Treasury of Jazz Classics and "In the Mood" is not.
In brief, the former piece is structurally more complex within the basic framework and appeals to those who have an understanding of the nuance of improvisation. Any collection of knowledgeable individuals must therefore prefer the former over the latter. Conversely, applying the "Salieri Test", some 50 years later the man on the street can probably do a fair job of humming "In the Mood" and many professional musicians would be hard pressed to come up with even a few bars of "Segue in C". However, there must have been some trouble at the time that "In the Mood" was being perfected, because Glenn Miller had his drummer (Maurice Purtill) hammer out the Lindy beat on the cow-bell so the dancers would know what to do.
"Swing" was commonly used among musicians as a verb to refer to the flowing rhythmic pulse that was essential to good jazz playing. ("That cat really swings.") Sometime in 1934 it also began to be employed as a noun standing in for what was commonly called jazz. On November 6, 1935 Variety introduced a new weekly column by Abel Green titled "Swing Stuff". In this space, many unsatisfactory definitions (such as the following) were offered:
In Metronome, Gordon Wright took a similar survey with similar vague results and concluded [in a headline]: "SWING CANNOT BE DEFINED" I plowed through most of Gunther Schuler's book and I tend to agree with that. Maybe the new book, reviewed by Mark Ormsby, below, can shed some technical light on this subject.
We have this definition: "It swings if the music tells us what to do." Both Ellington and Lunceford liked to hire musicians who could dance. Conversely, the Lindy Hoppers at the Savoy were inventing the dance right alongside the musicians who were creating the music. The very best Lindy stuff comes from this period. The slang term for a good soloist was "A Solid Sender" which is also the term from Morse code telegraphy for an operator who could get the message through loud and clear. I can hear Lunceford's band telling us when to do swingouts, when to do Charleston and when to do side-to-side and a whole lot more moves.
I think that makes the water muddier, huh? Well, that's our best shot.
This Is Why It Swings
A few more comments on Bill Frankenberger's note last week, keying in particularly on:
"Maybe you can help me understand something: Why do some pieces SWING, while others don't? There are some things I think I can articulate, like if a piece is in 2/4, then it ain't gonna' swing..."
"Swing" was commonly used among musicians as a verb to refer to the flowing rhythmic pulse that was essential to good jazz playing. ("That cat really swings.") Sometime in 1934 it also began to be employed as a noun standing in for what was commonly called jazz. On November 6, 1935 Variety introduced a new weekly column by Abel Green titled "Swing Stuff". In this space, many unsatisfactory definitions (such as the following) were offered..."
We can be a bit more precise about what musicians mean by "swing": It simply means that the eighth notes have inequal duration. The most common "swing" rhythm is the "shuffle rhythm" where the eighth notes **on** the beat take twice as much time as the eighth notes **off** the beat. That is, if you count
then the time between 1 and "&" is twice the time between "&" and 2. If you do not read music, skip this paragraph: The sheet music for this type of swing will often have a small notation that says:
(by "e" I mean an eight note, by "q" I mean quarter note. The  over the pair signifies triplet which, to a musician means that everything under the 3 gets 2/3 as much duration.) To the classical musician, it is absurd to say that some eighth notes take longer than others. The way they put it is to call the whole piece "12/8".
Have you ever noticed that several John Phillip Sousa marches swing? For example, the Washington Post march. He wrote it as 12/8--jazz musicians find it easier to call this type of music 4/4 swing. The latter is just a subset of the former. When you hear a really slow swing, you can actually count "1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, instead of "1 & 2 & 3 & 4..." (Granted, at the typical tempo for the march it is a little slow for lindy, but a pretty good tempo for ECS.)
If that analogy does not work for you, try this: Think of a slow 12/8 song like, "In the thrill of the night", "Oh Darlin" (Beatles) "Surfer Girl" (Beach Boys). These songs allow you to count 1 2 3 4 very slowly, or "1-2-3" very rapidly. That is, you can call it 4/4 with triplets, or you can call it 12/8. In a slow blues song in 12/8 at Glen Echo, you might see some people doing West Coast Swing very slowly, while others are doing a fast Vienese waltz. Speed that tune up, and it will swing. That is, you will not be able to go "1-2-3" that fast, so you will skip the "2" in the middle. But instead of counting "1-3, 2-3, 3-3, 4-3, you will just say 1, & 2, & 3, & 4, & ... But the numbered beats will be taking twice as long as the "&". This is swing.
In case you still are not linking this up to tunes you know, compare "Heard it through the Grapevine" or "Love Potion Number Nine" with "California Girls (Beach Boys)." The first two are not swing; the latter is. Note that if it is not swing with a tempo of 120 beat per minute, one can cha-cha, or west-coast swing with equal success; if it is swing one can do west-coast swing but cha-cha would be cumbersome. In these dances, you are stepping on the "&" and the relative duration matters. Speed it up to 160+ bpm: For lindy, swing, salsa, etc., no one steps on the "&" so you can lindy whether or not the music swings; but one develops a taste for avoiding that dance when there is no swing. Texas twostepers, however, are almost completely indifferent as to whether there is swing to the music. Zydeco dancers will step with the swing or without it; but the musicians never swing the fast tunes. Salsa never has that swing.
So the answer to "why do some pieces swing" is fundamentally no different from asking "why does some music waltz?" Swing is generally 4/4 music that could also be called fast 12/8 in which (if you called it 12/8) you only emphasize beats 1,3,4,6,7,9,10,and 12. In general, any nonswing piece with "straight eight notes" can be done as a swing tune; but if the tempo is slow enough you would probably call it "blues" instead of "swing."
All of this emphasizes the shift of a tune from eigth notes of 50-50 durations to 66-33. But the really talented jazz musicians can swing 60-40 or 55-45. At that point, you can no longer call the music 12/8. In the case of 60-40, a computer synthesizer might call it 20/8 or require a lot of brackets with a 5 over the notes; but most people are content to simply write it as 4/4, count it as 4/4, and call it "swing." That type of swing, however, will almost never be played at a swing dance.
One other thing. Vocalists are sometimes said to
"swing" when most of the singing is taking place off
the beat (on the "&"), even if the music is not
swing. An examples is the chorus of Manhattan Transfer's
rendition of "Birdland," which is jazz but not swing
(in spite of the fact that they are singing about swing
musicians). Often the notation for these songs will show the
melody to be on the beat but vocalist "swings it" but
hitting many of the notes 1/2 beat before the chart indicates.
West Coast swing teachers call the same thing
This Is Why It Swings
I am fortunate enough to work with someone who has a doctorate in music, is a conductor and a voice teacher. (More about Terry later.) I thought that I'd give the question to him for the academician's point of view. Following is his response.
Wow, I wish I had great musical knowledge... anyway...it seems to me that none of your respondents actually hit the nail on the head. On the other hand, I may not understand the question at all, since I'm not familiar with "Segue In C" while it seems to me that "In the Mood" swings very well. I will say that "In the Mood" is a fast swing piece and is therefore very difficult to play in comparison to a slow swing piece, such as "Up a Lazy River." [Janice's note: I'll bet that sentence surprised many! He's a musician, not a dancer.]
Swing music is defined by the fact that you do not perform the music the way it is written. It is always written with eighth notes that are intended to be performed unequally. As far as I know it is the only music like this. There are many musical forms where you do not play or sing exactly what is printed on the page. In fact unless you are a computer, there ISN'T ANY music that you play or perform exactly as it is printed. But swing is the only musical form that I know of in which there is a structured way that you "disobey" the notes on the page.
In swing, any two eighth notes in which the first is on the beat and the second is off the beat, the first is substantially longer than the second, almost twice as long. This becomes the defining pulse of the music that governs all of the rest of the rhythms, whether they contain written eighth notes or not (after all any rhythm can be broken down into it's eighth note equivalents). It is this unequal eighth note pulse that gives the "eighth note anticipation" such a characteristic feel known only to swing.
Now comes my response -- I too can't quite understand the question, since I am "moved" to swing almost anytime I hear "In the Mood." This is not to be confused with wanting to "hop." One does not "hop" to "In the Mood." And, I may or may not be moved to dance to it depending on whose playing it, the arrangement, the passion with which the band is playing it, and the passion with which my dance partner is dancing to it.
I have a wonderful history tied to this song. It was one of the first songs that I learned to dance to. I can remember the person I was dancing with, the way that the band played it, the way that my dance partner and I became "one" with the music; and the remaining world ceased to exist.
In short, there are quite a few variables that have absolutely nothing to do with the structure of the music. I believe that the most important variables have more to do with your "emotional memory" and the senses.
More about Terry -- Terry is the musical director at a
Presbyterian Church on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, VA.
I've attended performances by his choir twice now and have been
moved to tears both times. For the final piece at Christmas, his
choir (50-60 people) surrounded the congregation and began
"calling" Silent Night. It was as though Shepherds were
calling to one another from hilltop to hilltop. By the end of the
song, the congregation was surrounded by the voices of angels.
(I'm moved to tears as I write this.) It was such fun watching
the passion flow through his body while he was conducting. Poor
Terry threw out his arm that day while conducting.
We Still Don't Know Why It Swings
From the two technical notes above, it seems that---with appropriate manipulation of the notes---almost anything can swing (back in the 70s, the "Hooked On" series could make anything Disco) How come so many albums are full of garbage from the dancer's perspective? We still don't know, short of listing our favorite dance tunes. But, Bill Frankenberger's comments on "Segue in C" and "In the Mood" did stimulate a little bit of research.
"Segue in C" was first recorded in 1953 by the Count Basie Orchestra. Bill Lehman found these fragmentary notes about the song: Frank Fleiss, who joined Basie in June 1953 playing tenor sax, and has been featured frequently as a flute soloist, alto sax man and composer-arranger, wrote "Seque in C" and plays the tenor solo that follows the Count's opening blues statements. The tear-up trombone, reminiscent of the old Trick Sam or Don't-Mess-With-Me school, is played by Al Grey. The only recording of the song that I have ever heard is on one of Frankie Manning's Lindy Picks CDs---but, it is in fact a JAM on "Segue in C" performed (I believe) at Newport by Basie and Ellington (the thing is 9 minutes long) No wonder that version swings.
On the other hand, the date of composition -- 1953 --- tends to rule out direct comparison with "In the Mood" since a lot of musical development took place between 1939 and 1953 (14 years--would you compare 1967's "Plastic Fantastic Lover" with "Segue"?) Other than this brief note, "Segue in C" has not left a deep footprint in the sands of time. [Anyone with more information is welcome to send it to us] A "close to original" version of "Segue in C" may be found on "The Best of Count Basie-the Roulette Years", Blue Note CDP7-979692. No doubt this is a swinger with a fine bass line.
On the other hand, "In the Mood" is a bit more memorable. My favorite story about the song comes from David and Suzanne. While they were honeymooning in Nepal, they actually found an orchestra of Katmandu locals sawing through "In the Mood"; they must have set an altitude record for Lindy Hop...
Actually, most of what is written about "Mood" is not that favorable. This seems to be a big target for the musicologists, even though it is the second song to sell over 1 million copies (the first was "Tiger Rag" in 1927) and seems to be a universal stock piece of every band in the universe.
Gunther Schuller (The Swing Era) devotes almost four pages to trashing Glenn Miller and "In the Mood". First [he says] it isn't original: In 1930, Wingy Manone used the basic riff in "Tar Paper Stomp, followed closely by Fletcher Henderson in "Hot and Anxious". In 1935, the same line was in "There's Rhythm in Harlem". This same piece was covered in 1938 by both Edgar Hayes and Artie Shaw. Miller's contribution was to "simplify" although the famous "False Ending" is attributed to Chummy MacGregor, Miller's pianist. Only Miller seems to have collected any money from this work. Schuller has a field day with Miller [p. 601-604]:
It also turns out that Glenn Miller was not Jimmy Stewart and in fact may have been so unlikable [according to Schuller, p 604] that some of the band members actually cheered when it was reported that his plane had been lost in 1944.
We have a very good digital remastering of "In the Mood" that appears on one of those "test CD" recordings called "Digital Gold 2000"---it even features Maurice Purtill hammering out the Lindy beat on the cowbells. From what I can see, this is the definitive rendering of the song.
Well, this academic review tells us that the difference between "Segue" and "Mood" is
Well, we don't want to be one of those slow, lazy white couples, so we scoured Schuller's book for a danceable song that passes musicological muster. We believe that we may have found such a song. Schuller devotes inordinate praise to a 1938 song by Duke Ellington titled "Steppin in Swing Society". Let's listen to Gunther pontificate:
My partner actually found a copy of this song on an Ellington CD titled "Braggin' in Brass". We are going to bring all three songs to the Monday and Tuesday practice sessions for you to judge. If you like "Steppin", we can actually have a good musicological reason for dancing without being "Ugly Americans"
Yes, I play an instrument...yes, I had what amounts to 8 years of music theory...but no, I can't define "swing" and I'm nothin' but confused by all of the comparisons people are throwing out there. Sorry. But I offer one audible example for all you out there who don't have the background in big band music that some of the others may have. Remember back before you were a dancer and you actually stayed home on Saturday night? Back when Joe Piscopo was on Saturday Night Live? Joe does a wonderful parody of Frank Sinatra. In one skit, he sang "Silent Night" with that trademark swing beat of vintage Sinatra...."Round yon virgin...well, she had a kid...yeah! He grew up and you...hey...know what he did..." My church choir got a lot of mileage outta that one. Sinatra's "hey" and "yeah" is what makes it swing, baby. "Shoo be do be do" doesn't swing.
My "In the Mood" memory...we have Rob Bamberger to thank for perhaps the most monotonous trip to Glen Echo we ever took...one Saturday when he decided to play every riff which preceded that famous riff in "In the Mood" for close to 40 solid minute of music. When he finally got to "In the Mood", he played three versions of it.
Eight years later, the controversy still rages. We got this letter from Graeme Boone of Oklahoma State University:<.P>
Augusta Swing Camp - 1997
From: Peter Gehring
Yes it's true I rely on Jen for visual cues on a couple of the patterns in the Madison. Although I got started right, I muffed by finishing the Wilt Chamberlain Hook a beat early last Tuesday at the Grille, and this put us off when it came to do the "M." So I intentionally finished another move late to put us back on the beat. Hey, at least it worked.
Speaking of the Madison, I learned a few interesting things about it from Lance Benishek at Augusta this past week. First of all, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Madison street in Baltimore (I was sorry to learn that). Second, it may date from 1930's Chicago, no one really knows for sure. Lance said it seems to have come to Baltimore via the Colts football team in 1960, believe it or not. Third, Lance played two parodies of the Madison for me, one entitled "The Sloppy Madison" and the other "The Medicine." The latter was somewhat amusing. Warning: Lance claims to have THREE FULL ALBUMS devoted to the Madison. If you aren't careful, Lance will give you far more detail about this dance (and other trivia) than you could ever have wanted to know.
Augusta was fun this year, but I missed the Lindy dancers we met last year from Minnesota. Not a one returned for reasons unknown (I heard Eileen had a conflict, and so Terry did not go). As a result, I found that this year lacked the energy and enthusiasm that was so noticeable in last year's group. Part of the problem was reputed to be the many dance events this summer (e.g. Flying Home, Catalina, Ashokan, and then Beantown). All great events, but there is such a thing as too much! Nevertheless there were many treats. For those of you who so love the Oklahoma Twisters, that band was present in full force and played the Western Swing Night dance on Thursday. Many of these musicians were present last year - I just never knew they called themselved the OK Twisters until this year.
Dr. Ethel Caffie-Austin was in town again to teach the mini-class on gospel singing. I have never been so overcome with awe by a person as when she held forth at the Thursday night concert before the dance. Her voice is astounding in its clarity, beauty, and power. She was the only performer that night to earn an instantaneous and thunderous standing ovation as she left the stage. Wow! Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful Betty Wood whom Lance had accompanied. She taught many of us the original Big Apple for which some believe the city of New York was named. Betty and her troupe performed the Big Apple in New York in the Roxy theatre in the 30's before NYC was ever called the Big Apple. It is an issue that Betty claims is still in dispute. I don't think that Tuan or I will ever forget her cute South Carolina accent when she shouted out the various steps. Even the Swede Anna Sandesjo commented "You know you have an ahhkcent?" Betty just couldn't get over that one!
Augusta is also special in that a one hour period, called "Round-up," is reserved after lunch for dancers to sit back and listen to various musicians discuss their music, or what it means to swing, or to people like Steven Mitchell and Anna discuss how they started doing Lindy. My favorite round-up featured one time national guitar picking champion Pat Donahue, who is the regular guitar player for A Prarie Home Companion. Besides being a wonderful guitar player, he also exhibited a wonderfully dry sense of humor that had everyone in stitches.
Steven and Anna taught some cool stuff as well, but I particularly enjoyed Steven's emphasis on dancing to the music, phrasing one's swing outs to match the structure of the music rather than just bulling through as though the musicians weren't there. Augusta is special in that real musicians play during the classes as well as the dances so that dancers and musicians can learn from one another, making the evening dances all that much more special and rewarding. And with the likes of John Previti/Ralph Gordon on bass, John Nicholas on keyboard, Steve Larrance on drums, Rusty Mason on sax, and singer Marriana Previti (lead singer of the J Street Jumpers for those of you who don't know), the evening's music was fabulous!
The Flycats also performed twice, once on Sunday (Here We Go Again) and once on Wednesday (Leslie's new Chick Webb routine). Both routines went very well. Wendy made her debut with Here We Go Again on Sunday and was perhaps the sharpest performer from my vantage point, whereas I managed to survive the inevitable butterflies before the debut of the new (Chick Webb) routine. The new routine also featured the debut performance of GeorgeAnn Diehl who is incredible in her ability to learn routines and moves quickly. She is also an extremely graceful dancer. Regrettably, because of the absence of Melanie Myers, we could not do the Take Five/Lucas routine which is my personal favorite. A few people asked us about that routine from last year (which Steven Mitchell choreographed) and were disappointed to learn we would not being performing it. At least it was nice to know we'd made such a big impression last year!
Our next performance is on August 10th in Manhattan at the
Continental Club. I hear from Brian that the band that night
(the "Jive Wires" (?)) is really hot, so it should be a
fun evening. However, I don't relish the thought of driving back
to DC that night. Wish us luck!
P.S. You asked me for a review of the Flycat performance in Fells Point last June 28th. According to Leslie's fiance Rick Becker, who has seen us perform quite a few times now, this performance was perhaps our best ever. Too bad the batteries in Nancy's camcorder died while Tuan was filming it! The attendance at the dance itself was noticeably less than last year's Swing Thing. And the band, Michael Raitzyk's Jazz Orchestra basically sucked. I had remembered them as having played extremely well last year. I don't know why they sounded so awful this time, but the horn section was pretty sour. Don't worry, Leslie has no intention of hiring them again!
On Augusta (Mary Pat Cooney)
Dear Frank, and all the other Lindy Hoppers,
I spent the week as a music student, taking swing vocals each morning, working as a vocalist with a student band after lunch, and singing in a swing vocal repertoire class in the late afternoon. After dinner most days I sang in a slow jam - designed for beginners who need help learning the tunes - like me. Three nights I went to the dances, and one night I just sang. Each night at the dance, I found new footwork, and felt the melody and rhythms moving through my body in a new way. I danced with the most wonderful partners - many you all know - Mark, Peter, Tuan, Ted -- A fellow named Adam with whom I also worked in the band. What dreamy dances I had with him - a dancing bass player. Minimalist Lindy. Fabulous. I also had a chance to dance with an old friend from New York - Gary - and we two stepped like there was no tomorrow. Lance from Minnesota, Paul from London, and others. Heaven.
I had a lovely time taking the slow blues class one night, taught by Lance Banisheck. We must get him here - he's a dance historian, and he's a fountain of knowledge. (The dancers who took other classes with him and Betty Wood (what a doll!) can fill you in.) The highlight of the class was dancing with Tuan with his arm in a sling. Since we had to dance close, his fingers kept tickling me right in the belly. When he danced with someone shorter, well, he had to watch those fingers...It was very funny and fun. You'll have to ask him HOW he injured himself. It wouldn't be proper for me to spill the beans...
As for the music - well, imagine live music coming out of every door and window on a hilly college campus, a rich variety of dance styles to study, and a bunch of new and old friends to hang out and get silly with.
I've already gone out to buy new musical supplies.
The other highlight for me came on Friday, the last day of the program. There is a student showcase in the afternoon, when all the student bands and many of the dance classes show off what they learned. It's very informal, very safe and warm, full of laughter and appreciation for learning. The beginning Lindy Hoppers worked with Bill Borgida and Sue Neeley - and they were hot. The Lindy choreography class performed a blues-to-swing theatrical style piece choreographed by Ssteven Mitchell, full of beautiful old jazz movement and a lot of sass. the Big Apple class had given a demo at the dance during the week. Look for it at the dances.
I performed with my student band, the Lindy Lous, named in honor of a Texas style of Lindy that Lance told me about. He's working on getting funding to research and reconstruct the dance. Keep your fingers crossed.
We performed a western swing tune, and they graciously tolerated my adding a chorus of tap dancing to the tune. The treat was that some of the dancers asked me to give them a tap class after the showcase, and I was priveleged to dance/make some of the most beautiful music with that class. We swung softly, and after we learned the combination, we had the good fortune to have Ralph Gordon accompany us on the bass. IT WAS SWEET! My thanks to the beautiful dancers who spent the hour learning my 16 bars, and doing them justice. Judy and Porl from London, Anne from Athens, Ohio (ny old alma mater!), Gary and Martha from NC, Matt from Richmond and ARGH --- who else was there? I'm sorry I can't remember. It was lovely.
Another highlight, which I guarantee to repeat and enlarge at Savoy, was a little foot soaking party in the women's bathroom. Sorry we couldn't invite the guys. But when else could we talk about them? Everyone go to the grocery store and buy Johnson's Foot Soap. Soak your feet in it, or fill the tub and soak your whole self in it. You'll dance better. You'll feel better. and if you invite friends to join you it could be lots of fun.
The week at Augusta was magical for me - I learned a lot, danced a lot, hung out with dancer friends and got to know them better, made new friends with dancers and musicians. I implore you to consider going next year.
from the former drill sergeant of swing, renamed Lindy Lou
Swing Fling - 1997
Friday August 1, 1997 was a good day for the Lindy competitors at Swing Fling 1997. Just in case you haven't heard, John "Psychoboy" McCalls and Carolyn Biczel won the Strictly Swing Rising Star category at Swing Fling this weekend. This competition does not have a Lindy Hop division, so persons compete against people from Shag, Jitterbug, and West Coast. For the Rising Star event, competitors had to choose two songs from "slow", "medium" and "fast" tempos John and Carolyn selected the "medium" and "fast" songs. The "medium song was at 130 beats per minute (BPM), but they decided to double the count and dance it at 260 BPM, attracting considerable attention. Since most of the other styles prefer slow music, they were virtually alone on the "fast" song. This was a very wise strategic choice. Congratulations, John & Carolyn, who are also charter members in our "Order of the Rabid Lindy Hopper". If you want to know more about the results at Swing Fling 1997, please check out this websi te.
Although the Showcase Division is heavily skewed towards West Coast Swing, both pairs Tom Koerner & Debra Sternberg and Mike Duggan & Jenny Manlove put in excellent performances. Swing Fling is the last major competition that does not have separate divisions for Lindy Hop.
B&O Railroad Dance
Sunday August 3, 1997
From: Sue Fedor
Steve and I took off for Charm City...late as usual...for the B&O Railway Museum's celebration "The Railroad Goes to War". The Sunday festivities featured George Hipp and the WLG Radio Orchestra in a two hour concert, which some of us lindy hoppers turned into an instant commotion. Liz and Ron (two of Tom & Debra's students) were there when we showed up. We swung out on every swing tune that the band played, including what turned out to be an energetic "Mack the Knife". The crusty old band leader referred to us as "shaggers", so I'm referring to him as crusty and old. Needless to say, we brought down the house and made it on lots of home videotapes (none of which I want to see....) The event was in the roundhouse (which was round so they could turn the trains in different directions.) We danced on the wooden "turntable" in the middle which actually held the track on which the train rested. It makes a pleasantly sprung dance floor.
After we danced, we were treated to an old fashioned bond rally, complete with "Abbott and Costello" (they were outstanding-- that "Who's on First" routine always makes me laugh), "Sophie Tucker", and "Sandy the Riveter". They want to do this next year, so we gave them our number and told them to call. They'd love to have more dancers next year--and spread the word in DC. It's a great museum (901 W. Pratt Street--10 blocks from Inner Harbor--follow signs open till 5:00 pm--$6.50 adults)--especially if you love trains (they let you climb around inside!) and of course, that almost bygone era of nationwide train travel.
And guess what? They rent the roundhouse out for about $200 or so a night! The turntable (the part that actually spins the train) is wooden (maple, I'd say...nicely sprung) and if it weren't for the track down the middle (which one of our compatriots commented would the perfect size for a west coast "slot", the floor would be outstanding, holding about 20 couples comfortably--more if they're not kicking. And if the band is playing something you don't like, you can look at the trains! I'm going to put this bug in a lot of ears. What an amazing resource! (and the museum is really struggling, so we could help them out.) I'm just gushing with good old fashioned civic pride.
Fun fact: Did you know that WWII P.O.W.s captured by the Allies were sent to America? It was easier and cheaper to detain them here and they provided much needed labor for public service projects and they were sent by train all over the country to do them.
All You Ever Wanted to Know about "Who's on First"
Irving Gordon is known for two things: He wrote "Unforgettable" and a vaudeville comedy bit called "Who's on First". While the former made Nat King Cole famous, the latter has always been asociated with the team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. "Who's on First" was first performed on Kate Smith's radio show in 1938 and first appeared on the silver screen in a 1945 film called "The Naughty Nineties". Here is an excerpt:
This goes on and on. You can find more-or-less the whole script in: John Thorne, The Armchair Book of Baseball
Here is a summary of the roster:
We have never heard a version with a Right Fielder (or Designated Hitter)
Hula Monsters and Pool Party
Saturday August 9, 1997
We joined a large contingent of DC Lindy Hoppers in the trek to Annapolis for a pool party at Gay and Dave's and to see the Hula Monsters in an event sponsored by the Annapolis Traditional Dance Society. The gang got a very nice welcome from the Annapolitans who made us feel very much at home. It was very good to see Marc Shepanek and Ellen Engle, back from their vacation. If you don't know, native Hawaiian music receieved an infusion from both jazz and Country styles in the 1920s through (a) Sailors from the U.S Navy and (b) cowboys, imported for the pineapple plantations and cattle ranches. The result was a swinging music characterized by "Slack Key Guitar" (sort of a dobro) that eventually metamorphosized into what we now know as the pedal steel guitar. This genre of Hawaiian music swings a lot more than the "Don Ho" variety that is endemic to cruise ships. The Hula Monsters are among the very best practiotioners of this art, with very special notice going to the wizardry of Moe Nelson on vocals and Bass and Tom Mitchell on lead guitar. Moe just about upstaged the Jam by playing his bass upside down while lying on the floor. Everyone seemed to have a good time, as illustrated in this review by Cameron Sellers:
From: Cameron Sellers
My friend Annie and I met up with a group of Lindy Hoppers lead by Gay and David Shepardson at a Fraternal Order of Police Lodge and danced to the Hula Monsters. The music was a mixture of Hawaiian (I think) and rockabilly, and the dance floor was large so space was not a problem. One truism I learned from that night: When you have 17 Lindy Hoppers or 34 saddle shoes, they will take over the event. The highlight was the spontaneous JAM, the group got started. I think the other dancers did not know what to think of it at first, but by the end of the JAM, everyone was watching and no one was dancing.
It was my friend's first time Lindy hopping and she was
overwhelmed. She enjoyed dancing with the male contingent, and
thanks them for their patience. She also wanted to thank Steve
Sue for the quick lesson.
Frederick Hangar Dance
Friday August 22, 1997
We went to the WWII "Canteen Dance" in Frederick. This was extra-special because the Confederate Air Force (CAF) was there for an air show. If you don't know, this group restore old war planes to flying conditions and exhibits them across the country. The dance took place in a hangar and the CAF had kindly parked a B-17G "Flying Fortress" bomber, a P-51 "Mustang" fighter and a P-35 "Wildcat" fighter just outside the doors. The event looked like a scene from the "Glenn Miller Story" : the band, Sunset Royale, looked the part in Eighth Air Force outfits, the bomber had "Sentimental Journey" and a Betty Grable pinup painted on its nose and the military re-creators were out in force. The atmosphere was definitely 1940s.
Ellen Engle and Marc Shepanek gave a very well-received lesson. We were very pleased to note that the floor of the hangar was made of a composite that looked like concrete but felt like wood. It was a very danceable surface that supported four hours of dancing and aerials (such as the driveshaft) which require smooth sliding. Even though this was a real hangar, the floor was immaculately clean. The organizers scheduled a balloon drop at the end of the second set; by the end of the third set, the floor was littered with little fragments of balloon. Just prior to the jam to "Sing Sing Sing", Dr. Daniel and "Psychoboy" appeared with large push brooms and offered a bit of comic relief as they swept the dance area to the tune of "Moonlight Serenade." Quite a few Lindy Hoppers were present, including (in addition to those mentioned above) Lizzie Hess, Susan Lusi, Andrea MacIntosh, Mike Reis, Misha Akkerman, Jack Hilton, and Steve and Sue Devoney who have this report:
From: Sue Fedor
Beautiful vintage planes, great crowd (many wearing gorgeous 1940s uniforms and dresses), fabulous late summer night with unseasonably cool breezes...you couldn't ask for more in Frederick, MD last Friday. We danced the night away with the Sunset Royals---who are really improving under the strong tutelage of Ellen Engle. Speaking of tutelage, Marc and Ellen gave a class before the band started. There were a LOT of young (under 20) people there and they had a nice corner in which to practice, practice, practice all the moves they learned for the rest of the evening. Both Marc and Ellen spent generous amounts of time with them.
Highlights: Frank and his partner--looking great in their vintage duds--and Frank's very correct brown shoes; Psychoboy, who had to compete with Dr. Dan for Lizzie's dance time...Psychoboy, always quite generous himself, saved several dances for me, Susan Lusi, and some anonymous women--particularly one in a very bright green suit who has having too much fun with him during a rhumba! Mike was there without Chrissy, which meant we all got to dance with him. Always a treat! The crowd loved the lindy hoppers---and we loved the crowd. I met a nice gentleman from the area who is an authentic hopper from days gone by...he was wearing a seersucker jacket and had legs which moved more wildly than either Tom Koerner or Ron Heron. He said he did a personal mixture of Charleston and Lindy--his mother taught him the Charleston! But she didn't teach him much control...he relied on the rather sturdy anchorage of his wife and at one point, when she let her guard down, he flailed out of control into the band's microphone! It's always nice to see people refuse to act their age.
We were treated to a lovely pyrotechnic display shortly after nine o'clock. They opened the hangar doors and we walked out into the starlit night to watch a biplane dance across the sky. From the left wing, the plane shot out a sparkler trail, which left delicate curly cues in the sky. From time to time, the pilot would drop out small fireworks--some of which just trailed, some of which "bloomed" (that's a real pyrotechnic term), and some were in colors. It was a ballet of light and shape--to the background music of a biplane engine. Romantic, simple, beautiful.
Of course, the crowd had comments too--mostly because they had advertised fireworks. (Is he having engine trouble?) (Is he dropping fireworks from the plane?) (Where are the explosions?) and my personal favorite, from Frank's partner, "Perhaps these are vintage fireworks!" I've never seen anything like it before.
We only lasted until 11--remember, Steve gets up very early. As we left, a half moon was rising over the planes parked on the runway. We stopped to look at a WWII era bomber with a lovely painting of Betty Grable on its nose. We talked to a man from New Jersey who was dressed in a very authentic Nazi uniform. Tom K would have drooled on himself. The "Nazis" were out playing cards and smoking cigars on the tarmac in front of the hangar. It was rather amusing. We chatted, waved goodbye. What a glorious evening.
And, we might add, Frederick now has a 24 hour retro diner! After the dance, we went searching and came up with Joe's Diner on Patrick Street in the so-called "Golden Mile." We were joined by Susan Lusi and Misha Akkerman. And we talked about dancing until about 3:00 am. The food was good, the coffee was hot and the service is snappy.
Dave and Marie's WeddingSaturday August 23, 1997
Marie Tomassi and Dave Quidas got married in a beautiful ceremony at St. Thomas the Apostle church in Woodley Park. Everything was simply perfect. Marie looked great in a white gown that would fill the page with courturier words if I knew them. Perhaps we can ask Debra Sternberg to fill us in on the specifics. Dave had on a dress suit with white tie, looking very dapper. There were five bridesmaids and Dave had a total of five in his party as well. As you know, in these pages, we have stressed the maxim "DON'T TRY TO COMPETE WITH KIDS." In this vein, apart from Marie, the stars of the show were her neices, the Percocco sisters. They were just so cute. Sorry, Dave.
The priest gave an interesting homily on the responsibilities of marriage that was the subject of much discussion after the ceremony. In a very moving part of the service, he invited all in attendance to join with Marie and Dave in Communion, regardless of church affiliation. We all had a very good feeling after the service.
Lucy Renzi was on hand and did her best to communicate the benefits of marriage to all. She started with We, then moved on to Tricia and Thomas, then Debra and Bobby, and even Tom and Carolyn. (Lucy's optimism is one of her strong points.) Wendy and Mark, Jenny and Mike, and Bob and Beverly were seated in another part of the church, so they missed this part of nuptual evangelization. So did Lizzie Hess, Valerie Uccello and Ray Keaney. All of the ladies wore vintage clothing. Thomas Iverson, Larry MacDonald, and Bobby Blankenberg wore vintage business suits. Only Koerner had the guts (nerve?) to show up in a zoot suit. Afraid of nuns coming out of the woodwork and smacking me on the knuckles, I wore a business suit, as did Ron Haron.
The reception was held at the Kennedy-Warren Ballroom, the art deco treasure on Connecticut Avenue near the zoo. This was absolutely the very best wedding reception that I have ever attended---ever. The food was magnificent, the band was Peaches O'Dell, and the atmosphere was sophisticated. All of these, however, paled in terms of the genuine warmth of spirit. Marie and Dave have really wonderful families and they truly enjoyed the celebration of this marriage. Once again, it was the company that made the event.
Some highlights: Exactly two minutes after we arrived, Koerner found the most attractive fourteen year old that I have seen an was teaching her basic six count. Dave arranged "My Spanish Girl" for the band and appeared in sombrero and fake moustache to deliver his version called "My Italian Girl." Ray Keaney did a parody of Maxine Sullivan's "Massachusetts"; arranging it for Peaches, he led the chorus of assembled Lindy Hoppers while Debra Sternberg did the vocal. Among the choice lines were:
Peaches played her whole repertoire of swing music and we danced until 9:00. We had a great jam to "Sing Sing Sing" (what else?) and ended the evening with a chorus line to "New York New York". This was certainly a Saturday to remember--thanks to Marie and Dave for a great evening. We wish them a great honeymoon in Aruba and a wonderful life!
Savoy Swings Again
From: Linda Erdberg
Having been to Buffalo Gap in 1985 and 86 for contra dance weekends, I returned for the Savoy Swings Again. What a lot of fun. It was nice to get to know people in this setting. Of the three bands--Nighthawks, J Street Jumpers and Daryl Davis--Daryl Davis played the tunes and tempos I like best. My favorite class was the one on lead-follow techniques given by Kenny Roessel. He was clear, interesting, informative and funny. he took at jab at Lindy hoppers saying that it was a street dance and that sometime people dance kinda rough. Debra Sternberg was there observing so that the repartee was very funny. Although the jitterbug classes that were dubbed advanced, were very basic, I still learned some useful steps. Eddie and Eva's lindy hop classes were excellent. They play the best music of all. Before I forget, I want you to know that you missed out on some great food!
You may have heard that Savoy was almost canceled. That's
because so many people (men probably) register at the last
This is a problem needing a solution.
From: Cameron Sellers
Now that my co-workers know that I did not attend a right-wing militia camp in West Virginia over Labor Day weekend, here are my thoughts about Savoy Swings Again. I learned five things about West Virginia on this trip:
Now that I have gotten passed stereotyping West Virginia, I found Buffalo Gap and the surrounding area to be very beautiful, and I saw quite a bit of it on a 40 minute run on Saturday. The food was great, the instruction was helpful, especially Eddie and Eva, the food was fantastic, the cabin was comfortable, the band was good, and did I mentioned the food was GREAT! I never had camp food like I had up there. That was worth the trip.. well almost. Who would have thought one could get mushroom curry soup up there.
Eddie and Eva taught five classes up there ranging from beginner's Lindy to "Cool Moves for Intermediate Lindy folks. But the best class there was their instruction on how to listen to Lindy music. The last eight months I have concentrated so much on the moves and routines of Lindy, I forgot about the music. They had us listen to some tunes and then had us doing body motions to the feel the music. First by ourselves and then with a partner. During the Sunday night dance, I let loose in the early evening, trying to apply what I had learned. Toward the end of the evening, I toned it down before I got slugged by somebody who thought I was mocking West Coast Swing.
The many lessons that I learned up there: First, Swing dance is a huge community and Lindy is only small part. Second, The Swedes are gods when it comes to Lindy. I never seen two people move so fast as Eddie and Eva did Monday night. The dance community at large is friendly and most people are generous with their time. I learned about leading the Waltz from a person from PA. Two people in my cabin gave the whole history of the Lindy movement in Washington D.C. area. Finally, I still have a lot to learn about Lindy.
Thanks to: Gay, Carla, Liz, David, John, Trish, Steve, Ed,
Lizie, Daniel, Peter, THE CHEF, and everyone else who made my
P.S. Peter, if you are reading this e-mail, to expand on our conversation about "crashing and burning" when asking ladies to dance: a woman said no to me when I asked her to dance on Sunday night. So ladies still turn me down and there probably be more who will!
From: Sue Fedor
Steve and I are back...anything but refreshed, but definitely rejuvenated from our weekend in Cleveland, Ohio with Frankie Manning and Ken & Donna. A few years back, when Frankie Manning came out of "retirement" Karl Knopp, an avid Cleveland contra dancer, joined the growing throngs of people trying to rediscover the true American folk dance. He longed to share his passion with his contra dancing friends and musicians. He enlisted the help of Ken and Donna--who happened to come upon swing and lindy hop through contra themselves. They worked for almost 10 years to build a solid group of six count swingers. "Ain't Misbehavin' ", two-years in the planning, was a labor of love for Karl to finally share with his friends and neighbors the fun of the lindy hop.
Close to 200 people signed up for the two-day workshop and dance event. Frankie taught four classes and was very pleasantly surprised to see hard core six-counters turn into lindy hoppers before his eyes. He took them from the basic eight count swing out through to a short Charleston routine. Ken and Donna provided some advanced six count lessons as well as a lesson on the subtleties of leading lindy moves--critical to being able to communicate the difference between a whip, a swing out, and a circle.
For us, it was an opportunity to work on the basics and share our love of lindy hop and encouragement to beginners. Also, we sowed some seeds for ourselves, since we visit my dad up there at least 2-3 times a year. NO MORE DANCE FREE WEEKENDS IN CLEVELAND FOR US! Folks came from Cincinnati (where they miss Eric C. most terribly); Athens, OH--home of Ohio U.; St. Louis, Mo; Ann Arbor, MI; and New York City. On Saturday afternoon, Frankie was joined by Paulette Brockington, the "queen of swing" in the Motor City. That evening, we were also treated to an appearance by Alan Rocoff, Virginia State Open champeen (he's one of the dancers who enters several events).
Highlights: (1) FIVE ROWS OF SHIM SHAMMERS! (2) Lot's of good quality time with Frankie. I am so amazed at how friendly he is. (3) Frankie and Paulette steaming up the dance floor--what she does with her hips should be against the law! (4) Alan and Paulette steam up the dance floor--damn it, they're competing in the classic lindy amateur division at the VSO! (5) Ken and Donna, back from weeks of vacation, manage to wow the crowd and Frankie dancing to "Choo, Choo, Chiboogie". In the true spirit of white knuckle lindy, they did not choreograph anything...but nailed three intricate aerials solidly--smoothly integrated into their dancing. (6) Steve and I rekindled our romance after I spent an hour climbing over his back and through his legs while practicing the "Leapfrog"...but the amour was short lived once my sore neck and shoulder muscles kicked in! AND (7) you won't believe this...FRANKIE IN A BIG FOOT MASK.
About # 7...as I write this, Moto Foto is processing the evidence. Karl had this wacky idea to tell the "real" story of who invented the lindy hop. Seems the lindy hoppers learned it at summer camp from Sasquatch himself. (If this had been DC, it would have been aliens...but up north, where winters are harsh, we have actually seen Big Foot--but to me, he looked like he had absolutely no rhythm whatsoever...) The band began a rousing rendition of "Big Foot Boogie" and Frankie, Paulette, Ken, Donna, Karl, and Carol put on Big Foot masks and began to boogie. As best as I could figure out, the "Big Foot Boogie" goes something like this:
And he was the only one who didn't have funny looking hair when he took off his mask.
Tom Gets Bounced
As you know, Tom and Carolyn were ejected from a dance at St. John's College (Annapolis). The first reports that reached us were that the charge was "taking up too much space." Then we heard that there was a dispute about the music. Then we heard that one of Tom's famous Charleston lessons had disrupted something. Then we heard that Tom's famous ego was responsible for the problem. We got a lot of mail on the subject and we set a record for hits on the website. my partner and Judy Pritchett exchanged letters to the effect that "Finally, someone is talking about Lindy Hop." We weren't there, so we have relied on our two reporters, Gay Shepardson and Cameron Sellers.
To refresh our memory in discussing this subject, we looked back at our now famous stack of clippings from Life Magazine, Colliers, the Saturday Evening Post, etc, etc, that amply document the rudeness and space-hogging of Lindy Hoppers in the 1930s and 1940s. We've even got a film clip of the cops dragging some dancers off the floor. We also remind you that "jitterbug" is a pejorative term, created by the media, much like "beatnik", "egghead", and "hippie", to express disdain for the lack of proper restraint by Lindy Hoppers. This persisted in the press until the same kids went off to World War II and then Lindy became "America's Folk Dance." Thus, on Monday morning we were fully prepared to fight to the death for "freedom to Lindy." But, the only things that we know for sure about last Saturday are:
1. The Lindy Community was INVITED to the dance.
"Here is some information about the St. John's College (Annapolis) swing parties ; they are formally called Waltz Parties. Despite the fact that 95% of the music is swing, whenever a midshipman from the naval academy walks in a waltz is played. Just a little Nazi Germany humour. These swing parties are held in The Great Hall in McDowell Hall, the central building on campus. The building used to be the governor's mansion-so you can imagine that the setting is lovely--chandeliers, balconies, hard wood floors, et cetera. All the swing dances start at 10 pm and last untill 2 am."
We printed the above invitation right here on these pages, and I would bet that most of the Lindy Hoppers who attended had anticipated doing primarily uptempo swing. So, with this background, here is the response from Chris Gillen, the DJ who ordered Koerner out:
From: Christopher Gillen
You wrote this to me: "Say, are you the DJ who tossed Koerner out on his Ear?"
Guilty as charged, I'm afraid. It wasn't something I enjoyed doing and I am still somewhat distressed by the whole affair which, to tell the St. John's side of the tale, went as follows:
The party (which was one of the St. John's College Waltz Committee events that are held every few weeks) began at 10:00pm. Due to a wedding which was to occur the next morning in the same facility it was a dry party (normally we sell champagne and have fruit and cheese plates available) and as such had already proved to be a bit of a disappointment to the students who tend to enjoy a bit of champers to bolster their courage and numb their ankles. We also could not make use of the side rooms to the Great Hall which we normally have set up as overflow and dance practice rooms due to the same event. So our available space had already been effectively halved and the students were feeling a mite grumpy.
At about 10:30pm quite a number of USNA Midshipmen arrived, fresh from their recent victory against Rutgers and looking to celebrate. There being little room to mill about on the sides of the dance floor, the hallways and balcony began to fill. Sometime after 11:00pm, Mr. Koerner and company arrived. It has been a matter of some confusion whether he was accompanied by his own dance class or whether they were down from Goucher College for the night (Goucher students are known for being able to dance circles around us and attend Waltz parties here fairly regularly) but in any case he quickly picked up a following of about 15-20 visitors who he seemed to be coaching.
At this point, although he seemed to have rather an exaggerated concept of how much dance space was 'his' to occupy (several students reported being glared at or corrected as they danced closeby), he was merely a curiosity and not an annoyance. Then he felt it necessary to begin commenting to me (I was DJing at the time) about the fact that we should play easier waltzes than the Strauss viennese I was currently playing (a staple of these parties) since it was "obviously much too difficult" for the SJC students. I figured he would get the hint when I replied, "Maybe...but we enjoy them". He didn't. He continued to make comments and glances at the DJ stand when we played our more modern numbers by artists such as The Squirrel Nut Zippers and Harry Connick Jr. (both of which are strong favourites here), occassionally deriding them as "jazz, not swing". Okay, he had moved up a few notches on my 'jerk-meter' but was still well within the endurable range.
Just prior to midnight (the second time we play 'Sing, Sing, Sing' which is our theme song, the hands-down campus favourite number for dancing, and is traditionally played three times per night so that despite how crowded the floor might be everyone should get at least one chance to dance to it) I was called away by an emergency elsewhere on campus, passing off to my relief DJ, Mr. Speakmon.
I returned at about 1:00am to find that Mr. Koerner had evidently set up some form of Lindy Hop line-dance class (comprised of about 20 people, all visitors) and had abrogated about a quarter of the available dance space toward this end. A number of students approached me at the stand saying I "had to do something about him" as he was refusing to yield the floor to other dancers during the waltz and tango numbers but was stubbornly continuing his class, forcing the waltzers (who Mr. Koerner had already observed are not professionals) into a sort of squashed ovate pattern.
Sad to say not all of us were terribly restrained in our reactions to this and I know of at least two people who decided to make their point rather decisively by deliberately waltzing right into their line. For this and this only I feel I owe Mr Koerner an apology. It was perhaps understandable anger that inspired the couple, but it was beneath us and as host of the party I apologize for their actions.
I decided that something had to be done before tempers flared any further and approached Mr. Koerner to tell him that there had been complaints about the amount of dance space the group was taking up and the way they were persistently Lindy-ing in the middle of the waltzers path. He scowled at me and said, "Oh yeah? Well I have a complaint too. Your music sucks!".
Frankly this left me at a loss for words. I had expected that I would receive some kind of mild apology, the line would break up into couples and the dancing would continue...end of conflict. Instead, he seemed completely unabashed about the havoc he was causing at a party to which he had not (to my knowledge) even been invited. While I was attempting to formulate some kind of witty comeback he continued with, "What, are you able to have me thrown out or something?". "Actually, yes I am." I replied, to which he snorted and turned back to his group.
In fact, until that point I hadn't even contemplated ejecting him from the party. I have only seen that done once or twice in the last 10 years and only to the most drunk and disorderly of individuals. Still, here he was sneering at our dancing, taking up our floor space, and basically daring me to have him ejected. Oh well...it was his suggestion.
Security was called and they promptly escorted him from the campus. To answer a few rumours on the matter though, Campus Security officers do wear batons on their belts though neither of the officers was in fact wielding one, and Mr. Koerner was the only person escorted out. The visitors who comprised the Lindy line had perhaps overstepped party ettiquette but were certainly not being asked to leave. We aren't exactly in the habit of removing people en-masse from the dance floor and tossing them just because they are better dancers than we, after all...that would be a LOT of people! :)
As a postscript, a number of students have come to me
whether we might not restrict the waltz parties to community
members only to prevent this sort of thing in the future. I
adamantly against doing that. It would seem a terrible shame to
toss the baby with the bathwater and lose the presence of many
people in the Annapolis area who regularly attend and enjoy the
parties here. The loss of the USNA Midshipmen, the Goucher
students, and the staff of the Moon Cafe in Annapolis would be a
terrible weight to bear solely for the sake of buying a little
campus harmony. The parties will remain open and I hope that the
events of this last weekend do not discourage anyone from
in the future. All we ask is that our guests observe a modicum of
dance protocol and remember that they are visitors in someone
This certainly sounds reasonable. The word "Archon" intrigued me, so I went to my encyclopedia, stuck my tongue firmly in the corner of my mouth, and read that the word "Archon" refers to one of the nine magistrates who ruled ancient Athens (the same body that sentenced Socrates to death for "corrupting the young") If there had been more of them at the dance, perhaps Koerner might be sipping Hemlock and soda.
Here is Tom Koerner's response
Please accept this response to set the record straight in the (in)famous St. John's College fiasco.
A few people who had previously been to a St. John's dance told me that I should go because there were a lot of college kids who loved swing dancing. They told me that it was open admission and that, while it is billed as Waltz Night, people do primarily swing.
When I arrived with my girlfriend, Carolyn, about 10:00 p.m., there were not many people on the dance floor. We danced to Sing, Sing, Sing. Shortly thereafter, the DJ played a waltz. I am not a great waltzer, but my friend told me that the song was not very danceable. We could barely discern the beat and I noticed that the song "cleared the dance floor". I went to the DJ and told him that the song did not seem very danceable. Hetold me that "Well, the waltz scene has been dying out here." I replied that with songs like that, he would kill it.
For the next two hours I did not dance in the hall. There are two reasons for this. First, in my opinion, the music was not good swing dance music, however, I kept my mouth shut and did not approach either DJ telling them to play other music. Second, the kids were doing "Johnny Swing". I will not call this dancing as it was not movement in time to the music "Johnny swing" involves endless spins and turns with an occasional pretzel thrown in. Dance etiquette was non-existent and the kids were slamming into each other at high velocity. My girlfriend was deliberately banged into by a student doing "johnny swing". I cannot imagine adding alcohol into this scenario.
I contented myself with an occasional dance outside the hall and conversations with my friends.
At approximately, 1:00 a.m., a number of St. John students had asked me to show them the "Artie Shaw Kicks" and then, they asked for more. So I proceeded to teach them the Charleston. They asked still more, so Carolyn and I did a quick run through of the evolution of swing from Charleston to Lindy Hop. The entire time, the students and I were against the wall and out of the flow of dances (as if there was one). We were all trying desperately to keep from getting clobbered by "johnny swing".
The group I was with then did the Charleston to Sing, Sing, Sing. The kids were getting into the "swing" of things and actually learning a dance that went with the music.
At that time, the DJ came over and said he had complaints that the space we were taking up. I could not believe it. At the edge of the maelstrom, there was an oasis of civility. Not one of our group was encroaching on the dance floor. I figured that someone has tell them the emperor they had has no clothes. I admit that I said, "YOUR MUSIC SUCKS!" Considering the truth to be a defense, I stick by this evaluation of his talent as a DJ. I further admit that it was my suggestion that the DJ eject me from the dance. I was mad as hell and I was not going to take it any more.
When the campus security arrived, I went. But only after all the students I was with asked for flyers to my dances. I had an interesting talk with the security guard as I walked to my car. I told him that the room was a dangerous place to be considering the "johnny swing" approach of the students. He told me that a woman was taken from the dance with what he thought was a broken ankle.
Perhaps it will take more serious injury and a lawsuit against the DJ and St. John's before they realize who is the real culprit here.
When I teach and sponsor dances I am the "dance police" and do not hesitate to keep the dancers from infringing upon the space of others. I like to think that the success of the dances at Glen Echo, Americas Restaurant and classes at the Chevy Chase Ballroom and George Mason University are in part due to this. I will not condone a dangerous activity just because "we've always done it this way". If this is dance protocol, the DJ and people of St. John's have a long way to go.
Cherry Poppin' Daddies
The Black Cat featured the Willamette Valley (Oregon) band Cherry Poppin' Daddies, who advertise their music as Zoot Suit Swing. We had seen several reviews of their work, generally favorable, in the new Retro-Swing publications. We are very pleased that Carolyn Biczel sent us this review of their gig.
On Wednesday, Tom and I went to the Black Cat to see the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. We met Susan, Larry, Daniel and Ron there also. Tom bought their CD beforehand, so we listened to their music a little on the way there, and they had some good Swing tunes on the CD. However, we did notice that there were no slow songs.
We arrived a little early so we heard about an hour of the opening Salsa band. They were fun, and sounded good, but to our untrained ear, most of the songs sounded the same. We faked a few merengues and cha-cha's and actually got compliments on our dancing.
By the time the main band came on (around 10:45) we were ready for something we could really dance to, and we weren't disappointed. My only complaints are that they seem to have just one speed - fast, at leat 200 bpm. There was no way you could dance to more than 2 songs in a row. It is Tom's opinion that if you can't dance to music this fast, you shouldn't be a Lindy dancer. But even he admitted that a slower song every once in a while would be nice. And they played very loud - earplugs would have come in handy. Then there are the usual complaints about the Black Cat itself - sticky floor, too many non- dancers on the floor, smoke.... But I must admit that towards the back of the room, the crowd did make room for the dancers. And since there were not many of us there, we got to show off a little, which is always kind of fun. We were also hoping the see some Zoot Suits there, especially on the band members since the name of their CD is 'Zoot Suit Riot'. But Tom had the only Zoot suit in the place.
After about 45 minutes of fast Swing music, they started to
cross the line into Ska (they describe their music as a cross
between Swing and Ska). I'm not sure how to describe Ska music,
except to say that it is fast. At this point the music became
undanceable to us, and we decided to call it a night.
We were interested in how our California friends would react to this appraisal, so we sent Carolyn's review to Eric Mittler, webmaster of Jump Site ,the official site of the Northern California Lindy Society. This is what he had to say:
Vienna Harvest Festival Sock Hop
We went to the Sock Hop at the Vienna Community Center, held as part of the Vienna Harvest Festival, sponsored by the Vienna Regional Chamber of Commerce. By now, you will have grasped the fact that it was held in Vienna, Virginia. The flyer featured a 50s Costume Contest, so we got dressed up in our best bowling shirts. The band was the T-Birds, a great 50s retro band that can give the Hubcaps a run for their money (plus, they don't stop the dancing for a silly show). The community center was decorated like a high school gym, and lots of folks had on the requisite letter sweaters, poodle skirts and jeans with rolled up cuffs. We met a lot of very nice people including Tina Carlo, Director of the Synchronicity School of Dance (12319 Exbury St, Herndon, VA 703-444-3061). We like Tina's card on which she advertises that she teaches "Night Club Survival".
The band announced a Dance Contest and we rose to the challenge. Since there really was no challenge, we also won. The prize was a $50 Savings Bond, a cookbook featuring recipes from Diners, and a CD of 50s rock. We are grateful to our hosts for both the honor and the prize. Actually, we did not win because of dancing ability. We won because Wendy and Mark, Jenny and Mike, and Lucy and Hutch were late. Another ten minutes and we would be reading their review of the cookbook and CD.
The evening was a lot of fun and we enjoyed the teenagers who really have a desire to learn Lindy. All of the experienced dancxers (even Hutch!) pitched in and showed the crowd some moves. The next to the last song was a rather extended version of the Isely Brothers fraternity standard, Shout! (It seemed like we were heaing Parts I through IX.). The band gave away a pizza for the "funniest move". my partner and Lucy got down on the floor and did some leg kicking (yes, they were both wearing skirts...) so we had a pizza to share as well.
The dance ended at 11:00pm, so we had time to catch the last set at America.
The Belmont Ball
This was the day of the Belmont Ball. Be careful, because I am going to use all the superlatives in my vocabulary to describe this event. In a word, the evening was exquisite. The ladies showed up in their grandest finery and the gentlemen looked elegant in white tie or Zoot Suit. Everyone was on his/her best behavior and had a wonderful time. I really don't know where to begin, except to thank Jack Hilton for prodding everyone to go. It takes a lot to drag my partner and me away from and evening with Tom Cunningham at Glen Echo, and this was it.
The ball was sponsored by the Masons (Federal Lodge No. 1, F.A.A.M. and Federal Chapter No. 38 of the Order of the Eastern Star). These are the York Rite Masons as distinguished from the Scottish Rite Masons who run the Boumi Temple in Baltimore. The ball was held at Belmont mansion (1618 New Hampshire Ave), one of washington's most outstanding architectural landmarks. This wedge-shaped French Renaissance mansion was designed by Eugene Sanson and Horace Trumbauer, who later designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both architects studied at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris and they collaborated to produce this fifty four (yes 54, folks) room Louis XIX chateau, meticulously crafted of limestone and ornamented with finely carved details including an elaborate porte cochere, festooned urns on a balustrade surrounding a prominent Mansard roof, two-story arched windows decorated with carved roses, and hand-wrought iron work. The interior features a staircase modeled on the Paris Opera House, a suite of rooms including a circular Baroque music salon, a gilded drawing room, and (most important) a 96 foot long scarlet silk and oak-paneled Grand Ballroom.
Believe me, it was just as grand as the description and even more. The place has been maintained immaculately and it is a dazzler. The Masons even had a squad of Marines in dress blues to serve as ushers. Best of all, our hosts were genuinely glad to see the dancers. We got first rate treatment. We even got better treatment than that. When we walked in, the crowds parted, everyone smiled, said "hello", and some even saluted. I attributed this to (a) lots of people see our picture on the website; (b) they saw my black and white shoes; or (c) my partner's low-cut dress. It turns out that we got all this attention under false pretenses. It was due to a sash that I got at a thrift store for $1.50 about twenty years ago. I usually wear it with my dress suit mainly because the dancers in Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend (from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) look so good with a sash on. I was suprised to find out that it was the Grand Cross of the Knights Templars, the highest honor in our hosts' order. (The Syria Shrine is the highest order for the Scottish Rite Masons). Several of our hosts attempted to give me the secret handshake, and I had to politely explain the humble origins of the sash. They were very good-humored about it...
There were lots of dancers there. [NOTE: Everyone KNOWS that I can't spell names] Among the ladies were: Ellen Engle, Carolyn Biczel, Suzi Nonn, Jo Anne Garrison, Susan Lusi, Trish Mannetti, Jennifer Comar, Sasha Kravitz, Thea Austen, Diane Hutson-Wiley, Mary Pat Cooney, Lynn Hamberg, Elizabeth Magin, Lizzie Hess, Claire Myles, Sharon Tazman, Betsy Thomasson, Karalee Rocker, Robin Holliday, and Jane Ford . We also met Fran Vall, a thoroughly delightful lady who has been doing Lindy Hop since the 1940s -- she has a killer swivel! We also met a lady from Zydeco named Jennifer, but I do not remember her last name.
The genlemen in attendance were: Marc Shepanek, Larry MacDonald, John McCalla, Bill Lehman, Daniel Fierer, Peter Gehring, Ted Elser, Misha Akkerman, Jack Hilton, Ray Wiles, Tuan Tran, Eric Clerier, Michael Island, and Ittyi Kan. As you can see, the men didn't get much chance to either sit down or enjoy much of the chow.
And, speaking of chow, the food was out of this world. They had these little tartelets filled with crab that were heavenly. There were asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, biscuits stuffed with salmon, chicken satay, and a host of other wonderful things that filled a whole room. And the waiters kept bringing things out. They had cases of bottled water and a great punch. The fruit and desserts filled another enormous room. There was truly a feast to be had here.
The band, Music Creations, was composed of experienced musicians playing charts. The selection was fairly mundane- In the Mood, Tuxedo Junction, String of Pearls -- but the execution was good. The group did not swing, but you really don't expect that at an affair of this sort. In general, they alternated between slow and fast numbers and everyone got to dance. I think that the ballroom folks had a good time as well as the Lindy Hoppers, so it was a good mix. The band was correct for the occasion. There were no aerials, no jam, and no shim sham. Ellen Engle looked at me with great big question marks in her eyes when I asked her if we were going to jam. ("Are you nuts?") Once again, thanks to Jack Hilton for prodding us and arranging a special price. [Note to Misha: So, was it worth it?]
Here is what the troops are saying:
From: Mary Pat
Nonetheless, had wonderful dances with many of my fave dance partners, and enjoyed VERY MUCH seeing everyone all dolled up. The ZOOT suits are fun, but give me a man in a Tux any day! So handsome.
Did you ever think you'd see Rayned in a Tux? You'd have mistaken him for Tuan...
The setting was so gaudy and wonderful, the desserts looked scrumptious, the punch was yummy. The band hit a few lemons, but they were a lot of fun, playing swing tunes and polkas, with a few latin numbers and fox trots thrown in. I noticed that you can count on the guys with the yellow stripes down their trousers for a rousing polka!
I had a lovely dance with a "civilian" (non-dancer).
I believe his name is Tice. He was in awe of the dancers. And he
was very handsome. Sigh! What fun. Next time, I will start
asking early, and maybe I'll be able to get a date!
From: Tuan Tran
From: Lawrence R
Jane Ford was also present in a lovely green vintage dress with broad brim hat. Eric was in a tux at least for part of the evening.
That's about all I can remember. I too experience memory loss
due to the onset of advancing years.
From: Jo Anne
Ballet 2000 Gala
We attended the Ballet 2000 Gala which featured the Tom Cunningham Quintet. We did this with some trepidation, because we have a strong attachment to Glen Echo (we met there) and a lot of respect for the history of the WSDC. Further, we were wary of taking our meager skills to an event full of Ballet people. We were stunned to find that Ballet people don't do social dances! (That is, neither ballroom nor swing) For most of the evening, We were the only people on the dance floor. It was great having the Cunningham Quintet all to ourselves on a big dance floor at the Embassy of Singapore.
The band did not let us down Tom and Brent had some spectacular solos and they kept up a steady pace of hot swing. The food was great as well. We met a lot of nice people and gave out a lot of website cards.
We were treated to a fantastic display of adagio dance by David and Sharon Savoy. These folks opened our eyes to a whole world of aerials that most Lindy Hoppers would die to have. Some movements took considerable time to develop, so it would be very difficult to adapt these moves to fast music. But, it was a treat to watch anyway. The Savoys first routine had a Dracula theme. David was wearing a red satin-lined opera cape and he used this as a prop to envelop and twirl Sharon in a series of exceedingly complex maneuvers that were always right at the limits. The complexity of the movements and the wrapping and unwrapping of the partner in the cape always had the potential for disaster. They made it look easy.
The second adagio number was set to Ravel's Bolero. David and Sharon made very good use of the force and sensuality of the music to show a number of impossibly difficult lifts and splits. The piece ended with the "Mother of all Spikes" (to use Lindy terminology.) Let us give you an impression of this final move:
The "doughnut drop" was, in itself, worth the price of admission. Our host for the evening, Debora Brooks adds these comments:
From: Deborah Brooks
I know that you'll do a great job reviewing the Ballet 2000 Gala (and I'm too involved to be unbiased) but I did want to add the following comments:
With regard to the acrobatic adagio duo, David and Sharon Savoy. I just can't get over how elastic she is. She was about 20 degrees PAST a split on that one move where he rotates her from perpendicular to the floor to nearly horizontal.
Thanks to Frank & his partner, those ambassadors of lindy hop, for coming to the Ballet 2000 gala and showing their support for The Washington Ballet. The crowd on the dance floor was light so Frank and his partner had ample room to strut their stuff prompting many comments (especially from some of the artistic staff at the ballet) along the lines of 'What is that they're doing?' and ‘That looks like fun; where do you go to do it?' I passed out business cards for F&Camp;s Lindy Week in Review and told them about Friday nights at America. So it's possible that we may get some crossovers from the ballet world (two pluses: they pick up new steps quickly and aerials would NOT be a problem). We just have to get them to loosen up, stick out their butts and get down.
You both looked swellegant and your partner's dress was stunning. I do so like 50s cocktail dresses for their exuberant extravagance; it's like wearing a meringue (and better yet, you're supposed to look like you have hips). By the way, I especially liked that one dance move when you broke apart and your partner hoisted the bodice of her dress back to its starting position. I'll have to remember that one for the next time I go strapless. [Editor's Note: You have to use trickery if you can't win dance contests on ability]
I looked for you two at the American City Diner on Connecticut
Ave. afterwards (dancing and diners being inextricably linked).
The hot turkey sandwich and root beer float was the perfect way
end the evening.
Indigo Swing in Red Bank
The only thing on the plate was Indigo Swing in Red Bank. To review, this meant five hours of driving for four hours of dancing and five hours of driving. It was clearly a crazy thing to do. We thought long and hard about it and since all her vacation time was invested in our Southern Tour, we decided not to go. Many people called me about the gig and were almost apologetic about not going. Again, it was a crazy thing to do. Unfortunately, Lindy is about CRAZY. Yes, in our world it is CRAZY to spend ten hours driving for a few hours of dancing; in othe so-called "Real World" world it is SANE to spend ten hours in a cubicle crunching spreadsheets for a monomaniacal boss. In Washington, workaholism is prudent and Lindy is imprudent. Well, I would like to salute those imprudent souls who did the right thing! Here's to the Rabid Lindy Hoppers who actually went to Red Bank!
From: Debra Sternberg
Dear Uncle Frankie-kins,
From: Carolyn Biczel
Eight of us (Tom, Debra, Jeff, Ben, Janice, Ron, Liz and myself) made the trip up to Chubby's (where the dance was held), and we met Ellen Werther there. I bought a cute 50s dress from her, but unfortunately, she was the only vintage dealer there. And we also saw only one vintage car.
There were 3 bands, and the first one started around 8:00. At that point it was pretty crowded and smoky and we were afraid there would be no room to dance. However, by the time Indigo Swing came on (around 10:00), most people had inexplicably left, and we had the floor to ourselves. Besides the fact that they sound great, one thing that sets these guys apart from some of the other new swing bands around right now is the fact that they vary the tempo of their songs. Everything is not super fast. You can dance to more than two songs in a row, and have fun with it, instead of just struggling to keep up with the music.
After the dance, we found a great diner in Red Bank, with much
better service and food than the Silver Diner. What a nice
it was not to wait around for an hour before being served. By
time we got back on the road, it was 1:30 am, meaning that we got
back to DC at 6:00 am. Luckily we had a big van so most of us
could sleep on the way home. I wouldn't normally travel so far
just for a dance, but this was a lot of fun.
From: Janice Saylor
On Sunday afternoon, a group of us loaded into a van and headed for Red Bank, NJ. It's a lovely little town on the NJ shore. When we found Chubby's, we were a little worried. It was a little bar -- one vintage car was in the parking lot -- and Heart's Desire was the only vintage clothing person. But all turned out to be okay and a lot of fun. Tom and Debra started the evening off with a dance lesson given to about 50 teens, and four adults.
The first band was Gotham Swing comprised of very young local guys. In a few years, they're going to be really great. Then a Charleston lesson during the break between bands. The second band, the Crescent City Maulers began the first number withwhat I thought was going to be Sing, Sing, Sing. It actually turned out to be a medley (don't say Yuk, yet) of It Don't Mean a Thing, and some other tune whose name I don't know. I usually hate medleys. But this band's arrangement was HOT! In fact, all of their numbers were hot. Alas, they played only a few numbers because the first band played too long. Deb got their address and you may be hearing more from them in the future.
Next came Indigo Swing. They were the reason that I trekked up to NJ in the first place. They were fantastic!!! Unfortunately and fortunately, there were few people left to hear them because the crowd was so young. Fortunate, because we had the floor almost all to ourselves. There was one young couple who stuck it out and also stuck to swing dancing. They kept at it and used all of the moves that Tom and Debra taught them. It was nice to see. Tom and I had alot of fun dancing to a fast boogie-woogie tune. We danced in our old 6-count, crazy legs style, complete with the pretzel. It was great! I really think that Lindy does not fit with boogie-woogie. We all bought the CD; so you'll be hearing cuts from that soon. We also made sure that they had all of our numbers so that they can contact us the next time they're on the East Coast. Apparently, they tried to set something up in our area but couldn't get anyone interested. (Because, of course, they didn't call us!) They were headed for Atlanta and Charlotte.
The entire event was carried on the local cable network, covered by some local press, and DJ'd by the local radio personality. He did a great job of picking the tunes!
After the show, we headed for a diner a few blocks away. The
food and service was great! Auntie Deb has already said that
moving to Red Bank just because of the diner. It was a very
charming town. We got home at about 6:00 a.m. I had intended on
going to work; but just couldn't manage it. Guess I'm getting too
old or something. I have no idea how so many of you do this kind
thing 3-4 times a week!
From: Ellen Werther
(They played Raleigh after Red Bank--which came after New York--but NO D.C. From talking to them, I gather we (I use the we editorially, of course) don't pay bupkis. I know I would pay extra if they came to Glen Echo--or where ever. I think anyone who has ever heard them play would agree.
I hope Lenny is reading this (He organized the event and got me up there) because he did a bang up job. He's a great guy, trying to spread the gospel of vintage and swing. Next time, Lenny, find a space with a decent dance floor, much more space, and (I know this is impossible in New Jersey) a NON-SMOKING POLICY!!!
Don't worry, even with the negatives, hearing and meeting
Swing made up for the downside.
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