Sunday, December 26, 2010

Last Days of 2010

Well, I thought I'd post one more time for 2010...I'd actually like to talk about a few dance things, like our Monday nights which are doing great.  Meschiya Lake had the idea one night, as we were drinking at Mimi's and we made the proposal....what i didn't know was Mimi's loves dancing, so anyways, Every monday night we have our free dance class at 9:30 which is about 30 minutes.

"Mimi's in the Marginy" as it's called, is just a short bike ride from the French Quarter, straight down Royal street, until you hit Franklin, the perfect distance not to be a tourist trap, yet close and easy enough to get to that you voice directions to anyone, and walk it.

Unlike other "drop in" classes, we normally teach a different dance every week, something like Shag, Charleston, Two Step maybe Swing, basically just historical dances that are easy to do socially. Allow everyone to find themselves through dances and steps, instead of just teaching people one thing. We certainly don't dance to one rhythm like other places, so it's important to have the tools to dance to all rhythms as well.

Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns are the house band on Mondays, which allows for the perfect atmosphere, at Mimi's. The Bar flows, the lights down dim, smoke fills the air as Meschiya's delivers song after song. Behind her we can always count on Jason Jurzak on Bass to give the dancers their needed "slap,boom,slap,boom". Mondays are great, cause it's more locals, and people have a different kind of fun.

Another fun thing, that has started is Meschiya Lake, Laura Manning and Mia Goldsmiths monthly Variety Show and Dance at One eyed Jacks. Again, with the Little Big Horns playing live, we have all kinds of great acts put together in a show that is simply awesome. I could go on and on, about the Holiday show they just did, but having the band dressed in their Santa outfits in the Balcony playing Christmas songs like the Salvation army will be hard enough to beat next month, not to mention the 3 girls singing Alvin and Chipmunks songs! Meschiya brings us back to her circus days, with some of her old fire acts, which are crazy! Dante the magician, Trixie Minx, Ally Ooops, Nola Jitterbugs....The whole evening is simply awesome, they actually have Taxi dancers for leaders and followers.
If your going to visit New Orleans, do it on the weekend were you can catch this show at One Eyed Jacks!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

August 2010...back home again.

Swing Crash Como Italy
It's been a long summer, Starting with Swing Crash in Como Italy. Like last year, it focused on great bands and social dancing, with very few dance classes. Thanks to the event, classes don't start until around 2:00 in the afternoon! Talk about "it takes one to know one", I can tell a lot by the event, by it's schedule...that's for sure.

The Carling's from Sweden, was in full force in Italy which is always a good thing, and the local band leader did an amazing job arranging charts, for the Show we did, which included the Duke Ellington number from Cabin in the Sky, however we had taught all the students this, and had them planted, so we actually had that whole outdoor area following.

from Milano to Sweden, my bags were lost thanks to Czech Airlines, for the second time this year.  They eventually found it, but it took 3 weeks!!!!

I relaxed in Stockholm for a week before heading to the Country side of Herrang, which is an hour drive north. I drove one of my friends cars, a MG convertible, popped in a CD that Lady Kamikaze gave me at Swing Crash and had the most enjoyable drive i've had in many years.

Herrang, for 5 weeks....could be whole book. The first Day of the Camp, rehearsing for a Show, I dislocated my shoulder pretty bad, and it's still not too good as I write this, it looks like Surgery in getting to be more and more unavoidable. Lucky for me i was in Sweden where getting meds and help is easy as hell.

My girlfriend Katja, finally showed up from Slovenia, So we could teach week 2 together. That was no doubt awesome..but weird! (in a good way), I'm so used to teaching with Mia, that we have this certain rhythm of talking in class, and not to have that same rhythm caused some funny moments that's for sure. Because of my Shoulder we did a lot of Balboa, serious body to body leading, and a few lefty type moves i had sorta come up with while out trying to social dance with one arm.

While this Camp was going on through the weeks, there was a Musical every Sunday and Monday for 5 weeks. I got asked to do it, while back in Stockholm by Lennart and Fatima, so of course I gave it my all. I went from playing the Devil to a Gay Tailor, which which i won best supporting actor one of those shows. It was no doubt a blast...and being surrounded by the great young talent made it enjoyable.

My Friends band from New Orleans "Tuba Skinny" came to Herrang, and blew the place away. It was the first time I remember the floor being crushed against the stage to watch and not dance, holy smokes that in it's self was amazing, all the members had their little fans, or following by the next day, which was so hilarious to hear about. Come friday night we had a awesome Jam session during the Party, which was their last gig before heading back to the USA. 

Week 4, Started by me running the Meeting because Lennart was off watching Daniel and Asa get married, that was freakin weird. Classes with Mia went great, although my shoulder was killing! We taught everything the scene doesn't not do, from Tops and Wilda to Hal and Betty...

week 5, "Swing Orchestra" track was offered by the Carling Family, so i dropped in to take notes, and got sucked in! that was it, week 5 was going to be a downhill cruise of relaxing and partying, but instead it was classes all day for 5 days on music, structure, improvising and so forth. It was certainly the most amazing music class I'll ever be in, and to even trying and describe it here would never do it justice. The class was broken into smaller bands which all performed at the end of the week, and then we had a Parade from the school area to the folkets hus, end it all with a St. Philips Street Breakdown....

Back in Stockholm, was spent eating at Olssons, Garlic and shots...with the best of friends, the flight home no problem, and now i'm back in New Orleans! I landed, jumped in a cab, through my bags in my house, put air in my Tires and was at Mimi's in no time,  drinking a cold one, watching the Little Big is good.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Back in New Orleans

      I finally got back home after all the flight delays and cancellations, thanks to Iceland's friendly volcano. Balboa on the Promenade was a nice event, the floors spoiled me, as i had forgotten momentarily how easy dancing is on nice floors.

      I was quickly reminded of how horrible the floors can be here, throw that in with the harsh conditions and lack of etiquette and we have a completely opposite world of dancing. The obvious difference is, between entering into a bar where the majority of people are tourist, or entering a dance, where the majority (i think it's safe to guess 100%) is there to dance with partners.

     The nice thing about going out within the swing scene, be it, Lindy, Balboa, Blues or Swing dances is the floors are always nice, normally there is room to do whatever dance it is your at, and of course you get whatever music the owner of dance chooses, (this can be good but it's most often bad in my opinion), and lastly, you can meet like minded people at these "dances" where dance is the focus. 

     As i was hanging outside the Spotted Cat, while one of the bands went into a barn burner i quickly grabbed a girl and squeezed into the front of the band stand. It was a hot humid night, the Tourist were loud, drunk and screaming as the band went from chorus to chorus, I couldn't help but think of all those years hanging out at the Derby in Hollywood.

The Derby had 2 places to dance, the front room which was a tiny floor like the Spotted Cat (at least the Derby had a good wood floor!) and then there was a back room as well which fit a few hundred , but that would be standing room only as well.

This was at a time in my life when dancing was all about showing off, and i needed space to do all my tricks and stretch out my dancing like the old time Jitterbugs did. Coming, up so to say in this atmosphere is something i look back to as being the most awesome learning process a person can have. It didn't take long for me and my friends, to work the crowd, knowing how to make space, dance small, and because it was live music we also knew how to dance a long time.

This was nothing like going to a dance sponsored or put on by a dancer, this was different, this was, well...the "Real world", as opposed to the "Dance world"of everything made perfect with nice floors, nice music, nice mirrors, nice lockers, nice people, nice dancing, nice nice...

I guess it's fine and dandy for some people to have this sporting type environment, but one thing is for sure, i would have never of been interested in the first place , let alone learned how to dance in that atmosphere....however, the Spotted Cat or DBA , now those are places to learn! Cramped, all tempo's, mixed rhythms, obnoxious people in the way...yeah! Now we talking!

Like my earlier days, we didn't take lessons, instead we would show up nightly and stake out our little corner of the floor, and that's it...mess around all night. Night after night, tourist pack the clubs coming to see New Orleans Jazz, and in the 90's for us, it was Swing Music, a disgusting comparison to say the least, But the parallel for someone going out to dance in a overly cramped bar in a sea of drunk tourist is undeniable.

What Challenged the dancers in the 90's was the amazing tempo's some of these bands could play, although we had no idea how to dance properly, hell if we didn't try! more often then not in those days i was just running as fast as i can around my partner, or holding her close and frantically kicking.

The styles of music changed through out the week, from Jump Blues, 1920's bands, New Swing, Be Bop and various Rockabilly styles of bands, something we were lucky to have and embrace, allowing us the chance to learn various historical dances and actually use them while out having fun.

As i travel around the world, i rarely see anything that resembles that environment and if there is some type of place it's not often, and certainly not 7 nights a week, and then add another club...and another...Those Hollywood years of dancing among tourist is long gone...

 A night on Frenchmen street, here in New Orleans brings those years all back, especially after arriving home from a Balboa Festival.

The bands in New Orleans don't need tempo's to challenge a dancer, their rhythms alone can be a roller coaster of call and responses and breaks, blues, and latin's...the crowds tend to be drunker then the tourist in Hollywood but they can just as easily be corralled, and the floors...well, even if you get a small section of wood at DBA, expect beer all over it.

Lastly, and the most important is knowing how to dance, it's really not so much an ability, as it is an etiquette or knowledge. We see great dancers show up all the time and simply fall into the category of reckless, and while everyone enjoys a good time , it's that "everyone" part, that some forget, starting with the person they are dancing with and ending with those around you.

One of the responsibilities of a knowledgeable dancer is controlling the floor to protect the musicians, from drunk dancers, and wild dancers showing off. Most commonly protecting the trombone player, and at places like the Spotted Cat the Piano player as well.

While this can be the ultimate atmosphere to learn how to dance, it's certainly not ideal for "Lindy Hoppers", who tend to need more space to dance, and have troubles knowing where their feet are. 

Remember a Tourist is just that, someone coming through for some entertainment, normally they get drunk, often extremely drunk, and it's not surprising when they do something stupid, it's almost expected...but dancers are different, regardless if they are coming through town, local or otherwise, for the simple fact they already have a respect for the music and those that play it.

well, i'd expect they would...however, not all dancers feel like this, and those that don't fall into the "tourist" category, while other dancers fall into "musicians" category, being they are there for the music, they dance to the music as one of the musicians and are aware of the surroundings.

Musicians see they have someone on the floor looking out for them and can feel more relaxed, instead of being scared and jumping every second someone does something flashy in fear of slamming into their instrument and splitting their lip. 

Unfortunately, things happen, bottles break, people fall, it's all in fun...and then someone kicks the tip jar...not cool. Tourist, ok, whatever...expected,  but, but a dancer? There is no excuse for dancer, to kick the Tip Bucket, and aside from scrambling to collect the money, the first thing you should do is buy everyone in the band a drink.

This happened at Preservation Hall, and the dancers where blind to the fact they even did it. The situation was discussed, and while the Band decided to continue to allow dancing, it was clear what type of dancer was to blame and the type of dancing. Thanks to who ever that was, we were reminded on why there would ever be signs that say "No Lindy Hopping".

If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that's good for you, but don't be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentaly kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio's and festivals but in the real world all bets are off....

Lucky enough, this atmosphere is the best to learn, and while teachers can show you what they do, it's best to let the music tell you or guide you, and the more time you spend on the floor the better, that's the real teacher. With the music here, and the amount of dancing you can do, anyone can get great at dancing in no time...... if they have the will to do so.

The most valuable lesson on being respected in the real world has nothing to do with skill, it's purely etiquette...

In the real world, nobody cares if your a beginner dancer, expert, fireman or doctor, republican or Hippie, everyone is just in the Bar celebrating Jazz Music....and the only thing nobody likes are people kicking over the Tip bucket.

Need i not remind you New Orleans is probably the most famous place on planet earth for drunk, barfing, stumbling Tourist...all it takes is one, know.

The smokey Bars, tiny amounts of space, the concrete floors.....ah, yes, obstacles....all kinds, i love em all...and i haven't even mentioned the music yet..... that is what makes this place the greatest place on earth.

I mentioned earlier, "The real world" , as opposed to the "dance world" (dance studio, events and festivals, where everyone can get together and do the same standardized dance) and the truth is, very few people on the planet get to dance in the real world, and i don't mean just visit, I'm talking on a daily basis...and that is what makes this place so Amazing.  Damn, it's great to be back....!!!!

I'll end this ramble with a joke:

Q: "whats the difference between a Lindy Hopper and a drunk tourist dancing?"
A: "Drunk Tourist dancing don't kick over the tip Bucket!"

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Class Music!

As promised, This is a List of the CD's used for class's...

Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, Lucky Devil
The Palmetto Bug Stompers, Live @ DBA
The Palmetto Bug Stompers, Ol' New Orleans Home
Tuba Skinny,(Self Titled)
The Loose Marbles, The Recession session
The Loose Marbles, Gum Shoe
The New Orleans Cotton Mouth Kings, (self Titled)
The New Orleans Jazz Vipers, Hope your coming home
The New Orleans Jazz Vipers, (self Titled)

the Loose Marbles "The Recession session" can be purchased here:

 You can get all the Palmetto Bug Stompers here...

New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings:

New Orleans Jazz Vipers Here:

Tuba Skinny CD's just email:

Keep checking Louisiana Music Factory as well,
they support and offer local musicians an outlet to sell CD's.

I'll update this Post as i get a for sure links, or other places turn up to purchase these CD's!!! or comment below, and we can make sure you get what ya need!!!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

March to April....

It's been a long month, German, Spain, Solvenia and Lithuania, tonight being my last big night in Vilnus but i have classes tomorrow and will probably celebrate one last night, although it will be chill.
I've meet some extremely amazing people this month that have been nothing but kind, who shared their homes, food, family and friends making my job so much more rewarding for without them it certainly would be a much more difficult task.

Aside from teaching i did 3 lectures, Spain being difficult for the obvious reasons with the language barrier, however it was very well received being it was during the Terressa Jazz Festival.

Slovenia is always a blast, being my 3rd time there, the people are layed back and seriously know how to party, having been there before it's always easier to lecture and to speak my mind on issues that perhaps i would not go into as much deep if it was a more academic or professional crowd. That night, our band was able to play for the ballroom, being that they brought in the other members for the weekend, amazing week for sure. Aside from the horse burgers my special favorite is the Green Rabbit Absinthe bar, the owner was nice enough to give me a Bottle and exclaim "New Orleans is the home for Absinthe!".

This is my first time in Vilnus, Lithuania and all i can say is wow! the first night i got to see one of the local bands on home turf, some of which I've know for a few years, called the Rhythm Junkies. They were amazing, a touch a Gypsy and dixie mixed together with powerful and amazing vocals by Milda, Jazz is no doubt alive here.

My lecture here was a big larger a good crowd of over 200 packed the room, which was sponsored by the American Embassy. Their representative was a really great guy who was from Kansas city and  made things extremely comfortable, in this very professional setting. Last night they brought in the Carling Family band from Sweden, which are one of the best bands you can hear anywhere in the world. They are playing again tonight later on after we get to hear the Lithuanian Military band, which I've been told will have 40 pieces. This i can't wait for, i can only image the power they are going to throw at the dance floor.

It's been a long journey and i look forward to heading back home to New Orleans, with lectures and demo's and performances to be done at French Quarter Festival next weekend, and the New Orleans Jazz Festival the weekend after.

anyways, I have many articles started which i will finish upon my arrive back to the states, so stay tuned. and hope to see you in NOLA or on the road!

Monday, March 1, 2010


How lucky I am! Just after the recent amazing release of the new Cotton Mouth Kings, another awesome CD comes out by one of the newer local New Orleans Bands.

The Tuba Skinny Band is one of bands that loves busking on Royal street, and seeing them will leave you speechless!

Vocalist Erika Lewis fronts the band with Todd, or "Tuba Skinny" handling some of the musical direction, yes, from his Tuba.

The band is no doubt a team, a team of friends who create not only a music of a by gone era, but also a very individual sound.

The new self titled CD, TUBA SKINNY, is an amazing mix of tempo's all well rooted in early blues and jazz.

Handling the strings is Alynda on Banjo and Kiowa playing the Guitar and vocals, with the horns handled by Barnabus ,Trombone and Shaye on Cornet.

Lastly, we have Robin on washboard, who's dynamic playing inner weaves with the band which should no doubt cause you to start stomping your foot!

As i mentioned above, you can find this group playing on Royal street in the French Quarter and you can expect some great dancers performing with them as well. when they hit the street. At night the band attracts the best dancers in town and from around the world when visiting New Orleans.

This CD Captures this amazing energy perfectly, and I'm sure that there will be more then a few tracks being played at dances, and by teachers around the world.

One last tid bit before I leave you to run off and GET THIS CD.

 In this mix of 13 tracks, There is an original written by Erika, However, I'm not going to tell you which one it is…it fits in in between the classics so well I know you'll be blown away!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The New Cotton Mouth Kings CD!

The self titled CD "the New Orleans Cotton Mouth Kings" has been a couple weeks now, and for many reason's I continue listening to it, if not for pure pleasure, then to take notes on the concept of this amazing band.

The style of music alone is something to ponder, taste, digest and yes, relish in the after taste. I've heard the members claim the style as being "New Orleans Swing", a description which I have thought a lot about, and drawing the only possibly conclusion...I couldn't agree more!

Before I get into the CD,  Let me share just a tad of history. This  band goes back about 10 years and was originally called the "New Orleans Jazz Vipers".  Last summer the band reformed under it's new name 'New Orleans Cotton Mouth Kings'.

This is their first CD under this name and I'm really excited about the tracks they selected, so I'm going to mention a few of vocal tracks just so you can get the idea of music in store for you...

On Guitar we have John Rodli, known to many as the voice behind the "Blue Drag" on the Vipers recording. John's Vocal fans will be pleased to hear him once again on "I wished Upon a Moon" and "Pennies from Heaven".

No doubt one of my favorites from this band for awhile now is their rendition of "Nagasaki". A song that features Matt Rhody, who not only swings the group with his vocals but also sends the room on his Violin solos. Thanks for including this track fella's!

The big surprise for me on this CD was the Harlem Hamfats song "Delta Bound" , sung by Tom Saunders, a Jazz 78 collector who plays the Bass Saxophone. This version is a bit faster giving it a new fresh feeling that certainly will bring a smile to anyone who likes a new twist on old things.

Charlie Fardella's Vocal's on songs like "Corrina Corrina" is a great example, the band takes a new sound with the band backing the vocals with Matt's Violin leading the way before Charlie finally punches through with his Trumpet.

On another vocal, Bruce Brackman singing their "Gospel Medly" which is actually 3 New Orleans standards, combined perfectly, the band is obviously having fun recording these as you can hear on this track.

Bruce's Clarinet playing is most powerful and exciting sound I've ever witnessed, Charlie packs more then just a punch with his trumpet, I only wish everyone could stand in front of them at DBA or the Cat on one of their regular gigs and witness this group of players who truly enjoy playing first and foremost.

None of this could not happen without bass man Robert Snow, perhaps best described as a swinging time machine….if your dancer, he is the one that is driving your feet.

The groove Robert lays down is infectious and from there the layers of each instruments fit like a puzzle propelling the rhythm in amazing time.

As it says on the CD, it's Smoking Swing from New Orleans….no doubt a must have for any Jazz and Swing enthusiast…

Peter Loggins Feb, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

anon comments

Aside from being difficult responding to multiple users named anonymous, if i'm to take the time to share or respond to someone. i'd at least like to know the person is real, or at least has real intentions.

so I'm laying down some type of comment security, logging in, or something....thanks to everyone that reads! 

So again, feel free to post or comment, however...use your darn name, so we can have some normal communication between us...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dancing Hot and Sweet: New Orleans Jazz in the 1920s

 I came across this article in the special collections
at Tulane University which I've linked at the bottom.
I met Bruce a few years back in Moscow, Idaho at the
Lionel Hampton archive.

His knowledge is amazing, and this article along with
many others has helped me to further research specially
on the history of dance.

So, I hope you enjoy it...without people like Bruce,
reseaching, putting the peices together and writting,
it disappears...

Dancing Hot and Sweet: New Orleans Jazz in the 1920s
 by Bruce Boyd Raeburn

"The story of music in New Orleans must begin
with dancing:
Henry A. Kmen, Music in New Orleans: The
Fomlative Years, 1791-1841.

New Orleans has always been a dancing
town, and it is no wonder that jazz entered the
local scene -feet first-, as a dance music.
Whether on the streets in the -second line, at
neighborhood dance halls, on the riverboats, or
for "script" dances at Tulane University, jazz
musicians sought to move an audience in the
most direct sense, making dancers part of the
action and feeding on the energy.

This dynamic came early, as trombonist Bill
Matthews affirmed in his recollections of Buddy Bolden for the
Hogan Jazz Archive: -Everybody was crazy about
Bolden when he'd blow a waltz, schottische or
old low down blues. He was the sweetest
trumpet player in the world... Bunk Johnson got
his style following Buddy with his sweetness, but
could never play rough and -loud like Bolden:
Unlike later jazz critic') who praised -hOT- and
scorned -sweet-, New Orleans musicians valued
the difference because the dancers wanted

In a given night at Odd Fellow'S Hall,
Bolden might offer waltzes, polkas, and
quadrilles to his early crowd; upon their
departure (usually around midnight), the music
would turn rough and rowdy for the nightpeople
who preferred slow drags, shags, and belly

The mixed fare performed by Bolden's proto-jazz band
and the less than legitimate style in which it was
rendered were characteristic of the New Orleans
musician's desire to give the public what it
wanted. Also apparent, however,
was a divergence of taste between young and old
as a new generation demanded greater freedom
and excitement in music and dance. The
formalism of the nineteenth century was yielding
10 a vigorous vernacular sensibility, evident in
the demand for novelty and a Willingness to
experiment in order to achieve it.

When the popular dance learn of Vernon
and Irene Castle published Modem Dancing in
1914, they could scarcely have foreseen what the
Fates held in store for Terpsichore in the years
to come. As notable dance authorities, their
intention was to provide a 'state of the art"
manual of dance etiquette for the average
American as a means of 'preserving youth,
prolonging life, and acquiring grace, elegance,
and beauty" If the Tango, the Castle's newest
sensation, degenerated into "acrobatic display or
"salacious suggestion" it would be "the fault of
the dancers and not of the dance..

A decade later, the "naming youth" of the Jazz Age had
much to answer for as they flaunted the Shimmy,
the Charleston, and the Black Bottom, choosing
unrestricted self.expression over propriety.
In this transition, New Orleans jazz bands
played a major role. But music suited to local
dance styles did not necessarily translate readily
in other towns.

Cornetist Ray Lopez, with Tom
Brown's Band from Dixieland at Lambs Cafe in
Chicago in May 1915, remembered some
awkward moments: "Our debut was pitiful.
Those Yankees wouldn't listen or dance. We
look turns talking to the customers. 'Folks this is
New Orleans music, HOT music People down
South dance, Come on and try "Have fun".

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was more
successful in January 1917 at Reisenwebers in
New York, but as Nick LaRocca recalled, the
response to the band's opening number was "Tell
those farmers to go home!" Only after the
proprietor had explained to the customers that
the music was for dancing did the situation
improve. Gradually, the ODJB succeeded
because they worked to adapt their "rough and
ready" style of playing to the fox trot rhythms
which appealed to dancers in places like Chicago
and New York.

Another New Orleans outfit, the Original Creole Orchestra,
had been the first to leave the city in 1914 but sought fame on the
vaudeville stage, thus eliminating a dancing
audience. The ODJB's draw as a dance band led
to their famous recordings for Victor in 1917,
which heralded the dawn of the Jazz Age and
rejuvenated a boom in record sates which had
begun four years earlier with the popularity of
the Tango.

Between 1914 and 1921 annual production of records jumped from 25 to 100
million, owing largely to the desire of Americans
to test new dance steps in the privacy of their
living rooms before venturing out in public.
Whereas the dances of the nineteenth century
had required certain minimums of deportment
and training, utilitarian steps like the fox trot
were comparatively more versatile and accessible.
One did not necessarily have to be svelte to fox
trot, and it was not by coincidence that the dance
came to be known as "the businessman's bounce."
From the fox trot to the Charleston, jazz dancing
had something for everybody, and the dance mania
which swept the nation in the 19205, with
attendence, record sales, seemed to prove it.

New Orleans jazzmen factored dance into
their repertoires in various ways. On the
Streckfus steamers, members of Fate Marable's
bands were actually tested by company officials
on their ability to execute dance tempos
precisely; "Captain Joe Streckfus was very
particular about music on the excursion boats.
He would attend rehearsals, tap his feet with his
watch in his hands, and if the band failed to keep
the proper tempo (70 beats per minute for fox
trots and 90 for one steps) somebody got hell.

The New Orleans Owls took a more relaxed
approach. As leader and saxophonist Benjie
White explained, during rehearsals at the West
End Roof Garden half the band would rehearse
while the other half danced with college girls.

Albert Nicholas joined King Oliver's Dixie
Syncopators in Chicago in 1926, a band made up
mostly of New Orleans men. In his interview
with Richard B. Allen for the Hogan Jazz
Archive in 1972, Nicholas described how Oliver
would instruct the band to play softly in certain
passages to incorporate the sounds of dancer's
feet for percussive effect.

Each in its own way, these bands sought to cater
to the dancing public for fun and profit
Demand for "hot" and "sweet" dance bands
did much to improve economic conditions for
New Orleans musicians, especially when
debutante balls on Charles Avenue began 10
rely heavily on the services of AJ PiTon's New
Orleans orchestra, the New Orleans Owls, and
Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra.

Piron's reputation as a dance band leader was
such that he received an offer to accompany the
Castles (which he declined). After two trips to
New York to record for Victor in 1923 and 1924,
the band returned to become one of New
Orleans' favorite society dance orchestras at
venues like the Pythian Temple Roof Garden
(which Piron bought with royalties from his
compositions and recordings) and Suburban

In a similar vein, trombonist William
~Baba" Ridgley of the Original Tuxedo Jazz
Orchestra remembered how his income increased
from $1.50 per night in Storyville to $25 for a
debutante ball, another indication of how social
acceptance of jazz as a dance music helped it to
rise above earlier connotations of vice and

Ironically, it was the road to broad social
acceptance that ultimately spelled the end of the
dance connection for jazz. By the late 1930's jazz
critics were organizing concerts, such as John
Hammond's Spirituals to Swing" extravaganzas
in 1938 and 1939 at Carnegie Hall, in an effort
to place jazz on an equal footing with classical
music. The advent of bebop and progressive jazz
in the mid-1940s accelerated the trend toward
"jazz as an," and when Bunk Johnson's New
Orleans Band debuted at the Stuyvesant Casino
in New York in the fall of 1945, its musicians
wondered what they were doing wrong when the
assembled jazz intelligentsia just sat and listened.
Today, from Lincoln Center to Preservation Hall,
jazz is regarded primarily as a concert music, but
its history as a dance music reminds us that even
an art form can be fun when invested with the
right spirit and rhythm... by Bruce Boyd Raeburn

Monday, February 8, 2010

So You wanna dance fast?

One question that always comes up when teaching, is how to dance fast.
Dancing fast was never an issue, or a problem for me, because the simple fact is I dance for fun, first and foremost. In my early days of dancing as a "beginner" , i got up from my chair when the music moved me to do so, regardless of tempo. We never thought in terms of tempo, we just stepped on the floor with our Partner and "went for it" and had so much fun, night after night. I know we were not good in the eyes of a dance critic, however we had no "problem" having fun.

With that all said, my generation of dancers got good dancing fast by doing it over and over, night after night socially. practicing for speed was something we would have never really thought about, and it wasn't until many years later, teaching a class with Sugar Sullivan who mind you was around 76. Sugar is a Savoy Ballroom Dancer and winner of the Harvest Moon Ball in Madison Square Garden in 1955, and in class we were dancing at very fast tempo's, such as Chick Webb's Harlem Congo.

We were teaching a Lindy Hop routine, when one of the students asked to slow it down because she couldn't get the steps. Sugar immediately told her No! That's not how to learn to dance fast, and went on to explain that back in the Savoy Ballroom you never "slowed it down" to practice.

The routine we were teaching as called "Stops" which is not too long, and Sugar basically taught the way they learned back in "her day".  which was having everyone line up, and she would tell everyone what the pattern is, then she would say "Watch!" and she would demonstrate it a couple times, both alone and with me, and with the music...

In some cases she would have the front of the class sitting so the back could see as well, but then it was everyone to their feet, and she count everyone in. It didn't take long before the class was getting the entire routine, and those few students that were having problems she would move forward next her, to make sure they got it as well. We had fun, and at the end of the week we even took our students and invaded another class for a on the spot Battle...Keep in mind this was the first time Sugar had ever taught at the Herrang Dance Camp in Sweden which, which is the largest camp in the world of it's kind. It became common to hear Sugar exclaim "I've haven't done this since...."

Getting back to our students, we eventually discovered was that in many cases it's not a matter of the student learning a piece of choreography, it's the fact they can't dance and move fast enough. One of the great aspects of having routines besides the fact they are something wonderful to improvise on is that they are something you can do to show off your fast dancing. However you want to look at it, when you break into a routine at sizzlin' tempo's it's your muscles you want to explode and take over, allowing your mind to break away and free it's.

The last thing you want to do, is trying to remember steps, with your legs failing to keep up with your thoughts. In Sugars world, it's the opposite, the legs are fast, they think ahead of the mind in rhythm with the music and having already stepped, and kicked before you even thought of stepping or kicking.

Which reminds me of the first time we really danced together. It was in London, and we had been invited, among other teachers as well to teach at a Dance Festival, I remember Chazz Young being another teacher as well as Vicki Diaz, another Savoy Ballroom legend.

One night all the teachers ended up going along with a crowd to the historic 101 club. I don't recall the band but at some point I asked Sugar to dance and it was a slow number, by that I mean uncomfortable to Swing out and start Lindy Hopping. So I kept it simple and rocked in rhythm until the song ended and asked to do another, which she accepted.

When the band kicked back up it was a fast one and immediately a jam session broke out with the dancers making a circle, and one couple entered at a time trying to show off and one up each other in a friendly competition. Sugar in the front of that wall of of people in the circle, with a glowing smile on her face turns over her shoulder to me and says "lets show them how to do it.!!"

Mind you, I had never danced with her until that previous slow blues, and was terrified that she wanted to Swing out and basically Show Off! At this point of my life i was in fact dancing all the time with ladies well in their 80's in Los Angeles, many of which were legends who i could dance very fast with.
However, in Los Angeles we did a dance called the Balboa, which is a very conservative shuffling step in place. The smoother and more conservative the better a Balboa dancer you are, these older masters would always compliment when done right, and correct when done wrong.

Here for the first time in my life, I had a legend asking me to dance Big....and fast! well, to make a long story short we did what we did, and unlike anyone I've dance with, Sugar was killing every step, and each time we whipped out in open, she would kick out a different variation of improvised steps.
Then at the end of a phrase she kept her feet planted and swiveled her knees and and hips, hard from side to side with a swivel motion and the room went crazy.

Sugar was showing us, how she did it, a Savoy Ballroom veteran that was among a group of Lindy Hoppers who localized the Ballroom, and would represent the Ballroom when competing at such major events as the Harvest Moon Ball, which pitted Ballrooms around New York. Ballroom's such as Roseland, and Glen Island Casino would sent their top 5 finalist to the Harvest Moon Ball, and Savoy Ballroom was no different, however taking pride as Home to the Lindy Hop.

Sugar first entered the Harvest Moon Ball representing Roseland Ballroom. She exclaimed she missed the deadline to the Savoy Ballroom's preliminary contest, so headed downtown to Roseland and was able to Win.

She explain at Madison Square Garden the Ballroom teams would first meet with the bandleader to go over the music. Sugar didn't remember specially what song it was the Roseland dancers used, other then a standard popular dance number, but the next thing she remembers changed her life, she remembers watching the Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers hitting the floor dancing twice as fast as the other Ballrooms, throwing airsteps and dancing in and out of routines bringing the Garden to heightened applause.

She told me it was that moment she knew were she needed to be dancing, practicing and spending her time. So from her house, near 125th and 7th ave, she would head to the Savoy and it was not long before she was representing the Savoy Ballroom. The day came in 1955 when she finally won the Harvest Moon Ball with her Husband George Sullivan.

One time I asked Sugar, what does Savoy Style Lindy Hop mean to you? she thought for a second and said, "Speed, what makes Savoy dancers different is they can dance so much faster then any other dancers. It natural, it is what we worked on to be the best...and we had the bands to do it!"

Then she did probably single best exercise I've ever seen.

She had everyone stand up, she motioned for me to put on a fast song, I can't remember what song it was but it was pretty fast like "Clap Hands here comes Charlie", she told every to get up on their toes and run in place to tempo.

Once everyone seemed to be doing this, the class looked around at each other in approval, but then Sugar said, ok good that's your time, now lift your KNEES!!!

She exclaimed this is easy to keep time, with little steps on your toes, but now she made everyone put their hands out front palms face down about waist high, and made them lift their knees and hit the hand, meaning high enough that your thigh is parallel to the floor.

I tried it, and found it very difficult...although, i could dance these tempos this exercise helped a lot, not only in building the proper muscles but also being aware of consistency and control in movement. Lindy Hop as done by the best performers was in fact most incredible to see how extended the body can get and yet, still contract fast and get your feet back under you quick enough to stay on tempo.

Yes, it's a workout...that's what dancing fast is, especially if your trying to Lindy Hop or Shag.

So I recommend making a CD to practice dancing too, with Fast music and dance to it every day by yourself for 10 to 20 minutes.

As one old timers used to tell me, "if you can't dance it alone, what on earth makes you think you can do it with someone else.."

Those words couldn't be more true...jassdancer

Friday, January 22, 2010

where have I been?

Sorry, it's been awhile since i blogged but so much has been going on it's a bit hectic.
I'm finally all moved in, and for the most part adjusted. I will say it's a dream to be able to finally make a living playing music and dancing.

For those that don't know I moved into Jelly Roll Morton's childhood home New Orleans on Frenchmen st. and that can be a blog all by it's self. (it has been)

After Jelly Roll Morton's birth it's possibly he went to live with his father for a few years on Gravier st. But around 1895 he went to live with his Mom and Step father at this house on Frenchmen st.

It was at this house around 1900 that Jelly Roll started using his step dads Name "Morton". and about 1904 when Jelly Roll left New Orleans to Travel around the United States.

Living playing music and dancing among the New Orleans jazz clubs is a wonderful life, there is no other place like it on earth, and being able to share some dance history here is a great feeling.

Because it's New Orleans it doesn't take much to get people dancing, in their blood here like no other place i've been. Unfortunately, I haven't really been out to "Lindy social dances" which take in the Mid city (I've been corrected, they are also in Surrounding neighborhoods and since this was written another has started at the WW2 museum ).

[I have updated the information on the social Lindy locations, I incorrectly used the term "Suburbs", i apologies for my lack of geographically knowledge, and any harm it might have done]

I have continued to work traveling to festivals while at the same time moving to New Orleans. That's a tricky one to say the least, None the less this past season i was in France,Slovenia,Hungary and North Carolina. In Hungary i sat in on washboard with with Tamás Bényei Hot Jazz Band, in France I saw Dan Levenson from New York who has always been one of my favorite Clarinet players since the Rhythm Rascals recordings, and in Carolina over new years i played with the Loose Marbles who are from New Orleans and have been helping to lead back "old style" New Orleans jazz. Slovenia was more a vacation, aside from doing one workshop and some privates, it was hanging out with Katja and friends eating great food and sitting in a Absenthe bar called the Green Rabbit.

The Spring time is going to bring many more stories from here and abroad with Mardi Gras season starting up and a European tour on the Horizon.

Also, I have many articles on the shelf to share once i find the pics to go along with them!