Why the Lindy Focus Big Band Revival campaign is important

Why do Mike & Mary sponsor songs for the Lindy Focus Big Band Revival campaigns?  There are two main areas that Mike & Mary are particularly proud of as far as our accomplishments and contributions to the Lindy Hop / Balboa swing dance community.

1. The Music. Mike & Mary started swing dancing in 1999 and early on we were not satisfied with the music that was played at the vast majority of swing dances.  Neo swing music, “mayonnaise and white bread” swing music, and the tons of other non-swing music played at those events left a lot to be desired.

Mike and Mary wanted to dance to the original music of the swing-era, particularly the great big bands such as Benny Goodman, Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, etc…. This doesn’t mean that all the DJ’s and bands we danced to and that every song that was played was “bad”, but the bottom line is that the vast majority of those DJ’s and bands didn’t play authentic, “vintage” swing music.  (In some ways and for some scenes the situation hasn’t changed much, but that’s a different discussion.)

One of the main reasons Mike and Mary/the Hepcats started the Big Band Swing Dance collaborations in 2005 with University of Kentucky (UK) School of Music faculty members Dick Domek and Miles Osland (with the music provided by the Kentucky Jazz Repertory Orchestra (KJRO) and/or the UK Jazz Ensemble (UKJE)) was to bring back to Lexington the original, hard swinging big band music of the 1930’s and 40’s for dancers and non dancers alike to enjoy. (Click here for more info on these Hepcats/UK School of Music collaborations.)

The Lindy Focus Big Band Revival campaign is one of the best things we’ve seen come out of the swing dance community.  Let’s face it, there can be a lot of drama, silliness, bad dancing, bad music, and immature and inappropriate behavior in the swing dance community…. the Lindy Focus Big Band Revival campaign is something Mike and Mary are proud to be associated with, and we put our money where our mouth is.

It’s been said that any music not played live is bound to die.  To participate in the Chick Webb and Jimmie Lunceford campaigns was really a no brainer for Mike and Mary.  Let’s hope that Lindy Focus can continue with additional future projects and highlight the music and songs of other deserving big band leaders.

2. The Dance.  For Mike & Mary, it’s all about the original swing dances (and music) of the 1930’s & 40’s big band swing era, Lindy Hop and Balboa (and some Collegiate Shag).  We strive to maintain a high standard for teaching Lindy Hop and Balboa (and a high standard for the music) and have never strayed to teach something that was “popular at the moment”, but not really swing dancing, i.e. what is sometimes called “blues dancing”, etc…

Through our classes, workshops, leadership, and example, we’ve helped to develop some very competent swing dancers, some that have competed at the regional and national level; formed several performance groups that also competed regionally and nationally; and inspired countless others to commence the journey that is Lindy Hop and Balboa.

2016 – Chick Webb

Mike & Mary were proud to sponsor two of the songs for the Chick Webb project, a project that transcribed c. 31 songs from the Chick Webb library for live performances, the first which was at Lindy Focus 2016.

Here are a couple of links relevant to the Chick Webb project:

o You Tube page link for the live stream for the Dec. 29th Chick Webb night dance:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jV2M7i8pGl4.

o Click here to view the original IndieGogo page for the Chick Webb project.

Mike & Mary – Report on Lindy Focus (LF) 2016

 What is Lindy Focus (LF)?  As many of you know, LF is an annual event that takes place in Asheville, NC the week between Christmas and New Years.  In addition to workshop classes, competitions and other activities, a definite highlight of the event for 2016 was five nights of swing-era big band music that featured the music of Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Chick Webb and Benny Goodman.   Due to family obligations, the 2016 event (Dec. 27-31, 2016) was the first chance we had to attend LF – and we picked a good year!

LF 2016.  We attended for two days/nights, Dec. 29th & 30th.  The Dec. 29th and Dec. 30th nightly dances featured the music of Chick Webb and Benny Goodman, respectively.  The music for both dances was truly exceptional.  The musicians at Lindy Focus did a great job playing the songs in the right style, and at the correct tempo (and maintaining the correct tempo throughout the entire song).  What a treat it was to dance, and listen, to the great swing music of the big band swing-era (instead of the “mayonnaise & white bread” stuff you get from most “big bands” that play these days).

In closing, if you get a chance to attend the LF event in the future, do so – especially if LF continues to feature swing-era big band music for the nightly dances!


Some info about Chick Webb Orchestra from the Hepcats swing dance music web page.

Chick Webb was one of the greatest and most influential jazz drummers of all time.  He led the Chick Webb Orchestra from 1926 to 1939 during the height of the swing era and his mighty “Battle of the Bands” at the Savoy Ballroom in the Harlem district of New York City were famous, epic encounters.

Chick Webb was born in 1909 in Baltimore, Maryland.  At a young age he contracted spinal tuberculosis, leaving him with a hunchback and limited use of his legs.  At the age of three, doctors prescribed drumming as a remedy for Chick’s stiff joints.  Webb readily obliged, banging on pots, pans, and oil drums around the house.  By selling newspapers, Webb was able to save enough money to buy his own drum set.  He quickly landed jobs with local bands and eventually found work in New York City in 1924.  Once in New York, Chick played with Johnny Hodges, Tony Hardwick, Benny Carter and Duke Ellington.  Still only 17, Ellington got Webb several gigs at the Black Bottom Club and the Paddock Club in New York.

In 1927, Webb took his band to the Savoy Ballroom and they quickly won over crowds with their flashy, flamboyant, and energetic style.  Although he could not read sheet music, Webb memorized every piece and led the band from a raised platform in the center of the stage, cueing sections with his drumming.  By 1931, Webb’s Orchestra was the Savoy Ballroom “house band”.  During his time at the Savoy Ballroom, the Chick Webb Orchestra challenged and defeated bands led by the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington during the famous “Battle of the Bands”.

In 1935 Savoy Ballroom manager Charlie Buchanan asked Webb to find a younger, hipper vocalist.  Bardu Ali, a member of Webb’s band, had noticed a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo Theater and snuck her into Webb’s dressing room for an audition.  Ella appeared with the band that night and was an instant success; she and the band formed a powerful partnership that would go on to record 60 songs featuring Fitzgerald over the next three years.

By 1938, Webb’s health began to fail him.  Despite his health problems, Webb continued to book the band and travel extensively, saying “I’ve gotta keep my boys working.”  Early in 1939, Webb was admitted into Johns Hopkins Hospital.  In June of 1939, Chick Webb became extremely frail and died with his mother and wife at his bedside on the 16th.  His funeral in Baltimore contained 80 cars in the procession and more mourners than could fit into the church.  After Webb’s death, Fitzgerald fronted the band until it finally broke up in 1942.

Much like the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, the Chick Webb Orchestra is vastly underappreciated today.  There are several good CD’s on the market for Chick Webb recordings (although the relative primitive recording techniques of the time could not adequately capture Webb’s spectacular technique and wide dynamic range on the drums).

A good starting point CD for Webb’s music is Chick Webb, Stompin’ at the Savoy (distributed by ASV/Living Era).

2017 – Jimmie Lunceford

Mike & Mary are once again proud to participate in the Lindy Focus Big Band Revival project that transcribed c. 30 songs from the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra library for a live performances at Lindy Focus 2017, the first which took place Dec. 29th, 2017. The two songs we sponsored were “It’s Time to Jump and Shout” and “Margie”.

JLunceford[2]2017: Jimmie Lunceford.

Mike & Mary – Report on Lindy Focus (LF) 2017.

Much of our report for LF 2017 is similar to the 2016 event.  We attended for two days/nights, Dec. 29th & 30th.  The Dec. 29th and Dec. 30th nightly dances featured the music of Jimmie Lunceford and Chick Webb, respectively.  As with the 2016 event, the music for both dances we attended in 2017 was truly exceptional.  The musicians at Lindy Focus did a great job playing the songs in the right style, and at the correct tempo (and maintaining the correct tempo throughout the entire song).  What a treat it was to dance, and listen, to the great swing music of the big band swing-era (instead of the “mayonnaise & white bread” stuff you get from most “big bands” that play these days).

For Balboa dancers, Lindy Focus could easily be called “Balboa Focus” when it comes to great music for Balboa.  (I just wish DJ’s in this area would play the music of the great big bands like Lunceford, Webb, etc…..at swing dances).

For those that couldn’t attend LF 2017, here is the link to the You Tube page for the live streams:

o Dec. 29th, 2017, Jimmie Lunceford night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNqXwuLZbqU.

o Dec. 30th, 2017: Chick Webb night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67MEsEKTRL0.

For the Dec. 30th event – a Jam Circle broke out for the song “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charley”; Mike & Mary were in the jam circle, starting at about time mark 1:58:30…

A note about LF for both 2016 and 2017.  A lot of people attend LF, and the dance floor is usually very crowded.  There are a high number of beginner level dancers (which is good!), but overall floor craft is not that good.  You’ll get bumped a lot, even when dancing Balboa (and maybe even kicked), so you have to be aware of that on the dance floor.  Other than that, no real complaints about LF.

In closing, if you get a chance to attend the LF event in the future, do so – especially if LF continues to feature swing-era big band music for the nightly dances!

Some info about the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra from the Hepcats swing dance music web page.

The Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra was one of the top bands of the Big Band era.  JLunceford[2]Lunceford’s Orchestra was very popular and entertaining, but in many respects, it is vastly under appreciated today.  Lunceford had a formal background in music and was also a fine athlete and coach early in his career.  His combined musical talents, discipline and drive led to the creation of a band that contemporary observers rated near the top with Duke Ellington and Count Basie.  Although Lunceford’s band could not boast of a top soloist, the individual band members and ensembles were top notch and always well rehearsed.  In addition, Lunceford used great musical arrangements, particularly those written by the famous Sy Oliver (who was eventually hired away by Tommy Dorsey) and Eddie Durham (who went on to arrange for the Count Basie Orchestra).

Lunceford’s orchestra was a “show” band and they unabashedly played music that was designed to please swing dancers (as well as listeners).  The band used the visual as well as the music to entertain, playing while the saxophones swayed from side to side, the trombones sliding in an opposite direction and the trumpets tossed in the air, caught just in time to start a riff.  The Lunceford Orchestra’s showmanship and appearance was often imitated by other big bands during the swing era.

Lunceford died unexpectedly in 1947 while the band was touring in the northwest United States and the orchestra broke up permanently in 1949. Lunceford’s early death, and because the band’s superb showmanship is lost on record, has meant that a lot of people don’t realize that the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra belongs in the pantheon of swing with Basie and Ellington.

An interesting side note.  Some jazz music critics of the day lambasted Lunceford’s orchestra as too “entertaining”, foreshadowing the day when many jazz musicians looked at “entertaining” the audience or playing for dancers as unworthy of their profession (i.e. “if you’re dancing, your not paying attention to me and my music”).  Perhaps this is part of the reason why jazz music went from over 90% of music sales in the 1940’s to about 3% today and why modern jazz is sometimes viewed as a music form enjoyed only by elitists and academic types.

There are lots of CDs on the market with Lunceford’s music.  Selected digitally re-mastered CD’s are the best source for Lunceford’s music.

Lunceford Special: 1939-1940, Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.  A great CD, with overall good sound quality considering the technology of the time. “Lunceford Special” is just one of many great songs from this CD.

There are a few excellent re-creations of Lunceford’s recordings in the Time-Life “Swing Era” collection, most of them recorded with past members of Lunceford’s band.  The Time-Life “Swing Era” collection is worth acquiring for those recordings alone!  In addition, Oscillatin’ Rhythm: Great Swing Hits in Hi-Fi, highlights a couple of Lunceford’s greatest tunes, “For Dancers Only” and “‘T’Aint What You Cha Do, It’s the Way That Cha Do It”.

Check out this You Tube clip of a 1936 movie short of the great Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.  Of note is the band playing “Rhythm Is Our Business” and “Nagasaki”.