50s bands for swing dancing

Everything about the swinging music we love to DJ

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julius
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#76 Post by julius » Fri Apr 02, 2004 11:44 am

Lawrence wrote: I do think Reuben meant hi-hat because he has complained about it before. I think what bothers him (and what bothers me) is when the hi-hat closes and swallows and stops the swing rhythm abruptly, which interrupts the "flow." It is a commonly-perceived musical swing rhythm among musicians, but one that is common to Glenn Miller/Lawrence Welk-type Swing, not Duke or Basie Swing.
I'm fairly sure Basie and Duke's drummers in the swing era closed and opened the hi-hat with their foot. What makes a drummer square is his rhythm, not any single drumstroke on his part.
One major difference/improvement between the test gig of the Austin Exchange Big Band and the actual Exchange performance was my suggestion to the drummer to avoid using the hi-hat to create that abrupt swing rhythm, and instead carry it lightly on the ride cymbal.
That's more of a 50s jazz thing than a 30s jazz thing, which I presume is the effect you were after since you seem to favor 50s jazz for dancing.

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Jerry_Jelinek
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#77 Post by Jerry_Jelinek » Fri Apr 02, 2004 12:54 pm

Hi all,

I finally got some free time to respond to Reuben's post from a few
days ago. Thanks Reuben for taking the time to honestly respond to
the sound clips. I really appreciate the feedback. It is truly
helping me to try and learn the modern swing dancers likes and
dislikes.

I must admit I've a little surprised by the overwhelming negative
response on my selections. The cuts I played I got the OK from my
parents on!! They are 75 and 80 years young and being from the swing
era, used to dance to all of the big bands. They happen to enjoy and
think the music I selected is good dance music.

I'm guessing there is a generation gap coming into place here. Also
I'm going to address a few of the points Reuben makes within my
response. Mainly dealing with arrangements, horns, recording
technology and live music.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
>Song Clip 1
>Negatives: High hatting, boring, annoying horn arrangements (both the
>mute work and the blaring), lack of substance.
>Positives: None

Without giving away too much, this chart is from the Basie style. I
know the swing dancing done around Cleveland to live music is very
much rooted in the Basie style. We've talked already at length
regarding the hi-hat work of the drummer.

But the arranging really surprised me. A little later, Reuben
mentions his disike of 'blaring' horns. But there is some
contradiction here. Reuben, along with a lot of swing dancers I know,
love Basie. Well Basie was and still is one of the LOUDEST and
most blaring bands on the scene. That very hard change from soft
sweeter style to IN YOUR FACE horns is so characteristic of Basie.

What I'm begining to feel is there is a very real difference between
recordings and live music for swing dancing. At swing events, the DJs
are very much limited to the recordings they are playing. If your
playing from recordings done before ~ 1954 or so, your dealing with
lo-fi. Even with updated computer technology, your only getting a
very, VERY small fraction of the true dynamics in the band.

If you ever heard Basie live, either in the 70s or today, that is the
first thing you notice about this band. THEY CAN LITERALLY BLOW YOU
AWAY. Very exciting dynamics to deal with from a listening
standpoint.

I personally don't enjoy watching dancers at events where DJs are
spinning. When I go to watch swing dancers, I generally prefer live
musicians, and when possible a big band. That to me is the true swing
era. Swing dancing to live big bands.

So I guess I always associated the love of Basie in the swing dance
community with the ultra soft to loud feel of the horns and the very
swinging style of the rhythm section. That obviously isn't that case.
So I still need to learn what makes Basie so attractive to the swing
dancers.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
>Song Clip 3
>Negatives: Here comes the blaring horns again. "Cheesy" melody.
>Positives: Enjoyed the drummer.

The melody on this is a transition between swing and bop. More info
will come out when I post the arranger on this.
--------------------------------------------------------------------

>Song Clip 4
>Negatives: Sounds like a source of inspiration for the horrid
>Neo-Swing bands of today. Yet again with the blaring horns.
>Positives: None.

Again lets look at the song. This is very similar to the Louis Prima
classic "Sing, Sing Sing" that Benny Goodman had the big hit from.
The floor tom or tom-tom rhythm by the drummer and the 'blaring'
horns. One of the local big bands here play Sing, Sing Sing every
week. At large dance events it is a show stopper for the swing
dancers. So again confusion comes into my mind with the dislike on
this board.

I'm begining to think there may be some regional differences in styles
of music the swing dancers like. Have anyone of you come to the
Cleveland Lindy Exchange the past 2 years? On the Saturday night
events they had at the Greys Armory, the best dance big band around
Cleveland played - Ernie Krivda and The Fat Tuesday Big Band.

The Fat Tues. Band plays a lot of the similar style music I'm putting
clips up for. For the local dancers, they really get into this style
of dance music. But somehow it may not translate across the country.
Does that sound right to everyone?

--------------------------------------------------------------------
>Song Clip 5
>Negatives: Boring, monotonous. Was that a Baritone horn I heard?
>Positives: None.

The horn referenced by Reuben is a trombone with an upward slide of the
note.
--------------------------------------------------------------------

>Song Clip 6
>Negatives: Fucking strings! "Cheese" all around.
>Positives: None.

This absolute, and utter disdain for strings really baffles me. To be
purly technical, a piano and bass are also string instruments. But I
know your refering to 'violins'.

In this example, the song is clearly inspired from Juan Tizols
Caravan. The arrangement I happen to think is very good. The string
subtly add an air of exotic feel to the song. I literally didn't even
notice them when I was auditioning the clips.

Why are violins so bad? Heck I really enjoy Stephane Grapelli
(especially with Django), Stuff Smith, Ray Nance (on violin, trumpet
and vocals), Svend Asmussen, Joe Venuti, Eddie South and more
contemporary violinists Andy Stein, Johnny Frigo and Lev Polyakin.

To me, most of these guys play in the Grapelli/Reinhardt style and
thus I would guess swing dancers would enjoy it. Maybe not.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
>Song Clip 7
>Negatives: Annoying high hatting (worst offender of all tracks.)
>Sounds better uptempo.
>Positives: None.

What I really thought was a nice redoing of the great Mary Lou
Williams song 'Roll 'Em'. Again the Fat Tues Big Band plays this
exact chart nearly every week and the dancers around here really dig
it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

>Song Clip 8
>Negatives: There's that high hatting again, but almost acceptable. On
>the boring side, but not terribly boring.
>Positives: Enjoyed the bass player.

In listening again, the hi-hat on this track is the SAME exact phrase
as track 7. But the recording of the hi-hat is recorded more in the
background.

It is begining to look like you are not really disliking the playing,
but more the recording. I don't recall dates on these tracks, but
this one may be a wee bit older. Thus the mic'g and recording
technology might be less 'hi'fi'. Thus the frequencies of the hi-hat
may be much more subdued. I'm just guessing that you don't like hi
frequencies in the drum cymbols.

This would be consistent with listening to primarily older (pre 1955)
drummers. Again the dynamics and frequencies would be much more
subdued. Would this be a good guess on my part Reuben?
--------------------------------------------------------------------

>Song Clip 9
>Negatives: More high hatting. Just… boring… and "cheesy."
>Positives: Enjoyed the rhythm guitar.

:) I knew Reuben would dislike this one. I'm also a wee bit surpised
he didn't come out and yell 'HARRY JAMES!!!!'. This is Harry
recreating one of his big hits - Strictly Instrumental. I know my
parents really love Harry James, and they find this song very easy to
dance to.
--------------------------------------------------------------------

In summary, could I be off base in assuming that the real problem may
not be the actual swing dancing ability to these songs, but more a
difference in recording quality? The style on many or most of these
is straight Basie. That is why I selected them. But I will admit
there is a lot more fidelty to these than the classic Basie from the
30s and 40s. Thus your actually hearing a lot more in the music than
you have ever heard.

Also does anyone find these so annoying that you want me to stop?
I'll post the song info next week. But I'm thinking of trying one
more time to find some 50s big band things you MAY find interesting.

Can't stop a fellow for trying to learn and absorb knowledge for the
pro DJs like yourselves.

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mark0tz
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#78 Post by mark0tz » Fri Apr 02, 2004 1:07 pm

jerry you rock.

I agree with your notion that a lot of it has to do with the recording, and not just hi-fi versus lo-fi -- just the balancing. A good sound guy for a live band can make all the difference if they're mic'd. One time here in DC, the high hat was given way too much volume and really became irritating.

Fact is, Harry James is extremely danceable. Dude had chops, and had talent all around him when he recorded in the 30s, 40s, 50s and so on. Whenever I play a Harry James tune, the floor fills up a little more. Not much more I can ask for.
Mike Marcotte

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#79 Post by julius » Fri Apr 02, 2004 1:31 pm

one mustn't take the likes and dislikes of the people on this forum as representative of dancers as a whole. this is not meant as a putdown, but basically the people who post here tend to know a lot more about music than the average dancer and we have very specific tastes about music because we are involved with DJing. plus our tastes change from moment to moment...

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Ron
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#80 Post by Ron » Fri Apr 02, 2004 1:54 pm

Jerry, thanks for posting the clips, they inspired a lot of great discussion. I skimmed your last post, though, my eyes glaze over when I see long posts. I like some 50's big band songs, but good ones are hard to find, so I'm really interested in your recommendations.

My opinions:
Track 1: Its OK, I'd play it. The blazing horns annoy me some, but I agree with whoever said it isn't bad enough to ruin it. The melody line is mediocre.
Track 2: Fast, I have better fast tunes to play.
Track 3: Too many blaring horns for me.
Track 4: Not that inspiring. Can't pin down why.
Track 5: OK. Uninspiring and over-repetitive melody line.
Track 6: Cheesy, yucky strings. Weird song structure.
Track 7: Decent version of Roll Em. I'd play this one.
Track 8: Mediocre. I don't like the unison playing all the time, the exagerated punchiness. It's cheesy.
Track 9: A little too slow & cheesy, I may have played this once or twice years ago.

So I'd I'd play Tracks 1 and 7. I'm interested in who does them.

In general, the playing seems to be tight in all of these songs, but the arrangements don't grab me. The problems are generally one or both of the following: the melody line isn't inspiring (it doesn't make me want to whistle it, like Sing Sing Sing does) and the punchy, in-unison horns interjecting over and over again. I don't think I mind the high-hat.

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#81 Post by GemZombie » Mon Apr 05, 2004 1:25 pm

I'm just now getting to those clips, and because I'm extremely bored will offer commentary as well. Feel free to ignore my opinions :)

Clip 1: This sounds like a college or high school band doing their standard "Swing Number". It's technically great, but rather boring.
Clip 2: Had hopes for this based on the intro. It's actually not so bad, but a bit too much on the cymbal work. Kinda has eliments of bop which isn't my thing.
Clip 3: I like this one a bit. The horns are a bit overbearing though, which started to grate on me as the song went on.
Clip 4: Definitely sounds like James or influenced. I'm finding I'm agreeing with Reuben on the whole drum thing.
Clip 5: Again with the High School thing. I say this because I have a lot of experience playing really bad Neal Hefti Swing Arrangements in high school and College Jazz Ensembles. Is this Neal Hefti? :P
Clip 6: I too am not a fan of most "Strings" in bands. We don't consider bass a string in a swing band :) Stephen Grappeli is in a whole different class as well. The cymbal work is bland and a bit overbearing. A good drummer knows how to accent without drawing attention to himself too much.
Clip 7: Ack, this is the worst version of Roll 'Em I've heard. SQUARE. Mary Lou would "Roll 'em" over in her grave. The drummer feels like accenting everything, it's just wrong.
Clip 8: *yawn*
Clip 9: Definitely James' version of Strictly Instrumental from his "Hi-Fi" recordings. I have this version. I've even played it, but it's a pretty boring version.

--

Recordings actually do matter, but I very much it would change most of the above tunes. One thing I find is that bands from the 50's on tend to overuse technology by adding reverb and other annoying "innovations" that really takes away from the quality of the song. There are some notable exceptions, like Swing Session, Campus 5, Mora, and to an extent Bill Elliott. They don't over engineer their recordings. Drums tend to become to prominent in overdone recordings.

-- Edited to make the post slightly smaller. --
Last edited by GemZombie on Mon Apr 05, 2004 6:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#82 Post by yedancer » Mon Apr 05, 2004 2:55 pm

One thing to realize is that there was a major difference in the tastes of average white folks and black lindy hoppers during the swing era. Generally, modern lindy hoppers and swing DJs who prefer the older swing music aren't into the same stuff their white grandparents like(d). I mean, my grandmother was alive during that period, and she loved to dance, but the sort of music she liked, I would consider cheesy. I know she's never heard of Chick Webb or Fletcher Henderson, or any of the other hot bands.

I guess the most obvious and cliche way to say it is that we like things that we think sound like they could have been heard at the Savoy.

Does this make any sense?
-Jeremy

It's easy to sit there and say you'd like to have more money. And I guess that's what I like about it. It's easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.

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#83 Post by Jerry_Jelinek » Tue Apr 06, 2004 7:35 am

Hi all,

I just finished posting the artists and CDs I pulled the tracks from.
I have to admit I pulled a fast one on you, but to your credit, there
was a consistent dislike of the selections.

All of the tracks, except the last one, was Harry James in the 1950s.
Most are from the marvelous (to me) Mosaic set.

I really have to admit I find the majority dislike of the performances
and arranging very confusing. Many of the selections are straight
Basie type charts. Most of the Mosaic stuff are charts from Ernie
Wilkins. Most of you probably are aware that Ernie was one of the
chief writers for Basie in the 50s. Harry James loved the Basie
sound so much, he hired Ernie to write chart after chart for the
James band. To my ear, the sound, arranging and performances are
almost dead ringers for the Basie band of the 50s.

I'll give everyone some credit here though. There is a very real
dislike of the James sound, and I'll be honest I don't have a clue
why. I've read the words square, cheesy, white-band etc in describing
the James sound.

To my ear there is absolutely nothing cheesy or square about the
arrangements or performances. This Harry James band had the likes of
Willie Smith on lead alto, Gene Estes on drums, Juan Tizol on valve
trombone, Allan Reuss on guitar, Nick Buono and Conrad Gozzo on lead
trumpet along with being just STOCKED by west coast all stars. I hope
to one day be able to hear live a band of this calibur. In my 20+
years of concert going, I still have not heard a band of this calibur
live.

In fact this James band was truly one of the hottest bands playing
swing music in the 1950s. Most of the other big bands had really
heavily switched over to more bop oriented things. From memory, only
the Basie and James bands were still playing almost entirely swing
charts.

Gillespie, Herman, Kenton, Terry Gibbs, Maynard Ferguson had charts
very much rooted in bebop.

Then the studio bands of Les Brown, Neal Hefti, Si Zentner, Billy May,
Jack Marshall etc were playing a combination of swing and pop mixed
together.

Anyway it is very obvious that most of the big bands of the 50s are
playing in a style and audio fidelty that the swing dance DJs don't
enjoy. An obvious difference between the radio DJs preferences and
the swing dance DJs preferences.

Here are my detailed notes on the tracks:


Swing DJs Description:

JackPot Blues Clip3
- One Night Stand - Harry James Columbia CD CCM-183-2
This is a double LP to CD. Of the first 11 tracks, 7
tracks have a swing or hard swing feel.
The second half of the CD is all slower ballads.

Roll ' Em Clip 7
- From Harry James and His Music Makers - Trumpet BLues Drive
Archive CD DE22-41067
Live performances from 1955.8 of the 14 tracks I have
marked as swing or hard swing.

Bangtail - Clip1
Just for Fun - Clip5
Strictly Instrumental - Clip 9
Countin - Clip2
Smogbound - Clip8
James Session - Clip4
Keblah - Clip 6

These are from the Mosiac set MD7-192 There are 3 CDs
worth of Harry James and 4 CDs worth of Gene Krupa. I
have marked the following:
Gene Krupa:
CD1 9 of the 21 tracks as swing or hard swing
CD2 11 of the 19 tracks as swing or hard swing
CD3 10 of the 19 tracks as swing, bop swing
CD4 7 of the 14 tracks as swing or hard swing
Harry James:
CD5 13 of the 23 tracks as swing, hard swing
CD6 14 of the 22 tracks as swing, hard swing or groove swing
CD7 14 of the 19 tracks as swing, Hard swing.


Clip10
Bonus Cut: Bunny Hop Mambo - Duke Ellington
From Mosaic set MD5-160 ( out of Print)

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#84 Post by julius » Tue Apr 06, 2004 11:03 am

I finally got around to listening to the clips last night and began to post my thoughts about them and then got distracted. Thanks for putting them up. Here were my hastily jotted thoughts:

1. mellow, muted trumpets, loping basie sound
2. drummer dropping bombs, nice riffing horns, again with muted trumpets
3. unison blaring horns, chord stabs
4. harry james, a little too overarranged (unison descending horn lines)
5. arrangement is a little too "cute"...hefti?
6. ripoff of caravan and/or song of india, pretty enjoyable
7. drummer is oversyncopating the snare
8. basie? ... mellow, sounds like a hefti tune again
9. mellow, but nice enough
10. xavier cugat?

I think my biggest objection was the arrangements. I recognized that the individual musicianship was great, but as others have pointed out the biggest defects for dancers are the rhythm section and the blaring horns. Those muted trumpets, chord stabs and unison horn shakes are typical of later Basie and to me are just arranger gimmicks. I like more simple, unadorned riffing. Every Tub's "main theme" is a good example.

If the rhythm section isn't tight, a big band doesn't do it for me. And by tight I mean that circa 1939 four on the floor Basie rhythm section, arguably the best that ever existed. All others must aspire to it, hehe. If the drummer is dropping bombs on the bass drum, that's a bad sign. If he's throwing in a lot of offbeat snare hits, another bad sign. If the bass is indulging in syncopation, another bad sign.

For listening however, I would be very tempted to pick up this Mosaic set. I'll look for it next time I'm record shopping.

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#85 Post by mark0tz » Tue Apr 06, 2004 11:37 am

The Mosaic set has a lot of good stuff for dancing as well as listening. Bangtail (you gotta hear the whole song) is anything but loping, and is extremely danceable. The rhythm section may not be on par as Basie's around 1940, but as you pointed out, nothing reaches that level.

All of the danceable tunes from the Trumpet Blues (best of album) appear on this set -- only with even better audio quality. And there are several more similar tunes of moderate-to-medium tempo taken from the same sessions.

Plus, with the Mosaic set you get 4 discs of Gene Krupa... There are lots of good danceable tunes amongst those, too. Not to mention the liner notes. You are also going to, of course, find sweet ballads and blaring numbers that I wouldn't ever play.
Mike Marcotte

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#86 Post by KevinSchaper » Tue Apr 06, 2004 12:25 pm

yedancer wrote:One thing to realize is that there was a major difference in the tastes of average white folks and black lindy hoppers during the swing era.
It can get a lot worse than loving Harry James - I'm told my grandparents were big Wayne King fans.

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#87 Post by Swifty » Tue Apr 06, 2004 12:28 pm

Jerry_Jelinek wrote:To my ear there is absolutely nothing cheesy or square about the arrangements or performances. This Harry James band had the likes of Willie Smith on lead alto, Gene Estes on drums, Juan Tizol on valve trombone, Allan Reuss on guitar, Nick Buono and Conrad Gozzo on lead trumpet along with being just STOCKED by west coast all stars. I hope to one day be able to hear live a band of this calibur. In my 20+
years of concert going, I still have not heard a band of this calibur
live.
On a side note, you may be interested in the band playing in New York at Y6A, discussed on this thread. I'm not saying it's as good/worse/better but it's an much an all-star lineup as I've seen.

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#88 Post by Doug » Tue Apr 06, 2004 2:24 pm

Jerry_Jelinek wrote: <snip>
Anyway it is very obvious that most of the big bands of the 50s are
playing in a style and audio fidelty that the swing dance DJs don't
enjoy. An obvious difference between the radio DJs preferences and
the swing dance DJs preferences.
<snip>
Jerry: It is style, NOT audio fidelity! I think that most of the DJs here, whether they like the sound or not, would say that Mora's Modern, although not populated by musicians of stature of the James Orch, is not cheesy. And although I certainly favor classic swing tracks, I would much rather DJ with Mora than nearly any swing band of the 50's. It was the arrangements, dude, not the LoFi nature of the old (30-40) recordings, that makes them swing for the dancers.

You also mentioned that many of the big bands had become boppish and were no longer swing bands. Well I do DJ with BeBop which I find swings harder than much of the 50's "swing" music. But give me Charlie Parker, or Sonny Stitt, or Wardell Gray, or even Fats Navarro, but spare me the Bille Eckstine blaring horns arrangements, or the Woody Herman blaring horns or the Stan Kenton blaring blaring blaring horns, etc.

And although Basie is much loved, I think that most dance DJs draw a distinction between the Basie band of the 30's and that of the 70's. And it is not just recording fidelity. You can process a newer recording to get it to sound like an old recording and that won't fix it.

OK. So I am a curmudgeon.

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#89 Post by KevinSchaper » Tue Apr 06, 2004 4:46 pm

Actually, with Mora I think it's also the recording technique, he goes more for the binaural mic approach so that you're actually hearing the band as a single unit - rather than stuffing a mic into every possible "musical orifice" and trying to make it sound like a band after the fact.

(not that I'm biased about which recording technique I prefer)

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#90 Post by Doug » Tue Apr 06, 2004 8:01 pm

Jerry - I finally listened to the clips. I can honestly say that I would DJ with none of them. I agree with many of the things that were said earlier on this board and won't repeat comments about cheese, or corn, or whatever, but that pretty well sums up my feelings. The following may not be helpful to you, and it is most definitely only my opinion, but for what it is worth - here goes:

What I personally look for in tunes that I will DJ with is something that I call drive. And it is not just a function of tempo. I think that Goodman's A Smooooth One has drive. I think that Hodges Castle Rock has drive. And I think that nearly anything by Fletcher Henderson or Sidney Bechet has drive. A lot of the early BeBop - Parker especially - has drive. Kat's Fur by Ben Webster has drive. For those of you who were there, nearly all of the songs I played at Bal Rendezvous on Sunday night had what I call drive, including the western swing, the Joe Carroll and the Clark Terry pieces.

I think that it is a combination of the flow of the soloists and the propulsion of the rhythm section that creates this feeling for me. And I often can't tell by just listening. It is not a listening thing, I have to dance to the song and see how it feels in my body. It is a visceral thing.

And of course, almost by definition, if the soloist is blowing corn, it does not have that dancing feeling!

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