The remote recordings continue with the release of Remote Riffing: Volume 2 (CalBal Live), an EP of the five tunes Keenan McKenzie assembled for the CalBal Live virtual Balboa workshop in January, 2020. I’m singing on two tracks, both original swing tunes written by Keenan McKenzie – If I Wrote a Song for You with Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers and Transcontinental with the Keenan McKenzie Orchestra. I have previously recorded both of these songs for Keenan’s album Forged in Rhythm, but it was fun to revisit these, perform them now that I’ve had them under my belt a couple of years, and hear the new arrangements, particularly Transcontinental with a big band! Please go to Keenan’s Bandcamp page and check out the incredible lineups of musicians for each song – I know we have been weary of this pandemic for some time, but this is one of those silver linings, essentially being able to record anywhere and have someone create this alchemy of recordings.
This past weekend the Mint Julep Jazz Band premiered three new music videos as part of the California Balboa Classic’s virtual event, CalBal Live! The event reached out to 5 bands/bandleaders to create brand new recordings for the event, compiled remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders, Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, the Jen Hodge All-Stars, Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers, and the Mint Julep Jazz Band, We hope you enjoy these new-to-us tunes, here’s the scoop on each song, the sponsors, and the musicians for each recording:
If you say CalBal three times fast it might come out sounding like cowbell at the end – hence this tune is a pun on the event’s nickname. We’d been looking for pitched cowbells for years, online an at music stores, and it took a pandemic Zoom cocktail hangout for the topic of almglocken to come out. Thanks to Jonathan Stout for the suggestion, we think they worked out great! Here’s our rendition of Johnny Blowers’ Cowbell Serenade, sponsored by Gary Chyi.
Lucian Cobb – trombone, Matt Fattal – trumpet, Keenan McKenzie – tenor saxophone, Aaron Hill – alto saxophone, Chip Newton – guitar, Jason Foureman – bass, Kobie Watkins – drums, Laura Windley – glockenspiel
I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER
This is an original arrangement of I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, written by Lucian Cobb, with vocals inspired by the Boswell Sisters. Thanks so much to Kevin Wang, Lian Tarhay, Ursula Hicks, Kevin Nguyen, Matt Mitchell, and Jennifer Reed, all swing dancers in Austin and Dallas, Texas, who joined forces to sponsor this song for CalBal Live.
RAGGIN’ THE SCALE
When we started talking to the CalBal Live organizers it became clear that they were excited about everything the bandleaders proposed and were up for funding big band charts. While the Mint Julep Jazz Band isn’t a big band, Lucian really wanted to do a big band song because it would be fun to put together. He had already transcribed Raggin’ the Scale (from an Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra live recording from the Savoy Ballroom) for Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders Orchestra and Michael gave his blessing for us to record Lucian’s transcription, so here we are! Thanks so much to Pasadena Balboa and Jam for sponsoring Raggin’ the Scale, this song is an absolute blast.
Trumpet – Renee McGee, Jay Meachum, and Jim Ketch; Trombone – Lucian Cobb and Evan Ringel; Alto Saxophone – Brian Miller and Aaron Hill; Tenor Saxophone – Keenan McKenzie and Annalise Stalls; Drums – Dan Faust; Bass – William Ledbetter; Guitar – Ben Lassiter; Piano – Clark Stern; Glockenspiel – Laura Windley
Just in time for Halloween, Keenan McKenzie‘s The House on Hawkins Drive – a ghostly tale of dancing and music in a haunted house – is now a music video! Keenan is a true Renaissance man, serving as songwriter, arranger, performer, audio engineer, video editor, and overall creative mastermind of this entire thing. I am, of course, delighted to be a part of the project and equally delighted to appear singing in the moon for the duration of the video.
The video features our friends, Lindy Hoppers Sydney Bernstein-Miller, Jordon Chan Lauren Gibson, Mel Khaw, Audrey MacInnes and Gavin MacInnes, as well as musical collaborators Riley Baker (drums), Lucian Cobb (trombone), Aaron Hill (alto saxophone), Lynn Grissett (trumpet), William MoBetta Ledbetter (bass), Keenan McKenzie (saxophone/clarinet), Chip Newton (guitar), and Mark Wells (piano).
Enjoy and have a safe and wonderful Halloween!
Keenan McKenzie has been releasing remotely recorded videos throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and compiled these recordings and two brand new original swing tunes into Remote Riffing: Volume 1, an EP released on Bandcamp on October 18, 2020. I’m singing on three tunes – The Dwindling Light By the Sea, My Well-Read Baby, and The House on Hawkins Drive. The latter is a Halloween tale of epic proportions, released just in time for your remote festivities!
The album personnel are musicians from all over the United States, including Lucian Cobb (trombone), Jonathan Stout (guitar), James Posedel (piano), William Ledbetter (bass), Daniel Faust (drums), Noah Hocker (trumpet), Josh Collazo (drums), Chris Dawson (piano), Gordon Au (trumpet), Peter Shilliday (utensils), Lynn Grissett (trumpet), Haruka Kikuchi (trombone), Annie Erbsen (guitar), Mark Wells (piano), Chip Newton (guitar), Riley Baker (drums), Renée McGee (trumpet), Shaena Ryan Martin (baritone saxophone), Billie Feather (guitar), and Chrishawn Darby (drums). While I know we all miss performing with each other in-person, it’s exciting to see and hear the possibilities that can be facilitated by pandemic limitations.
The pandemic recordings keep coming – we had to be doing something this whole time, right? In non-COVID times, the Mint Julep Jazz Band would have performed over Labor Day weekend at Camp Hollywood, but this year Camp Hollywood put on a four day virtual event that was as close to the real thing as we can get right now. We decided to put together a remote recording with video and audio of the band performing “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet” to premiere at Virtual Camp Hollywood and now you can watch it on YouTube.
Keenan McKenzie (who not only appears in the MJJB video above, but also graciously coached us in how to put together a remote video) released his next in a series of remote recordings, featuring his original tunes and musicians from around the U.S. – “My Well-Read Baby” is one of those songs I love to sing and love to hear, so I hope you enjoy this fresh take!
Conceived and executed entirely during the pandemic, Michael Gamble has assembled four lineups of musicians from across the US for a remote recording project and is releasing four EPs, two at a time, on the September 4, 2020 and October 2, 2020 Bandcamp Fridays (where Bandcamp donates their share of the proceeds to the artists)! I’m excited to be the featured vocalist on each EP with an incredible lineup of musicians, so many I’ve met over the past decade of performing at swing dance events all over and, while we can’t make music together in person, it is so nice to hear these familiar “voices,” who have been such a wonderful part of my life.
Michael wrote a post that sums it all up nicely, so I’ll share that here and I’ll update with links as they become available:
“ISOLATION SESSIONS, PARTS 1-4
All recordings from this series were made remotely, each of the 18 musicians (from 9 states) playing either in their homes, home-studios, or whatever they could make work! Despite the obvious logistical hurdles, we were determined to make an artistically cohesive and exciting project. Sections of music were pieced together painstakingly to make sure that no part was recorded prior to something that it needed to react creatively to, which often required multiple takes by the same musician on the same tune, spread over weeks. We believe the result — while certainly different in feel than prior Rhythm Serenaders albums which were recorded live in a single room — is a special set of recordings with their own completely unique flavor. We hope they’ll be enjoyed for years to come!
In an alternate timeline I would be boarding a plane this Friday morning to fly to Los Angeles to spend Labor Day weekend days poolside at the LAX Marriott and evenings DJ’ing and singing with my band and Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at Camp Hollywood. In our current timeline, Hilary Alexander has put together an incredible weekend of competitions, classes, discussions, and music for a Virtual Camp Hollywood that will be streamed on YouTube for free and classes/events will be donation-based! Find the entire event streaming on the Camp Hollywood YouTube channel, starting at 8 p.m. PDT/11 p.m. EDT this Friday, September 4, 2020 through Monday, September 7, 2020.
I’ll be kicking off the music for the weekend with a DJ set on Friday from 8-10 p.m. PDT/11 p.m.-1 a.m. EDT, you can find me as part of the Bandleader Summit with Jonathan Stout and Michael Gamble on Sunday, September 6, 2020 from 4-5:30 p.m. PDT/7-8:30 p.m. EDT, and at some point over the weekend the Mint Julep Jazz Band will have a little surprise for everyone – tune in!
Photograph courtesy of Piqant Photography.
A couple of months ago I sat down with UK-based swing DJ, MC, and instructor Sarah Spoon, who had conceived of a brand new, not yet launched podcast called Desert Island Jams, which would feature swing community personalities picking the 10 songs they would take with them to a desert island and talking about those tunes. Given that dancers are music loving creatures and who doesn’t love a top 10 list, I thought this was brilliant and delighted in my hour or so chatting with Sarah about my list. Subsequently, Sarah has released episode 1 featuring Ryan Swift of The Track podcast and swing DJ fame and episode 2 featuring swing and house dance powerhouse instructor LaTasha Barnes, both stellar episodes – thus, I’m so very excited that I am episode 3, which came out today! Come hang out with me and Sarah while we talk about tunes I love and share a lot of fun and laughter.
I also got a shoutout on the August 2020 episode of the long-running Hey Mister Jesse podcast, hosted by Jesse Miner and Manu Smith, featuring music that is of interest to swing dancers. There have been a number of COVID-19 pandemic album releases and this episode features 8 of them, including Gordon Au’s Tribute to Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars/Live at Lindy Focus, and you can hear me and Jim Ziegler sing and banter on “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” – enjoy!
I’m excited to be profiled in the August 2020 issue of The Syncopated Times by UK writer, dancer, early jazz enthusiast, and Annette Hanshaw fan Dave Doyle. I suppose even without the pandemic we might have had to conduct this interview via FaceTime or Zoom, but it was lovely to connect with someone across the pond and to be featured in The Syncopated Times, one of very few publications focused on ragtime and pre-bop jazz. Enjoy!
Rhythm Relief: The Swingtacular Show (which you can now watch on YouTube in its entirety, linked here) was a resounding success – at last count, the funds raised approached $100,000 and grants have already been given out to full-time swing instructors and musicians affected by COVID-19. Please consider donating, these funds are still being distributed where they are needed – you can do so at the Pacific Swing Dance Foundation website. I have been working on the grants committee for this fundraiser, which I am honored to be a part of, and just know that there are so many people who sustain and enrich our community around the world as their full time job, know that your money is going to be well spent with these artists who, we hope, will return to us and continue to enrich the world with dance and music once we return to some semblance of normalcy and global health.
The music from this show was so well-received and the demand for an EP resounded – so you can now download Rhythm Relief: The Swingtacular Show EP from the PSDF website and the proceeds go directly to the Rhythm Relief fundraising efforts listed above. I’m singing on two tracks, “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”