I had a few gigs on the calendar in the fall of 2021 that quickly evaporated once the COVID Delta variant hit. One of these was a Saturday gig with Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers, which left us without a gig and with a wide-open Saturday. Keenan decided to make lemonade with those lemons and set up a recording session for us at Butler Knowles’ studio, Worry Less Music, in Raleigh. We recorded three of Keenan’s arrangements and I’m singing on “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”
Picking up where we left off, we cautiously move back into position, changed forever, but hopeful that our community can once again be together in a meaningful way. While Lindy Focus may more likely resemble a regional Lindy exchange this year, I have a feeling that the impact will still be strong, particularly for those of us who are still working from home and whose scenes are not running regular dances yet.
Per usual, I am most excited about the music – the musicians and bandleaders this year are all from North Carolina! Our state has a history of producing incredible jazz musicians (Coltrane, Simone, Monk, to name a few) and, for the modern swing dance community, you are already familiar with several bands based in NC – Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders, Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers, and the Mint Julep Jazz Band. We’ll have some new-to-you faces that we’re excited for you to hear (including bandleader Sean Mason!) and I’m sure there will be some new-to-you tunes that we’ve added to our books during the pandemic.
Above all, be safe – Lindy Focus will be requiring masks/vaccinations and we’ll have to do air hugs, but it will be so good to see any number of you and share in the collective and creative energy that has been missing for so long.
If Lindy Focus is not in your risk budget, we all understand and we’ll see you again in the future – if it is in your risk budget this year, registration is open, the hotel is taking bookings, and I’ll see you soon!
Photo credit to the wonderful Atsuki Takizawa!
Fresh off the presses this past Friday, May 7, 2021, Michael Gamble has released a new EP of the tunes his regular lineup and the Rhythm Serenaders Orchestra recorded for CalBal Live. Featuring a lineup of incredible swing musicians from around the US (nay, the globe, if you’re counting Noah Hocker, expat in Beijing), I’m singing on three tunes – Born to Swing, Without Your Love, and When You’re Smiling. Bring a smile to your face this week and head over to Bandcamp to pick up a copy! 🙂
Here’s another video from Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders, this time paying tribute to Billie Holiday’s arrangement for CalBal Live. When I started working on this tune I couldn’t find any other recordings to reference for the melody. Since Billie takes obvious liberties with the melody, I didn’t want that to be my only frame of reference, so I sought advice from Michael Steinman and he directed me to the Fayetteville Free Library in Fayetteville, New York, which has a substantial collection of sheet music of yesteryear. Sure enough, they had it and were able to email me a copy!
I’m glad I took the time to locate the sheet music because the melody is lovely – I think I’ve taken a bit from the original and a bit of Billie, put it all together with my wonderful music friends, and we made something good. Enjoy!
Thanks to CalBal Live, Michael Gamble was able to put together a 13 piece band and record a transcription of Mildred Bailey’s wonderful “Born to Swing,” which I was elated to be able to perform. I pitched the idea of this song to Michael after I was gifted the 78 of this song and fell in love. He thought it was great, too, so here we are – enjoy!
I’m excited to announce that my first in-person gig since March 1, 2020 will be with the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the Newberry Opera House in Newberry, SC on April 24, 2021 for a matinee and an evening show! Please check out the Newberry Opera House website for details and COVID precautions and I’ll cautiously hope to see my South Carolina friends there.
We’ll also be performing on April 25, 2021 for the Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community in West Columbia, SC – I’m assuming this is not open to the public, but will definitely be a treat for the residents!
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.