Chapel Hill

Durham Magazine – Getting to Know the Mint Julep Jazz Band


Durhamites, be sure to pick up a copy of the April, 2016 issue of Durham Magazine for a feature on the Mint Julep Jazz Band!  Durham Magazine writer Sophia Lucente interviewed yours truly, Lucian Cobb, and Keenan McKenzie to put together this snapshot of the band’s history and life in Durham.  You can read the article (as well as the entire issue) online here.


Farewell 2015, It’s Been Swell!

Just a little note to say thank you to everyone who has come out to a gig, hired me to sing with their band, hired the Mint Julep Jazz Band, and supported the Mint Julep Jazz Band’s Kickstarter and resulting album. In 2015 I performed 58 nights with 4 different bands in 13 states – 2016, I am ready for you! Look for more singing, DJ’ing, and an appearance on Michael Gamble and his Rhythm Serenaders‘ new album!

Battle Axe: Front to Back – October 14, 2015


To celebrate the release of the Mint Julep Jazz Band‘s new album Battle Axe, we are going to do a Front to Back concert, wherein we perform the entirety of Battle Axe from track 1 all the way through track 16 in order!

This is a free show at the wonderful new Blue Note Grill location near the old Durham Bulls field in the warehouse district – there will be much more room to dance! Join us for dinner at 8:00 p.m., show begins at 9:00 p.m. and runs until we finish!

If you still need to pick up a copy of the album, we’ll have plenty on hand at the show, or you can buy it just about anywhere digital music is sold – CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify…

See you Wednesday! Try the ribs!

Six Weekends on the Road – SC, NY, VA, NH, MD, and TN!

I’ve probably lost my mind, but I am beyond excited about the events coming in August and early September! The first two are for fun and the last four are gigs, which also happen to be fun – I love that singing has afforded me such great travel opportunities this year, performing with several different bands! Here’s where I’ll be, barring forces majeure:

August 8-10, 2014 – competing and social dancing at the Southeast Summer Brawl in Columbia, SC

August 16-17, 2014 – immersing myself in a 1920’s alternate universe and dancing like a mad flapper at the Jazz Age Lawn Party in New York City

August 21-24, 2014 – I’ll be pulling double duty at the International Lindy Hop Championships in Arlington, VA, DJ’ing and singing with the Jonathan Stout Orchestra and Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five!

August 28-29, 2014 – I’ll be joining Michael Gamble’s Rhythm Serenaders on vocals at Swing Out New Hampshire!

September 6, 2014 – the Mint Julep Jazz Band returns to the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, MD, courtesy of the Jam Cellar!

September 12-13, 2014 – I’m back with Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five for the Knoxville Lindy Exchange!

So many exclamation points!!! Six states in six weekends – see you on the road!

Our State Magazine – Music in the Library


The Mint Julep Jazz Band was excited to be invited to provide music for Our State Magazine‘s Music in the Library video series, which shares and highlights songs from North Carolina musical artists filmed at Our State Magazine’s headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. We filled up their cozy library space with eight musicians, swing, and hot jazz on a hot June afternoon and the results came out great, using just three microphones and three cameras.

The band recorded “Swingtime in Honolulu,” “Rock it for Me,” and “Miami Boulevard” – visit the Our State YouTube channel for all the videos from this series!

Frankie 100 NC


The Mint Julep Jazz Band is proud to be performing at Frankie 100 NC, North Carolina’s Frankie Manning Centennial Celebration, a once ever event celebrating the life and legacy of Lindy Hop pioneer, educator, and global ambassador Frankie Manning, who passed away shortly before his 95th birthday. This year Frankie would have been 100 years old and the global Lindy Hop community is set to celebrate, with a huge event in New York, Frankie’s hometown, and smaller celebrations worldwide.

The Mint Julep Jazz Band will be performing at the main dance on Saturday, May 24, 2014 at the Carrboro Century Center from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Come join us for some Lindy Hop and be a part of this celebration for NC, which is drawing dancers from surrounding states and beyond!

Chapel Hill High School v. Duke University – An Inadvertent Battle of the Jazz Ensembles

This past month we’ve had two dances pop up with ensembles that are not regular dance bands – Chapel Hill High School’s and Duke University’s respective jazz ensembles. They had, in my mind, potential to overcome some of the problems some local adult big bands face, like the fact that some of these kids are picking up these instruments every day and playing 5 days a week in an ensemble setting might give them an edge. Also, how would the high school kids stack up against the college kids? I’d heard some good things about the Chapel Hill High School’s jazz program, but then Duke kids are probably some of the most gifted students in the nation.

Might I suggest a version of "Tiger Rag" for next year's dance? :)

Might I suggest a version of “Tiger Rag” for next year’s dance? 🙂

The first dance was Chapel Hill High School’s swing dance on March 8, held in the high school gymnasium, but not without substantial pomp and decorations. This year was the 18th anniversary of the annual swing dance, which is a fundraiser for the band boosters that includes the dance and a silent auction of goods and services from local businesses. The gymnasium was packed with teenagers, mostly standing around or solo dancing in groups, but some were actually partner dancing. Parents and adults had a seated area near the stage. A large stage was set up with risers for the band, which was necessary since the band was a giant big band – something like 8 or 9 trumpets, as many trombones, even more saxes, plus students trading off spots in the rhythm section.

That piano intro is like a call to arms, a trigger for a jam circle!

That piano intro is like a call to arms, a trigger for a jam circle!

The dance itself was quite a show – the band director kept things moving with announcements, introduction of the numerous (I counted at least 6) guest vocalists, and promotions for the fundraiser and silent auction, leaping into the next musical number as soon as he was finished speaking. The song selection was a mix of classic swinging tunes (Jumpin’ at the Woodside and Leap Frog were highlights), songbirds and crooners on slower dance tunes, some 50’s/60’s Sinatra, a token neo-swing song (vocals performed with gusto, I might add – I had to smile), and a smattering of ballroom fare. Overall, the tempos were up and most of the songs kept us moving. The kids in the crowd cheered for their friends when they were featured and the vibe in the room was extremely positive and supportive. When the band took a break, a student combo played the breaks. The first band break was a little more swinging than the second and that was their only big misstep, having a group play more modern feeling tunes that lacked the drive to be danceable during that second break.

In spite of being outnumbered 50 to 1 by high school students and feeling only slightly awkward being the only dancing adults in the room, our group had a pretty good time. What the high school kids lacked in skill they made up for in enthusiasm and spectacle. I hope more members of the swing dance community decide to come out to this dance next year, both to support these burgeoning jazz and swing musicians and as a great opportunity for outreach to all these high school kids who were dancing and enjoying themselves. If only they knew they could do this every weekend!

The dance floor at Duke Gardens is amazing!

The dance floor at Duke Gardens is amazing!

The second dance was at Duke Gardens on March 27 and was a collaboration amongst Duke Gardens, Jazz@ Duke, the Duke Swing Dance Club, and the Duke Jazz Ensemble. Duke Gardens has played host to a number of DJ’d swing dances over the past few years and is arguably one of the swing dance community’s loveliest venues. This dance was not only free to all who attended, but also had an impressive buffet set up on the patio for the dancers to partake. The Duke Swing Dance Club did a great job with promoting the dance and teaching the beginner lesson before the dance. This is the second year the Duke Jazz Ensemble has performed in collaboration with the Duke Swing Dance Club, although the location of the dance was different from last year.

I had high hopes for the Duke Jazz Ensemble for several reasons:

– The students were older, had probably played their instruments longer, and I knew that gaps in the ensemble were often filled by more skilled community players.

Les Brown and his Blue Devils

Les Brown and his Blue Devils

– In the 1930’s Duke University was host to several dance bands and orchestras, including Les Brown and his Blue Devils from 1933-1936, before Les Brown went on to start his Band of Renown. Under the direction of Les Brown, the Blue Devils made some hot recordings and went on several regional tours. Check out this fantastic recording of the Blue Devils performing “Rigamarole.” Arrangements from Les Brown’s time at Duke and from later years reside in the Les Brown Scores Collection at Duke University Libraries – I am salivating over this collection!

– I have on good authority that there are other swing era charts (as opposed to post-WWII arrangements of swing era songs) in Duke’s music library, per a former Duke student who performed in the jazz ensemble.

– In the Facebook event the Jazz@ promoter posted that the band would be performing “swing-style Jazz from periods before, during, and after the 30’s.” I’ve only heard one other Triangle-based big band perform a 1920’s piece, which was the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra, a band made up of professional musicians and college professors from around the state. The Facebook event also had 180+ RSVPs, which meant lots of people and potential energy.

So with all of these things in mind I was fairly confident that the Duke Jazz Ensemble would deliver a dance that at least had some variance in song selection, perhaps some lesser known tunes with hot arrangements. Musicianship-wise, they had an edge on the high school students because the students did take solos, but most of the solos were done by the excellent Brian Miller, a local professional, whose solos were definitely a highlight of the dance and who appeared to carry the band at times.

However, the Duke band lacked the presentation, showmanship, and energy that the high school event excelled at executing. The Duke ensemble had no vocalists, though they played many of the same vocal tunes as the high school band, just as instrumental arrangements. The guitar player slouched in his chair and plucked single notes on his hard body guitar, instead of laying down the essential rhythmic chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk of quarter note chords that completes a swing rhythm section. Most of the tempos were around 150 bpm and songs ran well over 5 minutes – in several instances there were 8 minute songs, which can be purgatory for a newer dancer who may only know a few moves. There were a few really slow tunes and some faster tunes, but the band seemed to fall apart toward the end of the faster tunes, which were around 180-190 bpm. Toward the end of the night they played a combo tune while the rest of the big band just sat there – if you have a big band, use it! We can hear small groups any time. There were also no 1920’s tunes, as were promised, and, arguably, no 1930’s tunes – the repertoire was 1940’s-1960’s and the drummer never left the ride cymbal except to play fills.


One of the songs the band performed was an arrangement almost identical to Count Basie’s “April in Paris,” a song that was recorded in 1955 or 1956 and released in 1957 on an album of the same title. This particular recording is quintessentially new-testament Basie and any swing DJ worth his/her salt will know this tune. A local dancer/DJ was dancing in front of the band when they performed this tune and at the end, after they hit the big sustained note as an ensemble, she yelled to the band, “One more once!” No one cracked a smile and they stared blankly at her. She addressed them again, “One more time!” More blank stares, no shout chorus. Brian Miller was the only one within earshot who acknowledged that she was referencing the recording and told her that the band did not have that version of the arrangement. I don’t know if this means that the rest of the band had not checked out the recording of the song they just played or if they were being obtuse, but it did not sit well.

I’m going to declare the Chapel Hill High School Jazz Ensemble the winner of this battle – while the Duke Jazz Ensemble played a post-WWII repertoire with the addition of improvised solos, the Chapel Hill students captured the energy and feel of the swing era and songs of later eras, as well as considering the needs of dancers in terms of song length, rhythm section, and creating a connection to the audience through the bandleader and vocalists.

Mint Julep Jazz Band Plays Shakori Hills – April 20, 2014

The Mint Julep Jazz Band will be joining the stellar lineup of musicians for the spring 2014 Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, along with the Indigo Girls, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Del McCoury Band, and dozens of other great local, regional, and national acts. We’ll be performing Sunday, April 20 from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. in the Dance Tent – they’ll have a wood floor in the tent so everyone can cut a rug and avoid the mud. 😉

For more information about the festival, the artists, the location, camping, tickets, schedule, and any questions you may have, visit Shakori Hills’ comprehensive website at

This is our first music festival, so we are really excited – see you there!


Not All Jazz Swings

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” but I really just need to put it out there, for the Triangle dancers and jazz musicians, for various reasons.

Norfolk, Virginia swing DJ Bill Speidel has already written the article I would write at this point in time, called “Do You Want to Swing, Virginia?” I encourage dancers and local jazz musicians to read this and note the examples. While I do have a bit of a broader interpretation of what swings for me, I think Bill narrows the issue to make a point.

If it doesn’t swing, then it doesn’t inherently inspire me to dance.

So You Want to Play for Swing Dancers?

So you had a few dancers show up to one of your gigs and they looked like they had a great time. One of the dancers came up to you after the gig and said “You should talk to so-and-so about playing for X Swing Dance Night” and gave you so-and-so’s contact information. You send so-and-so an email – of course they’ll hire you, right? You’ve had this great endorsement by a dancer! Now that you’ve been endorsed, you can advertise to all the local swing dance groups and contact all the local promoters and the dancers will come flocking to your shows…


I’ve been seeing a bit of this lately with some local bands who would like to play for swing dancers – bandleaders who contact local organizers to promote their events or about being hired, but have very little experience playing for dance events (or playing for swing dance events specifically, as opposed to ballroom events or more general dancing) or had past experience playing for dancers but haven’t kept up with trends in music in the swing dance community. Several people have written blog posts about playing music for dancers and I agree that the music is the most important aspect and that feedback should be considered, but I want to focus on relationships and communication.

In addition to my role as a co-bandleader for the Mint Julep Jazz Band, I also book the bands for RDU Rent Party and have spent many years booking bands in other capacities. I am also passionate about swing dancing and discovering new bands to play for swing dancers. I don’t want people reading this to be discouraged or feel like there are gatekeepers – we want to help you! The more quality live swing music we have in our lives, the better.

Playing for dancers is different from playing for an outdoor festival is different from playing for a concert hall is different from playing a wedding – you need certain knowledge and tools to be successful in these endeavors and you prepare for each gig differently, if not in large ways, then in small ways. Each swing dance community has their own tastes and norms (which is why I feel I can’t talk about the logistics of the music, specifically, although if you are in the Triangle area of North Carolina, I’m happy to speak with you) and it’s important to find out those norms in advance in order to be a viable candidate to play swing dances.

If this is what your bass looks like, then we are probably not on the same page.

If this is what your bass looks like, then we are probably not on the same page.


This is a baseline question – do you play music that swings, music that is easy to swing dance to? Dancers can get really creative in what they will dance to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your music is going to be ideal for swing dancing. For example, I think the most common misconception in this area is that people who play straight ahead jazz, standards, and big band can also play swing dances – many of the jazz musicians playing this music were not trained to play the earlier forms of jazz (1920’s and 1930’s) that gave rise to these dances and lack the foundation and understanding of this music to apply to their playing. Consequently, the music can sound either too stiff, too smooth, or too lounge-y for swing dancing.

You may not want to change your repertoire or style of playing to accommodate the dancers, and that is fine – it’s your thing and it sounds great for listening. However, if you are intrigued and decide you do want to play for dancers, talk to them about what kinds of music they dance to, what other local and touring bands they have checked out, and, if you can find a DJ in the group, pick their brain about music to check out that might bridge the gap between what you are playing now and what would make your music more conducive to dancing.


I am constantly scouting for bands and, in the Internet age, a lot of that legwork is done online. I still go to a lot of shows to check bands out in person (very important), but having the ability to preview bands and see if there is potential for hiring a band for a swing dance is amazing. It eliminates some things that may be lost in translation – your friend saw this amazing band that they swear would be good for swing dancing and you go to the show, only to find out that it’s a bluegrass band. Nothing against bluegrass, it’s just not swing. Now, you can go online and find that band’s website, Facebook, ReverbNation page, etc. and listen to recordings of the band, find videos on YouTube, and get a feel for what you might expect.

If a band does not have any audio or video online, there’s not a lot I can do in the interim – I have to wait for a show to check out the band or rely on word of mouth (which isn’t always reliable) or reputation (a bit more reliable). Having audio and video online, even if it’s not professional quality, is the first stepping stone and helps band bookers and potential fans bypass the wait – you can have people interested in your music right now, raise the level of anticipation for your shows, or just put yourself out there for people to see what you are doing. You can also eliminate the potentially awkward situation where you have been hired to play a dance and you realize that you are not a good fit for this particular group. People are looking for your band online to research what you do so it’s important to give them the tools they need to find you and your music.


If your website hasn’t been updated in over a year and you aren’t keeping up with a calendar or list of shows, then we have no way of knowing whether or not your band is active (if the internet is our only lead for information on your band). The next step in scouting, after looking for information online, is actually going to a show – if you don’t have any schedule posted or shows listed, then there is little I can do to find you in person. In the Internet age, information is key and having the most current information on your website is essential.


Have you ever been to a swing dance? If the answer is no, then that should be your first objective, to attend a swing dance, preferably one with a live band so that you can see the environment. Introduce yourself to the organizers. Notice how the dancers respond to the music – what are they enjoying? How are they moving in relation to the music? What is the tempo range of the music? Talk to the DJ spinning tunes during the band breaks. Talk to the band playing for dancers. Everyone will have some insight into a particular aspect of the dance that will help you put together the bigger picture.

Is there more than one community? Many times, swing dance communities are fragmented, either by instructor, musical preference, or some other factor. Find out where you might fit into that scheme – if your swing is more blues-y, then maybe your better bet would be to attend the local DJ’ed blues night and talk to them about featuring you as a live band.

The more you talk to people, the more you will learn about the community. You may also find resources online, so check them out, as well.



This is more relevant if you are trying to get dancers to come out to your gigs (rather than getting a gig at a swing dance), but one of the biggest issues I see in the Triangle area is scheduling. There are already established dance nights in this area – Triangle Swing Dance Society on first and third Saturdays, Lindy Lab every Thursday, Dance Blues Friday, Elk’s Lodge on Sunday – if you are trying to target one of these groups to attend your show, then scheduling that show on the same night as an established dance night will be to your detriment. If you want to attract dancers and have the flexibility to schedule your show on a night that there is not a conflicting dance, then everyone wins. Dancers will almost always choose the best bet for the night – generally, that means the reliable bet of their weekly dance, where they know they will have good music, a wood floor, air conditioning, and plenty of space to dance.

That said, there are a lot of prime nights of the week taken up by regular dance events, but if you know your audience, you will know how to schedule your shows – for example, if you are a hot jazz band playing lots of Charleston music, scheduling your show on a Sunday night might work because, even though it conflicts with the Elk’s Lodge, the Elk’s Lodge draws a crowd that prefers a bit slower tempos, so you wouldn’t see as much of a conflict in scheduling because the dancers who prefer to dance Charleston to hot jazz would probably prefer to attend your show over the dance at the Elk’s Lodge. Scheduling that same show on a Thursday wouldn’t work out because a higher concentration of dancers who do Charleston prefer to go to the Lindy Lab on Thursday nights for dancing.


If you are starting from square one, there are basic guidelines and considerations for performing at swing dances that people have written down – the Triangle Swing Dance Society has one that they share with new bands – and if you ask organizers they will generally share what they are looking for in terms of a band’s performance and what is expected at a dance. Bobby White, one of the international swing dance instructors, has posted a set of guidelines that is pretty solid on his blog, Swungover, at

If you haven’t gotten that far or maybe just played for a few dancers at a bar and want to know more about how you might fit in at a swing dance, don’t be afraid to ask questions – are my range of tempos good? Is the mix of tempos and styles working? Did the set have a good flow? We tried something new with X song, did that work for the dancers? Will this work for most of the dancers? What could we do to make the music better for dancers? Can you give some examples for me to listen to/check out later? Solicit feedback from several people, people you know and people you don’t know. Even if you have played dances in the past, it’s good to continue asking these questions – tastes and norms evolve and it’s important to stay aware of what is going on in the dance community (especially if it’s been a few years since you were hired to play a swing dance).



Obviously, everyone is going to have an opinion about your music, some positive, some negative. Try to stay positive and focus on constructive feedback, things that you can actually accomplish. Reinforce the things you are doing well. Improve or modify things that may not be working.


You may not be able to implement everything you got in your feedback, but even making small changes gradually will help. Dancers will be quick to let you know when things like tempo, song length, and volume aren’t working, so definitely listen to that feedback and adapt. Experiment with other adaptations, see what is working, what is not working, then solicit more feedback.

One of the quickest ways to lose a dance gig or not get one at all is to ignore the feedback you get. There have been great swing bands that lost gigs because they insisted on featuring their soloists for umpteen choruses and the songs ended up being 10 minutes long. If you have never danced to an uptempo song for 10 minutes, try running for 10 minutes and see how winded you are. You want the dancers to be exhausted at the end of the night, not in the middle of the first set. The guidelines and norms are there for a reason, and the reasons are generally practical.


Sometimes it’s just not going to work out. You’ve talked to the organizers at length, worked on getting your songs just right, but there is something missing – maybe attendance is declining when you play a dance, people aren’t dancing as much, the advanced dancers don’t come to your shows, you see the same dancers come out every week but your audience isn’t growing, or you keep getting feedback that seems evasive…then maybe it’s just not a good fit.

I have experienced the “not a good fit” when a band I performed with played swing music for a ballroom or beach music crowd – no one was dancing, red-faced old men came up to me and yelled “play some dance music!” and people left early. It can be that obvious, or it may be more subtle. Pay attention to the crowd and verbal and physical cues and know when to bow out.