Durham

Holiday Season Shows

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Photograph courtesy of Jessica Keener Photography

As we approach the end of 2018, I have some great gigs coming up, some new, some familiar, but always enjoyable – hope to see you on the dance floor or at a holiday soiree…

November 2-3, 2018  I’m performing with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders and Orchestra at The Nevermore Jazz Ball, in St. Louis, Missouri.  Nevermore always cultivates an inviting and local event that draws dancers from all over the U.S. and beyond, with top instruction, great local bands at their Saturday afternoon jazz crawl on Cherokee Street, and some fantastic venues, like the historic Casa Loma Ballroom.

November 24, 2018  The day after Thanksgiving I will board a plan to San Diego to perform with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at the San Diego Jazz Festival.  This is my first time at a west coast jazz festival and really my first time at a jazz festival that focuses on traditional jazz – of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this long-running festival has incorporated dance-focused concerts into its lineup, which is where you can find me, both singing and dancing!

December 1 and 8, 2018 The Mint Julep Jazz Band will be performing a private holiday parties – we still have some open dates if you’d like to book us!  Email mintjulepjazzband@gmail.com.  Otherwise, I’ll use that free time to decorate and make holiday cookies. 😉

December 27-31, 2018 I’ll be with the Jonathan Stout and the Lindy Focus All-Star Orchestra and with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at the Disney World of Lindy Hop events, Lindy Focus, in Asheville, NC.  As I’ve posted previously on this blog, we’ll be debuting the newly transcribed charts of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra (who featured a very young Dinah Washington in his band in the 1940’s) and his all-stars and smaller groups, thanks to the generosity of the swing dance/music/fan communities that help support live music via the Indiegogo campaign and keep these charts in the hands of musicians who can continue to perform them.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

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Why Do Bands Charge More for Weddings?

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Photos are from my own wedding, thanks to the wonderful Katie Garcia Photography

You’re floating high on the dreams of planning the perfect wedding and reception, which is essentially a big party to celebrate the union of you and your significant other.  People who do not normally engage in event planning are suddenly thrown into the position of entering into contracts with a bunch of different event service providers – a baker, a caterer, venue managers, a florist, and maybe even a band to provide live music for the event.  This can all get very expensive very quickly and most couples are trying to get the most out of their wedding budget.

But you think you can swing getting a band, because your friend’s garage band made like $126 in tips at their last gig, this should be completely affordable, maybe even cheaper than a big name wedding DJ, right?

You start sending out inquiries to bands that look like they might be a good fit for your wedding reception and are blown away at the responses.  How dare they?  Your friend’s band was grateful for that $126 in tips, why can’t these bands play your wedding for something comparable?

This example is an exaggeration, of course, but I do find that some responses to my quotes for wedding receptions have an air of indignation.

Charging more for a wedding just because it’s a wedding is something I hear people say about wedding vendors.  While I can’t speak for the other service providers, I can give you some insight into why bands charge more for weddings and it’s not just because the event is labeled “wedding” – there are a number of factors that go into a band’s decision about what to charge for a couple’s special day.

HIRING PROFESSIONALS

The odds are fairly good that if you are researching bands and finding them in your searches or on wedding planning websites that these bands are made up of professional musicians whose base non-wedding pay is already more than the tips at your friend’s garage band gig.  You hire professionals because you don’t want to worry about the music – you want it to sound good, you want the musicians to be experienced, you want them to conduct themselves professionally and be able to roll with all the unexpected punches that go along with any wedding reception.  You don’t want to look up mid-reception and think, “Why is there no music right now?” or “Why is this drummer so loud?” or “What the hell is this song with depressing lyrics?”  Bands who are experienced professionals are going to anticipate your wedding’s needs and deliver a product that is appropriate for the day.

WEEKENDS ARE PRIME TIME

Most weddings occur on a weekend or holiday, when people are already off work and ready to have fun and relax.  These are also the same days that restaurants, bars, festivals, and lots of other events also want to hire bands to draw people to their establishments and events.  With supply and demand comes an increase in cost, as well as musicians maximizing their prime time, since weeknights can be tricky for musicians to get gigs (depending on the area).

As an added factor, bandleaders also want to hire the best musicians for the gig and want these musicians to have a financial incentive to keep this gig.  If a musician is offered a different gig on a weekend that pays more than the gig you offered them, that musician will often take the higher paying gig.  This results in more stress for the bandleader and could result in a reduction of quality of the music, depending on the proximity of the musician’s cancellation to the wedding date and the availability of good substitute musicians.

SPECIAL REQUESTS

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Special request from the band: can we have a piece of cake? 🙂

Last-minute, unanticipated requests are a wedding specialty.  I have a template questionnaire I send to engaged couples to assess how much work and how much time the wedding in question will take.  Inevitably, there is always something that the questionnaire didn’t anticipate or that the couple didn’t know at the time they filled out the questionnaire.  This can be anything from a venue change to unanticipated electrical access issues for outdoor weddings to the bride’s cousin wanting to sing a song with the band that the band doesn’t have in their book to a completely different reception time.  Sometimes the engaged couple will forget that they need an emcee and someone in the band is drafted to do this job, or they forget to tell you that they need your PA for an hour in the middle of the gig so everyone can do toasts.  Part of paying more for a wedding band is that you are paying for the flexibility to make major changes to a contractual agreement that the band has to rely on in order to prepare and schedule their day around your wedding.  It is rare that there are not changes to terms set forth in the wedding/band contract at some point between the date of signing the contract to the date of the wedding.

PREPARATION

Unless a band is a dedicated wedding band that only plays weddings, chances are that a wedding gig will require some extra preparation beyond a normal gig for the band – that may be in the form of custom charts for the band to perform (i.e. a special first dance song, the groom’s favorite song, that cousin wanting to sit in who sings a certain song in a certain key, etc.), working in extra players/musicians/sitting in, additional rehearsal(s), and, perhaps the most time-consuming for me, communicating about the wedding.  Weddings require a lot of attention to detail and all of that is done via phone and email over the course of the months between the booking and the event, usually increasing in the week(s) prior to the event.  Weddings necessitate a written and signed contract for me, which isn’t always the case with other venues who book us regularly or people with whom we have worked before.  Some weddings have wardrobe requirements in terms of colors or formal attire, which means some or all of the band have to plan ahead to acquire these items and spend money to accommodate that request.  Weddings are a one-shot, don’t-mess-this-up kind of event, so it’s important to take the time to get the details right; but this means more time and work from the band, who, conversely, can show up to their weekly/monthly gigs with minimal preparation.

LOAD IN/OUT

Weddings often have difficult and/or lengthy load-in or load-out scenarios.  Weddings are frequently held in locations that do not regularly accommodate live music, which makes it difficult to plan for things like the following:

  • Access to electrical outlets (in relation to wherever the bride/groom/wedding coordinator want the band to set up)
  • The logistics of loading in and out (access to stairs/elevators/ramps, traversing long hallways and multiple levels, loading in/out through high traffic areas like kitchens or the reception crowd)
  • Dealing with traffic/loading zones while loading in
  • Locating (and sometimes paying for) parking
  • Outdoor logistics (grass/hills/rocks/bugs/critters/standing water/weather)
  • Gatekeepers, which can literally mean a person at a gatehouse for a gated community and they won’t let you in because someone forgot to put the band on the guest list.  This can also mean other people at the venue who take up more of your time and prevent the band from timely loading in, such as an indecisive or absent (when the band arrives) wedding planner who isn’t providing the band with information they need or someone at the venue forgetting to leave space for the band to set up and the band has to wait while someone goes and gets someone else to move the chairs/tables/whatever that are blocking the area where the band is supposed to set up

If the ceremony is at the same venue as the reception, this almost always necessitates a load in that is anywhere from 2 to 6 hours before the band actually reports for duty to perform.  This is additional time that the bandleaders and, usually, the drummer, have to take out of their day to go to the venue and set up and then either hang out at the venue or go home and come back during the interim time, as opposed to a regular gig where the band would simply load in about an hour ahead of time and play almost immediately after loading in.

Ultimately, it usually takes longer to load in/set up and break down/load out than the typical band gig.  Sometimes we can anticipate what logistics are involved in advance and sometimes we can’t.  If we do a walk-through prior to the wedding day, then that is additional time we have added to preparing for the wedding gig.

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Sitting in with the Boilermaker Jazz Band at my own wedding

SCHEDULE…WHAT SCHEDULE?

I have yet to work a wedding that stayed on the schedule I was given ahead of the wedding, if I was given a schedule at all.  The band is expected to roll with the shifting priorities and requirements of a wedding, which, in turn, affects the amount of time we have to play, sit and wait, and the beginning and/or ending time of the band’s performance.

One of my biggest complaints about wedding gigs is that, because the wedding runs on its own schedule without consideration for the band (which is fine, for the most part, this day is not about us!), the newlyweds do not often maximize the band’s playing time and we ultimately play less than anticipated, overall.  We really do want to perform for you!  However, you are paying for our time in its entirety (playing or not playing), so if we’re contracted to play from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and the party just really got started at 7:00 p.m. because of toasts/photos/arrival/cake cutting, I’m sorry, we have already been at your wedding for a good portion of the day and our contractual obligation is over.  Often this is upsetting to the bride/groom/other person in charge, they may get angry at us, give us a guilt trip, or they may even offer to begrudgingly pay us more money to stay longer.  This is a very awkward situation and everyone feels terrible – we want to provide the wedding with something of value, but we also want our time to be respected.

In a similar vein, you can’t expect the band to make up for the delays by playing for two hours straight – this is brutal to people who are hitting/plucking/strumming/blowing, essentially using their bodies to create music, without a break at some point (usually somewhere between 40 minutes and an hour of playing).

There may be specific instructions for where and how to enter or when and how the band can leave and we are waiting and paying attention for these things to happen, looking for certain cues to indicate action on our part.  With these delays we may be checking in multiple times with the wedding coordinator to get updates on how to proceed or what the new plan involves, since the paper plan is out the window.  If there is no wedding coordinator, there may be multiple people telling us different things about what the band is supposed to be doing at any given time.   We want to do this right and whoever has the plan, we are willing to go with that new plan.

EMOTIONS

The stakes are high and there’s no dress rehearsal for this show, we are all striving to deliver the best possible services; inevitably, some things will go awry at weddings and there are always people who will get emotional about it and project that onto the staff or whoever may be nearest to them – wedding planners, grooms, brides, fathers of the brides, mothers of the grooms, caterers, whoever has a stake in the day and/or a job to do.

EXTRA COSTS

There are always extra costs, some surprises, some known, such as the aforementioned specific attire or any additional sound equipment that may be needed to accommodate the requests from the bride/groom or the logistics of the venue.  I would also note that another difference in wedding v. regular gig is the absence of merchandise sales, CD sales, and tips; obviously, this would be super tacky to hawk our wares at your wedding or pass around a tip jar, but it is one consideration among many in the added cost.  There are also fewer intangible rewards, such as creative license in the gig itself and applause – I don’t know that I’ve been to a wedding where the crowd burst into applause, but I have been a part of many weddings where the guests either generally ignored the band or, if they are dancing, didn’t clap after songs.  Perhaps applause at a wedding reception is not necessarily appropriate, but it’s one of those things that can add to the feeling that a wedding gig is more work.

RISK FACTOR

This is one type of gig that is at great risk for cancellation, as we certainly can’t control matters of the heart.  I always build in some sort of deposit and cancellation policy, because there is risk in taking a gig like this, as we are often holding this date months, maybe even over a year, in advance and turning down other gigs.  It’s also risky dealing with people who are not used to booking bands – there are certain norms in the professional music community that may seem odd to someone who is not a professional musician, but are necessary in order to accomplish the gig; if they are not willing to see the necessity, to accommodate the basic needs of the band, or to communicate the necessary details requested, then the gig and/or preparing for the gig can quickly become a nightmare.

IN CONCLUSION…

To sum everything up, it’s simply more work to accept and execute a wedding gig for a band and, for this and all the specific the reasons stated above (and probably some I’m forgetting), this is why your average professional band will often charge more for a wedding than they would charge for a regular gig.   That said, while a wedding is more work, that does not mean that bandleaders avoid wedding gigs.  The examples listed above don’t all happen at the same time, there are a lot of wonderful aspects of performing at a wedding, and I don’t know of many bandleaders who would refuse a wedding gig with appropriate compensation – there’s a lot of love that is shared, with families and friends coming together, and we’re all here to have a big celebration and contribute to that celebration in some meaningful way.

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Balast Off 2018

It’s almost time for launch of one of the most intimate, local, focused, and fun-themed Balboa events in the U.S., Balast Off in Huntsville, Alabama – I’ll be performing with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at the evening dances on August 3 and 4, 2018 and will hope to get in a little dancing, as well!  Kudos to Huntsville for having one of the coolest venues, the Flying Monkey Theater at the Lowe Mill – this former textile mill has been converted into a mixed-use space holding the theater, shops, restaurants, artist studio spaces, and I’m sure there’s other things I have yet to discover because I find something new every year.  Shout out to Pizzelle’s Confections and that taco truck a few blocks away – we are coming!

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All Balboa Weekend 2018

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Photo by @bobbykatedance

This will be my 12th All Balboa Weekend, attending and/or working in some capacity, and it’s always a joy to bring excellent swing music to these particular shuffling feet.  This year I’ll be singing with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders octet on Friday night (June 15) and with the Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders Orchestra on Saturday night (June 16).  Michael always works in some new material for Balboa dancers and I’m excited to see what he brings to the table for this weekend and also excited to revisit all the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald charts that Michael utilizes to showcase the Heritage Sounds collection of charts (which you can buy on the Heritage Sounds website!).  See you soon, Cleveland!

May Outdoor Shows in the Triangle

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May kicks off the season for outdoor concert series and the Mint Julep Jazz Band will be joining the ranks of bands braving the elements to bring you tunes in (hopefully) sunny and pleasant weather!  On May 16, 2018 we return to Booth Amphitheater’s Hob Nob Jazz Series for a performance on the back deck from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. – admission is $5 (free for kids 12 and under) and you can either bring a picnic or buy wine and refreshments at the amphitheater.  There’s always plenty of room at the amphitheater, both on the deck and in the grass, and the deck is good for dancing!

On May 20, 2018, we’ll be performing as part of the Got to be NC Festival at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds – find us on the stage outside of Dorton Arena playing two sets from 4:15 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.  Best of all, admission to the festival is free!

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The Preservatory Project Presents: The Artist’s Role, January 20, 2018

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I am honored to be invited to speak and perform as part of a collaborative show in Durham called The Artist’s Role, with some incredible performers and historians who I will be humbly and respectfully in awe of for the duration of the show, for their work, their knowledge, and their contributions to the arts.

What is this show?  Here’s the story from the source:

“The Urban Artistry Preservatory Project, an initiative of Urban Artistry, An International Culture and Education Project, presents The Artist’s Role, an evening of music, dance, narrative, and visual art. Featured performers include three generations of tradition-bearers and innovators: NEA National Heritage Fellows Phil Wiggins and John Dee Holeman, Shana Tucker, Laura Windley, Joe Seamons and Ben Hunter. Featuring visual art by Darius Quarles and co-hosted by Greg Adams of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Junious Lee Brickhouse of Urban Artistry, An International Culture and Education Project.

Tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door theartistsrole.eventbrite.com

For The Artist’s Role, the Preservatory Project has chosen artists who, along with being talented and entertaining performers, are also historians, tradition bearers, and modern-day griots. The musicians span a range of genres and eras, from acoustic country blues to swing to soul. They all share a commitment to elevating the artists and communities who inspired and taught them. It is The Preservatory Project’s hope that the audience will find new ways to engage with and connect with communities that are often marginalized but to whom we owe so much artistically and culturally.”

I’m going to share some of my favorite stories and artists from women’s jazz history, sing a little, dance a little, and collaborate with the other musicians in the show.  I hope you will come and be inspired, engaged, and energized by what you hear and see!

January 20, 2018, 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at The Vault, 1104 Broad Street, Durham, NC

Keenan McKenzie Releases Album of Original Swing Music

23659509_10103419847799641_1131617545580786145_nIf you love Keenan McKenzie’s original tunes and arrangements on the Mint Julep Jazz Band albums, you can now get even more of this great music in your life – Keenan is releasing a brand new album of original swing music written by the maestro himself called Forged in Rhythm, available now for preview and pre-order on Bandcamp and full release coming December 5!  I am excited that Keenan decided to write 7 original vocal tunes (in addition to the 8 instrumental tunes) and invited me to sing on his debut release – what a magical thing to be the first to sing a song!  We had such fun recording this album in Los Angeles in August and I’ve been eagerly anticipating sharing this album with all of you.

Here’s Keenan’s post about the album release:

“If you’d asked me a few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined my first album would be 15 radio-length songs, all in 4/4 time. I now owe so much to the dance community that it’s hard to imagine it going any other way. Swing music has provided some unforgettable experiences and introduced me to a world of wonderful people, including Allison Meeks (you make my heart go thump thump thump!)

I’m thrilled to announce the upcoming release of FORGED IN RHYTHM. This album of original tunes is a celebration of my favorite ‘30s/‘40s musicians and a love letter to the swing dance scene. I got to work with some phenomenal players and great friends, and we had a blast making this record. I can’t wait for you to hear it!

Keenan McKenzie……………reeds
Gordon Au…………………..trumpet
Lucian Cobb……………..trombone
Jonathan Stout……………….guitar
Chris Dawson………………….piano
Seth Ford-Young………………bass
Josh Collazo………………….drums
Laura Windley………………..vocals
Miles Senzaki……………..engineer

Artwork and design by Ryan Calloway Art

Available December 5th on Bandcamp, CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon and more!”

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Photograph by Brad Nathanson Photography

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Fall 2017

There’s a nice mix of performances coming up, a little dancing, a little listening, a little of both – hope to see you at one of these upcoming dates!

September 29-30, 2017 with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at Classic City Swing, Athens, GA – a wonderful workshop weekend at the University of Georgia, it will be a mix of visiting with family and performing with this swingin’ band.

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MJJB at the Duck Jazz Festival in 2015

October 7, 2017 Mint Julep Jazz Band at the Duck Jazz Festival, Duck, NC – the festival is expanding to add a performance on Saturday afternoon (us!) with a swing dance lesson between sets, come join us on the coast for this wonderful festival with enthusiastic jazz fans.

October 8, 2017 Ella at the Savoy: A Centennial Tribute, UNC’s Kenan Music Building rehearsal hall, Chapel Hill, NC – one of my pet projects honoring the unparalleled Ella Fitzgerald and her early work with the Chick Webb Orchestra and with Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra.

October 19, 2017 Mint Julep Jazz Band at the North Carolina State Fair, Raleigh, NC – this is not only our first performance at the State Fair, but my first time ever at the State Fair!  As a lifelong North Carolinian, I’m looking forward to finally being able to attend.

October 20-21, 2017  Mint Julep Jazz Band at Jammin’ on the James, Richmond, VA – excited to be performing for the first time with the Mint Julep Jazz Band at an event that is near and dear to my heart.  My very first workshop weekend as a baby Lindy Hopper was at JOTJ and organizers Rita Shiang and Andy Nishida put on a top notch event, now in its 15th year.

Nashville Dance Congress – May 5-6, 2017

We don’t see a lot of arts grant money going to social dance events, so it’s rare and wonderful that organizers of the Nashville Dance Congress have been the beneficiaries of a grant allowing them to provide a weekend of FREE dance classes from renowned instructors and social dances to live and DJ’ed music!  Featured dance genres are Salsa, Bachata, Ballroom Cabaret, West Coast Swing, Kizomba, Tango, Zouk, Lindy Hop, Balboa, and more!  I’m excited that the Mint Julep Jazz Band was invited to be a part of this inaugural event  – we’ll be performing three sets over the weekend, Friday and Saturday nights from 11:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., and a Saturday afternoon set from 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

If you are staying at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel, this event is free!  For more information or if you are not staying at the hotel, visit the Nashville Dance Congress website.

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Ella at the Savoy: A Centennial Tribute – April 23, 2017

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In 1934, Ella Fitzgerald was a homeless teenager on the streets of Harlem with an incredible voice – she was discovered at the Apollo Theater’s famous amateur night that year and was quickly picked up by drumming powerhouse Chick Webb to perform in his orchestra. Chick Webb’s band was the most prominent of the house bands at the Savoy Ballroom, one of New York’s largest ballrooms, the only integrated ballroom in New York, and the birthplace of Lindy Hop. Before she was the First Lady of Song, Ella honed her skills as a big band singer with some of New York’s top working jazz musicians of the 1930’s.

April 25, 2017 marks Ella’s 100th birthday and, as a centennial tribute, a group of Triangle musicians has come together to celebrate her early work with the Chick Webb Orchestra and, in the years following Chick Webb’s death in 1939 at the height of the orchestra’s fame, leading the orchestra under her own name – Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra.

Come see the show on April 23, 2017 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Sharp Nine Gallery/Durham Jazz Workshop, 4608 Industry Lane, Suite L, Durham, NC – tickets are $20.00 and you can purchase them through Brown Paper Tickets.  For more information, visit the Sharp Nine Gallery website.

11767807_4Laura Windley – vocals
Kobie Watkins – drums
Jim Crew – piano
Peter Kimosh – bass
Chip Newton – guitar
Keenan McKenzie – reeds
Aaron Hill – reeds
Dan Hitchcock – reeds
Taylor Savage – reeds
Lucian Cobb – trombone
Evan Ringel – trombone
Jim Ketch – trumpet
Kyle Santos – trumpet
Paul Rogers – trumpet