Keenan McKenzie

Lindy Focus – December 27, 2021-January 1, 2022

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!

New Album: Remote Riffing: Volume 2 (CalBal Live)

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.

Three New Music Videos for CalBal Live

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:

COWBELL SERENADE

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.

Laura Windley – vocals, Lucian Cobb – trombone, Paul Rogers – trumpet, Keenan McKenzie – tenor saxophone, Aaron Hill – alto saxophone, Ben Lassiter – guitar, Peter Kimosh – bass, Aaron Tucker – drums

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

New Video: The House on Hawkins Drive

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!

New Album: Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers – Remote Riffing: Volume 1

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.

Enjoy!

New Videos from The Riffers and Mint Julep Jazz Band

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!

Michael Gamble and his Very Swinging Friends – Four EPs of Remote Recordings

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!

RELEASE SCHEDULE AND PERSONNEL
As many of you know, bandcamp.com allows one day per month where all sales go to benefit the artists. Since many of us are struggling to make ends meet without gig income, I am making sure to time my releases of these sessions to match those days. That way you know all of your money is going straight to the musicians.
Each session has a unique combination of performers that you’ll recognize from their lifelong contributions to our scene.
SESSIONS #1 & 2 RELEASE DATE: Friday September 4th, 2020
Laura Windley – Vocals
Dan Levinson – Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone
Noah Hocker – Trumpet
Jonathan Stout – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Chris Dawson – Piano
Michael Gamble – String Bass
Hal Smith – Drums
Laura Windley – Vocals
Dan Levinson – Clarinet, Tenor & Alto Saxophone
Chloe Feoranzo – Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone
David Jellema – Cornet
Charlie Halloran – Trombone
Jonathan Stout – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
James Posedel – Piano
Michael Gamble – String Bass
Hal Smith – Drums
SESSIONS #3 & 4 RELEASE DATE: Friday October 2nd, 2020
SESSION #3 PERSONNEL:
Laura Windley – Vocals
Keenan McKenzie – Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone
Gordon Au – Trumpet
Jonathan Stout – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Craig Gildner – Piano
Michael Gamble – String Bass
Riley Baker – Drums
SESSION #4 PERSONNEL:
Laura Windley – Vocals
Keenan McKenzie – Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone
Jacob Zimmerman – Clarinet & Alto Saxophone
Gordon Au – Trumpet
Lucian Cobb – Trombone
Jonathan Stout – Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Chris Dawson – Piano
Michael Gamble – String Bass
Josh Collazo – Drums”

Online Events in May – Rent Party and Rhythm Relief: The Swingtacular Show

While all of my in-person events are slowly being canceled amidst the pandemic, I am excited to report that there are two upcoming virtual events you can watch, enjoy, and interact with!

On May 9, 2020, I’ll be making a cameo in a virtual Rent Party, which you can find on Facebook under the event An Old-School Fundraiser for Swing Artists.  The idea is that we will create a virtual Rent Party, with dancing, live music, shenanigans, and we hope that you’ll contribute to the “rent” with donations that will go to the Pacific Swing Dance Foundation’s relief fund.  Our cast includes Jonathan Stout, Gordon Au, Keenan McKenzie, Nick Williams, Lauren Smith, and Peter Flahiff.  Thanks to our hosts, dancer and author Jodi Daynard, who conceived this event and will emcee, and the Pacific Swing Dance Foundation.  Tune in from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.!

On May 23, 2020, I will be a part of Rhythm Relief: The Swingtacular Show, a large scale virtual swing dance and swing music live show, featuring a cast of some of my favorite musicians from the US and dancers from around the world.  My fellow virtual band-mates for this show are Keenan McKenzie, Josh Collazo, Jonathan Stout, Paul Cosentino, Gordon Au, and Marquis Howell.  The show will run from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. EDT.  Rhythm Relief is spearheaded by Nick Williams and hosted by the Pacific Swing Dance Foundation.  For information about the relief fund, how to donate, and how to apply, visit the Pacific Swing Dance Foundation’s website.

April 2020 COVID-19 Update

It’s amazing how time has seemed to stand still, yet fly by.  I have remained busy, as my day job is deemed essential, but I have also been busier than I thought I would be with various music and other projects.  Here’s a recap of the past month’s projects:

Gordon Au’s Tribute to Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars – Live at Lindy Focus was released on April 15 – this was such a special night of music and we are all very pleased with how this album came out, particularly since none of us had anticipated releasing the recordings from that night and we had only really run through half the tunes in rehearsal that day before performing Gordon’s wonderful arrangements.  This album is full of joy, so if you need some of that in your life right now, this would be a great investment in happiness.  Visit Bandcamp to download this digital release.

Keenan McKenzie put together a virtual collaboration of video/recording of his lovely song The Dwindling Light by the Sea, with yours truly reprising vocals, Lucian Cobb on trombone, Jonathan Stout on guitar, James Posedel on piano, William Ledbetter on bass, and Dan Faust on drums.  Here’s another recording, this time with visual, to add some joy to your day.  If you’d like to see more collaborations organized by Keenan, please consider donating to his virtual tip jar at VENMO: @keenanmckenziemusic OR
PAYPAL: paypal.me/keenanmckenziemusic

On another musical note, Bandcamp is doing musicians affected by the pandemic another solid and reprising their waiver of the revenue share for all sales on Bandcamp – this is in effect May 1, June 5, and July 3 (the first Friday of each month) from midnight to midnight PDT on each day.  If you’ve been planning to buy music, you can do the most good for musicians by purchasing on these particular dates.

On April 9, 2020, I DJ’ed (along with several of my fellow swing band leaders- Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble, Brooks Prumo, Jonathan Ng, and house DJ Rickard Johansson) for the Global Online Social, a DJ’ed virtual dance party on Zoom and Twitch organized by Paul Riding that features new DJs every Thursday, playing swing music for a good portion of the day.  Maybe you dance, maybe you just need some swing music to keep you motivated as you work, but it’s a lot of fun – consider tuning in!

Finally, I’ve released three more episodes of Lindy Shopper’s Closet, the YouTube series spinoff of my Lindy Shopper blog, covering the topics of moth prevention, my favorite swing dance shoes, and dance undergarments, all posted below – please subscribe to my YouTube channel (I’ll eventually get back to posting music, too) and enjoy!

Tribute to Louis Armstrong & His All​-​Stars / Live at Lindy Focus

In light of the present pandemic and the cancellation of events and gigs for so many musicians everywhere, Gordon Au decided that his “involuntary unpaid sabbatical” project would be to put together an album from the live recordings of his Louis Armstrong All-Stars Tribute at Lindy Focus and give the proceeds to the musicians who participated in this tribute who rely on music income to meet their needs.  The lineup for the Armstrong tribute includes our fearless leader, transcriber, and arranger Gordon Au plus Jonathan Stout, Josh Collazo, Jen Hodge, Jacob Zimmerman, Keenan McKenzie, Lucian Cobb, Jim Ziegler, and yours truly.

You can pre-order the album and listen to the first track on Bandcamp now – the album is $15 with an option to give a larger donation and all the pre-order profits will go to the musicians on the album.  The album is scheduled to be released on April 15, 2020.

This performance was not live streamed from Lindy Focus because it was a late night, but I can tell you that the energy in the room was a unique electricity felt by all and I’m eager to hear the mixes for this album because we had a blast performing it.  Did I mention we only had one rehearsal and didn’t get to run all the songs?  I’m blessed to work with such pros to pull something like this off.  I don’t know if you’ll get to hear any of Gordon’s insightful narration, but I hope that his thoughtfulness and love for Armstrong shine through even without the words.

I love this quote from Gordon on the Bandcamp page:

“I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong. Last year I had the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: bring the music of Louis & the All-Stars to swing dancers. I heard a few hip DJs play Louis for lindy hoppers over the years, but I always wished there was more, and I knew that I myself would love dancing to the All-Stars. I wanted to give dancers the chance to hear the music of the All-Stars with a live band, and to dance to it and fall in love with it.

Last December, that wish came true. At Lindy Focus XVIII, I presented a tribute to Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars with a dream team of 10 musicians, and finally got to share that music I love with hundreds of people dancing their hearts out, late at night in a packed ballroom, surrounded by smiling faces, at the largest lindy hop event in the nation. And I now I’m happy to share it with all of you.”

I’ll also give a shout out to the incredible artist Conan Zhao who painted the album artwork before this album was even a thought – the timing of its completion and the pandemic hitting the US is rather serendipitous and it’s just perfect.

Consider supporting this project by pre-ordering the album – if you love jazz and/or you’ve always wanted a Lindy Focus live album, this is the ticket!