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.”
When I was young, I wondered why each subsequent band album seemed to have more and more years between albums, but now I understand. When a band does well, they are busy, then the members are busy contributing to other endeavors, and then people need a break after being so busy, so the thought of a new album is definitely lower on the priority list, particularly when other work is steady.
In 2020, we decided that 5 years was enough time gone by since the release of Battle Axe and that we should record another album. You know how the rest of this story goes with the global COVID-19 pandemic essentially putting a halt to life as we knew it.
We scheduled this recording a couple of times during the pandemic and had to keep pushing it back, but we believe it’s for real this time, so we are launching a Kickstarter today for album pre-orders and swag. I know some of you have told me that you need a new tee shirt, so we got you! I’m also excited to add enamel pins, Burt’s Bees, a sponsorship option, and some quality time noshing with yours truly as rewards, in addition to some of our recurring rewards.
What will this album be? It’s a dance album, of course, but it’s also the culmination of efforts aggregated just prior to the pandemic that still feel new to us, plus some new-to-us arrangements created during the pandemic, and some old favorites that should be put on tape. The project feels fresh to us, so we hope you enjoy it as we slowly re-open our jazz dance and music community.
It’s also a celebration of our 10th anniversary as a band! Our first gig was in February of 2012 at the (now defunct) Hot Club of Durham weekly swing dance in the Trotter Building in Durham’s DIY district. I look at videos of that night and think about how far we’ve come, but also how we did a respectable job for a very first gig. It’s been a wild ride and we thank you for all the wonderful musical experiences we’ve shared since then.
Visit our Kickstarter page for more information about the tracks on the album, swag, and how to get your copy/copies of our recordings – we’re offering digital, CD, and vinyl this time!
Last month Lindy Focus released just about every song from the 2019 event as individual videos! If you’ve been wanting to hear something, but didn’t feel like scrolling through a 3+ hour live stream, head over to the Lindy Focus YouTube channel and browse the multitude of new content. I’m most proud of “I’m a Slick Chick,” featured on Lionel Hampton night and originally performed by Dinah Washington with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. Dinah absolutely kills on this recording from a live performance, it’s so inspiring and I was excited to be able to perform it live. The transcript was sponsored by the incredible LaTasha Barnes, to whom I am so grateful for this!
Also new on the Lindy Focus YouTube channel are the live streams from this past year’s Lindy Focus – a little smaller lineup, a little smaller in dancer attendance, fully masked and vaccinated, but nevertheless a celebration of early jazz and swing!
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!
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!
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!
One of the silver linings to the pandemic is that there are lots of opportunities to listen to music, both online and from my collection – let’s combine the two, shall we?
On Thursday, July 30, 2020 I’ll be taking another spin for the Global Online Social, an ongoing pandemic music series that runs every Thursday featuring swing DJs from around the globe. Tune in from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT for my set, tune in all day starting at 1 p.m. EDT for even more music.
Watch on twitch:
On Sunday, August 9, 2020, I’ll be the featured DJ for Swing it Blue!, a series of Zoom parties featuring swing/blues DJs spinning tunes while participants (maybe you?) handwrite letters to swing-state voters who are likely to vote Democrat asking them to vote in the upcoming election. This method has been proven to be one of the most effective means increasing voter participation and many of the letter recipients will be from historically underrepresented groups. I’ll be DJ’ing for the letter writing party on August 9 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. EDT. For more information, visit the Facebook invite (for my date) or the Facebook group and its About page/FAQs (more general information and all the dates/invites)
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.”
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.