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.”
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
Always a huge highlight on my calendar, Lindy Focus did not disappoint this year. I performed at each main dance with the Jonathan Stout Lindy Focus All-Star Orchestra, but also did two late night dances – one with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders and another with Gordon Au‘s tribute to the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. Dance performances kicked off each late night social dance, with the performers having the option of doing a routine with the live band of the night. I was delighted to be a part of three of these late night performances: first, with the Rhythm Serenaders performing Mildred Bailey’s “Lover Come Back to Me” with Peter Kertz and Elze Visnevskyte dancing; second and third with Au’s Armstrong tribute, performing “Squeeze Me” and “All That Meat and No Potatoes” with co-vocals by Jim Ziegler and a cast of Lindy Focus instructors and performers.
I’m posting the three late night performances below. If you’re looking for a nice, long listen, you can revisit the live stream broadcasts for each of 5 nights of big band music (Basie, Ellington, Webb, Hampton, and anything goes on NYE) on the Lindy Focus YouTube channel.
A Bull City Holiday, an album of Keenan McKenzie’s original holiday swing and jazz music featuring 30 Triangle area musicians, will be out on November 25! You can pre-order the album on Bandcamp and check out one of the tracks as a preview of things to come. If you will be at the Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers show in Richmond on November 16 or at the International Lindy Hop Championships over Thanksgiving weekend, you can also pick up a copy there.
I am one of seven vocalists on this album, check out the incredible list of album personnel on the Bandcamp page – you can find me singing on four tracks: Santa’s Cap, You Can’t Lock the Chimney, As the Nights Grow Longer, and A Charming Winter Town. Enjoy!
I don’t often get to do much with dance performance anymore, but the Roaring Raleigh Lawn Party this past Saturday, October 26, gave me an excuse to put together a dance troupe for the event. 11 local dancers volunteered for this endeavor to learn my 1920’s-inspired choreography to the Ipana Troubadours’ recording of Paddlin’ Madelin Home and wear costumes I designed. I’m so proud of them and and the work they put into this routine, check it out in the YouTube video below. The Lucky Strikes are Hilary Buuck, Natalie Gabriel, Moya Hallstein, Micah Joel Haycraft, Melissa Hinkel, Valerie Lauterbach, Kimberly Meers, Doug Noel, Heidi Reule, Alexandra Tamvakis, Sarah White.
My biggest recurring gig of the past few years is definitely Lindy Focus – five nights of big band music with the Jonathan Stout Lindy Focus All Star Orchestra, with new songs added each year and, for the past three years, an entirely new bandleader’s night of music is performed, thanks to crowd funding from our stellar community of swing music supporters. This year’s lineup from start to finish was Jimmie Lunceford (crowd funded in 2017), Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton (crowd funded in 2018), Chick Webb (crowd funded in 2016), and “Kitchen Sink Night” on New Year’s Eve, featuring an array of swing era arrangements. All of the main dances are Lindy Focus are live streamed on YouTube, which means you can always go back and listen to the music from each night of dancing later! Here are all the live streams from December 27 through December 31, 2018 – I’m featured, in some way or another, as a vocalist on each night, with a vocal trio on Lunceford night and as a featured vocalist on the other four nights. Put some on while you’re doing chores or on a long drive for some toe-tapping tunes!
One of the most delightful human beings and ardent jazz fans is also a prolific blogger – Michael Steinman of the blog Jazz Lives covers the news and music of early-jazz performers of today and yesteryear. I was fortunate enough to be at the San Diego Jazz Festival on all accounts, but particularly because Michael is a delightful conversationalist and happened to be in same space with his video camera. He caught Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders‘ first set and persevered, in spite of the dance noise, dancer chatter, and a herd of children in tap shoes, to capture 10 videos from the set and write this lovely blog post. Check it out and spend a set at the San Diego Jazz Festival in the comfort of your home.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. If you can’t be there, you can tune in and hear the orchestra on the Lindy Focus live stream!
Cheers and Happy Holidays!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!