swing dance music

Saturday Session – Keenan McKenzie and the Riffers’ new EP

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.”

The three recordings are available for purchase on Keenan’s Bandcamp page and you can watch the live footage on YouTube.

Pre-Orders Open for Mint Julep Jazz Band’s Third Album “Watch the Birdie”

TL/DR: The Mint Julep Jazz Band is recording our third album, Watch the Birdie, and the Kickstarter launched today for pre-orders and swag!

Our incredible album artwork for Watch the Birdie by Durham-based artist Darius Quayle’s

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!

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.

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”

What Makes This (Swing) Song Great?

Be sure to tune in to “What Makes This (Swing) Song Great?” this Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. EST, where Jonathan Stout, Michael Gamble, and I will reprise our panel discussion/musical geek out session from Cal Bal in an online format so that more people can enjoy this during these isolated times! Thanks to much to Pasadena Balboa and Jam for sponsoring this – the cost is $15, for more information and to register in advance, visit the Facebook invite.

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A Bull City Holiday

75126698_10104799216927851_801859686809731072_nA 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!

Live at Jammin’ on the James

Now that we’ve recorded A Bull City Holiday and can look forward to that release in November, 2019, I’m on to the next recording project!  Looking forward to recording a live album with Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at Jammin’ on the James in Richmond, VA over the weekend of October 18 and 19, 2019 – we’ll be working with sound engineer Rob Moreland (who we’ve worked with at Lindy Focus and the Nevermore Jazz Ball) to capture the energy of this band in a Craftsman era ballroom that will be filled to the brim with dancers.  Thanks so much to the Jammin’ on the James organizers for conceiving of this project and going above and beyond to make it a reality!

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Exhibit on Early Jazz and Swing at the Museum of Durham History

As part of Durham, North Carolina’s 150th anniversary this year, the Museum of Durham History invited the community to submit ideas for community curated exhibits.  I’m excited that I was selected to curate one of these exhibits, based on my Early Jazz and Swing in Durham, NC blog post!  The exhibit will open on July 5, 2019 with a reception from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (with dancing under the gazebo to recordings of all the musicians and bands featured in the exhibit), and will be on display throughout the month of July.

If you’re already in town or will be in town for the Bull City Swingout, swing by the museum and check it out!  I’ll also have an interactive downtown map that you can pick up if you’d like to do a self-guided walking tour of some of the locations named in the exhibit.

EDITED to add that the museum exhibit got a little love from IndyWeek with a featured article in their Music Issue.

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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.  If you can’t be there, you can tune in and hear the orchestra on the Lindy Focus live stream!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!