swing music

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!

A Bull City Holiday Album Release at Motorco – December 3, 2019

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Kick off your 2019 holiday season with some original and classic swinging holiday music – Motorco Music Hall plays host to the album release of A Bull City Holiday on December 3, 2019!  The show will feature Keenan McKenzie’s original holiday swing tunes as well as some holiday classics, with a cast of Triangle musicians in configurations from trad combos to big band, including vocalists Shana Tucker, Tamisha Waden, Mark Wells, Dave Wright, and yours truly.

Doors open at 7:00 p.m., show starts at 8:00 p.m. – get your tickets now on Motorco’s website, $12.00 advance, $15.00 at the door.

You’re going to love this music – Keenan’s creative lyrics, melodies, and arrangements – don’t miss this one-time, one-of-a-kind show!

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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A Bull City Holiday – Kickstart an Album of Original Swing Music by Keenan McKenzie

img_8926Keenan McKenzie has assembled over 20 North Carolina-based musicians (including yours truly) to appear on his album of original holiday swing tunes written by the maestro himself.  I had the honor of providing vocals for Keenan’s debut album of original music, Forged in Rhythm, and I’m excited to be working with him again on new material for dancers and also to be working with some of my favorite local musicians.  We’ll be recording at Overdub Lane in August, 2019 with ensembles ranging from small group swing to big band.

As with any recording project, nothing is free, but Keenan’s crunched the numbers and launched a reasonable Kickstarter campaign – only $5,500 – which I like to think of as pre-sales for an album you’ll want to buy anyway.  Keenan’s also got some great rewards, like private lessons or him transcribing a big band arrangement of your choice that will debut at Lindy Focus this year!  Don’t tarry, the campaign is only up until August 21.

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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Late Night Eats and Cocktails at the Bull City Swingout

Bull everything, Bulldega in the background.

For all of you coming into town for the Bull City Swingout who are unfamiliar with Durham, NC, we are a food town – a foodie town, if you will.  You will have the utmost advantage because much of Durham’s foodie food is located within walking distance of all the venues for this workshop and swing dance weekend.  I’m not here to tell you where to eat because it would take too long, there are too many good options – pull up Yelp and figure out what type of food you want to eat and just go.

Three pro tips: 1) If you want to eat at Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, you need to make a reservation in advance and prepare to either have leftovers or be destroyed in the best possible way.  2) Get the ribs at Blue Note Grill on Sunday night for John Dee Holeman’s show from 6-8 p.m. 3) There’s a small grocery store a block from the Armory called the Bulldega if you need to grab drinks (regular and alcoholic), snacks, or something quick to eat.

Late night food can be hard to figure out and I’d also like to highlight some of my favorite cocktail places within the walkable area, so let’s take a little jaunt around downtown Durham to some of my favorite haunts:

The neon sign lights the way to the Jack Tar Diner, named for the original hotel chain that built this building.

LATE NIGHT FOOD

Jack Tar Diner (202 Corcoran Street) – this is a 1/2 block from the Armory and they serve food until midnight.  Both main dances end at 11:30 p.m., so you’d have to go directly there to get seated and fed, but it’s worth it if you need a full meal after the dance.  The menu is diverse and delicious, they serve breakfast all day, and the cocktails at their adjoining bar, the Colonel’s Daughter, are excellent.  This is a two-for, since it’s also a cocktail recommendation – say hi to Kenny Smith the bartender for me, we went to college together.

Pie Pushers (117A W. Main Street) – the restaurant space itself isn’t open, but on Fridays and Saturdays they have a pizza window on the street level that’s open from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. where you can buy slices.

Parts & Labor (723 Rigsbee Avenue) – serving until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, this is the restaurant attached to Motorco Music Hall, which used to be an automobile dealership.  They offer a number of small plate style to-go foods (1 for a snack, 2-3 for a meal), everything from poutine to Bahn mi to vegan tacos to cheeseburger sliders.  Step up to the bar and order, opt to dine indoors or outdoors on their picnic table patio (or they may have the doors open and really everything becomes outdoor eating).  This is across the street from the Living Arts Collective.

The bar at Hutchins Garage.

Hutchins Garage (402 W. Geer Street) – serving pizza and beer until 2 a.m., large table seating.  I am less familiar with this place because it’s the newest, but the pizza I had there was good!  It’s also next door to the Living Arts Collective, just walk past the Crossfit place and the unoccupied portion of the building, which also used to be an automobile dealership.

The Accordion Club (316 W. Geer Street) – maybe you need a little cocktail and a late night snack and want to do it like a local?  Several of my friends claim this as their favorite bar in Durham, but what sold me on recommending this place is the Frito pie.  Open until 2 a.m.

If you’re looking for something outside of downtown, go to Cosmic Cantina (the one on Perry Street, open until 4 a.m.) for delicious burritos and nachos or Cook Out (3 locations in Durham, open until 3:00 a.m. or 3:30 a.m., depending on which one) for burgers, BBQ, and epic milkshakes.

I love sitting on the right side of the corner of the bar, you can watch the magic happen…

COCKTAILS

Bar Virgile (105 S. Mangum Street) – this is my favorite cocktail bar because it’s the total package for me – classic cocktail menu, seasonal cocktails, a bar staff that can make me anything I throw at them, excellent food menu ranging from bites to entrees, cool and cozy decor, and it’s 3 doors down from my office. 🙂

Alley Twenty-Six (320 E. Chapel Hill Street) – my favorite chef, Carrie Schleiffer, presides over the kitchen at Alley Twenty-Six, which is a cocktail-focused bar and restaurant with an excellent cocktail program and Carrie keeps things seasonal and adventurous with the food menu.  If you are looking for a stellar dinner and cocktails before the dance, this is my recommendation and it’s just around the corner from the Durham Armory.  Would recommend making a reservation just in case, but even if you forget you still may be able to get a table or a seat at one of the dual bars.

The Roof at The Durham Hotel (315 E. Chapel Hill Street) – the cocktails are good, but I’m recommending this for the decor and the view.  The Durham is a renovated bank building turned into something out of Mad Men, with impeccable MCM exterior and interior.  Take the elevator up to the rooftop bar for one of the best views of Durham and recline on the couches with your cocktail as you take it all in.

Can I just hang out by the Unscripted pool all day?

The Unscripted Hotel’s poolside bar (202 N. Corcoran Street) – this is another one I’m recommending for the experience, which is also straight out of Mad Men, perhaps even more overtly since they have left the second floor poolside/balcony area pretty much intact from the 1960’s.  There’s a cocktail hour planned here as part of the Bull City Swingout festivities from 6-8 p.m. prior to the Saturday night dance, but I’d also recommend coming here for a poolside cocktail and swim during the day if you’re not taking classes.  You don’t have to be a hotel guest to use the adorable pool.  Grab a Frosé (rosé and strawberry slushy) and don’t forget your sunscreen.

There are even more incredible restaurants serving wonderful cocktails downtown, so feel free to explore and make your own decisions.  Also, feel free to weigh in on your favorites in the comments.  Cheers and enjoy!

Jazz Lives – Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders at the San Diego Jazz Festival

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.

The Michael and Evita Show

Last year at Lindy Focus I recorded a podcast interview with international swing dance instructor and human of effervescence and light Evita Arce for her podcast The Michael and Evita Show, which she shares with her dance partner Michael Jagger.  The episode (#28) was just released this month, so take a listen!  We talk about clothing, jazz, copyright law, and more – tune in on their website or subscribe on Apple podcasts.

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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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