Triangle

May Outdoor Shows in the Triangle

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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!

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Durham Magazine – Getting to Know the Mint Julep Jazz Band

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Durhamites, be sure to pick up a copy of the April, 2016 issue of Durham Magazine for a feature on the Mint Julep Jazz Band!  Durham Magazine writer Sophia Lucente interviewed yours truly, Lucian Cobb, and Keenan McKenzie to put together this snapshot of the band’s history and life in Durham.  You can read the article (as well as the entire issue) online here.

Mint Julep Jazz Band’s 2nd Anniversary and Live Stream February 1, 2014

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The Mint Julep Jazz Band‘s first gig was on February 23, 2012 at an RDU Rent Party swing dance, which we decided to live stream primarily because one of our friends was in the hospital and requested it. It was a great idea and, not only was our friend able to tune in, 79 other people did, as well!

We are excited that the band has seen success over the past two years and to commemorate our second anniversary we will live stream our February 1, 2014 show at the Triangle Swing Dance Society swing dance in Durham, NC!

To tune in, visit our UStream channel on February 1 any time from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/mint-julep-jazz-band

UstreamTV

So You Want to Play for Swing Dancers?

So you had a few dancers show up to one of your gigs and they looked like they had a great time. One of the dancers came up to you after the gig and said “You should talk to so-and-so about playing for X Swing Dance Night” and gave you so-and-so’s contact information. You send so-and-so an email – of course they’ll hire you, right? You’ve had this great endorsement by a dancer! Now that you’ve been endorsed, you can advertise to all the local swing dance groups and contact all the local promoters and the dancers will come flocking to your shows…

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I’ve been seeing a bit of this lately with some local bands who would like to play for swing dancers – bandleaders who contact local organizers to promote their events or about being hired, but have very little experience playing for dance events (or playing for swing dance events specifically, as opposed to ballroom events or more general dancing) or had past experience playing for dancers but haven’t kept up with trends in music in the swing dance community. Several people have written blog posts about playing music for dancers and I agree that the music is the most important aspect and that feedback should be considered, but I want to focus on relationships and communication.

In addition to my role as a co-bandleader for the Mint Julep Jazz Band, I also book the bands for RDU Rent Party and have spent many years booking bands in other capacities. I am also passionate about swing dancing and discovering new bands to play for swing dancers. I don’t want people reading this to be discouraged or feel like there are gatekeepers – we want to help you! The more quality live swing music we have in our lives, the better.

Playing for dancers is different from playing for an outdoor festival is different from playing for a concert hall is different from playing a wedding – you need certain knowledge and tools to be successful in these endeavors and you prepare for each gig differently, if not in large ways, then in small ways. Each swing dance community has their own tastes and norms (which is why I feel I can’t talk about the logistics of the music, specifically, although if you are in the Triangle area of North Carolina, I’m happy to speak with you) and it’s important to find out those norms in advance in order to be a viable candidate to play swing dances.

If this is what your bass looks like, then we are probably not on the same page.

If this is what your bass looks like, then we are probably not on the same page.

DO YOU PLAY SWING MUSIC?

This is a baseline question – do you play music that swings, music that is easy to swing dance to? Dancers can get really creative in what they will dance to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your music is going to be ideal for swing dancing. For example, I think the most common misconception in this area is that people who play straight ahead jazz, standards, and big band can also play swing dances – many of the jazz musicians playing this music were not trained to play the earlier forms of jazz (1920’s and 1930’s) that gave rise to these dances and lack the foundation and understanding of this music to apply to their playing. Consequently, the music can sound either too stiff, too smooth, or too lounge-y for swing dancing.

You may not want to change your repertoire or style of playing to accommodate the dancers, and that is fine – it’s your thing and it sounds great for listening. However, if you are intrigued and decide you do want to play for dancers, talk to them about what kinds of music they dance to, what other local and touring bands they have checked out, and, if you can find a DJ in the group, pick their brain about music to check out that might bridge the gap between what you are playing now and what would make your music more conducive to dancing.

HAVE AUDIO/VIDEO FILES ONLINE

I am constantly scouting for bands and, in the Internet age, a lot of that legwork is done online. I still go to a lot of shows to check bands out in person (very important), but having the ability to preview bands and see if there is potential for hiring a band for a swing dance is amazing. It eliminates some things that may be lost in translation – your friend saw this amazing band that they swear would be good for swing dancing and you go to the show, only to find out that it’s a bluegrass band. Nothing against bluegrass, it’s just not swing. Now, you can go online and find that band’s website, Facebook, ReverbNation page, etc. and listen to recordings of the band, find videos on YouTube, and get a feel for what you might expect.

If a band does not have any audio or video online, there’s not a lot I can do in the interim – I have to wait for a show to check out the band or rely on word of mouth (which isn’t always reliable) or reputation (a bit more reliable). Having audio and video online, even if it’s not professional quality, is the first stepping stone and helps band bookers and potential fans bypass the wait – you can have people interested in your music right now, raise the level of anticipation for your shows, or just put yourself out there for people to see what you are doing. You can also eliminate the potentially awkward situation where you have been hired to play a dance and you realize that you are not a good fit for this particular group. People are looking for your band online to research what you do so it’s important to give them the tools they need to find you and your music.

KEEP YOUR WEBSITE UPDATED

If your website hasn’t been updated in over a year and you aren’t keeping up with a calendar or list of shows, then we have no way of knowing whether or not your band is active (if the internet is our only lead for information on your band). The next step in scouting, after looking for information online, is actually going to a show – if you don’t have any schedule posted or shows listed, then there is little I can do to find you in person. In the Internet age, information is key and having the most current information on your website is essential.

DO RESEARCH AND GET TO KNOW THE COMMUNITY

Have you ever been to a swing dance? If the answer is no, then that should be your first objective, to attend a swing dance, preferably one with a live band so that you can see the environment. Introduce yourself to the organizers. Notice how the dancers respond to the music – what are they enjoying? How are they moving in relation to the music? What is the tempo range of the music? Talk to the DJ spinning tunes during the band breaks. Talk to the band playing for dancers. Everyone will have some insight into a particular aspect of the dance that will help you put together the bigger picture.

Is there more than one community? Many times, swing dance communities are fragmented, either by instructor, musical preference, or some other factor. Find out where you might fit into that scheme – if your swing is more blues-y, then maybe your better bet would be to attend the local DJ’ed blues night and talk to them about featuring you as a live band.

The more you talk to people, the more you will learn about the community. You may also find resources online, so check them out, as well.

SCHEDULING

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This is more relevant if you are trying to get dancers to come out to your gigs (rather than getting a gig at a swing dance), but one of the biggest issues I see in the Triangle area is scheduling. There are already established dance nights in this area – Triangle Swing Dance Society on first and third Saturdays, Lindy Lab every Thursday, Dance Blues Friday, Elk’s Lodge on Sunday – if you are trying to target one of these groups to attend your show, then scheduling that show on the same night as an established dance night will be to your detriment. If you want to attract dancers and have the flexibility to schedule your show on a night that there is not a conflicting dance, then everyone wins. Dancers will almost always choose the best bet for the night – generally, that means the reliable bet of their weekly dance, where they know they will have good music, a wood floor, air conditioning, and plenty of space to dance.

That said, there are a lot of prime nights of the week taken up by regular dance events, but if you know your audience, you will know how to schedule your shows – for example, if you are a hot jazz band playing lots of Charleston music, scheduling your show on a Sunday night might work because, even though it conflicts with the Elk’s Lodge, the Elk’s Lodge draws a crowd that prefers a bit slower tempos, so you wouldn’t see as much of a conflict in scheduling because the dancers who prefer to dance Charleston to hot jazz would probably prefer to attend your show over the dance at the Elk’s Lodge. Scheduling that same show on a Thursday wouldn’t work out because a higher concentration of dancers who do Charleston prefer to go to the Lindy Lab on Thursday nights for dancing.

ASK FOR HELP

If you are starting from square one, there are basic guidelines and considerations for performing at swing dances that people have written down – the Triangle Swing Dance Society has one that they share with new bands – and if you ask organizers they will generally share what they are looking for in terms of a band’s performance and what is expected at a dance. Bobby White, one of the international swing dance instructors, has posted a set of guidelines that is pretty solid on his blog, Swungover, at http://swungover.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/a-quick-note-on-training-bands-to-play-for-dancers/.

If you haven’t gotten that far or maybe just played for a few dancers at a bar and want to know more about how you might fit in at a swing dance, don’t be afraid to ask questions – are my range of tempos good? Is the mix of tempos and styles working? Did the set have a good flow? We tried something new with X song, did that work for the dancers? Will this work for most of the dancers? What could we do to make the music better for dancers? Can you give some examples for me to listen to/check out later? Solicit feedback from several people, people you know and people you don’t know. Even if you have played dances in the past, it’s good to continue asking these questions – tastes and norms evolve and it’s important to stay aware of what is going on in the dance community (especially if it’s been a few years since you were hired to play a swing dance).

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HAVE A GOOD ATTITUDE ABOUT FEEDBACK

Obviously, everyone is going to have an opinion about your music, some positive, some negative. Try to stay positive and focus on constructive feedback, things that you can actually accomplish. Reinforce the things you are doing well. Improve or modify things that may not be working.

ADAPT

You may not be able to implement everything you got in your feedback, but even making small changes gradually will help. Dancers will be quick to let you know when things like tempo, song length, and volume aren’t working, so definitely listen to that feedback and adapt. Experiment with other adaptations, see what is working, what is not working, then solicit more feedback.

One of the quickest ways to lose a dance gig or not get one at all is to ignore the feedback you get. There have been great swing bands that lost gigs because they insisted on featuring their soloists for umpteen choruses and the songs ended up being 10 minutes long. If you have never danced to an uptempo song for 10 minutes, try running for 10 minutes and see how winded you are. You want the dancers to be exhausted at the end of the night, not in the middle of the first set. The guidelines and norms are there for a reason, and the reasons are generally practical.

RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU AREN’T A GOOD FIT

Sometimes it’s just not going to work out. You’ve talked to the organizers at length, worked on getting your songs just right, but there is something missing – maybe attendance is declining when you play a dance, people aren’t dancing as much, the advanced dancers don’t come to your shows, you see the same dancers come out every week but your audience isn’t growing, or you keep getting feedback that seems evasive…then maybe it’s just not a good fit.

I have experienced the “not a good fit” when a band I performed with played swing music for a ballroom or beach music crowd – no one was dancing, red-faced old men came up to me and yelled “play some dance music!” and people left early. It can be that obvious, or it may be more subtle. Pay attention to the crowd and verbal and physical cues and know when to bow out.

Pure Balboa Class at The Lindy Lab, Wednesdays in October!

In preparation for the upcoming Eastern Balboa Championships, Jason Sager and I will be teaching a pure Balboa class for The Lindy Lab! Classes will run for four Wednesdays, from October 3 through October 24, 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Triangle Dance Studio in the Guest House (the house to the left of the main building on Miami Boulevard). Here’s the info from the Lindy Lab website:

It doesn’t look like we are moving, but I promise our feet are moving really fast!

“One of the often overlooked dances of the swing world, Pure Balboa is the original close-position-only side of Balboa and Bal-Swing. This dance originally developed in crowded dance halls where owners forbid open position dancing in order to pack in more people and make more money. More than just step step, hold, step, there is a lot of room for improvisation in Pure Bal position. And the better your Pure Bal is, the better those times in between bal-swing toss-outs and lollies will feel. Jason Sager and Laura Windley will lead class in a way that builds on principles rather than moves and gives you plenty to play with at the Eastern Balboa Championships competitions in November in Raleigh.”

Pure Balboa isn’t just for comps, it’s so easy and fun to work into your regular dancing and gives you the fundamentals that make Balboa feel so comfortable, even at faster tempos. Bring your heels and/or your leather soles and we’ll work on all that great shuffle-y, tiny footwork. 🙂

Registration is available online at Schedulicity or you can show up at the class to register. See you in October!

What Jazz is Missing in the Triangle

I ran across a blog called LiveMusicNC.com and discovered a post called “10 Great Places to See Live Jazz (Plus One Great Show!).” I scanned the list, hoping for a scoop on where I might hear some stride piano, a dixieland group, or a swing band, and there was the same list of venues I check, week after week, that only book bebop, modern, or “straight ahead” jazz.

Clearly, we are not speaking the same language. Where is my jazz?

To say that I am disappointed with jazz in the Triangle is an understatement. This has been the norm, me being hopeful that someone will book one of the local, underrated jazz groups I love that play jazz from the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s, then being disappointed after reading local concert and venue listings. I have tried to get touring dixieland and swing bands gigs at some of these venues and at other venues that hire live music, but to no avail. I even promise an audience who will pay for the band in tips, and I still get no response.

There’s been a lot of lip service recently about jazz in the Triangle, but if the local venues are only offering a certain type of jazz or only booking certain musicians, is the scene really that vibrant?

What if there’s an entire subset of jazz lovers, new patrons, that you could draw to your venue if you added a few more bands to your lineup?

What if there’s an entire subset of talented jazz musicians you’ve never heard of because they rarely get a chance to play the music that really makes them shine?

MY POINT: We will not have a complete and vibrant jazz community without embracing all forms of jazz.

Jazz did not begin in 1950. There is an extensive, almost endless catalog of songs from the three prior decades that is full of life, energy, relevance, bliss, heartache, humor, love, affection, food, sex, and crazy people. This music is awesome in so many ways and, perhaps, should be performed live because sometimes the recording technology back then wasn’t up to modern snuff.

I want to hear it and I have friends who want to hear it. I’d love to be able to go out to something other than a swing dance and hear “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me” or “Dinah” or “Rockin’ in Rhythm.” Can we do this, Triangle? I’ve got the people if you’ve got the space.

To help in understanding where I am coming from, I have compiled a list of reasons why your venue should book musicians who play 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s jazz:

FUN

What made the Roaring Twenties fun? It wasn’t just the booze, it was also the music – the two were almost inseparable. This music was made for parties, dance halls, brothels, bars, and just about every place your mother would disapprove of. It’s joyous music with an energy that can lift your spirits.

ACCESSIBLE

The jazz of the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s is pop music – it was the pop music of its time and, while it sounds somewhat different from today’s pop music, the two are not so far apart. It’s melodic and, for the most part, it has lyrics or is based on songs written with lyrics. It all has a driving rhythm, a certain pulse. Most of it is in a major key and in 4/4 time. I think we’ve met most of the criteria for pop music at this point, so your subconscious should at least warm up to the sound.

I don’t want to spend any time bashing modern jazz, I’ll just say it’s not my bag. It doesn’t speak to me the way earlier forms of jazz have spoken to me. Perhaps I just need something that’s simple to enjoy.

DANCE-ABLE

The jazz of the 1920’s through the 1940’s was dance music. In fact, a major divide between this era and the bebop/modern jazz era is that sensibility, that jazz transitioned from something that you danced to into something that you listened to – from the dance hall to the concert hall.

However, dancing isn’t the only function. Think about the music that we dance to today – people play “dance” music in bars and restaurants all the time, but you don’t necessarily get up and dance at those places. Early jazz music can create a similar energy in a room.

CLASSY

A lot of people book jazz groups to set a mood. Perhaps its the instrumentation or the songs themselves, but jazz is a class act. Early jazz can add a different tone of class, obviously harkening back to an earlier, perhaps even more genteel and elegant era of the silver screen, the lawn party, and the supper club. It can be a party, but it can also be a soiree, depending on the song selection.

ALL AGES

I see evidence of this mostly at live, outdoor events, but people of all ages love this music. Obviously the people who were there the first time around are fans, but kids immediately start going bananas when they hear an uptempo swing tune and try to get as close to the band as possible. Some of the most vocal fans of this music are from the Baby Boomers. As someone sort of spanning Gen X and Y, I’ve been listening to this music since I was a teenager and there are countless others just like me in cities all over the world, and even a few more like me here in the Triangle.

I’d like to make a difference for my friends who love this music or love to perform this music. I’d like to get excited about events and bands. I’d like to make the Triangle a great place for all kinds of jazz. There is certainly so much potential here, but there is still work left to do to bridge these musical gaps.

Triangle Swing Dance Society Dance, June 16, 2012

Photo from Mint Julep Jazz Band’s performance at the Carrboro Century Center on St. Patrick’s Day, courtesy of Joel Carlin.

The Mint Julep Jazz Band is excited to return to Carrboro for a show on June 16, 2012 at the Triangle Swing Dance Society swing dance, held at the Carrboro Century Center. Come dance on the finest sprung wood floor in the Triangle! Don’t know how to dance? No problem! There’s a beginner lesson at 7:00 p.m. that is included with the price of admission.

Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro Street
Carrboro, NC

Beginner east coast swing lesson – 7:00 p.m.

Band plays from 8:00-11:00 p.m.

Admission: Members/students $8.00, general admission $12.00

Mint Julep Jazz Band plays Carrboro on St. Patrick’s Day!

We’ll be donning our finest emerald apparel for the Mint Julep Jazz Band show on March 17, 2012 at the Triangle Swing Dance Society swing dance, held at the Carrboro Century Center. Come dance on the finest sprung wood floor in the Triangle! Don’t know how to dance? No problem! There’s a beginner lesson at 7:00 p.m. that is included with the price of admission.

Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro Street
Carrboro, NC

Beginner east coast swing lesson – 7:00 p.m.

Band plays from 8:00-11:00 p.m.

Admission: Members/students $8.00, general admission $12.00

FAQ About Mint Julep Jazz Band

Starting a new band raises a lot of questions – in conversations with people, these questions have come up most frequently, so here’s a little FAQ to get you more acquainted with the Mint Julep Jazz Band:

What kind of music will you play?

We will focus on music from the 1920’s and 1930’s, but some early 1940’s tunes may creep into the mix. The band will be playing arrangements that are either transcribed from original recordings or reproductions of original recordings (or a combination of both – sometimes having a hi-fi reference helps a lot) and arrangements that our maestro Lucian Cobb creates on his own, based on songs from this era. We will be playing a few arrangements Lucian has done in the past and songs you may have heard vocalist Laura Windley perform, but the majority of the material will be new. Most importantly, this music will swing!

How many people will be in the band?

Right now, we really like the idea of having either a 7 or 8 piece band, giving us either a 3 or 4 piece rhythm section with 3 horns, plus a vocalist. With this format, we are able to play arrangements of big band or smaller group charts, giving us a fuller sound than a jazz combo. We are also able to offer a more affordable alternative to a big band.

Will you have a smaller group?

Unfortunately, we will not have a smaller group. We understand that this limits the venues we can play, especially locally, but we are more interested in creating a specific sound.

Who is going to be in the band?

We’d like to have a set lineup, but in the jazz world this is not always possible – some of our band members have bands of their own, so we are fortunate enough to have other jazz musicians that we have worked with in the past to fill their shoes. You can be sure you will see Peter Lamb (sax), Al Strong (trumpet), Aaron Tucker (drums), Jason Foureman (bass), Aaron Hill (sax), Rich Willey (trumpet), Kyle Santos (trumpet), Mark Wells (piano), and other great jazz musicians from the Triangle and beyond who we enjoy performing with and will lend their unique talents to this endeavor.

When will you be ready to play?

The goal is to be ready in March and, indeed, we’ve already got gigs in March 2012 and beyond! For more details, see our calendar page. We do have a show on February 23 for RDU Rent Party – we invite everyone to come to this sneak preview!

Where will you play?

Our bread and butter will be swing dances, and we’ve already got a wedding on the books. We are also available for community events, outdoor festivals, jazz societies, schools, private parties, charity events/fundraisers, historic and reenactment-related events, and, really, anywhere that people enjoy music. We are looking to travel outside of the Triangle area of North Carolina and would welcome gig opportunities in other cities.

Peter Lamb and the Wolves at Carrboro Arts Center

Peter Lamb and the Wolves will play a concert at the Carrboro Arts Center this Sunday, October 2, 2011. I will be joining the Wolves onstage for a few songs and so will Lucian Cobb, the Atomic Rhythm All-Stars‘ trombone player extraordinaire.

From the Arts Center website:

“The dance floor will be open for Peter Lamb and The Wolves’ Arts Center debut! Named best Jazz group in the Triangle, this young quintet lives up to their fairy-tale namesakes. The Wolves peddle languid sophistication that is always a little bit dangerous–their repertoire reaches back to New Orleans’ earliest syncopaters but also forward to hipster bards like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. http://www.peterlambandthewolves.com. Recommended for fans of: James Hunter, Sam Cooke.”

Single Admission: $11
Members Single Admission: $9
Day-of-show non-members: $13

Get your tickets in advance through the Carrboro Arts Center’s website: http://artscenterlive.org/event/performance/527