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News and Views '09/'10 # 8
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Allen Hall
MN Prince of Snark Darkness

Joined: 26 May 2004
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2010 1:12 pm    Post subject: News and Views '09/'10 # 8 Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

News and Views from the Hall LindyJazzMobile
‘09/’10 Installment # 8

(Note: this is a long ‘un, so print it out, and put it in the bathroom.


Table of Contents:
1. Jazz and American Popular Music Developed a “Grammar” and Coherence, and Then Lost Both.
2. Long Time Houston Lindy Hop Gig Moved to New Venue
3. Lone Star Championships
4. Austin Music Music Music and Dance


The seed for this was planted when I read two articles “Making Sense of Sound” and “To Utopia and back”. The former is about what happened to Western Classical Music in the late 1800s by composers who chose to abandon the “shared understanding” between musicians and audiences. I call it the transmogrification of classical music. The latter article examines the compositions of Pierre Boulez whose compositions have been described as “…foisting the musical equivalence of grey concrete towers…by composing pieces that are unlovable, incomprehensible and “willfully ugly”. An avant guard group of composers became a movement that dominated Western art music for a half a century. In short, freedom from established form and content without responsibility to audience, produced 50 years of disagreeable music.
Much the same happened to jazz after WW-II, when freedom became king and standards of jazz rhythm and harmony were abandoned in some degree, or totally. This jazz lost its audience, but, predictably, pleased most jazz critics who are always willing to jump on a new band-wagons careening down the road and about to be T-boned by an irritated and absent audience. To be sure, most artistic avant guard believes that they can woo a following or audience if only the public will grit its teeth and hang in there until “bad” eventually becomes “good.” After WW-II jazz proliferated into a medusa-head of new forms, none of which were able to break out of their self-imposed artistic cul-de-sacs. Then jazz backed off, and thrust out into Jazz Lite, Cool Jazz and Easy Listening Jazz, which sells, but, it is a collective, from my point of view, which has lost jazz’s energy, and musical gravitas. I prefer to call it popcorn jazz; cheap, easy but not artistically nourishing. Aside from Hot Jazz (Dixieland) which tenaciously held its diminishing audience, and Big Band music which simply will not die, Jazz lost its soul, which it is now trying to regain with miniature retrenchments into Gypsy Jazz, Klezmer music (Jewish Jazz), and a widespread proliferation of repertory orchestras who are reprising the best of pre-WW-II jazz.
During the Swing Era popular music was good, and good music was popular, the only time that has ever happened. But no music era lasts forever; profitable big bands hit the un-yielding economic wall; recording companies who suddenly became the final arbiter of popular music taste, dumbed-down American popular music, let’s call it Rock and Roll and everything derived from it, which has morphed, in spasms, over the span of 40 years to become a visual art form accompanied by loud mostly meaningless music with simple unsatisfying melodies, mundane harmonies and banal lyrics. But Rock was where the money was—a remarkable selling job. Meanwhile, notably C/W music struggled along in the only artistic loci of musical taste in America, Nashville TN. But that too sold-out to the recording industry with the advent of C/W Rock Stars, e.g., Garth Brooks et al. Mo-town and modern R&B had a good start but soon fell prey to the money-chargers. Tiny Bluegrass escaped the commodification of C/W music, as has, similarly, Western Swing. Meanwhile Hip Hop, which is now 30 years old, and Rap which has become increasing strident, was the only commercial popular relief, if you can to call it that, from Rock in all its evolved forms, many of which are not hardly auditory art, but rather have become highly energetic visual art, accompanied by caconophy, and expensive ticket prices.

Come on Allen, don’t hold back; tell us how you really feel.


The Houston Swing Dance Society’s regular Sunday night dance has moved from the Melody Club with its leaky roof and dicey neighborhood to a second story dance studio a couple miles away and in a better neighborhood. See www.hsds.com for details. The old club had more floor (oak parquet over concrete), than the new one (floating hardwood long boards) but the new floor has a better surface. The new club is well lighted—may that continue. The new club has less sound absorbing material on the ceiling, and, as a result, dancer-chatter is very loud. Lindy Hoppers sure do talk a lot. The sound system in the new venue needs some work. Although there are many ceiling mounted speakers in the long thin room, the sound system had to be played at low volume in order to keep the sound from stopping for a few seconds and then resuming but not on tempo—a baffling problem, requiring some patience. But, Rudy and I got good and sweaty dancing with a big turn-out (bigger than I last remember at the Melody Club), and we had a good time.
A four pair LH team danced an excellent routine, employing some novel moves, to medium tempo music using appealing styling and tightly danced choreography. It is refreshing to see a team dancing within their capabilities and allowing the choreography to shine. I have grown slightly tired of manic LH team routines with hackneyed LH moves done to music which always seems to be a bit too fast for the least capable team members. All too often, fast music results in a raggedy-assed choreographic performance and unstylish hurried dancing. Hey! I understand the appeal of at-the-edge excitement, but, old slow me prefers calm and pretty.


Yep! Pa’tner, we’uns (Me and Rudy) who is new Texan citizens, are back in Austin, home of UT (thet’s THE University of Texas to you), the Texas State Capital, and the third annual “Lone Star Championships”. We been to all three LSCs, and based on the quality and number of competitors, I think it has become one of the nation’s destination Lindy Hop events. I hesitate to list the others, for fear I will leave out some which are deserving of inclusion.
Anyway, dancers attended from all over, including a contingent of 5 from Minnesota (10 if you count ex-patriots Mikey Faltesk, Amy Johnson, Peter Strom, ‘n’ Rudy and I) Augmented by UT students, the combined Thursday regular Austin LH dance, and Lone Star kickoff night turned out right near 300 dancers. Rudy and I have been dancing in that room for many years, and we have never seen it even close to that full. Still, there was room to dance, and there were damned few sitters in the chairs. Live music was by the Marshal Ford Swing Band, a two guitar one horn sextet with excellent musicianship, and it’s a band I really like. The two guitarists once played a long, fast, complicated, single note, rising phrase which sounded as if it was done on one guitar—more than impressive, more like, Wow! The band played a reasonable range of tempos and for dance-reasonable durations, and that might be said of all the Austin bands playing LH dances.
If you have not been to the “The Fed”, it is building housing The Federation of Texas Women’s Clubs, a truly classy, even magnificent, dance venue, AND the Fed great hall is the site of all of the Lone Star’s large evening dances, It has a wall to wall hardwood floor with a perfect danceable surface that seems refractory to outside humidity or dancer sweat humidity—amazing. The two story tall rectangular room has understated but elegant styling, fair acoustics, a large band stand at one end, and, is lighted by numerous multiple bulb sconces on each long wall, AND they are not controlled by a reostat, and so, the room stays adequately lighted, UNTIL, it must be noted, during the Sunday night Soul Dance, some nefarious felon went around and unscrewed half of the light bulbs. To my mind, this is an offense suitable for the death penalty. Note: there are several other nice Fed rooms with great floors that are used for teaching and auxiliary dance venues.

The band was the “Giant City Sextet”, which had trad jazz instrumentation and two-feel rhythm, and so, the tempos were more brisk, but I enjoyed the good musicianship and the energy. The competitions and dance demos stretched out the evening, and gave me some time to rest—Oh! thank you. The dance competitions were excellent, just as I would have expected with so many experienced LHs in attendance. As is our nature, Rudy and I left just before the Late Night soirre started.

The band was the “Austin Jazz All-Stars” a little big band, and I also enjoyed their music, tempos and the duration of their numbers. Again, the competitions and dance demos were excellent, and we made it through the whole evening without going lame, which is remarkable since we had dipped our dance beaks into an afternoon session at the Continental Club to Redd Volkaert (and folks). Redd is an astoundingly good swinging guitarist and basso profundo vocalist who will be soon going on the road with Merle Haggard—for those who don’t know—that is big-time C/W cred. The Continental Club was so crowded, half the people had to exhale while the other half inhaled the breath which had been just recently exhaled—it’s a miracle we all didn’t asphyxiate, but the dancers got to the floor somehow, and made do until we were all lathered-up like rode hard horses. Ordinarily, dancing at the Continental Club is like trying to dance in a hall closet with your whole High School Class.

Not content with our current level of pain, we did another ill-advised two-fur dance day. First getting warmed up at the Lone Star DJed Soul dance at the Fed, and then back to the Continental Club at 10:30 for “Haybale” (another super-high–energy swinging Texas string band), which featured a guitarist who IS the vocal personification of a young Willie Nelson, plus Redd Volkaert on guitar and a pianist who once toured with “Asleep at the Wheel”(America’s premier western swing band).

That did it for us, and on Monday, after putting DJ/dance buddy, Robert Vangor, (and his load of sweaty clothes) on a plane home to Los Angeles, Rudy and I collapsed, spent and happy, and ready for another 12 days of whatever Austin has to offer.
It is difficult to convey how much, how varied and how good the music is here in Austin—it has be experienced. Most of the time, there is no cover and the bands play for tips, and I am talking about exceptional bands playing great music which is guaranteed to break the contact between your butt and your chair, and that’s if you can find a chair in the Austin music joints, which are often packed, plus listeners gathered on the sidewalk around the doors. Even if there is no cover at the Continental Club they stamp you hand, so if you leave you, you can get back in later—don’t ask, I have no idea why, but it’s probably to satisfy their insurance, or a fire code regulation.


Monday—day off to rest dem sore feets.

Tuesday-- we walked across the street to the Flipnotics Coffeeplace to dig The Eric Hokkanen Laboratory. It’s a trio of excellent drummer and double bassist plus, Eric on fiddle, Fender Stratocaster and electric acoustic guitar. Eric is a truly remarkably versatile musician who swings hard, plays a wide variety of music with energy and elan, and he always keeps the music interesting. No dancing—there’s no room.

Wednesday—day off, for laundry.

Thursday--We first went to the Central Market (South) one of two huge Austin repositories of high-priced food and over-priced other stuff, which also serve a amazingly wide variety of excellent cafeteria food, AND which offer no-cover (but with Tip Jar) live music 5 days a week. This night we danced some (in the ailse) to The Steve Blum Jazz Trio of Steve on guitar, with bass and drums plus a sit-in altoist, and then we went to the Fed for the regular weekly DJed LH dance. Eeeee Haw!, this has been another, all too often, Austin two-fur dance day.

Friday----we went to the Central Market (North) and danced to a fine Bluegrass sextet, one which, unike many “grass” bands, played a broad range of tempos. Of course, Rudy did a lot of Mountain and Flat-foot Clogging. but I got up when the tempos were Allen-friendly to do what some wag remarked as, “That’s the first time I have seen Balboa danced to Bluegrass music.” To which I replied “I do anything that I can get away with.”, but I was secretly pleased that he recognized that I was doing Balboa—which is seldom the case, but Hey, true to my motto, you may call whatever I do anything you wish. The Central Market (North) has indoor and outdoor music venues. This night nice weather put the band outside to the rear of a large seating and dancing deck with a floor of plastic decking with a remarkably good surface for dancing, made so, it seems, by the lubrication provided by abundant dried bird droppings, but I am no knocking it in any way, as it is a marked improvement over the un-even worn and weathered wood decking we danced on there last year.

Saturday—Back to the Central Market (North) for a blues trio, with leader Danny Brooks on vocals/guitar/harmonica, lap steel/mandolin and guitar. This is not my favorite brand of blues, but the absence of a drummer probably saved me some pain. Brooks appears to be a well-worn 45 year old with a pony-tail and an admitted “history”, and a voice in ruins, probably from too many years of screaming the Blues, but there was is no denying Brooks’ dedication to the music. I liked the lap steel player, and we got in a couple of dances.

Sunday—football all day.

Monday—Two venues and some dancing:
First The Quality Seafood Market with music by the Jazz Babies (note any band with Jazz in their name is worth a listen), a clarinet, trombone, double bass, electric resonator guitar quartet that was very good. We danced on plastic covered concrete that danced beautifully. This gig drew a pretty good contingent of the best LHers in Austin, but the floor only accommodates 4 couples max.
Next to the “Eastside ShowRoom” a dead ringer for a charming left bank Paris dive in Austin’s dive row, with music by “Lex and the Lost Boys,” a quartet of drummer, two guitarists and a fiddler with (lady) Lex doing the singing with pleasing voice quality, an un-engaging stage presence, slight intonation problems, a very constricted vocal range and unusual phrasing while mumbling lyrics. The floor is rough concrete and there is not much of it, but we got in a few dances in the space between tables.

Tuesday--Another helping of the “Eric Hokkanen Laboratory” at Flipnotics Coffeeplace, with the addition of an able guitarist, and a great lagniappe sit-in, Alana, the fiddler for “Hot Club of Cow Town”, a nationally-recognized trio of fiddle, bass and guitar (Rudy and I caught their WOW! gig in Austin last year). She is not only an astounding fiddler, but she has one of the most captivating stage personalities I have ever seen. She wanted to leave after two numbers, but Eric wouldn’t let her go by cleverly sequeing into an four additional numbers. Further, Eric briefly delivered a good-natured lecture on the prospects for American society, and our less than able stewardship of the environment, plus he debuted two very nice original compositions. All this for tip-bucket wages in a tiny venue seating 25 people—unbelievable.

Thursday—another night of LH dancin’, grinnin’ and sweatin’ at the Fed. Lovely.

Friday—at a party in Bill Borgida’s home, with so many intellegent people and so much stimulating conversation, there no dancing—go figure?

Saturday—To the Elephant Room (Austin’s foremost Jazz venue) to listen to the Kat Edmonson Quartet. I think Kat had a cold or allergic reaction to Cedar pollen, like everyone else around here, as her voice was scratchy. She was accompanied by a top-notch Jazz quartet of a standard jazz three piece rhythm section plus a tenor saxophonist, but they were all ultra-modern jazz guys, and so I am less than pleased with the performance. Kat is putting more emotion into her singing and her stage presence is loosening up—at long last—but she is, for sure, a vocal talent with solid intonation, impeccable “time” and a novel and engaging way to phrase lyrics, and so, her constricted range, small voice, and almost non-existence vibrato are hardly noticed. I can’t leave discussing her without mentioning her tasteful choice of materials which are splendid, as they include the best of the standards plus some unusual numbers read in a delightfully unusual way.
It’s a tiny world. 1. An RV pulled in next to us yesterday and the people were from Cokato MN—which is just 17 miles south of our summer cottage in MN. 2. Last night, we got to share a table at the Elephant Room with two young men whom we had never met, but who both grew up in St. Paul MN, and both knew all about several of the Twin Cities Lindy Hop venues. Who’d a thunk it?

Austin totals, 18 days in town, dancing 10 days, dancing in two venues on three days, and while in town we heard 14 different bands.

Allen Hall, Lindy Hopper
February 2, 2010, in chilly Houston Texas, jus’ down the road a ways from Austin, a town with an embarrassment of musical riches.
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