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News and Views '10/'11 # 12
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Allen Hall
MN Prince of Snark Darkness


Joined: 26 May 2004
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 22, 2011 9:03 am    Post subject: News and Views '10/'11 # 12 Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

News and Views from the Hall LindyJazzMobile
‘10/’11 Installment #12

DANCE, DRIVE, REPEAT

Table of Contents:
1. Lindy Hopping in Houston
2. The 15th Annual Houston Lindy Fest
3. Editorial: The Lindy Hop Distance Between Austin and Houston
4. Book Review of “Rhythm-A-Ning”
5. Coming Attractions

(Editor’s note: Sorry, this is a long one—so best you print it out, and put it in the bathroom.

LINDY HOPPING IN HOUSTON

On Sunday Feb 20th we made it to the regular Sunday night DJed dance at the Melody Club sponsored by the HSDS. There was a lighter than average crowd attending—about 50 dancers—next day was a holiday? The DJed music was standard LH fair early, but became more adventurous later in the evening e.g. some R&B. We walked in when “Splanky” was playing—Damn! That hurts to miss dancing to that Basie cut, but it didn‘t hurt that bad because I don’t think it was a Basie cut, and if it was, it was not the best Basie recording of ”Splanky”. Still, no “Splanky” is ever chopped-liver.
On Thursday, Feb 24th, Rudy went to a grown-ups pajama-party. I had my choice of dancing at the Chocolate Bar where I had already danced, or a new dance venue the “Nouveau Antique Arts Bar” (NAAB) and dance to the “Bang Bang Boom Band” (BBBB). I like to dip my beak in every dance stew available at least once. However, if it was your first time at the NAAB and had never heard BBBB, would the name of the venue and band make you uneasy? It should, but the gig was listed on the HSDS calendar.
The NAAB has the largest are most varied assortment of Tiffany-like lamp shades I have ever seen (over 300, and maybe 500). Indeed, all the shades were lighted and that was the entirety of the lighting in the room, which was still dingy dark. The dance floor was smooth concrete, generous in size and not used by me or any other swing dancers of any type. The place had 10 patrons when I walked in, but grew to 14 by the time I left an hour later. Before the music started, I asked the band what kind of music they played. The leader replied “blues, jazz and swing.” I stayed for one set of 10 tunes. Only one was at a tempo I would dance to (144). That’s to say, if there were any other swing dancers there to dance with. Incidentally, that was only that tune which had a swing rhythm. The rest were an assortment of too fast Rockabilly numbers, or too slow pop ballad covers. BBBB was a quartet of an inaudible solid body guitarist (maybe an air guitarist?), a too loud steel guitarist, a too loud and unpleasant sounding up-right bassist, a drummer with a strange kit consisting of no high hat cymbals and what I am sure was a very cheap ride cymbal which had an truly discordant sound, but the drummer must have loved it, as he took obvious joy in knocking it around as often as he could.
This might be considered a negative review.
On Feb 27, My birthday, as it is almost every year, we went to the HSDS Sunday dance at the Melody Club. Mostly moderate tempo eclectic jazz music, so I was both able to dance every dance and also be interested in the variety in the music. Light crowd, this time the excuse was the Academy Awards night. Last week it was a preholiday day. The HDSD is running out of excuses. Rudy and I still had fun, and I achieved, I think, my, often tried but seldom achieved, goal of dancing with every woman in the room.
On Mar. 3 we went to the “Chocolate Bar” to dance to “Buzz and the Blue Cats”, a trio of tenor, guitar and piano. This night they had an elderly pianist who played some lovely block chords—don’t hear that too often. They played a Lindy-friendly book, most tempos in the Lindy wheelhouse. Small quarry tile floor with good surface, albeit a few raised edges—small experienced and graciously sharing dancer crowd—no cover--every Thursday 7 to 9PM, 2521 University Blvd in Houston-Fun!
Mar 6, We danced at the House of Tea, to an eclectic variety of DJed music (Oh say 25% classic swing, some pop, some disco and some unclassifiable music. The floor is quarry tile but has a nice surface. Once the tables are moved, about 6 couples can comfortably dance. No cover. Tight off-street parking. Exceptional array of fine teas. Every Thursday 9-11 except the 3rd Thursday. Fun night with fun dancers of mixed experiences.
Mar. 18. We went to “Blanco’s” a Houston Honky Tonk to dance to “Dale Watson, and the Lone Stars” Small 20X20 ft floor with an asphalt tile over concrete (aren’t they all) with a good danceable surface. Not too many swing opportunities with all the tightly circling 2-steppers. Great music, $12 cover, and big crowd. Dale evermore packs ‘em in.
FFI on Houston Lindy, go to the calendar on www.hsds.org

THE 15TH ANNUAL HOUSTON LINDY FEST.

My memory is getting vague, but I think Rudy and I have made all but 3 or 4 “Lindy Fests” ne “Great South West Lindy Fests” and other names. At 15 years of age, Lindy Fest may be the reigning Grand-Daddy of all Lindy weekend events. This fest always seems to have a gigantic high-quality teaching faculty, testimony, I believe, to public financing enjoyed by the “Houston Swing Dance Society” . Would that all cities could be generous in support of our American social dance, Lindy Hop, which has now spread and become popular all over the world. Lindy Hop scenes all over the United States would appreciate public support as the dance is being done primarily by young adults who are either in school, or just starting careers.
Why are Rudy and I doing it? Simple, cuz we jus’ cain’t hep ourselves. A cautionary note to all you beginners: Get away now while you can—this dance is worse than dope. Once the LH hook is set in the hard part of your mouth, you will have hell’s own time getting it pulled out.
As is our practice, we will only attend the evening dances—not enough pep for lessons and dancing too, and Late Night dances are verboten as our sole experience with a Late Night Dance almost resulted in marital tragedy. After only three hours sleep, I drove off the and left Rudy at a gas station—long embarrassing story, best saved for another forum.
All dances were held in the ballroom of the Houston Sheraton Brookhollow, so parking is no problem. The dance floor is sooooo nice; composed of joined floating sections of finished plywood over a carpet, it has a sweet surface and is very kind to the weight-bearing joints. However the floor is showing its age and coming apart near the edges. The room has adequate lighting, if only the illumination Tsar would leave them turned up. The sound system is crisp and penetrating. There is plenty of seating surrounding circular tables decorated with double-cloth table covers and adorned with bouquets of fresh flowers. The several cold water jugs were kept filled. Does this sound good to you? I think it should. BTW, the room is pretty, and the ceiling is high which should keep the floor fast when the dancer hot breath and sweat starts to drive up the humidity.
Thursday Night Kick-off Dance: Two DJs split the honors for the 3 hours and 20 minutes Rudy and I were there. The first played about 90% vocals, which tended to keep the tempos centered in the wheel-horse tempos for Lindy Hop. My knees are happy with vocals as they tend to center tempos about 30 bpm slower than the average for instrumentals, but while my knees are pleased, my ear is often not pleased, as my ear tends to follow the miked -up vocalist who, given the cadence of language, cannot faithfully follow the rhythm, and the harder the singer swings the more rhythmically lost I become. That said, this DJ did a masterful job of playing those recordings which pleased both my knees and my ears. The second DJ was just as good, but in another way. He played a wide assortment of genre and tempos, but none so fast they cleared the floor, and all of them were dancer-beckoning—and, with more than several shuffle rhythms among them. I would be hard pressed to be more pleased with DJs. Rudy and I were on the floor for almost every tune for 3 hours and 20 minutes before the “E” glowed red in our dance-gas tank indicators. That’s one hour and 20 minutes over our Dancerella limit. There was a light crowd early, but when we left, I judged it was close to 150 dancers.
Friday Night Dance Again, I was pleased with the DJed music. The dance floor did get crowded late in the evening with well over 200 dancers in the room. The floor remained delightfully fast. Live music was provided by Jonathon Stout and the Campus Five featuring Hillary Alexander on vocals. This is a sextet of trumpet, tenor, and four piece rhythm section with Jonathon on guitar. They were in good voice and since they often play for Lindy Hoppers, they knew to keep their selections short and their tempos moderate. I was pleased to hear the tenorist do a faithful rendition of Illinois Jacquet’s signature solo on “Flying Home”. I feel sure that Mr. Jacquet was smiling, where ever he is now. I guessed the dance crowd at over 200, maybe over 250.
There was a lengthy break in the social dancing for the instructors jam, for two teams to do their choreography, plus a several pairs to strut their latest, notably Mikey Pedrosa and Nikki Marvin dancing a routine in three movements, and Kevin St. Laurent and Jo Hoffberg doing their most recent routine, once which I believe should rank among the best of the recent understated routines in LH. I had seen it on video, but it was a real pleasure to see it live. Nick Williams did a flashy solo Gene Kellyish routine. Hey! that’s high praise in my book.
I grumped last year about the live music starting at 11:15PM, and for this Friday dance is was slated for 10PM, but, to my annoyance, it didn’t start until 11:15. When an event promulgates a schedule, this dancer expects the schedule will be followed, power outages and tsunamis notwithstanding.
Rudy and I had a good time and over-stayed our allotted dance stamina by an hour and 40 minutes—what is to become of us?
Saturday night dance. We didn’t make this dance; that’s what became of us. You want reasons? I’ll give you reasons. 1. It would have cost us $90 to attend, and we have to save money to buy enough of the threatened 4 bucks/gal gas to get home to Minnesota 2. The dance floor was a bit too crowded on Friday night, and I guessed it might be worse on Saturday night 3. The band is slated to start at 11:15, and they were an hour and 15 minutes late last night. Regardless, we griped about a 11:15 band start last year, and we haven’t changed our minds one bit. And now, TA TAHHHH! The three toos excuse. I was too sore from dancing too much for too many nights in a row. Not to bore you will my geriatric needs, but a perfect schedule would be dancing two hours, every other night. Unfortunately, dances come in bunches like grapes, and I am so reluctant to quit at 2 hours when the dancing is good.
Sunday night dance. This was a doozy. We stayed for three hours and we hardly left the dance floor. I cannot remember when I had more fun, energetic, high-quality dances in one night. My undying thanks go all the spirited and tolerant followers who put up with my shenanigans. I’m sure, Rudy, who, it must be noted, does no shenanigans, is equally thankful.
No Lindy Hop weekend event is ever perfect, but it would take dynamite to knock the Houston “Lindy Fest” off our 2012 dance itinerary. For starters, every year we see dancers and instructors there that we seldom get to see otherwise. Notably, this year, Ryan and Jenny were here—we haven’t seen them for such a long time. As well, Bernard of Hollywood was there. We have never seen him east of Los Vegas and during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, to my knowledge, he was the only strictly Savoy Style Lindy Hopper in Southern California. As well, Rudy and I ran into slews of dancers we seldom bump into anywhere else—Lindy Fest is, indeed, one of the major gatherings of the clan. This year, I have nothing but high mark for the DJs, for both their choices of recordings and how they deftly varied the tempos. The Tsar of Illumination was also on his game. Hey! You could even make out faces in the Soul Room—how’s that for a FIRST?

EDITORIAL: THE LINDY HOP DISTANCE BETWEEN AUSTIN AND HOUSTON….

….is about 30 quarter notes to the minute, and 20 years. The average tempos of DJed music in Houston is about 30 bpm slower than that played in Austin, and the recording dates of the music played in Austin are about 20 years older than that played in Houston. Am I saying that Austin music is too fast? No. Am I saying that Houston music is too slow? No. Am I saying that Austin music is too old? No. Am I saying that Houston music is too modern? No. I’m jus’ sayin’. And, indeed, I find it interesting how LH dance scenes tend to have preferred music in date of recording, genre, and tempo, and the scenes can be only 159 miles from one another, as Houston is from Austin, with the music being so completely different.
Not to wax pseudo-philosophic, but no social activity develops in a vacuum, and of the several different styles of West Coast Swing in the United States, “Houston Whip” is, or was, danced to the slowest music. Hmmmmm? And, to expand on that point and go back further, both Houston Whip and Dallas Push styles of WCS are characterized by many over-the-head moves and much spinning with both dancers staying close to one another. Now where do you suppose that came from? Hint, try envisioning “C/W Two Step” and “C/W Waltz”.
Am I complaining about LH changing? Not a bit; I prefer that it does, as it keeps the dance new, fresh and alive. Lindy Hop is an improvisational social dance and it changes all the time, with fads coming and going with organic frequency. As well, the preferred DJed music for LH evolves, and, if I had to guess, changes in the music precede and cause changes in the dance. Right now, there is a notable national popularity for older faster jazz recordings for LH. Is that bad? Nope. It is what it is. How bad would it be to go to LH dances all over the USA and hear the same recordings and the same range of tempos at every venue? Now, that WOULD be bad.

LOON BOOK REPORT ON “RHYTHM-A-NING: JAZZ TRADITIONS AND INNOVATION IN THE ‘80S “ BY GARY GIDDINS

The Loon, a.k.a. Allen Hall, is going to put this review in both “Fruit o’ the Loon” and “News and Views from the Hall LindyJazzMobile” because it is about jazz, as this allows the Loon to air, to a wider audience, some grievances and prejudices building to a dangerous head of pressure. So, if you get both publications, don’t puzzle over a bewildering feeling of déjà Loon.
The book is a compilation of 66 pieces published in various publications, and all are about jazz. Giddins is a premier student of music and an admired critic of jazz, even though Giddins oft annoys the Loon. Giddins lives and works in NYC, which affords benefit and absurdity. The benefit is NYC is at the pointy end of the world jazz spear and many of the best jazz musicians reside in NYC or stray through, and, perchance, gather some valuable Giddins ink. The absurdity is that the pointy end of the jazz spear can be so damned avant garde it might not even be Jazz. the Loon will freely point out the absurdities, and, otherwise, be fair. To wit….
Giddins has a deep knowledge of the structure of music and ears which hang to his knees. In short he ACTIVELY LISTENS and he understands what he is listening to. He was born in 1948, and so we will have him around for a while. He is a member of the leading edge Baby Boomers a peer group more attuned to radical change than historic devotion (The Loon thinks you can have both). He has authored 11 books, all on the arts and most on jazz. His pieces can be stuffed full filled with minutia, but better that than wanton unsupported opinion. Giddins can evermore write, and he either has a well-thumbed Thesaurus, or a cerebrum full-up with unusual words. His writing is dense. Not that he makes no sense, but rather, he make too much. Reading Giddins can be heavy, like rich fudge can be heavy, but the Loon is a life-long jazz fan, so what could he do when a jazz-buddy sent him this book? And so, the Loon suffered Giddins stoically because Giddins loves that which the Loon loves, Jazz. The Loon loves jazz like a mother loves a child. And that is the only reason why the Loon would read opaque writing about the 80’s, an era when jazz lost its way and wandered into cul-de-sacs where it could find no audience and find no way to get out. The reason why the Loon is writing this review is because this book is full of surprising lovely pearls I want to share and equally surprising unlovely turds which need to be challenged.
The Loon shudda smelled a turd when the first essay was about Jaki Byard. Here is a description of a cascading plunge from pleasure to displeasure. The Loon has had a Post-it Note by his computer since early last winter. It read simply “Jaki Byard”, and it reminded him to listen to Byard because some respected person mentioned Byard in the same breath with Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. The Loon read the first of two piece about Byard in “Rhythm-A-Ning” and became thoroughly confused. Then the Loon pulled up a video of Byard and Earl “Fatha” Hines playing a duet on a jazz standard. Never has the Loon seen two jazz pianists having more fun, and Byard, while behaving himself, was more than an equal of Fatha. This temped the Loon into other videos in which Byard was revealed as a synthesis of the following pianists, Bobby “Wild Man” Enriquez, Dorothy “Bass Player Terror” Donagan, and a Chimp who owned a 12 foot grand piano, while all three are high on peyote buttons. Okay, scrub the hyperbole, the Chimp and the buttons. Scrub Byard!
Then the name of fellow-turders, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor keep popping up, usually preceded by page after page of laudatory phrases. Both Coleman and Taylor were at the forefront of the incomprehensible music entitled “Free Jazz” meaning all the musicians in the band could play anything they wished when they wished without any guiding unison of rhythm, or agreed to melody and harmony, or for that matter, any other detectable substituted structure or form, and we, the listening public would just have to sit there and lump it. If you wish to call it jazz….or music—it’s your call. After reading glowing praise about Coleman/Taylor, the Loon began suspecting Giddins was getting into the same stash of shit smoked by 80s NYC jazz musicians.
Giddins dropped a turd when he shredded Linda Ronstadt. It’s okay for him to not like her singing, but to write that she Mooos like a cow is beyond nonsense. Ronstadt doesn’t need the Loon as defense attorney, but all the same, she has a fine way with lyrics, as she has learned her Sinatra rubato lessons well, and thus, phrases beautifully. She has a discriminating ear for lovely compositions. She has a pleasant voice and one of most sensual and well modulated vibratos of any popular music singer the Loon has ever heard. Bug off! Giddins.
A Pearl for Lindy Hoppers: 1. In a Jan ’80 piece about drummer Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans, this “ the (Savoy Sultans) nine piece was the house band at the Savoy Ballroom from 1937 to 1946. Dizzy Gillespie called it ‘the swingingest band that ever was.’ And some top orchestra leaders declined to follow the Sultans on the bandstand. It was chiefly a jump band—the Sultans coined the term—specializing in riff-flavored tunes that impressed dancers and listener alike.” “…the ‘home of happy feet’ (the Savoy Ballroom) demanded a house band which could traverse swing’s cutting edge.” (Today, “jump music’ is considered anathema for Lindy Hop. Hmmmmm!)
A pearl for jazz-lovers: In a 1983 piece about jazz pianist, Tommy Flanagan. Giddins describes a group of five jazz pianists; Hank Jones born in 1918, and four born between 1929 and 1935 Flanagan, Barry Harris, Roland Hanna, and Hugh Lawson,. “They’ve chosen incisiveness instead of technique, melody instead of fashion, clarity instead of obscurity.” (And the Loon would add as an additional criteria to define the best in jazz, improvisational logic instead of showmanship.)
Another pearl for Lindy Hoppers: In a 1981 piece Giddins reviews a NYC gig of the “Big Sky Mud Flaps” a honky tonk band from Montana. Giddins reports,”The Mud Flaps are the only band I have ever seen keep Lindy Hoppers on the floor to ‘Billie’s Bounce’, ‘Scrapple from the Apple’, ‘Yardbird Suite’, and ‘Groovin’ High’.” (The Loon adds, those tunes are part of the classic canon of BeBop. Damn, the Loon wishes he cudda been there. He cut his jazz teeth on BeBop. He loves BeBop. This reinforces something long held by the Loon, i.e., there are no special tunes or special jazz genrea which should exclusively comprise the Lindy Hop music canon; it is the way tunes are played. The Loon hopes some Lindy Hop DJs are reading this.)
Giddins offered a pearl in a piece about Frank Sinatra, entitled “In Appreciation” Thank you Mr. Giddins. Although they should, it isn’t often that jazz critics write about Sinatra.
Giddins provided another pearl in his paean for Bill Harris, the jazz trombonist who opened the Loon’s ears to that instrument—Harris’ musical star has only become brighter through the years.
All in all, this book is a mixed bag of pieces. If you want it, ask. First ask gets it free, along with my apologies for the scribbled marginalia.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

1. Another and final two weeks in Austin.
2. Report on Lindy Hop from our roads north.

Allen Hall, Lindy Hopper
March 26, 2011, In steamy Austin
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