Saturday, December 5, 2009

Not Your Grandfather's Swing Music

This was a promotional piece I wrote for publication in Hampton Road's and webzines to promote Solomon Douglas's upcoming show at our favorite local dance venue.

"Jazz pianist Solomon Douglas and his 10 member Swingtet will be doing their best to turn the Boot Restaurant into a modern day equivalent of NYC’s legendary Savoy Ballroom this Sunday night.

Since leaving the Glenn Miller Orchestra to tour with his own group, Solomon has been a favorite musician with swing revival dancers and lindy hoppers across North America, Asia, and Australia. His two CD releases of arrangements originally recorded by big bands like Count Basie and Duke Ellington capture the hard driving energy of the Swing Era of the 1930’s and 40’s.

Swing you say? Ho hum. “Not so!” says swing DJ Sam Carroll.

Solomon Douglas is a musician he recommends “to anyone who’s not really sure they like ‘old school’ swing—Solomon does the jumping songs of old, but in a context that’s more accessible today. It’s a modern band that caters specifically to dancers– so the energy is great.”

Boot co-owner David Hausmann explains, “This is certainly not going to be an evening of your grandfather’s old scratchy recordings. The nights we get the swing crowd in here dancing are the most fun nights to work.” Dancer and singer Laura Windley adds, “There’s an energy present in live music that’s not there in recordings. Likewise, there’s an energy that comes from the dancers that feeds back into the band’s energy, so it’s cyclical drive for both dancers and the musicians.”

The recent popularity of television shows like ‘Dancing With the Stars’ has certainly helped spread enjoyment of old time dances like Lindy Hop and east coast swing. Instructor Wendy Craighill says she frequently sees dancers and their parents discovering a common enjoyment of the music and dance instruction in her Lindy 101 classes in Williamsburg. However, local dancer, Marissa Perdue is quick to point out, “Dancing swing, as opposed to ballroom, doesn’t require you to be overly serious, perfect or for you to try to be sexy. Swing is just a fun expression of unbridled joy where you can’t help but smile while you dance.” Others point out you don’t have to be a dancer to enjoy the drive of good swing music. They’ll point out others sitting in the club and say, “See them over there tapping their feet or their fingers? It’s infectious. They just can’t stop themselves.”

It’s no surprise members of the local swing dance community frequently drop in for shows at The Boot. The owners, who ran Relative Theory before opening their restaurant in Ghent, have created a casual environment that hints of an old “Speak Easy”, complete with handle bar mustached bartenders and a piano from the early 1900’s on the stage. It’s an environment where casual regulars and dolled up dancers can relax and enjoy live local music that local Kelly Jackson says, “always turns a light on my insides!” Others point out the restaurant’s wonderful collection of Virginia beers and wines might also help create that atmosphere of relaxed frivolity.

Dancers like Breanna Perry of Nashville say, “You’d be surprised. Swing dancing is cooler than you’d think, you get to interact with other cool people and to learn something not everybody knows. It’s sort of becomes its own underground cool.” Jen Sowden of New York City agrees, “Don’t get me wrong– I go to clubs too, but I love lindy hop swing because you feel connected to someone by the music. Plus, swing music changes, has more accents, changes in tempo, dynamics and instruments; in short, more rhythmic games than modern music.”

The Swingtet musicians who’ll masterfully bring that swing and old style blues to the Boot Restaurant include trumpeters Nicholas Dyson and Alcedrick Todd from Ottawa and Texas, drummer and bass player Brian and Eric Heveron-Smith from NY, Durham’s Lucian Cobb on trombone, Portland sax player (and bandleader in his own right) Pete Petersen, clarinetists Mike Cemprola and Patrick Breiner, guitarist Ted Gottsegen and band leader Solomon Douglas on piano.

Showtime is this Sunday, December 6th . Doors open at 7 p.m. with DJ Bill Speidel spinning swing and blues tunes until the live music begins at 8 p.m. The Boot Restaurant is located at 123 W. 21st Street in Norfolk’s Ghent. Admission is $12."

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