Swing Makes You Happy!

George Gee Swing Orchestra’s latest CD “Swing Makes You Happy!” travels through a wide scale of human emotions from the exhilarating, uplifting swing numbers to the touching, heartfelt blues.

The CD includes traditional jazz tunes such as “Midnight in a Madhouse” and “No Moon at All” in fresh arrangements by David Gibson. The orchestra does a wonderful job bringing us back to the swinging ballrooms of the 1930’s–50’s and to the days when swing was the latest thing, but the greatest merits of the recording are even deeper than this. Through David Gibson’s new compositions, George Gee’s orchestra renews and creates the genre, and shows that today, in 2015, big band swing still is a living and exciting art form.

Further reasons why any jazz enthusiast should want to add George Gee to her/his record collection next to the Basie’s and Ellington’s are the fantastic musicianship as well as the outstanding vocalists John Dokes and Hilary Gardner. There is a beautiful harmony between the players that makes you feel like you are among friends. Gardner’s voice stems from a very clear spring, and “Sweet Pumpkin” is one of the tunes that stays in my head after having heard this CD. Listening to the nuances of Dokes’ deep voice, I cannot help thinking about Joe Williams, but certainly Dokes adds his own personality into his interpretation of both of the shadowy and the sunny, even funny sides of life. As to the latter, Doke’s and Gardner’s fantastic duet “If I Were a Bell” always brings a smile on my face. “Well Sir, all I can say is if I were a gate I’ll be swinging.”

And you certainly will be swinging listening to George Gee Swing Orchestra. The orchestra has a great sensitivity for playing for dancers, and appreciation for the fact that swing fundamentally is dance music. I have had the privilege to see this band many times, and even though the energy of their live performance is difficult to capture on a recording, even their recorded music is great to dance to. And yes, you can definitely also enjoy it in a sitting position! And yes, swing does make you happy!

(c) Malin Grahn-Wilder

The Swing Nut’s Dozen

Hello.

This is your friendly neighborhood swing nut calling.

How are you? Swingwise, it’s been great since that April 5, 2013 post of mine. The swanky 40s tie I am wearing as of this writing, our monthly tea dances, the weekly dance lessons, the Jazz through the Ages show, the May Day ball, some Lindy Hop in a nearby park, and the occasional urge to start truckin’ in downtown Helsinki or to do the Charleston while waiting for my bus might have something to do with it. Witnesses abound.

Ahem. Let us move to the matter at hand.

I’d like to introduce a highly personal unit of measurement. It has served me remarkably well by putting some order in my ICRP and by quantifying what I perceive as essentially unquantifiable (indeed, how does one quantify quality?). I will readily admit that its scope of application in the wider world remains somewhat limited; however, what follows is by no means an attempt at supplanting the metric system or at reinventing the wheel.

Here’s how it works. You sift through your collections and recollections of music (one great thing about this is that you don’t have to own the records in question) and walk down your personal Memory Lane from tune to standout tune as they emerge. Because, and believe you me, emerge they will. With most of their entire extended family more often that not.

You know how it goes.

It starts with your shoulders.

And then, with a little more heat, it flips into your hips.

Then it goes to your feet.

You sit up (or stand up) and take notice. Your eyes start to shine. Your fingers snap. Your toes tap. You might find yourself doing a step. Or two. Or ten. And then some. You might also feel like sharing those standout tunes with the rest of the known universe. Even the Klingons might dig them. Your choices may range from the obvious to the obscure and from the weird to the wonderful. Chances are you’ll come across some pleasant surprises and a few old acquaintances from way back. I know I did. What’s more, there may very well be more of both heading your way.

This then is the first Swing Nut’s Dozen known to mankind. Call it a blueprint, a prototype, or a work in progress but contained therein are a handful of choice cuts I developed a lasting fondness for in my younger days. Why these tunes instead of countless other gassers and why this particular order of presentation I couldn’t possibly tell. I have no idea. It’s just that I have liked them for so long that I feel the time has come for me to share them with you.

Here goes.

1. Benny Goodman and his Orchestra: Sing Sing Sing, RCA Victor 36205, 1937.

An absolute classic plus an ear-opener in my book: prior to hearing this, I had absolutely no idea that a band could keep things swinging well beyond the 200-or-so seconds of a standard-sized 78rpm record side. I remember timing this one with my trusty wristwatch at age 14 (yes, I discovered this one thanks to that fabulous LP collection I got from that great great-aunt of mine) and clocking it in at 8min 38sec without a single dull moment. Take it, Benny. Go, Gene, go. Swing up a storm. At that time already, I couldn’t help comparing this with the warmth Mr Goodman plus cohorts instilled in “Stompin’ at the Savoy”. I believe the word is range.

2. Wingy Manone and his Orchestra: Ochi Chornya, Bluebird B 11298, 1938.

I mentioned this, a firm favourite of mine, in that April post of mine already and am thus repeating myself. But I just have to keep singing its praises. The old Russian chestnut never sounded, or swung, like this. And I don’t think it ever quite recovered. Neither did I. Which is good. Besides, you don’t get rhymes like this anywhere else. Period. One of the all-time greats as far as I am concerned and the musical equivalent of those zany ‘30s/‘40s Tex Avery/Bob Clampett/Friz Freleng cartoons I acquainted myself with, and instantly fell in love with, just about at the same age I discovered swing. You know the genre: you name it and it happens (“Technicolor ends here” and so forth) yet the whole kit and caboodle somehow stays on track and induces healthy bouts of laughter. Mr Manone’s gritty playing and gravelly vocals (50% Satchmo, 50% Louis Prima, and 100% Wingy), those unbelievable ersatz lyrics he wrote himself with precious little (I believe) to do with the original words, and able backing by Messrs. Marty & Joe Marsala, George Brunies, Mel Powell, Carmen Mastren, Al Morgan, and Zutty Singleton have me in stitches to this day. I verified the fact not more than thirty-two minutes ago. PS: imagine me hearing this for the very first time right after Ziggy Elman’s frailach swing stylings in “Bublitchki” and right before Lionel Hampton’s “Muskrat Ramble”. Three steps to swing heaven.

3. Eddy Duchin & his Orchestra (vocals by June Robbins): Jenny, Columbia 35978, 1941.

A cautionary tale if there ever was one, an Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill tune from the “The Lady in the Dark”, a showstopper first sung on Broadway by Gertrude Lawrence, quite a mood piece, and one serious slice of swing all rolled into one. To remain in the 24-frames-per-second analogy, I recall going upon first hearing: “hmm… doesn’t this sound the way film noir looks like?” Jet-black humour. Cynical wisecracks. Stark contrasts. And an unfailing sense of style (if not of impending doom) hanging over the proceedings. I find this just about as cool as Benny Goodman’s (and Peggy Lee’s) long-lasting 1942 “Who Don’t You Do Right?” and Woody Herman’s equally immortal 1943 “Who Dat Up Dere?” – but I heard this one first. And in precedes both of them as recordings go. (Come to think about it, this also feels a lot like what Brian Setzer & Co came up with in 1981 in “Stray Cat Strut”…) Even if Mr Duchin hadn’t ever recorded anything else of note I’d give him pretty high marks on the strength of this one. But he did. Oh boy, he did. I shall keep blessing him till the end of my days for his riotously funny “Ol’ Man Mose” as well even if the jury seems to still be out as to whether Patricia Norman sings “bucket” with an initial “f”… So he could swing with the best of them if and/or when the Spirit moved him. Some may carp but, as George Michael once put it, listen without prejudice.

4. Will Bradley and his Orchestra featuring Ray McKinley: Strange Cargo, Columbia 35545, 1940.

Another goodie I have already waxed positive about. The cat’s meow (or pajamas) and the bee’s knees. Also known as “Boogie Woogie Nocturne” for reasons I fail not to fathom, this one took me into uncharted territory as regards big band boogie-woogie which is and quite probably remains one of my favourite forms of musical expression. And I had just discovered “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” and decided I would LOVE it, and respect its creators, for the rest of my natural life. Dim the lights. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and let yourself be carried away by Bradley’s mellow trombone, by McKinley’s gently insistent drumming, and by Freddie Slack’s delightfully understated touches on the ivories. Feel the music. See the music. What did you see? I saw a rustbucket plowing through an endless expanse of fog-covered sea at a steady 12 knots. Not unlike something a latter-day Joseph Conrad with a penchant for music instead of literature could have come up with – or not unlike the atmosphere aboard S.S. Venture on her way to the Skull Island in a cinema near you in 1933. (She sure came back with the strangest cargo indeed.)

5. Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra: Nagasaki, Columbia 2825, 1933.

The things the pecuniarily challenged music fan can unearth in the sales bin of a department store. This thunderbolt of a tune is from a weirdish-looking three-part CD set with minimal track information and with even less in the way of liner notes (that is, none). I picked up all the three volumes ages ago for a pittance, something I have never regretted: imagine getting prime cuts by Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Joe Haymens, Don Redman, Spud Murphy, etc. for what one would usually shell out for a collection of current pop hits and still having enough moolah left for tea for two. (Not that I would have shelled out anything for a collection of current pop hits at the time. Or at any time for that matter.) Anyway, it also seems to me that some of the tracks on these three are not among the most frequently revived ones either. Great stuff nonetheless. Yes siree. Now, as regards performances, adjectives like “electric”, “electrifying”, “galvanizing” or even “thundering” have been used, and perhaps even over-used. This one, however, crackles. Enough energy here to keep the Greater Helsinki area lit for a year. Plus enough tongue-twisting rhymes to keep one’s ears peeled forever.

6. Isham Jones & his Orchestra (vocals by Eddie Stone): Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia, Victor 24099, 1932.

Another gem from the same set and one of the chronologically earliest in my dozen. Whether this qualifies as swing or not (I have it also in a four-CD swing set yet some people prefer filing this under “pre-swing” or “proto-swing”) I am not certain – but why argue as long as the music is this good? At any rate, your friendly neighbourhood swing nut is nuts over this testimony to a flair for somewhat unusual instrumentation and to a subtle sense of musical humour. Has been for the last 20 years or so. In other words, along came Jones and made my day. Highly infectious and totally irresistible… and swings like mad in its own way. I recently listened to this once again and yes – it still sends positive shivers down my spine. Who Eddie Stone was I know not (according to the omniscient and ever-reliable Wikipedia, he was a violinist in the Jones outfit) but, as far as I can tell, nobody, and I do mean NOBODY, else sings quite like this. Wow.

7. Bob Crosby & his Orchestra: I’m Prayin’ Humble, Decca 2210, 1938.

Forgive me for repeating myself once more. It’s just that, for me, this may well be Brother Bingstance’s kid brother’s finest hour – not to mention an interesting departure from his frequently exhilarating trademark big-band sound with a Dixieland touch. And that’s no mean achievement since his band or parts thereof also made “Big Noise from Winnetka” (which a rockabilly friend of mine has named his favourite piece of “slap” bass playing), “South Rampart Street Parade”, a totally endearing version of “Oh! Look-a-There, Ain’t She Pretty”, an indescribably bluesy “Louise Louise”, and heaps of other grade-A stuff. In the case at hand, take a ’37 gospel recording by Mitchell’s Christian Singers (a seriously cool outfit in its own right), leave out the lyrics, put the rest to a swing beat courtesy of double-bass player Bob Haggart and ace drummer Ray Bauduc, give lead trumpet man Sterling Bose ample room to live it up to his first name and, hey presto, there you go. I got stuck on this tune as soon as I first heard it. I remember having thought about Native Americans at a Revival meeting. Go figure. Then, after listening to this six times on a row to start with, I had to pick up the Ameche to share this with a friend. She was equally sold. I have reiterated the experiment with a number of people with, invariably, the same result. A Blast with a capital B.

8. Erskine Hawkins & his Orchestra: Uncle Bud, Bluebird 11372, 1941.

Some people wish they could shimmy like their sister Katie. In Hank Marvin’s case, the sis was called Arthur. But I digress. I do have a sister, though. She’s called Katri. That’s Finnish for Katie. Whether she does the shimmy I couldn’t say. But I digress again. My point is that I wish I could swing like this relative of Mr Hawkins – he must have been quite a solid sender on the dance floor – or, indeed, like Mr Hawkins himself. While I keep practising my eight-count, I’d say this one proves conclusively that his original version of “Tuxedo Junction” was no fluke. I’ll have to keep looking for more stuff by the 20th-century Gabriel; I do have a handful of titles by him but I think he is seriously under-represented in what music I have, or know, or know of. This gem was stashed away at the very end of an obscure (I mean “budget”) 100-track five-CD set I bought with my student (I mean “meager”) money ages ago and listened quite often to. To tell you the truth, one reason why I bought this set was that Bob Crosby was mentioned on the box. While he was nowhere to be heard inside there were oodles of serious hotness included from Count Basie to Andy Kirk (plus some very intriguing tonal experiences by Stan Kenton – to quote a fellow swing fan: “cold”…). Somehow, this track didn’t make much of impression on me back then. It did a couple of months ago. I guess that makes this the wild card in my hand or the joker among the dozen. As one Thomas W. Waller, Esq. was wont to say, one never knows, do one?

9. Georgia Gibbs: I Want You To Be My Baby, Mercury 70685, 1955.

Erm. Hm. I can almost hear you ask: “What dat?” “Who dat?”, “What’s this cover version doing here instead of the Louis Jordan original?” “Haven’t you ever heard of Lillian Briggs?”, and so forth. Please read me out. A rainy Saturday morning in the late 70s. I am glued to a wireless set and find myself positively blown away when Her Nibs sails effortlessly through the lyrics. And I can make out every word with what little English I know while the sidemen play like there’s no tomorrow. The tweet-tweet-toot-toot intro also helps. Then I forget the whole thing for oh-so-many years. Until around 1985 when I stumble on a second-hand copy of an original, USA-pressed 1955 Georgia Gibbs LP. And there it is – Track 1, Side 1. Just like meeting an old friend for the first time in years and picking up exactly where we once left off. I can’t help it. I have liked this for 35-plus years. Latter-day swing? A cover of a R&B great? Burgeoning rock’n’roll? Or just plain pop performed with true gusto by a white warbler? I couldn’t say. But Ms Gibbs sure delivers the goods. She must have had a fine pair of lungs. Not to mention perfect diction. I think she’s the only one who can sing faster than Jerry Byrne did in his 1958 “Lights Out” and still make sense. And yes, I do like Louis Jordan’s original as well. And yes, I have heard of Lillian Briggs. Her version is right there on my record shelf. And yes, I like all three of them. Immensely.

10. Art Shaw and his New Music: Moonlight and Shadows (vocals: Peg LaCentra), Brunswick 7835, 1937.

This dozen of mine wouldn’t be complete without something by Mr Shaw. This cut, however, I think ranks as a real curio. As you may have noticed, there’s no link here. I haven’t found one ANYWHERE over the net so it seems you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say how good this is. Or, better still, come around for a listen. I do know for a fact that there’s at least one person out there who digs this as much as I do. Ask her – she’ll tell you. While this predates Mr Shaw’s breakthrough and his definitive transformation from Art to Artie by a good year or so, I think what we have here is one crackerjack cut from the formative years of a future force to reckon with. Dorothy Lamour’s original TOTALLY pales in comparison just like Shep Fields’ and Eddy Duchin’s interpretations do, too. And though I’m usually not that keen on strings on swing records, I will be the first (possibly apart from the maestro himself) to admit that, here, they complement the reed, brass, and rhythm sections more than nicely. This is not to overlook the vocals. While the lead clarinet – Art’s art, as it were – is obviously the main attraction here, Ms LaCentra is equally game and comes shining through. She must have been well above average as singers go since Shaw himself, a man well known for his unrelenting pursuit of musical excellence, reminisced much later that she was “pretty good” in spite of a persistent vibrato problem. No such difficulties here: she handles the lyrics with exactly the right mixture of confidence and mischief. I might even suggest that she sings the way the band plays. The word that comes to mind is “fetching”. I call it style and could not ask for anything more.

11. Slim Gaillard and His Flat-Foot-Floogee Boys: Boot-Ta-La-Za, Vocalion 5388, 1939.

Carrollian jabberwocky goes swing (and supremely surreal) thanks to the one and only master of “Vout” – a sure-fire way to lose the biggest bag of blues. About 12 seconds into the tune, you’ll be sporting a grin from here to Ashtabula and laughing in rhythm. This A-1 slab of swing with some of the greatest, and weirdest, words ever recorded is bound to transport me anytime into a totally outlandish verbal landscape. I have no idea what this is all about – apart from the “Solid!” that you can hear in the background and that I agree most wholeheartedly with. The funny thing is that, somehow, it all makes sense (of sorts) and swings mightily. If this is up your alley, try “African Jive” (the passing reference to “fried ice cream” has to be heard to be believed), “Chicken Rhythm”, “Matzoh Balls” and/or “Sploghm” and you’ll be back asking for seconds.

12. Cab Calloway & his Orchestra: Reefer Man.

Some people I know dismiss Cab Calloway as a musical clown. I don’t. I can’t. I plain and simply can’t. So I won’t. You might as well say that a chicken ain’t nothing but a bird. Mr Calloway has been one of my heroes ever since I caught snippets of his 1930s performances on TV about 34 years ago. This one is too much fun to be excluded herefrom. Besides, I have so fond memories of seeing this scene in a weird and virtually plotless 1933 W. C. Fields film called “International House” and laughing my head off even if reefers are not exactly my cup of tea. I also recall everybody in my class talking about this the next day at school. Great bass playing, too. And I finally got this on a CD in or around 1993 and was so pleased to find that the magic was still there – intact if not even intensified by the passing of the time. Peerless.

Gotcha!

Never let it be said that the Swing Nut is a tightwad, a skinflint, a miser, a cheapskate, a scrooge, or just plain cagey when it comes to music, and to good music at that, or to music this good. Music as I perceive it is very much a “together” thing, an experience readily shared by many and more than capable of bringing people around. Ask anybody who attended the House Rent Party in Helsinki, Finland, on November 17, 2012. In other words, why should my dozen be quantitatively as restricted (or restrictive) as just about anybody else’s (with a few notable exceptions more of which will be said below) since there is so much good stuff around (and not only in the swing department) – especially since I am more than ready to admit that “Uncle Bud” fully qualifies as a sleeper here?

13. The Casa Loma Orchestra, Smoke Rings, ARC BR6289, 1932.

More proto-swing here I believe. Mr Gray doesn’t seem to be overly well-remembered these days but he sure came up with great tunes and could, if need be, swing as well as the next guy. His take on “No Name Jive”, which I have heard thanks to a dear, dear friend of mine, is a case in point and definitely gives Gene Krupa a run for his money (after all, it was a Casa Loma creation GK covered). And his 1938 interpretation of the Tommy Dorsey classic “Song of India” has a lot going for itself (including lightness, freshness, and… warmth). Gray used “Smoke Rings” for years as his signature tune, and while he did go on to re-record the same tune in a more polished fashion, what I think sets this early version apart is a certain kind of quietly endearing charm. And I do not smoke.

Let’s get generous. More generous than the red guy running a notoriously well-heated pitchfork factory somewhere way down below, your average baker, and even Vladimir Nabokov.

14. Duke Ellington & his Orchestra: Creole Love Call (vocals: Adelaide Hall), Victor 21137, 1927.

The year: 1977. The place: a living-room in Helsinki. Dramatis personae: my father, a wireless set, and yours truly. The very roots of my first forays into jazz. A ring-in jazz request show was on with very knowledgeable people both calling and DJ’ing. I had never, NEVER heard anything like this. My old man apparently had because he literally jumped to the cassette deck we had fortunately plugged in. This slice of seminal Ellingtonia still moves me. Hall’s vocals, wordless but all the more expressive for that, were a major jolt. As were Cootie Williams’s trumpet and those masterful chords played by the Duke in person. Yowzah. It took me quite a while to figure out what this song was actually all about. But if Mr Ellington had been looking for this kind of singing for some time already, it sure was good enough for me too. I think my dad still has that cassette somewhere – we filled it with stuff by DDT Jazzband, Art Blakey, Nat Adderley, and, gulp, Charles Mingus. Talk about a mixed tape. (By the way, imagine my deception to find that this cut was not included in a handsome 2CD set of early OKeh Ellington. No wonder actually since OKeh was not Victor. But the universe has a way of re-establishing its equilibrium. I was not long in coming across an Adelaide Hall CD with this track. In a sales bin. At a record store specialised in religious music.)

One more for the road.

15. Count Basie and his Orchestra, How Long Blues (vocals: Jimmy Rushing), Vocalion 5010, 1939.

I was considering “Mama Don’t Like No Peas an’ Rice an’ Coconut Oil”, “The Blues I Like to Hear”, or pretty much anything Mr Rushing ever recorded with Mr Basie for inclusion when inspiration struck, quite literally, at the very last moment. I suddenly remembered the very first Count Basie LP I ever bought for myself. It had been quietly and patiently waiting on the shelf for way too many years. Until the other night. It’s all there exactly as I remembered it: rock-solid piano-playing, inimitable vocals, a solid rhythm section, and a real whammy around the two-minute mark. The blues. Words fail me.

There you have it, a very personal dozen indeed if I may say so. I bet you have one as well – and an equally personal one at that. Would you like to compare?

The swing nut signs off. Until the next time.

Meanwhile…

… Shall we dance?

How I Became a Swing Nut

by: Mikko Kuusimäki It all started on July 24, 1938. Exactly 24 years and one week before I came around. My father was one and my mother was on her way. I better do some explaining. One of my great-aunts was born in 1918. A great person and quite a story in herself, she trained as a nurse, celebrated her diploma in August 1939 at the Fennia restaurant in central Helsinki to the sounds of Rytmi-Pojat (one of the hottest Finnish dance bands at the time), worked through the war years at the headquarters of the Finnish armed forces, and earned the respect of both Marshal Mannerheim and President Ryti there. On July 24, 1938, Artie Shaw recorded “Begin the Beguine”. History in the making as it soon turned out. She loved music. All kinds of music. Especially the big bands. I paid her a visit in late 1976. I remember browsing, with her kind permission, through her well-stocked record shelf and coming across a handsome set of six LP’s. Its title referred to the Glenn Miller era. I was interested ­– I had seen that set advertised in a mag and had heard, or heard of, “In the Mood”, “American Patrol” plus a few others. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of “swing” at the time. So I asked her what kind of music she had there. Back in those days, classical music reigned supreme on our family record player. My older brother took it to heart and soon became an expert. She said, with the slightest hint of nostalgia in her voice and a dreamy faraway look in her eyes, that she had loved swing way back in time and still did. She was kind enough to lend those six LP’s to me. I got home, slipped Record No. 1 from its jacket and put it ever-so-carefully on the turntable. Track 1 I had already heard. It was “Moonlight Serenade” (a later re-recording, as it turned out) so I skipped it. Track 2. “On the Sunny Side of the Street”. Tommy Dorsey. “Pretty good”, I thought. Track 3. “And the Angels Sing”. Benny Goodman. My reaction: “Not bad.” Then, WHAM. Track 4 knocked me right into Swingdom Come. All of a sudden, it was July 24, 1938 for me. I was stunned. No, make that mesmerized. From the word go. By the time Mr Shaw breathed his first note, I was sold. For life. When the brass and reeds took over, I couldn’t believe my ears. Come to think about it, I still can’t. I was 14 then. Now I am 50. And I’m whistling Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine” as I am writing this. I went on and got my first taste of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Fats Waller (“Your Feet’s Too Big” gets me every time), Guy Lombardo (the odd one out in this company, one might say with hindsight), Charlie Barnet, Vaughn Monroe, Sammy Kaye, Wayne King, and even Xavier Cugat – not to mention this Freddy Martin piece, a personal favourite of mine I once sung at a student party. Then there were the singers. Tex Beneke. Jack Leonard. Frank Sinatra. Ray Eberle. Oh, Paula Kelly. Oh, Martha Tilton. Oh, Dinah Shore. And oh, Jo Stafford. To name but a few. Plus a bonus LP with stuff by assorted righteous cats like Gene Krupa, the NBC Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, John Kirby, Ziggy Elman, and Wingy Manone (“Ochi Chornya”, anyone?). That was my Swing 101. It must have taken me several days to go through all the 82 tracks included in the set. Then I started over. From the top. Indeed, the music did go round and round and it came out there. Much to the dismay of my brother I might add. I guess hearing “In the Mood” for the gazillionth time could throw him a bit after a steady diet of what some have called “longhair” music. Don’t get me wrong; I admire Mozart (and Michael Nyman), will always have a soft spot for Saint-Saëns, and believe I still have an almost working knowledge of the classics. It’s just that they are not exactly my cup of java any more than swing is my brother’s. (He likes especially Bach’s organ works which I have found ideal for annihilating houses of card. The experiments I conducted in this field yielded literally shattering results.) Funny how differently the same genes did turn up in the two of us. Although “Your Feet’s Too Big” gets him too. To this day, I thank that great great-aunt of mine for sharing that one dreamy faraway look with me. As to that LP set of hers, she sort of never wanted it back (quite probably realizing what it meant – and was already doing – to me at the time). It is the cornerstone of what record collection I have. The box is coming a bit apart at the seams, but who cares? So am I. Weirdness soon ensued. At 15, I was humming “On the Sunny Side of the Street” at an appropriate location and paid attention to Count Basie’s “Has Anyone Here Seen Basie” being played as a jingle on a Finnish afternoon radio show (somebody at the Finnish Broadcasting Company must have known a good tune when s/he heard one) which, on one memorable occasion, ended with a torrid live rendition of “Caravan” by Benny Goodman. I still recall the thrill of hearing those incredible high notes by Harry James for the very first time – and that ending, wow… At 16, I named Artie Shaw as one of my idols at music class while Gary Glitter, Tom Jones, and Nazareth were among the top acts of the day. At 17, TV pitched in. I saw Tony Palmer’s “All You Need is Love: The Story of Popular Music” and Howard Hawks’ great “Ball of Fire” featuring Gene Krupa (remember: “What is the name of that song?” – “Boogie!” – “What does ‘boogie’ mean?”). Those were my first glimpses of the visual excitement swing music, and swing bands, could generate. Around that time, I also discovered that I have an Intracranial Record Player, or “ICRP” for short. It is a precious piece of equipment and has saved my life in many a tedious meeting. It also seems to have unlimited disk space. No loudspeakers required. How’s that for a budding swing nut? It also turned out that both of my parents had been pretty good dancers when young(er) and still mastered quite a few nifty steps. Miller’s “American Patrol” had been their favourite record in the 50s at school hops. My father, who had developed a lifelong interest in jazz, introduced me to Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan among others. To Django Reinhardt, too. He has always liked Duke Ellington’s and Adelaide Hall’s “Creole Love Call” – another goodie my ICRP plays thanks to my old man. (On the other hand, he also loves Charles Mingus’s “Devil’s Blues” and I don’t. I mean I really, REALLY don’t. But that’s another story.) Then, still watching Mr Palmer’s series and with the 50s revival taking Finland by storm, I discovered and started collecting rock’n’roll. I may digress here but, for all I knew, there was a direct lineage between swing and rock’n’roll and I like them both even more for that. Why make the distinctions too rigid if the music is good? (Fats Domino’s 1949 “Hey La Bas Boogie”, anyone?) Besides, theirs is a peaceful albeit not overly silent coexistence in my ICRP. The funny thing is that I could never muster up similar interest in the Beatles or whoever has come after them. Old-fashioned? Who? Me? Yep. Or just true to my childhood darlings. Now I never, NEVER considered myself a dancer. I seem to belong to that one generation that somehow found it difficult to take lessons so dancing appeared to pass me by. I am also on the shy, bookish side and not exactly the sportiest guy around. Not by a long shot. There was TV, too. As far as I can recall, it was a big thing in the 70s so it was very easy for me to stay home – especially since, as I may have hinted earlier on, the (dance) music of that particular era never really clicked with yours truly. On the other hand, I may have overdosed on swing and rock’n’roll by that time already. Be that as it may, I kept listening to “my” music, finding new fun things in it and raiding record stores in the process. Over the years, I have come across Benny Carter, Bing Crosby’s jazzier ‘30s cuts and his kid brother Bob (I can’t get over his “I’m Prayin’ Humble”), Eddy Duchin (“buck-buck-buck-EET!”), Roy Eldridge, Glen Gray, the Ink Spots, Jimmie Lunceford, Slim and Slam, and oh so many others. I have also unearthed a double LP with Benny Goodman’s 1937–38 airchecks including that torrid live take on “Caravan” – just like meeting an old friend for the first time in years. Stockholm in the early 90s. The smallest record store I have ever seen. Not much bigger than a hole in an Östermalm wall. That’s where Will Bradley and Ray McKinley beat this daddy eight to the bar and my world hasn’t been quite the same since. (By the way, catch their “Strange Cargo” if you can. You will never regret it.) Helsinki, circa 1993. A CD of Finnish dance music by none other than the aforementioned Rytmi-Pojat with a couple of pretty creditable swing jobs by Eugen Malmstén and cohorts methinks. This one is for that great great-aunt of mine. Helsinki in 2008. A Russian bookshop. There I go again, getting my first contact with Czech and even Soviet ‘30s swing. All the while, I remained convinced I had an anatomically inordinate number of sinistral pedal extremities and, since I had never learned to dance, I never would. So I kept listening. Little did I know that two fateful events were not long in coming. Fateful Event No. 1: one day a few years back I discovered a 100-part CD series of Top Thirty jazz hits from 1919 to 1955 a major Finnish retailer was trying to get rid of at ridiculously buyer-friendly prices. Call it a textbook case of temporary insanity but I raided every store carrying that series in the Greater Helsinki area and wound up with 98 of the 100 volumes. That took some legwork and the better part of a summer holiday week. Ordering the remaining two from the manufacturer seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time. It makes even more sense to me now. So there I was, the proud owner of a treasure trove of 2,211 (or 2,179 if one omits re-issues) toe-tappers from Dixieland to Swing and beyond by guys from Van Alexander to Bob Zurke with a generous helping of first-rate canaries thrown in for good measure. Enough gassers, solid senders, and killer-dillers to last me a lifetime. All the giants are there along with many unsung heroes I had never heard, or never heard of. Harry Reser. Raymond Scott. Ben Pollack’s “Got the Jitters”. Frank Froeba (no wonder his outfit was called just “His Swing Band”). And then some. I have thus far listened through about 75 volumes and found gems in each of them. I think I can safely surmise that, after hearing all the 100 discs, I might, and very probably will, happily start all over again – just like I did with those six LP’s in late 1976. My ICRP will thank me for that. Chances are that I will never need to buy another record again. (Whether I want to is another matter altogether.) It is also starting to dawn on me that, even with all these 2,211 cuts, I am barely scratching the surface of Swing. You might say that I’m beginning to see the light. How’s that for a swing nut? Fateful Event No. 2: late in 2011, a dear, dear friend of mine asked me if I she could interest me in a Lindy Hop week-end workshop. She could. I mean she really could. She can be very persuasive in the best kind of way, you know. So, contrary to my very nature, I found no real reason not to attend – remember, I am the archetypal shyish bookworm, and a nearly superhuman effort would usually have been required. Yet I found myself fretting about my alleged bisinistropedality. Came her reply, quick as lightning: “What matters most in dancing is rhythm, and that you’ve got down to a T.” I was not long in buying my first-ever pair of dancing shoes and showing up with my two left feet. Then, WHAM. All of a sudden, it was July 24, 1938 again for me. Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine”. That dreamy faraway look in my great-aunt’s eyes. The music. The “hey, nice to meet you, glad you came” atmosphere. Then, lo and behold, to paraphrase the late great Gene Vincent: my feet did things they’d never done before. What a difference a week-end made. Now I have been to two Lindy Hop workshops and at every single Sunday evening tea dance organized since Fateful Event 2. Plus to a Monday evening dance course (I haven’t missed a single lesson so far and don’t intend to either). And to a House Rent Party. And to an Independence Day ball. I have had a blast every time. Truth be told, as a dancer, I still think I’m no great shakes. Bad pun intended. I am far from being, and may never become, an A-1 hoofer. At times, I get mixed up instead of, well, just dancing and most likely look like a caribou caught in your headlights in the middle of a road at night. That’s when I can hear the cogwheels in my thinkbox go clickity-clack as the machinery overheats (“hmm… wait a minute… what’s my partner doing?… what step is that?… how do I execute this thing called a swingout?… is this where a breakaway occurs?… hmm…”). According to reliable witnesses, smoke then emerges from my ears. But that’s beside the point. The point is that, at other times, I just dance. After all, “dance music” is not called “dance music” without a reason. And I am yet to see a ladder one would not begin climbing from the bottom. I also seem to be learning enough to keep coming back for more. My feet (one left one and one right one as I am getting to realize) usually ache after that. It’s the good kind of ache. Beats bellyaching any day of the week. Especially since I feel literally upbeat for days afterwards and since my ICRP picks up new tunes – for instance this one, a bona fide hit at those Sunday evening tea dances. (Now here’s the curious thing: a good tune can also make me feel that my ship will leave tomorrow in the general direction of some tiny island I have never heard about in the Pacific shortly before V-J day – and that I will come back in one piece.) Quite a good way to lose those Sunday-evening blues and to avoid watching the same lame movie for the umpteenth time on TV. I got it good and that ain’t bad. So there you have it. The long and the short of it. The swing of things so to speak. The 35-or-so years since that one look in my great-aunt’s eyes. I still collect rock’n’roll – as of this writing, I have about 1,214 original r & b, rock, pop, doo-wop, and surf 78s, 33s, and 45s from the 1954–1963 era – but swing was and is my starting point. It does go to your feet. It does make you nine feet tall if you are four feet five (and works wonders for the kind of vulture-like slouch I have developed during my office-plankton years). And all God’s chillun do got rhythm. If I were ever to get myself a pet rabbit I would have to call him (or her) Berigan. It all started on July 24, 1938. In a way, it still is July 24, 1938. Not bad for a swing nut, huh? … Shall we dance?