Editor, Webmaster: Phil Cartwright Editor@earlyjas.org
|Swing Is The Thing
|Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization
In 2012, popular culture’s concept of “swing” is largely relegated to the “neo-swing”
movement of the late 1990s, when people flocked en masse in zoot suits, bowling shirts, and
gap khakis to bars where they’d dance “east coast swing” to music that, in a lot of ways,
more closely resembled punk rock than jazz. Memories of the original swing-era: the bobby-
soxers, the Cotton Club, the Lindy Hop, and musicians like Gene Krupa, Harry James and
Fats Waller, have all but faded from the public consciousness. What most people don’t know
is that the 1990s “neo-swing” movement spawned a handful of young people interested in
digging deeper into the music and dance of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
These young folks, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, discovered dances like the Lindy Hop,
the Balboa, Collegiate Shag, and the Charleston through video clips from old films, news
reels, and documentaries. Anxious to learn, these dancers would break down the dance steps
from the films – much the way musicians learn solos and licks from old recordings. They also
began to seek out instructors. For years there had been small circles of dancers interested in
the preservation of these old time dances and young people began attending workshops
taught by these experts. From there they went a step further in seeking out the experts’
mentors - some of the originators of the dance like Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Sugar
Sullivan, Hal Takier, and others who were born in the teens and 1920s and grew up listening
and dancing to hot jazz and swing music.
Today there are tens of thousands of swing dancers world-wide. Most colleges in the US
have extra-curricular swing dance clubs where freshmen come in knowing nothing at all about
dancing, and graduate as proficient Lindy Hoppers. In the Cleveland area you can find
college clubs at Oberlin, Baldwin Wallace, and Case Western. There are 3-4 dance events
around the country with anywhere between 100-1000 attendees every weekend. In cities with
the largest scenes like Seattle, LA, DC, and NYC you can find dancing every night of the
week, and most cities have dancing 1-2 nights per week and at least one professional
instructor that teaches vintage dances. (In Cleveland contact Valerie Salstrom at www.
gethepswing.com). (She’s up in the air above!)
As the scene has grown and dancers have advanced in their skill and knowledge, many of the
better dancers have developed an appreciation for and understanding of the music. Dancers
who started out listening to Neo-Swing of the late 90s, lounge music, early Rock and Roll, and
Rhythm and Blues have moved on to the sort of music that inspired the creation of the dances
they love. They’ve discovered that dancing to this old time music creates a different feel in
their dancing that feels “right.” Early Count Basie, Fats Waller, Early Duke Ellington, Jimmie
Lunceford, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and other music from the late 20s through mid-40s
have become standard fare at swing dances.
The next step for most dancers, after discovering vintage music, is discovering the value in
live music. As dancers become more advanced, they start to realize that while dancing to a
recording can be fun, the real spirit of the lindy hop is in the unspoken communication
between dancers and musicians. The dance becomes a conversation with both your partner
and with the musicians on stage - with the music affecting your dancing and your dancing
affecting the way the musicians play.
The challenge in this is one that’s all too familiar to EARLYJAS members: most modern jazz
musicians don’t really “get it.” Jazz before 1945 is often looked at by mainstream jazz
musicians as “that simple stuff from before jazz became an art,” but we know better!
In the dance scene today there are a handful of current swing bands/bandleaders who have
gained popularity. There are a variety of styles represented among them as dancers in the
lindy scene typically enjoy dancing to swing music as well as 20s hot jazz. Some of the most
well-known bands on the dance scene today are The Boilermaker Jazz Band (Pittsburgh), The
George Gee Swing Orchestra (NYC), Bria Skonberg (NYC), Mora’s Modern Rhythmists (LA),
Meschiya Lake and her Little Big Horns (NOLA), The Carling Family Band (Sweden),
Jonathan Stout’s Campus Five (LA), Gordon Webster (NYC), The Solomon Douglas Swingtet
(Seattle), and Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators (Seattle). The last four bands mentioned are
particularly notable because they’re bands that are led by musicians who also dance and
started their bands largely for the sake of performing at dances.
The Lindy Hop scene is still in its nascent stages. You’re going to meet some dancers who are
really excited by good, live music, but you’ll still meet some who haven’t gotten hip to it yet,
who don’t understand the difference between neo-swing and swing, who don’t really
appreciate quality, and some that haven’t gained enough control of their dancing yet to really
have good floor craft – they may seem a little wild. OK, I know you’re thinking – what a
bunch of squares, but please be patient and understanding - remember that these folks are
jazz fans in the making!
It’s the author’s opinion that the traditional jazz scene and the dance scene can both benefit a
lot from including each other and working together. The traditional jazz scene, in most
places, is trying to attract younger fans to the music in order to keep festivals and clubs
going. The Sun Valley Festival, The Redwood Coast Festival, the San Diego Festival, and the
Sacramento Festival all come to mind (off the top of my head) as examples of festivals
working hard to include the dance community. The dance scene, being young, could benefit
from the traditional jazz scene’s knowledge of and attentiveness to the music, as well as from
their experience in event organizing and fundraising. I’ve never played at a dance event
where the band had a corporate sponsor – most of the events are paid for solely with ticket
sales and dancers don’t really have any idea how to throw events on the scale of a jazz
It’s my hope that, over the next few years, these two scenes that started out as disparate
entities will develop a symbiotic relationship – allowing both music and dance to flourish.
Glenn Crytzer is a freelance musician based in Seattle, WA. He holds an MM in Classical
Music Composition from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and began playing early jazz while
a student at CIM.
For more on Glenn and his music Glenn Crytzer (440) 476-6621 syncopators.net
Source: EARLYJAS Rag, October, 2012 www.earlyjas.org