Frankie100 is a year away and so goes the wild speculation about what it will be like. A recent comment on Facebook got me to thinking about the possible live music for this thing. Music is the main ingredient for any dance event, but at something like Frankie100 where you’re expecting the bulk of the existing Lindy Hop population to attend, there are a lot of “considerations,” to put it politely, that you have to keep in mind. I should note that even though I worked for Frankie95, I don’t have any intention of working for Frankie100, so I’m not working from any insider knowledge of that particular event. This is just blatant fan speculation on my part.
One of the main things that I did learn from Frankie95 is that more does not equal more. Having multiple bands every night was just not worth it in my opinion. We had so many talented musicians out there, but didn’t have that much time to enjoy them because we were always getting ready for the next band. No one really got into a groove until the last night where we let Houston Person’s band and Wycliff Gordon’s Battle of the Bones stretch out over the entire last evening of the event.
Two bands a night (one for the main dance and one for the late night) are plenty. Lindy Focus XI had the strongest lineup of music I've ever heard for a dance event and they only had two bands a night. You might be able to justify two bands for a main dance and a third for a late night, but no more than that. There’s going to be a temptation to try to top Frankie95 in terms of number of bands. I hope that’s ignored. In fact, if someone who is part of Frankie100 is reading this and can only remember one thing from this post, then note this paragraph. More than three bands a night is the path of pain and sorrow. If nothing else, just remember all the money Frankie95 lost. That should sober you up right quick. Speaking of money, you should probably pay the musicians their full rate this time around which would alleviate any sore feelings from that whole DVD fiasco.
On to the fantasy booking:
The Must Haves (or at least try to get)
Harlem Renaissance Orchestra vs. Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm Band. I’ll start with the main event of the weekend, whenever that will be (Frankie’s birthday will fall on a Monday next year, but most events culminate on Saturday.) This also sets the tone for the other choices below. I propose a battle of the bands. Are battles cliché by now? Maybe, but this one will have special significance
There is a serious difference of opinion regarding the best kind of music that should be played for Lindy Hop. We pretty much settled this in the mid aughts and the scene now favors the jazz that was played between the 1920’s and mid 1940’s at the latest. However, most of the really old school dancers (I’m referring to people who danced in the original era through some of the early revivalists from the 1980’s and 90’s) truly dislike anything related to hot jazz, New Orleans, or Dixieland. This was something that was publicly re-iterated just recently. They think it’s too bouncy, too old, too square. They prefer the later sounds of New Testament Count Basie where the rhythm is loose and the solos smoother.
On the other end are those that believe this style of modern jazz killed Lindy Hop. It’s usually too slow or too fast, the rhythm too lazy, and the solos unnecessarily complex and unending. They don’t even consider it Swing music; capital letter intentional. They prefer their music and rhythm hot.
Because we’re now segregated into so many events where we can stick to the kind of music we like, Frankie100 would be the best and probably last place to bring everyone together under one roof, onto one floor. It doesn’t have to be a true battle, but it would be a great opportunity to enjoy the range of Swing music that is out there.
HRO playing the Hellzapoppin Finals at Frankie95
HRO was Frankie’s favorite live band, and they’re New York City legends. For many years they played weekly for Savoy Ballroom veterans, including Frankie, at Lucy’s in Harlem. They’re also the only keepers of Illinois Jacquet’s (he of the famed Flying Home solo) big band arrangements.
Glenn Crytzer’s approach to dance music is the epitome of everything that made it popular music in the 1920’s and 30’s, tempered by a keen eye for Lindy Hop styling in the 21st century. He also has the flexibility to go into the 40’s style. Plus he has access to some of the hottest jazz players in the country, especially from New York City.
With this combination, dancers would be able to appreciate the wonders of a gentle 8 minute long Splanky and then swing the eff out to a searing version of Digga Digga Do.
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: If we’re going to be in New York City, then we might as well try to get the most famous active big band in the world, led by the most famous proponent of jazz alive. In Wynton Marsailis you would get one of the most accomplished modern hard bop players who also has a near sacred reverence for the kind of hot jazz that made Louis Armstrong and the rest of the genre famous.
Meschiya Lake & The Lil big Horns: Meschiya Lake is probably the hottest, almost mainstream musician that we have playing for dancers on a regular basis. Everywhere she goes, and she tours the world regularly, she’s the subject of countless interviews and articles in alternative and mainstream news and music outlets. A three time winner of the best performer in New Orleans (not just jazz, but of any kind of music), she could convert even the most jaded anti-New Orleans music person with a voice that can slay a dragon. The Lil Big Horns are also one of the best party bands out there.
Gordon Webster: Gordon is what I consider the Bridge. He's the only guy that can legitimately go from playing a hot Fats Waller tune back to back to a groovy Gene Harris one and keep the floor pumped and excited to dance. He’s probably the single most popular musician in the Lindy Hop and Blues scenes after playing dance events all over North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Plus he can bring in almost any combination of top sidemen that New York City and the US has to offer. You have not experienced live music until you’ve clapped and screamed through a Gordon Webster finale.
George Gee Orchestra: Another New York City stalwart and Frankie favorite. Frankie100 would do right by bringing him back because without him, Frankie95 would have been a bigger mess than it was. His band played twice in addition to recording a brand new version of the Hellzapoppin song for the Frankie Show. Then that triple bill main event at for Saturday night with HRO and Frank Foster’s Loud Minority was all on George. Those other two band leaders were not keen on playing with two other bands. I was in on a conference call when that whole thing almost fell apart, but George pulled them back from the brink and got them on board.
Houston Person: Not a name that’s familiar to most Lindy Hoppers outside of NYC, but he was Frankie’s favorite living musician, which is how he got the prime gig of playing on Frankie’s actual birthday at Frankie95 and other birthday events.
Other Keepers of the Musical Flame
The Carling Family: This is a bit of a stretch since it would require flying an entire band from Sweden, but members of the Carling family from Sweden have been fixtures at Herrang and other dance events throughout Europe for ages. From small combos to a full scale big band, this is a supremely talented family with strong ties to the Lindy Hop community. They play regularly with the Harlem Hot Shots.
The Boilermaker Jazz Band: Probably the hardest touring dance band East of the Mississippi, they can light a fire to any event. I’ve seen them resuscitate some pretty bad ones with a style of playing that defies categorization. It features a piano, bass, and drum combo that blurs the line between hot jazz, classic swing , and bop playing. Ernest McCarty is the best bassist playing for dancers now, hands down. Plus band leader, Paul Cosentino, can outswing anyone on the clarinet. Anyone.
Jonathan Stout Orchestra: Another hard touring favorite from the wild wild west. Along with featured vocalist Hilary Alexander, Jonathan was one of the first musicians to cross over from dancing to band leading, and found the right pieces to bring the classic Swing Era sound to life. He’s usually accompanied by Josh Collazo, the Swing Drum God of the modern era, but most of us outside of Los Angeles have not heard the Southern California version of this big band in its full glory. Frankie100 could make that happen.
I should also add that The Boilermakers and Jonathan Stout got the biggest of shafts at Frankie95 after having to follow the debacle that was the Frankie Show. They were super accommodating when they could have rightly told us to eff ourselves after cutting their featured night in half. They deserve an opportunity to throw it down at Frankie100.
Solomon Douglas Swingtet: Solomon Douglas was the very first dancer turned musician of the modern era to bring great dance music to the Lindy and Blues masses. Starting with Corner Pocket at dozens of late nights at the earliest exchanges, he’s built up a repertoire that spans 1920’s Bessie Smith blues to New Testament Basie for small combos and big bands alike. He’s the guy that other band leaders often turn to find the best players to fill out their bands in the most obscure places in the country because he was there first to play with them.
Long Shots but worthy considerations:
Gentlemen and Gangsters/ Rhythm Junkies/Shirt Tail Stompers: Long shots because they’re all from Europe. G&G from Sweden, RJ from Lithuania, and STS from England. I have not heard any in person, but between the three of them they’re probably the most featured bands at events throughout Europe for the past few years. The Rhythm Junkies especially have an interesting story since their very existence came from a need to give Lithuanian Lindy Hoppers a chance to dance to live music.
Loose Marbles reunion: The Loose Marbles were at the genesis of the New Orleans music revival a few years ago. With over 100 alumni, the band spawned many current well known musical acts including Meschiya Lake, Luke Winslow King, The Baby Soda Jazz Band, Patty & The Buttons, and many more that are household names in the Lindy scene and jazz music circles. They were actually in New York City, the weekend of Frankie95, but despite going completely overboard on live music, omitting Loose Marbles was a serious oversight that looks like another error in judgment in hindsight. Frankie100 could fix that.
Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks: I considered this band for Crytzer’s Blue Rhythm’s spot in a possible battle, but Giordano is hardcore in his devotion to the 20’s sound with this band. That may be too extreme for kind of the crowd expected at Frankie100. However, they are almost universally regarded as the most well-known and flat out best band that plays the 20’s hot dance style.
There’s already a lot of music listed above. Too much according to my own recommendations, but this is my list and I don’t have to do any of the legwork for this event. The people below either don’t have their own bands or can be pulled from their existing bands to play or sing with some of the ones listed above.
Steven Mitchell: No brainer here. After Frankie, we should thank this guy for giving us Lindy Hop today. He’s basically part of Frankie’s family. Plus he can rock the mic like a vandal as anyone that’s heard him sing with Gordon Webster around the world can attest.
Kim Massie: More well known to the blues community, but she is probably the best entertainer on this list; in blues, jazz, or any other kind of music. This woman can flat out sing and make your heart cry with joy. She just recorded a blues and jazz album with Solomon Douglas.
Wycliffe Gordon: Another huge jazz name from New York City that we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to book for such a big event. He also played on Frankie’s actual birthday at Frankie95 and played some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.
Bria Skonberg: Bria is on her way up, and we’re lucky to have her playing for dance events now. She’s on a trajectory that could take her to some serious mainstream success, but she also has amazing traditional jazz chops.
Casey MacGill: I think the only big name that came up during the Neo-Swing era that still plays for dancers. Casey has been a key player in the Seattle scene which has produced some of the most influential events in the country.
Barbara Morrison: She hasn’t been as active as she once was in the Lindy scene, but along with Kim Massie, she is a top rate entertainer and vocalist with several albums that many Lindy and Blues DJ’s have worn through.
Naomi Uyama: A personal favorite of mine. Not only one of the best dancers in the Lindy scene, but a talented vocalists who would best represent the crossover phenomenon that is happening between music and dance. She’s sung with many of the bands listed above.
There are many talented bands that I’ve left out. This is nothing against their abilities, but the musicians I listed above I think would fit into an event like Frankie100. Frankie101 or another event in another place would probably produce a different list, but I think Frankie100 will mark a very particular time for the dance community, and these musicians would be the best fit for that.