Features & Images » Feature Story


It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing From Duke Ellington to Lee Press On and the Nails, Swing has come home By Rick Flebbe & Judy Keeler A new wave of music came to play Whistler in the mid-90s. The Dino Martinis, Candye Kane, and Johnny Ferreira herald a new trend in music and lifestyle that has strong West Coast roots in the San Francisco and L.A. scene. Not since the days of dancing at the Alta Lake Community Hall have so many people been brought together for so much fun. Swing music in popular culture began back when Louis Armstrong was singing Ain't Misbehavin' in the ’20s and Duke Ellington was all the rage. "Swing" came into use for jazz around the time Benny Goodman assembled his band. In 1932 Ellington penned It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing and defined the genre. When Miles Davis said "People should get down on their knees once a week and thank God for Duke Ellington," he wasn't kidding. It didn't take long before people who were dancing the charleston and jitterbug got into jive. Swing was just around the corner, and has reinvented itself every decade since. People love to dance and the music is great. Music that appeared to belong to the ’30s and ’40s has been revived by twentysomething aficionados who embrace the music and have created a lifestyle to go with it. What's so interesting about modern Swing is that bands sprang up spontaneously around the world among the same age group. Everybody decided to do it at once. The clothes, the cars, the music have caught the attention of mainstream media and brought major label scouts to catch the best bands of a burgeoning subculture. The new popularity of swing is evident on film, and T.V. Swing has become the latest marketing tool to sell product. However, this new version of an old style does not exactly copycat its predecessors. It has new blood and a fresh style and earns its name Neo Swing. While Swing feels as good as snow in our mountain home, it did not fall from the sky. Swing has a complex, resilient history with roots in the Afro-American experience. Some say this latest revival is a product of fin-de-siecle angst, youthful escape, and pure nostalgia, while others claim it has put a new spin on the achievements and pleasures of the past century. Swing has never gone away. Swing is serious about fun. The old lyrics do not lack a naughty edge, replete with oral history, local legend and juicy gossip, as in such tunes as Ding Dong Daddy, a tune about a train conductor who managed to marry 16 women before getting caught. Other songs from that era have carefree nonsense lyrics such as Flip, Flop and Fly. Dancing free form to a rhythmic frenzy has evolved into highly choreographed moves and steps. Not everybody knows The Lindy Hop was named after Charles Lindbergh's hop across the Atlantic during the ’30s, but they've got the steps down pat. Swing music may be a move towards neo conservatism or a reaction to safety pins, but vintage clothing and thrift shops have been attracting a lot of people. Either Swing represents stability and affluence, or retro is all this generation can afford. But one thing is certain — the music, the furniture, the cars and the clothes have attained new chic. The zoot suit, saddle shoes, oversize pocket watches, fedoras and frills bring a little polish and sophistication to a generation who for all intents and purpose looked like they had lost it. After years of nihilistic-spasm motion, solo is "out" and partners are "in." Yet Swing is not the exclusive domain of youth. Good music is never confined by age barriers. Swing has authentic cross-generational appeal. Here in Whistler audiences get larger and the base of hipsters is 16 to sixtysomething. Artie Shaw, one of the original band leaders from a bygone era, may still be with us but the old timers don't go on the road. Old Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board kept swing alive in Vegas right through the cocktail lounge days. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin had an easy going approach to swing, a version on Valium compared to today. The martini they popularized said everything. Swing dancing today brings the dancer right into the music. It's an old fashioned way to meet people, in an atmosphere where the focus is the dancing. The band that brought the most attention to modern swing is the Royal Crown Review. By 1989 the RCR had become the houseband at The Derby in Los Angeles. The club, located on the original Brown Derby site, created a commotion in The City of Angels. While San Francisco is where swing claims to forever reign, L.A. follows in hot pursuit. Swing is sweeping the country and has a strong following in Whistler. Whistler may be a tourist town but folks still like to get together and one way the locals can catch up is to pick up on Swing. This new wave of hipsters did not come from the soda-fountain scene, but from punk reincarnations like Vice Grip. Ultimately, swing is about style; it represents a definite shift in cultural attitudes. The Cadillac, gold watch chain, boa and gangster apparel symbolize everything great and not so great about America. Out on the Canadian West Coast, the Blue Lizard Cocktail Club played a major role in introducing swing to Vancouver. By 1995 the Blue Lizard lounge nights had become legendary. A cocktail nation had been born. Today Blue Lizard is a multi-faceted culture-making machine. They host regular events and keep putting new releases out on their own label. What was once the Hotel California is the Hotel Linden, another reference to the ’30s aviator. In Whistler, you're most likely to find Swing bands and dance lessons at the Garibaldi Lift Co., or Buffalo Bill's. Both clubs got into full swing this winter. The Whistler Entertainment Agency joined talent with Blue Lizard Productions and the Blue Lizard Dancers to team diners up with dance instructors and bands with an audience ready to swing. Blue Lizard understands that the appeal of swing hinges on knowing how to dance to it. Swing lessons have become part of the scene. In today's Whistler there are weekly classes on Thursdays at the GLC. In the big smoke, Blue Lizard produces Jump on Tuesday nights, Big Beat Ballroom on Thursday and Swing Out every Sunday. They've also established a significant college-crowd following, with swing in UBC and SFU pubs. All age non-alcohol nights at the Legion Auditorium in Vancouver are also now a huge success on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The 1996 film Swingers brought widespread attention to this swing thing. Swingers featured the music of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, who insisted on live performance, not lip sync. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy had come from the ranks at The Derby to earn their kudos as the second hit band to follow in the footsteps of Royal Crown Revue. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was offered and signed a deal at Warner. The third band to follow RCR's footsteps at The Derby recently played Whistler and has signed a record deal. That band is Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums. Neo Swing is making the Whistler scene. Little Richard belting out Tutti Frutti and Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock both had a foot in swing. Great American music is not short on cultural commentary. Rock ’n' Roll originally meant to rock to the music before rolling in the hay. The music business has left many of these quaint romanticisms by the way; "roll" was dropped leaving "rock" to stand alone. Rock became Big Business. Blues transformed into soul, and by the ’80s Rockabilly had a new kickstart, too. Martinis and lounge music were in fashion, and the Royal Crown Revue had really started to cook. Today, swing bands are springing up everywhere. In 1998 Lee Press On and the Nails, from San Francisco, played the GLC and Buffalo Bill's, making music history in Whistler. In the first two months of this year Canada's hottest swing band, Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra, and Jelly Roll wowed audiences at Bill's and the GLC respectively. Since then, swing nights have become regular features at the GLC. During the two slowest months of the year, clubs fill up with this latest trend to learn how to dance. Swing is here in Whistler at the cutting edge of the of the West Coast musical scene.

Add a comment