What do dancers want from a swing band? I know what I think dancers want from their band, but who knows if I’m right?
Swing Band Tempos
I run my own Swing Band and most of the clubs I perform in, in and around London, tend to be a mixed ability crowd. I know this how? Well, as soon as we pick the tempo up above 210 beats per minute, the floor thins out. The faster the tempo, the less dancers on the floor. I’ve come to the conclusion that with regards to tempo most swing dancers are happy dancing to two tempos.
The aforementioned 210 bpm or 116 bpm. These two tempos tend to please the majority of swing dancers on the floor and so create the inclusivity you want. After all, no band wants to see dancers leaning against the walls all night!
Here, again, I spend a lot of time whilst playing looking out at our dancers and seeing how the style of swing we are performing motivates dancers to dance to the band. I know from discussions with Swing Club organisers that some bands specialise in one genre or other. I don’t. In fact, I try to be all things to all men and women!
Some people love Charleston dancing and cutting a rug to a Dixieland band. Others like 1930’s Swing and Lindy Hop to tunes from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and the like. I always ask if there are any Frank Sinatra fans in the audience and inevitably get an enthusiastic yes! His repertoire is very popular.
Am I right to mix things up? I’m not sure. I will be looking into people’s response to bands that play one style all night and see how that compares to my own swing bands mix of dance styles. More on this when I have done some research because I want to get the right mix.
This is a subject I am happy to be a little more dogmatic with! I have the strong opinion that people can and will dance for three and a half to four minutes, then need a short breather before the next number. Changing tempo between songs makes perfect sense to me too. Playing a number of fast tunes, one after the other, does not work! Bands need to remind themselves that, playing for dancers, they are in effect a human juke box!!
Examples of song length
Long solos from talented musicians belong in a jazz club but not on the dance floor. Why? because if anyone took the trouble to listen to classic swing band jazz from the thirties and forties what would they hear and see? So, they would see and hear that most songs are around the three minute mark. Here are a few examples:
Lester Leaps In. 3 mins and 14 seconds. (and played at about 240 bpm…quite a lick! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXwXKUrRhPo&ab_channel=Bekoozie Jive at Five. 2 mins 56 seconds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3W-qRk70Jm0&ab_channel=MiltonPage and finally Flying Home 3 mins 11 seconds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lbh8RUfAkA0&ab_channel=The78Prof
Therefore, I take these examples from the masters of the swing band genre and so keep my performances to a similar length. After all, everybody danced in the 1930’s and 1940’s!! The discipline of the short song really makes you focus on the reason for being where you are. You are there to make people want to dance. So the best way is through tempo, length of song and choosing tunes that everybody likes!
Jeff Williams. I am a Bandleader and a trombonist and a vocalist. Facebook page for the Mississippi Swing Band and Big Jeff and the Tulse Hill Playboys here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100088793697731 and my is Website here: www.lindyhopband.com