In my ideal re-envisioning of myself, I am both a hot cornetist — modeling myself on Little Bobby Hacksaw — and a stylish swing dancer.  Both of these goals have so far eluded me, but I was delighted to be invited to the Columbia University Swing Dance Society Semi-Formal Friday night.  And I took my camera.  More about that in sixteen bars.

What could be nicer, more promising?  The Grand Street Stompers would play hot and sweet jazz — always original — for an audience of limber swing fans who were in constant motion.  The GSS is one of my favorite bands: Gordon Au on trumpet, gentle leadership, compositions and arrangements; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Matt Musselman on trombone; Nick Russo on banjo and guitar; Rob Adkins on string bass; Kevin Dorn (just back from the West Coast) on drums; Tamar Korn on voice.

The Beloved came in and enjoyed the scene; I got to talk with some friends: Lucy Weinman, Veronica Lynn Day, Sam Huang, Michelle deCastro, and Lynn Redmile — and to watch the dancers, who made me think sadly of college opportunities missed.  I told Veronica that when I went to college swing dancing was not quite in fashion (probably I was too busy reading), but that had I been in the right place and the right time, I would have been entranced — both by the live music and by the lively young women.  I would have had a fine time and probably flunked all my classes.  Worth the trade?  No doubt, to quote Mr. Morton.

But back to the semi-formal scenes.  I stationed myself at the rear of the room to capture what you might have seen and heard had you been there . . . the videos are slightly more jumpy than I would have preferred, but I thought a tripod would not have gone with my semi-formal garb.

For Bix, for Hoagy, and for swing — RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Miss Korn (resplendent in mauve or is it Valpoicella?) tells us EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Are skies cloudy and gray?  They’re only gray for a day, remember.  WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

And Gordon’s own rocking love song, CRAZY EYES:

Wonderful scenes!  And how fortunate we are that such things are flourishing in this century — not only for those people who live near 117th Street and Broadway.  Get rhythm in your feet!  On with the dance!


  1. An excellent 4th generation dixieland band with fine soloists. Too bad that they didn’t know enough or care enough to listen to Miller’s recording of “Moonlight Serenade” instead of just trying to read it out of a fake book lead sheet. If they had, they’d know what figures the brass were required to play behind the melody. Its not their fault that they were born 40 years too late to have heard the band (‘tho most “stage bands” have the stock in their libraries & Miller’s recordings are still played on some radio stations) but if they’ve cared enough to research & learn tunes from the 20’s & 30’s, they should have continued on into the 40’s as well. Also, the tune doesn’t really lend itself to improvisation. The melody is what anyone who might request it wants to hear.I offer this opinion as a jazz trombonist who played the original stock in high school in 1945 & am still playing it in big bands & combos today.

  2. Worth the trade indeed (I say as I sit in the library, desperately cramming for the finals I must now face). Honestly, I don’t think the CU Swing Dance Club has ever had an event better documented or more publicly reviewed than this. Thank you so much Michael. A lot of work went into making the whole thing happen, and the Stompers killed it, and so it’s just really nice to have it captured like this. Thank you thank you thank you!

  3. This is further affirmation that ‘Jazz Lives’. Tama has a refreshing, original approach to vocalising jazz, her scatting voice sounds for all the world like a muted trumpet’. Gordons fluid trumpet makes for joyful listening and the chosen asembly enhanses the appesl. His Cazy Eyes is deserving of becoming a jazz standard. Thanks so much for capturing qnd sharing these preciou moments.

  4. Dear Bill,

    I respect your opinion and your years of sliding experience, but I am a little puzzled. The GSS did not play MOONLIGHT SERENADE at the Columbia University Swing Dance . . . I know I’ve posted it, but it seems odd to use this posting as an occasion to be severe with them. Or am I missing something? With every good wish but some puzzlement, Michael

  5. Dear readers & members of the Grand Street Stompers: Please accept my humble & sincere apology for the negative comments I made recently. Only my first observation: that this was a group of fine, swinging players was accurate. I’ve never written a blog before & am not really familiar with how such things work. I was busy at my desk designing my own Holiday card while mostly listening to the tunes played instead of watching closely. As usual, at least on aol, when a tune ends several more choices are offered in the same vein – in this case other dixieland combos & I clicked on the little pictures that showed the usual 3-horn front line. Eventually the “Moonlight Serenade” fiasco turned up & really caught my attention (for all the wrong reasons, as enumerated in my original blog). Since reciving feedback I have tried in vain to find that particular video so I can’t put the ‘blame’ where it belongs. Again, I’m sorry that my inattention caused me to assign the weakness of another group to the GSS. My admiration for their repertoire, ensemble playing & solos remains unabashed. Please understand & forgive my brashness. Thanks,

    ( :-}D ) Bill Spilka

  6. Dear Bill,

    Nobly done — in fact, the apology is much larger than the “offense.” Come home! All is forgiven! There’s fresh coffee and a new bottle of valve oil — whichever you prefer. Cheers, Michael

  7. Dear Michael,

    I really appreciate your taking the time to reply…& so quickly! I’m now at my desk writing messages on my new cards…& listening (& watching) more clips. The Au brothers are another interesting group. It’s refreshing to hear some original tunes even ‘tho I prefer to hear the ‘standards’. The problem I have with most ‘originals’ is that the composer & his group are usually the only ones who ever play them. When I hear “Limehouse” I can compare the ‘bone soloist (in my memory) to Teagarden, McGarity, Abe Lincoln, both Allreds, Trummy, Ory & dozens more. Those are some giants to look up to! Thanks for the offer of valve oil but I only use my valve ‘bone to play “Caravan”, so it doesn’t get much wear. Now if you only had some Pond’s Cold Cream…but they don’t make the same formulation any more. In the good old days every player put it on his slides. Thanks again! ( :-}D ) Bill

  8. Legend has it — or I read it somewhere, perhaps in a Jess Stacy interview? — that Teagarden was the man who came up with the Pond’s idea. Of course it would have to have been him! (Everyone else I ever saw had a little spray bottle of what I assumed was valve oil — or slide oil — which they sprayed on the offending metal.)

    And I must tease you: at some point in time EVERY jazz tune was an “original,” right? Be well — Michael

  9. First you have to define “original”. If you’re talking about tunes that were “written” or just accumulated – like “C-Jam Blues” or “Perdido” or “head” arrangements like the dozens of variations on “How High The Moon” made famous by JATP in 1944 (‘tho it was written as a ballad at least 4 years earlier) OR the folk melodies (“Frankie & Johnny”) or ‘compilations’ like “St. Louis Blues” (1914), which, I’ve read, was based on much older blues themes that were strung together & written down for the first time by W.C. Handy. As you know, many of the dixieland warhorses were based on pop tunes written over a decade before the first ‘jass’ record came out – like “Bill Bailey”, (1903), ‘Chinatown My Chinatown” & “Some of These Days” (1910) & “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911), etc.

    I don’t know if Teagarden was the first to use cold cream or not, but in high school everybody used ‘slide oil’ – which was probably exactly the same as valve oil, but we eventually heard that the Big Boys used Pond’s & acquiring & displaying a squirt bottle became the mark of a pro (or an aspiring pro). Over the decades, either by loss or attrition, I managed to go through quite an assortment of squirt bottles & atomizers all all kinds of shape & size. Many of them leaked & when you needed to freshen your slide you might find that your bottle was empty & asking to borrow a section-mate’s bottle was like asking to share his girlfriend!

    Just a couple of months ago I got myself into real trouble by using what I thought was my wife’s spray bottle. The more I sprayed the harder it was to get my slide to move! Eventually I figured out that it was a little pump spray full of hair lacquer! I tried dissolving it with rubbing alcohol but I don’t think it will ever be the same until I take it into a repairman!

  10. I forgot to mention that some 60+ years ago I used to pick up early issues of METRONOME in 2nd-hand magazine stores on 6th Avenue between 42nd & 43rd (long gone – the property was too valuable for stores to exist on pennies for profits) which I eventually donated to the first Institute of Jazz Studies run out of his apt near Washington Square (by NYU) by Marshall Stearns. I remember that he had one of Gene Krupa’s bass drums & I think I saw one of Lester Young’s tenors also in his living room. I never dreamt that in a couple of years I’d be a staff photog for them – but I . digress…it was great to read about all of the famous big bands (& others waiting to be discovered) as reviewed by George Simon. From time to time they’d run little humorous “fillers”. I recall one series of photos of a rubber-faced young trombonist reacting to captions like “I hope the leader didn’t notice that wrong note” or “That’s some cute chick over there.”..but what this to mind was our discussion of slide lubricants. I recall a blurb about some trombonist who was noted for using butter on his slide! (Maybe that’s where Marlon Brando got the idea for using butter in “Last Tango In Paris!”)

  11. Hello Bill, Michael, other friends,
    Thank you for the wonderful videos and for your attentive listening! Bill, the video you saw of “Moonlight Serenade” may very well have been our band at another venue. Like you, I’ve played the big band chart in dance bands since middle school, but when the Stompers do it, we rarely include all the horn layers. Trying to faithfully translate backgrounds and responses from big band charts for 2-3 horns just gets cumbersome in many cases, and we want to leave more space for improvising anyway (we make a few exceptions, such as “Begin the Beguine”). So that’s an artistic choice, and not ignorance! But thanks for raising the point.
    I’ll have to forward these lubricant posts to my trombonist brother and Uncle… who knew, ha!

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