For those seeking a creative manner to shed pounds after the nationwide consumption of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, the dance floor of the Golden Ballroom at the Town and Country Convention Center may provide a more romantic environment than the routine of a neighborhood gym.
Several hundred swing dance aficionados will pack the floor on Saturday night, November 29 for the “Swing Extravaganza,” a major draw during the San Diego Jazz Fest. Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, the annual gathering of music fans and dancers will kick off on Wednesday, November 26 and conclude on Sunday, November 30. Opening the Swing Extravaganza will be San Diego’s “Queen of the Boogie,” Sue Palmer and her Motel Swing Orchestra. Following Palmer, the singing trio known as Sweethearts of Swing will bring their combination of spunk and 1940s fashion to the Golden Ballroom. They’ll be backed by San Diego’s High Society Jazz Band. The Sweethearts keep the spirit of the Andrew Sisters alive, an act that was still in demand long after the heyday of the Big Band Era (the last surviving sister, Patti, passed away last year at age 94). The headlining acts of the Swing Extravaganza, the Graystone Monarchs (Davenport, Iowa) and Red Skunk (Los Gatos) will engage in a friendly battle of the bands competition.
An indication of how deeply involved the local dance community is with the Swing Extravaganza will become apparent when members of the Swing FX dance club showcase the dance moves of the Shag, the Balboa, and the Lindy Hop during demonstrations throughout the evening. Julia Hall-McMahon, a local supporter of the swing dance movement, explains what makes the evening so special. “The Swing Extravaganza is a remarkable event at the Jazz Fest, celebrating the dance aspect of our rich jazz heritage,” said McMahon. “The “Swing” term is rather broad, encompassing many vernacular dances including Charleston, Shag, Balboa, Bal-Swing, Lindy Hop, and Big Apple, just to name a few. You cannot tell the story of jazz without including the dances that go along with it. Not only is the Swing Extravaganza the crowning glory of the jazz festival, with dance performances and battle of the bands, it breaks down age barriers. Where else can you find 18-year-olds dancing next to 80-year-olds? Jazz is really more accessible now to people of all ages and this event will ensure the joy and spirit of the music that will live on for generations to come.”
The swing dance community will also be out en masse to see sets featuring versatile Michigan native Dave Bennett. If there is such a phenomenon as a musical parallel universe, Bennett comfortably exists in both realms. Wearing a suit that would be the envy of any jazz hipster, Bennett bears a striking resemblance to the younger Benny Goodman, AKA the King of Swing. His mastery of the clarinet takes audiences back to the days of the Goodman Quartet when its revered lineup featured Gene Krupa on drums, Lionel Hampton on vibes, and Teddy Wilson on piano. Another side of the Bennett persona finds him in the world of Sam Phillips’ Sun Records Studio in Memphis, where Bennett pounds the piano with his feet and hands in his tribute to the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. Assisting Bennett with the “whole lot of shakin’ going on” are the crack rockabilly group, the Memphis Speed Kings. Jerry Lee Lewis and Benny Goodman may seem worlds apart in temperament and execution, but Bennett manages to get into the heads of both.
As has been the case in past years, there will be an extraordinary number of bands from San Diego County over the Thanksgiving week. Recently coming off a successful set at the San Diego Music Awards, the Euphoria Brass Band will be marching around the Town And Country Convention Center with their infectious Mardi Gras sound. Group member J.P. Balmat will be bringing his current generation of students from Mission Bay High Preservationist Band program. Always warmly received, the Buccaneers from Mission Bay High ensure that quality jazz musicians will come out of San Diego in the years to come.
The greatly anticipated reunion of the South Market Street Jazz Band (a San Diego group that was formed in 1963) will find original members Bill Dendle, Jerry Fenwick, Dale Saare, Larry Okmin, Jim Hession and Tad Wolicki back on stage. Lakeside’s Dixie Express Jazz Band will present their unique approach to the “riverboat sound.” The ragtime era of Scott Joplin and the pioneering achievements of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver will be celebrated by the elegantly attired Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra. Now in their 11th year of existence, the Uptown Rhythm Makers will keep the dance floor moving with the sounds of New Orleans. Having performed at unusual venues (McDonald’s at 54th and El Cajon Boulevard), the San Diego Banjo Band will perform their trademark plucking. Crossing over the bridge for the festival will be Coronado’s Paragon Quartet and heading up I-5 will be the South Bay Jazz Ramblers.
Not a horn blast would be made or a dance step performed without the Herculean efforts of AFCDJS (America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society), the governing body that is responsible for keeping the jazz festival a reality. Society Secretary Myrna Goodwin attributes the longevity of the festival to “the love of the music and the strength of our local jazz society.”
One of the reasons for the growth of the festival was the ability for AFCDJS to embrace many different genres of American music. “First, we want to broaden our music to not only include New Orleans style jazz, but also swing, gospel, rockabilly, ragtime. In addition, in our high-tech world the name was too long,” said Goodwin. “San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival became the San Diego Jazz Fest.”
For the complete festival schedule and ticket packages, visit www.sdjazzfest.org