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12/4/1 Poe + Pro: It Don't Mean a Thing

It Don't Mean a Thing
Race, class, dress-up-and the meaning of the SoCal swing revival

by Buddy Siegal


 It's been one of those nights, the type that leaves you questioning, once again, whether all the sweat and sacrifice you put into being a musician is really worth the trouble.
 I've been doing this on and off since 1981 and I'm here to tell you that being a musician can be self-imposed manic depression. It's a high-speed thrill ride with peaks that leave you glowing with the kind of raw, exhilarating buzz that I believe is impossible to duplicate from anything else you could do in this life. The pride and joy, the sense of accomplishment you feel from playing your songs to a roomful of people left breathlessly wanting more, more, more is like no other kick imaginable. It's addictive; the very idea that your band's harmonic symbiosis has clicked to the degree where you've transformed another human being into a happily screaming lunatic. You made this person forget all about their suckass, dead-end job; their no-account, meth-addled spouse; their mother slowly dying of cancer. Just for an hour or so, you changed someone's life, made it all feel better than it did before they came out to see you.
 But the stakes are high and the lows are a bitch. The profound rejection and inner vacuum you feel when no one gives a shit can transform you into quaking Prozac-bait. You've spent endless hours toiling over polishing that new song to perfection, rehearsing and arranging it with your band so that all the pieces fall into the right places, honing your part so that it fits seamlessly into the sculpture. You're a craftsman, so proud of your work that you can't wait to unveil the fruit of your labor to others. So when you get up on that stage and the reward for all your effort is blank, contemptuous stares, the mirrored scorn you feel can be downright scary.
 All of this sounds horribly overstated and cliched, I know, but a musician lays himself naked and vulnerable before an audience. Sometimes you get a sweet, collective blow job, sometimes you get a stiff kick in the walnuts.

 My band has just finished playing it's second of three sets at the Derby in Hollywood. I've been a regular there more or less since late-1993, and the changes I've seen in that time have been almost theatrical. The Derby, you see, is L.A.'s premier swing club, and in the last five years the swing scene has grown and metamorphosed from a quaint little cult phenomenon into an overgrown, reeking beast.
 Not a lot of people went to the Derby when we first started playing there; just the fans you pulled in, the oddball members of a nascent scene and a few curious onlookers. Sure, it was a bit trendy and stupid even in the beginning, as all "scenes" are. But it was fun and there were always fans who actually came to hear the music; fans who appreciated an intelligent solo, a passionate vocal, a perfectly executed horn chart.
 Times have changed as swing has become a trend nouveau. Every weekend, the Derby is now packed beyond capacity and it doesn't even matter who's playing. People are there to be seen and make the scene, to play dress-up, to show off and take in the atmosphere.
 I jump offstage, drenched with sweat, grab a seat to cool down and have a beer. The crowd seems disinterested tonight -- particularly whenever we tread off the well-beaten swing path to lay down a bop instrumental or a jump blues. The band's getting little more than a smattering of courteous applause even though we're playing our asses off. Yep, it's one of those nights.
 A girl sitting next to me starts to make small talk. "This is the first time I've ever been here," she coos. "I heard about all these swing dancers and how cool this place is. Wow, it's really something!"
 "Yeah, it's something," I parrot.
 She gives me the outline of her life's story - where she's from, what she does, what she's into. I listen politely.
 Then: "So, what do YOU do?" she asks me.
 Yep, I'm at the Derby. You can give everything in your soul for two hours on a raised stage as the frontman of the band and people won't recognize you. They've come to check out the tourist attraction, not your music. All long as you play the expected, don't challenge anyone's ears and they give it a 95, it's got a good beat, they can dance to it, everything's cool.
 "I'm an actor, like everyone else in L.A.," I tell her. Then I move to another part of the room.

 Set three is ferocious. The band plays until it bleeds, literally: the saxophonist has cracked his lip from blowing so savagely, the drummer has worn a red, oozing hole in his hand. Emotions are raw, a mix of musical elation at how fucking well we're playing and antipathy for these cretins who'd prefer a jukebox cranking Glenn Miller in their collective face all night to a band whose music might inhibit their ability to execute dance steps properly.
 Our last song, a hellaciously fast-paced instrumental workout, finally wins them over and we get a much-deserved encore. But before we can get back onstage, the soundman has turned on the CD player and announced last call over the P.A. The band shrugs a collective "Oh well, what the fuck ya gonna do?" and grabs a table to make love to our wholesome, delicious bourbon in silence.
 Tony Gower, the Derby's co-owner, comes up to pay the piper. Tony's a fine guy, always paid us fairly, bought us drinks, treated us respectfully, given us gigs when we wanted them. He also has a great sense of humor and yessir, I've come to like him quite a bit over the years.
 "We 'ad a few complaints from customers tonight," Tony informs me in his thick, cockney accent.
 "Complaints? About WHAT?" I ask, incredulously.
 "Well, they're saying you don't play enough swing, ain't they? They don't reco'nize any of the songs you play. They don't wanna 'ear all the blues you geezers do. And you play too bloody loud."
 "BLUES? Hell, we don't DO any blues, unless you mean jump blues - which swings like a bitch! You gonna tell me Big Joe Turner didn't swing, Tony?!"
 "Wha'ever. But we'll 'ave to 'ave more swing if you're gonna keep playing `ere."
 For a couple seconds, Tony is a stranger to me. I look him up and down in a state of shock, then recover to realize he's not the one to blame for this moment of rare stupidity.
 "You're bloody well pissed then, ain'tcha?" he says.
 "I'm not pissed at you, Tony," I say, collecting my pride. "But you KNOW I'm not gonna play this warmed over crap everyone else is doing just to get over with a bunch of  wagon-jumpers who wouldn't know what real swing was if it came up and bit 'em on the purple. No fucking way. I do what I do, period."
 "I respect that, mate. Look, it ain't like it was a few years back. It's all about business now, it's no bloody fun anymore. All the bands sound the same. But I got a club to run, don't I? And I got 'a give the customers what they want. Look, I can't have James 'arman or Juke Logan in here either, even though I love their music."
 Tony offers us "another chance," but there will be no compromise. And with that, the run of the Buddy Blue Band at the Derby comes to an ignominious end.


 A group of friends and I attend an animation festival that will feature the best of the old and the new--student and art house shorts share the bill with classic cartoons from the `20s and `30s.
  My 20-year-old head gets completely bent when a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, "Snow White," comes on the screen. In the middle of the action, the evil queen is transformed into an eerie, long-legged ghost who sings a chilling version of "St. James Infirmary" while skeletons and demons dance in and out of the background. That voice haunts me; a pinched, nasal moan that sounds positively hexed as it raises up and down in pitch, full of joy and pain and sex and suffering all at once. At one point, the ghost sings, ``Hand me over a shot of that BOOOO-OOO-OOZZZEE!!" as it animates into a bottle and That Voice hits a note that literally raises goosebumps all over me. The horns syncopate the beat and a clarinet screeches in the upper register and I am TRANSFORMED. This creepy little performance has effected me in a way like nothing else I've experienced in a long, long time.
 I notice during the credits that the vocal was by Cab Calloway. I know that name, don't I? I've heard my mother talk about him. One of those old swing guys, I think. Didn't he used to play at Uncle Doc's nightclub or something?
 The next day I check out a bunch of record stores in search of anything I can find by this Cab Calloway. The only thing available is a two-record set called "The Hi De Ho Man." There's a version of  "St. James Infirmary" on it, along with songs like "Minnie The Moocher," "Nagasaki" and "A Chicken Ain't Nothing But A Bird," which have me dancing nekkid around the house like a real idiot. I MUST have more.
 My Search For Cab takes me to a little shop called Folk Arts Rare Records. Here I find treasures of the most wonderful sort; dozens and dozens of Cab Calloway 78s  from the early '30s through the '50s. I pick up a dozen or so sides, then stop off at a thrift store on the way home and buy an old 78 player (still cheap and easy to find in these days). I am in Cab Heaven.

 Over the next few months, I almost move into Folk Arts. The owner, Lou Curtiss, is a benevolent guy whose heart is obviously warmed by this young kid's interest in old-time music. He introduces me to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, Blanche Calloway (Cab's sister!), Andy Kirk, Jimmy Lunceford, Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson...the list goes on and on. I listen to these old records for hours every day, buy whatever my student's budget allows, haunt the libraries for books on the subject and consume them all voraciously. I'd been heavily into rock and blues since before I was even a teen-ager, but swing music has opened up a whole new world to me.
 I have a real gas tracing the music's roots, figuring out who influenced who, debating with Lou over the relative merits of each band. What's most readily apparent is that this is quintessentially black music, every bit as much as the blues and dixieland from which it sprang. You can hear echoes of the sound of primal blues records by Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey  in the early, pre-swing "jass" and "jungle music" records of Calloway, Kirk, Lunceford and Ellington. What a revelation to discover that country blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson played on early Ellington sides!
 If the early blues performers were a product of their primitive, Southern environment, swing and jazz were the result of a northward black migration, of African-Americans casting off their chains and celebrating the seemingly limitless possibilities of liberation to big Northern cities like New York, Chicago and Kansas City. The music bespoke a joy, a naive optimism, a period of artistic creativity and growth among black musicians the likes of which have perhaps never been equaled in this country before or since. Well, there's always John Coltrane and George Clinton, but that's another story.
 The truth, however, is that racism and segregation were just as much a part of northern life as it was in the south and the blues rang eternal, it just hit a different note. The Cotton Club, for example, was America's most renowned swing venue. But right in the heart of Harlem, as black musicians, singers and dancers held court in their own neighborhood, their friends and families couldn't gain entry into this whites-only establishment. Performers were routinely degraded and abused, forced to execute their acts in front of humiliating stage motifs featuring watermelons and outlandish African caricatures for the amusement of Mr. Charlie.
 Of course, it was only a matter of time before crackers began to co-opt, twist and commercialize the sweet fruit of swing music itself. As ofays tuned in, Anglo orchestras began to proliferate by the late '30s. Some, like Benny Goodman's, were hot bands nearly the equal--in technique if not in spirit--of the groups fronted by Calloway, Basie and Ellington. Others, like the aptly-named Paul Whiteman Orchestra, were watered-down, atrocious farces.
 By the end of the '40s, post-war changes in taste and simple economics reared their ugly heads. As the big bands, black and white, began to sink under the weight of their own impossible overhead, all but the most renowned began to choke in the dust like dinosaurs. In their place rose the small combos, some of which began to experiment with what Calloway disdainfully called "Chinese music" - bebop. With it's sophisticated chord structures and accent on free improvisation, only the most innovative and complex swing musicians--such as Lester Young and Roy Eldridge--even attempted to make the transition. As names like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (a former Calloway sideman who once sliced up the bossman during an argument!) rose to prominence in the jazz world, there would be a lot of unemployed swing musicians in the '40s and '50s.
 There was a school of singers and musicians who took another path, however. Utilizing the structures of the blues and mixing it with the brass and backbeat of big-city swing, jump blues was born at about the same time as bebop. While I loved bop and could appreciate it's innovations intellectually, it didn't appeal to me on the same emotional level as jump. Bop was cold and technical where jump was down home and good-timey. Bop was of the head more than the heart. Bop was artificial insemination where jump was fucking like buttered weasels in season.
 Jump took blues and swing and distilled them down to their best elements, becoming all the rage among black listeners for a brief period in the late '40s and early '50s. Singers and musicians such as Big Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Bull Moose Jackson, the Treniers and brothers Joe and Jimmy Liggins rose to fame on the chitlin' circuit. The king of the jump blues performers, Louis Jordan, was embraced by white audiences as well, enjoying mainstream hits.
 The music was blatantly full of sexual braggadocio. Songs like Harris' "Sittin' On It All The Time," Jackson's "Big Ten Inch Record," Vinson's "Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red" and the Trenier's "Poon-Tang" were lewd even by today's standards. The vocal style was a wild, open-chested shout, the horns screamed in overblown fury, the beat became bigger, faster and more frenetic.
 Jump blues was a short but ecstatic blip on the musical map, evolving by the end of the '50s into rock 'n' roll, with the help of folks like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley--men both black and white, men in equally obvious artistic debt to the jump blues performers.
 But that, too, is another story all together.



 I was right when I thought I remembered my mother talking about Cab Calloway. Years before I was born, it turns out that my hero was playing the Three Rivers Inn, a nightspot outside of Syracuse, New York, that was owned by my uncle and aunt, Doc and Esther Summers. My own flesh and blood had brushed greatness! Now here I am, a budding journalist with a community college newspaper, and Cab Calloway is making a rare concert appearance in San Diego. Of course, I must interview him.
 A call to the promoter determines that Cab is staying at the Sheraton. I ring the hotel, ask for Cab Calloway and am astonished when I'm actually put through to his room. The voice that answers the phone is one of a sleepy, cranky, 73-year-old man who grunts his "hello" as if he's not happy to hear from me, not a bit.
 I introduce myself as a college journalist and diehard fan who'd be honored if Mr. Calloway would grant an interview. He grunts again and expresses his displeasure at the notion before I go ahead and attempt the ace up my sleeve.
 "Listen, uhhh...Mr. Calloway, I don't know if you remember Doc and Esther Summers? Well, I'm their nephew."
 "Doc Nester?" he says in disgust. "Never heard of them."
 "No, DOC AND ESTHER, Doc and Esther Summers. They owned a club in upstate New York called the Three Rivers Inn and I was told you used to play there."
 "Oh! Doc and Esther!" he perks up. "Three Rivers Inn, yeah! Shit, I haven't heard those names in years! Wow, you're taking me back. How they doing?"
 "Well, uhhh....they've been dead for years, I'm sorry to say."
 "Ohhhh, man...that's too bad. I'm getting old, I've been losing everyone. Man, oh man. Just yesterday I lost another old band member, Walter `Foots' Thomas."
 "I'm sorry to hear do you think you could give me maybe a half hour or so of your time for an interview, then?"
 "Sure, I've got time for any kin to Doc and Esther," he says warmly. "C'mon up here in an hour."
 "Okay! Thanks! See you in a bit then!"
 An hour later I find myself sitting in a chair across from Cab Fucking Calloway. This is only the second interview I've ever conducted with a major music figure. I'm wet behind the ears and about to soil my shorts in awe. It's been years now since I've been intimidated or starstruck during an interview, but I can still feel my heart in my mouth today from being in the presence of this man 17 years ago.
 I fumble at my pad and tape recorder and ask a series of wrenchingly dumb questions, never deviating from my written script, never asking him to elaborate on any answers that beg further discussion. Still, I get a few good quotes from Cab about snorting coke ("kicking the gong around," he used to call it), his appearance in the then-new Blues Brothers movie (he "really likes" John Belushi) and his unfortunate taste in contemporary jazz (sadly, Cab also "really likes" Chuck Mangione).
 When I conclude my lameass, greenhorn interview, I turn off the tape recorder and Cab graciously signs an autograph. I show him an album of his old 78s I brought along, rare sides on Perfect and Vocalion from the early '30s.
 "Shit, I haven't seen those in years," he says (in what appears to be his standard line). "Man, you ARE a fan!"
 An hour or so and many snapshots later, I say good-bye. This will be the first and last time I'll ever meet Cab Calloway, although he gives me his home phone number and I call him every December 25th for a few years to wish him Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday (yep, he shares a birthday with Jesus). By 1985, though, he's changed his number and I've lost touch.
 It's 1990 before Cab makes another appearance in the area, and when he does, I call his room again. This time I'm an experienced heavy, I know what to ask, I will not be intimidated and I'm about to write the Ultimate Cab Calloway feature, for a Major Metropolitan Newspaper this time. I even plan to broach the subject of penning his authorized biography.
 Cab grunts as before, when he answers the phone, only this time it's a phlegmmier sound. He's 83 years old.
 "Hello, Mr. Calloway. This is Buddy Seigal. I don't know if you remember me, but we got together the last time you were here in town, about 10 years ago."
 "Mnngghh. Nope."
 "Ok, well I'm the guy who's related to Doc and Esther Summers, remember?"
 "Glrrp. Nope."
 "Uhhh.....Doc and Esther Summers...the Three Rivers Inn...uhhhh, you don't remember? We spoke at length about them last time. I used to call you on your birthday, remember that?"
 "Listen, I'm trying to take a nap."
 "Ok, um, sorry to bother you. But do you think we could get together for an interview before you leave town?"
 "I don't have time and I'm too tired, sorry." (click!)
 Cab Calloway died four years later at the age of 87. In his time, he was as big a star as has ever emerged from jazz, making hundreds of records, dozens of films and putting in decades on the road. Once upon a time, the Cab Calloway Orchestra traveled the country by train, with a special car to tote Cab's pink Cadillac Touring Car from town to town. He slept in the house of my aunt and uncle and let me know he was grateful, because "niggers weren't a real popular thing to have sleeping in white folk's homes back in those days."
 Cab Calloway was a delight and an inspiration to generations of fans and admirers, one of the most beloved entertainers of the century. The day after he died, I went out and got a really nice tattoo of him etched into my right arm as a tribute.
 When Newsweek published it's year-end issue in 1994 and ran it's usual gallery of annual celebrity dead, a tiny, black-and-white photo of Cab Calloway appeared in the corner of a page. Towering above it in gaudy color was a morose-looking portrait of Kurt Cobain, whom I had personally pegged as the single most over-rated figure in the history of rock music.
 I wrote a letter to Newsweek decrying the injustice of it all, questioning who's music would be remembered and deemed the more important in a hundred years.
 Of course, they never ran it.


 I've recently signed with Bizarre/Planet Records, and am talking with A&R man Bob Duffey about my next album. In the past, I've done country rock with the Beat Farmers, R&B with the Jacks and everything from punk to blues on my first solo album a couple years ago. But I'm bored and indecisive about music right now, looking for something different than what I've already played.
 "Why don't you put together a band to do that stuff you're always listening to at home?" Duffey suggests. "That Cab Calloway-type of music."
 "I dunno, man. That's some heavy shit to me, I don't know if I can mess with it. I'm a white guy. What do I know about playing this stuff? I'm a big fan, but I'm no jazz cat."
 "Why not try it and see what happens? What have you got to lose? That's the stuff you really love, that's what I always hear you listening to."
 "Ya think so??"
 My band had fucked around with jump blues, swing and standards a little bit--if for no other reason than I'd found myself playing in a band with what was essentially a jazz rhythm section in drummer Jeff Aafedt and bassist Oscar Barajas. But writing a whole batch of new tunes in a style I'd never really tried my hand at, hiring a horn section and having to learn a whole new arsenal of guitar chords and scales seems like a daunting task. Hmmmmmmmm....
 "What the hell. Why not. I'll give it a shot, Bob."

 After much trial and error, things turned out all right. We became regulars at a few choice clubs in Southern California. Our album, Dive Bar Casanovas, failed to take the world by storm but most importantly, the band had a lot of fun. With time, we all got better at what we did. Personally, I felt my voice developing a resonance it didn't used to have from all that shouting. My fingers began to naturally curl into positions on the guitar that seemed completely foreign to a rock guy a few months back.
 We were not alone. Neo-swingers Royal Crown Revue were already a wildly popular attraction in L.A. before Dive Bar was even released. Brian Setzer's first swing album came out at about the same time as ours. Then some Canadian guy named Colin James released a swing album in '94, as did Buster Poindexter, of all people.
 Surprisingly, I liked Buster' album best of the lot - including my own. I thought he managed to capture the spirit of the music better than all of us, his voice was well-suited to the material and his band blew everyone else's away. Not surprisingly, it was Setzer who got all the press and kudos, though. With name recognition from the Stray Cats and Disney money behind him, Setzer's album got all the ink. It was as if none of the rest of our albums existed.
 It was all good giggles for a couple years anyway. The swing dancers who jitterbugged at our shows made the scene something of a spectacle. I never understood people's need to play dress-up when they came out to see us, but it was all harmless fun.
 Many times, people would come up and ask me, "What kind of music is that you play?" I'd gladly regale them with tales of Louie's Jordan, Armstrong and Prima; of Cab, Cleanhead and the Count; of Wynonie, Bull Moose and Big Joe. People would ask for CD recommendations and I'd gladly clue them in. It did my heart good to see young people taking an interest in this neglected American artform, much as Lou Curtiss had sagely tutored me along some 15 years before.
 There was a swing revival in the air and much to my surprise, I was some small part of it. Whooda thunk it back when I first started collecting '78s all those years ago?



 The sense of pride I once took in the swing revival has long been replaced by disgust at the entire scene. So many have jumped on the bangwagon--for all the wrong reasons, and with no knowledge of what swing really is, musically or culturally--that the wheels tremble precariously under the collective weight. Soon it will collapse, as all flavors-of-the month must do. You think KROQ is gonna be playing much ska in 1998? Hey, it's a new year, Bubbie--time to leave yesterday's news behind and get on to the Next Big Thing. Corporate concerns dictate a short attention span.
 The frustration I initially felt at being unceremoniously eased out of the Derby has been replaced by a sense of  relief. If the fans up there don't consider what my band plays to be swing, fuck 'em for their ignorance. I don't need to try and please them any more.
 There's a whole new crop of neo-swing bands, most of which play some white-assed hybrid between rockabilly, pop and swing. As Tony Gower said, they all sound alike, at least for the most part. There's a method to it all, and here's the rulebook:
  The singer shall croon monotone notes in an exaggerated vibrato like a bad Sinatra impersonator gargling on vanilla pudding. Lyrics shall not transcend diluted hep cat colloquialisms, daddy-o. Solos, if they're undertaken at all, shall be performed by rote, based upon existing licks from overplayed swing hits. All horn charts shall be more or less lifted note-for-note from Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing Sing," credited or otherwise. All drummers shall be chopless and subscribe to the notion that keeping an unsubtle 4/4 on the high-hat is the apex of jazz cool. All bands shall be excluded from the club if they fail to wear matching baggy suits, and if you shall be a real, real gone cat, porkpie hats.
 Modern perceptions of swing constitute the mass embrace of one big, cheesy cartoon; a lot of Hollywood, a lot of Vegas and very little Harlem, New Orleans or Kansas City.
 Ironically, one of the few newer groups which has shown some solid chops and originality along with a genuine knowledge of tradition is a band frowned upon by most scenesters: Squirrel Nut Zippers. Because their name and image aren't retro enough, most swing weenies consider them to be tres unhep.
 Many of those who come to jitterbug are at least as annoying as the awful bands, although some still hold no agenda beyond having some fun. At one of my shows recently, a couple of them actually tried to forego the cover charge by claiming that THEY were the entertainment. You know what? They believed it, too.
 Once the swingers take the floor, forget about dancing if you're not of the clique. Anyone who just wants to squirm about freely and have a good time can count on being soundly ridiculed and physically bumped from the floor by well-aimed, flying bodies. Many long-time fans don't come to see us anymore, rightfully pissed off at the hostile takeover of the dance floor by the trendies. At one recent show, a mosh pit was spontaneously formed. At first I thought this ludicrous; what in the world are these people doing bashing about to my music? Upon further ponderance, though, I felt really good about it. If we're laying down enough energy to incite punk rock behavior, it's all for the good and certainly no less inane-looking than any other form of dance.
 I spoke last week with a local swing promoter, let's call him Joe. Joe seemed a genuinely likable sort, and I can fully understand a guy trying to cash in. But then he began to sing the praises of one group whose existence I find to be particularly insulting.
 "They don't even have any original material," I said.
 "They have ONE original, and it's really good!" Joe replied.
 "The covers they do are all so obvious--they actually play "Minnie The Moocher," I pointed out.
 "Hey, people love it," Joe responded.
 "That singer's so godawful he can't even hold a note, and yet he talks like he's God's Gift to music," I argued.
 "Well, I think he's great" Joe retorted.
 I asked Joe why he doesn't bring Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown to town. Gatemouth, a half-century veteran of the Texas blues tradition, released what was inarguably the best swing album of this age some months back in Gate Swings. This is a guy that was THERE when it first happened, Jack. His 1954 "Okie Dokie Stomp" was one of the great, latter-day jump blues instrumentals, and he's one of the few players from that era still with us today. Gate Swings is full of jaw-dropping guitar playing, hot, punchy charts and heartfelt vocals the likes of which I haven't heard since 78s were still being pressed. It's as if Gate took notice of the swing revival and jumped up in all our faces to show us how to do it right. How very inconvenient.
 Joe told me he loved Gatemouth but that no one would show up to see the old guy if he booked him. The sad thing is, Joe's probably right. You see, not only is Gatemouth old, but he's black. How very unfashionable. Sometimes I wonder if the only convention from the old days adopted by the neo-swingers is the racism and Anglo co-opting of the music. If short, fat, black, homely Jimmy Rushing--maybe the finest swing vocalist who ever lived--were to come back from the dead and appear onstage at the Derby, I'm certain that customers would complain about it to the management.
 Last week, after deep reflection, I instructed my agent not to book me at any more swing-specific clubs, on any more swing-specific nights, with any other swing-specific bands. I don't want the word "swing" to appear in any of our ads, flyers or radio spots. It's a misnomer now anyway, a dirty word to me. Swing no longer means swing. I wash my hands of it. If I can't throw in a Thelonius Monk instrumental or shout some blues during our set without engaging the wrath of the yahoos, daddy don't wanna swing no mo.' Playing the same sound all night has always bored me; I had assumed, wrongfully it seems, that it might bore audiences as well.
 All this is not to put my music or band up on a pedestal. But I can say in all sincerity that I've tried to hire the best musicians I could find without regard to their collection of vintage clothing or personal beauty. We have tried to approach the music with a respect for tradition and basis in integrity. My band is not the best of it's type in the world, nor is it the worst. But always, we play from the heart rather than trying to gauge what will curry favor with scene-makers.
 If you have found this essay to be study in self-service, I can't say I blame you. But if my editor is willing to give me 6,000 words to bespeak a 20-year passion and bemoan the compromise of something very close to my heart, I'm taking him up on the offer. Call it whining, call it sour grapes if you must. But my motivation is born out of a very real love for this music and a lack of patience with ignorance and pack mentality that's hit very close to home.
 I can find something of merit in almost any genre of music, even stuff that goes against the grain of my personal tastes. Music is nothing but organized sound, and all organized sound is legitimate when executed for love of the results. I'm most fond of  roots music but am not a roots Nazi, I'll listen to a bit of everything. Conversely, I also believe that musical styles do not automatically become archaic because some overfed harlequin at a radio station or record company deems it to be so. There's nothing wrong with working within the realm of the traditional any more than there is the new and radical. I weep for the state of humanity whenever I see someone turn a deaf ear to music because it doesn't conform to their notion of fashion. Fashion clearly sucks. If you don't believe me, check out the clothes I wear.
 In closing, I issue a challenge to those of you indignant at what I've written. Yes, you--the swing dancer who will never again come to a Buddy Blue show because you've been deeply insulted; you--the bandleader who wants to punch my lights out for dissing your group; you--the promoter plotting my assassination for casting aspersions upon your cash cow; you--the reader with no stake in this scene who finds me to be a typically insufferable music critic:
 Before you pass judgment, buy some classic swing CDs by people you've never heard before. Immerse yourself in the music, learn what swing truly is. Read some books on the subject and bask in this precious heritage. While you're at it, boning up on your history and sociology wouldn't hurt, just to put things in perspective. Look inside your heart, open up your mind, question your motivations and always remember this: Opinion is valid only when based upon a foundation of cogent fact. And if you're going to become hostile or endeavor to debate without any knowledge of the subject matter at hand, take it to your pals at the Derby, not I. And tell Tony I STILL think he's a down geezer.