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Music Makes the World Go ‘Round. Live!

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Salutations fiends!  I was lucky enough to get to talk to Craig Gildner of the one and only Blue Sky 5.  We love him here in Cincinnati and he’s agreed to answer some questions for me.  We cover everything from musical inspiration to how he fills his spare time.  Believe it or not, he has some non-music-related hobbies.  We even talk about how the band got its name (which isn’t as jazzy as you might think).

Who is your biggest musical inspiration?

I have many influences and inspirations that are at the heart of this music I perform with my band.  But first and foremost would be Duke Ellington.  Several reasons.  He led a successful and popular band for nearly five decades, took a unique approach to playing the piano, and wrote incredible, timeless music, either alone or collaborating with Billy Strayhorn.  The best part about all this is that he stayed true to his principles and goals for the band.  Tastes came and went, but Duke was still Duke.

What made you want to get into swing and jazz music? 

Swing and big band was always in the Gildner house growing up.  Dad loved Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.  I was given 50 or so 78rpm records when I was three featuring artists like Count Basie, Les Brown, and Harry James.  I spent time as a disk jockey in the mid to late 80’s at a public radio station that spun nothing but jazz: big band, bebop, post bop, fusion, bossa nova.  So growing up, the music was always around…on recordings and at festivals.  But the real turning point came when I had a chance to play with the Tom Cunningham Orchestra as pianist from 1993-94. I discovered that people still dance to this music, for up to three hours sans air conditioning, thank you very much, and have a ball.

What instruments do you play/how long have you played them? 

Piano, my first love, has been my instrument for 38 years.  Guitar for 34.  Cornet in earnest for about 7.  I’d played in school band, but not anything resembling good…or swing for that matter.  I found an unloved Buescher Aristocrat cornet made in my hometown the year I was born for $35 dollars in 2005.  I thought, “I’m from the band instrument capital of the world.  I should know how to play horn, dammit!”

When did Blue Sky 5 form and how?  Have you been involved with any other bands?

Our first gig was April Fools Day of 2000, but the groundwork was established in 1999, when my bandmate Tommy Greco and I, after rejoining Tom Cunningham and riding the crest of the DC Swing Dance wave, decided a small group for Lindy Hoppers playing an authentic repertoire would do well in this climate.  And we were right!  Since then, I’ve had the great fortune and opportunity to meet and play with wonderful musicians in the swing scene:  Jonathan Stout, Brooks Tegler, The Midiri Brothers, Bill Elliott, Casey MacGill, Paul Cosentino of the Boilermakers, Doc Scantlin, Linnzi Zaorski and Delta Royale, and Glenn Crytzer.

As of 2013, I lead four other early jazz and swing related groups.  The Craig Gildner Big Band, playing great arrangements with an authentic rhythm section, and The Craig Gildner Trio, much in the style of the Goodman trio of the 30’s are the newest organizations.  My trouble is, I love all of the styles of jazz created in the first half of the 20th century, and I keep running into musicians who love it too!  Inevitably, a band happens.

Do you have a favourite city/venue to perform in?

DC, our home base, is always a pleasure.  We’ve made good friends with the promoters here. Great places to play, and enthusiastic crowds.  Philadelphia was great back in 2003-4.  Loved the energy and enthusiasm, plus great vintage shopping the day after.  Midsummer Night Swing in NYC was ground breaking!  Recently, Ohio is starting to give us some serious love.  I took the trio for a weekend road show at the end of June, through Cincinnati and Cleveland.  The response was overwhelming!  The full band has played for several CincLX events.  Always lots of folks out dancing, always an encore at the end of the evening.  And, as a fan of Cincinnati style chili, I can’t wait till the next trip when I can stop in a Gold Star or Skyline restaurant and order a plate of four way meat water…chili with beans and cheese over spaghetti.  Yowza!

Do you have a pre-performance ritual or habit?

Not really.  To be honest, every gig is different.  I’m usually preoccupied with the sound system, setting up my instruments, going through a sound check.  I may bust into a Fats Waller or similar stride piece to get the hands working, or run through a Charlie Christian riff at that time, but never a set thing.  Back in 2002, I used to use a Bach etude on a beat up piece of copy paper that had my hands working independently on the keys.  Then I lost it on some gig.  The guys in the band were razzing me about it.  I guess it was more piano recital material…and though it was a good workout, there’s not much crossover unless we were playing full on bebop with single note runs…which of course is not in our repertoire.  The thing I am starting to do on gigs though is consciously reminding myself to relax my hands and arms.  Especially in the flag waver tunes like Avalon, with tempos well above 230bpm.  There’s a natural tendency to dig in.  But at that speed my hands become fixed claws if I don’t remember to relax.  It’s much like when my wife and I took a Lindy Hop class for advanced tempos and we learned how to relax before attempting the streamlined moves.  If you’re all keyed up about staying in time, then chances are you’ll lose the beat and drag.

What do you do when you’re not playing?

Well, I have a recording studio in Bethesda where I do voice over and post production work.  Some of the smaller group’s recordings are made there.  Just like not knowing when to say ‘when’ with the bands, I have way too many hobbies.  I’m an old car enthusiast/owner, I collect vintage clothing from the 20s-40’s, 78rpm records, radios, phonographs, 16mm, Super 8 and 8mm motion picture film and equipment and musical instruments.  And once those have completely exhausted me, I usually remember I’m a dad and husband, with the usual and customary duties of dinner procurement, homework assistance, story reading, trash removal and grounds keeping. Ha!

How did you come up with the name Blue Sky 5?

There’s a tendency among fans and friends of the band to believe that it was derived from Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”.  And I’d like to believe that.  But reality gets in the way of a good story.  13th hour.  Late night Baltimore March of 2000.  Tom Koerner needs a name for the band to start promoting it at upcoming dances.  My initial suggestion, Groove Juice Special, was flagged for its inability to roll of the tongue nicely.  Pacing back and forth in the den of my apartment.  Nothing’s coming.  I glance at my CD rack, and my eyes hone in on the title of an album by an alt rock band from Australia that was big for a fleeting moment in the late 80’s, Midnight Oil-Blue Sky Mining.  A HA!  And then a number.  We have five in the band.  Blue Sky 5.  Boom.  Done.  There’s actually been a slight change lately.  It’s now Craig Gildner and The Blue Sky 5.  Years of experience have brought about this update.  We added a permanent clarinet to the lineup.  This eliminates the inevitable remark from the lone wise guy in the audience when the clarinet was an added attraction: “The sign says Blue Sky 5 but there are six of you? Can you count?” (Yuk yuk yuk yuk.  Boy that’s funny, are you here all night??) Also, having played various dances and dance events as a guest with other bands, the fans of swing music may know me, but not know that Blue Sky 5 is my band.  That link is now crystal clear.

I hope you all enjoyed the Q & A with Craig Gildner.  You can check out Blue Sky 5’s albums here.  Support a great musician and a wonderful band and help keep all of our lovely swing bands doing what we all love.


Interview with Norma Miller (Beantown 2013)

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At Beantown 2013 Lindy Hop Camp this weekend I was honored to host an interview with Whitey’s Lindy Hopper legend Norma Miller. And here it is!

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The Lindy Focus Saga Episode One: Acceptance

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There are two words in the swing-dom that can send a shiver of excitement through a room: Lindy Focus.  And there’s good news for those of you who know what those two words mean.  Registration is open.  That’s right.  Go sign up now!

But for some of you who are new to the world of swing, you might be wondering what this is and why it’s such a big deal.

Jam circle

Let me try to explain.  Have you ever dreamed about what it would be like to be on a movie set with Chris Hemsworth, George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone all at the same time and they all tell you they want to be your best friend and you get the starring role in the film and the film is being talked about in the Oscar pool… Ok you get the idea, basically it’s a dream come true.

Lindy Focus is a lot like that.  Basically, it’s a week of intensive workshops with some of the best swing and blues dance instructors in the world.  But it’s much more than that.  Let me start at the beginning.

So, you’ve organized a carpool and you’ve got your roommates and you’re feeling like a kid on Christmas.  Literally.  Because Lindy Focus starts the day after Christmas. Best. Christmas present. Ever.

After the hours long car ride to beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, you come up the final hill and the sprawling Crowne Plaza hotel opens its arms to greet you.  You check in and dump your stuff in your room and run off to go explore.  As you whittle away the hours until the first bit of dancing,  you marvel at how big the swing dance community is.  It’s really a worldwide phenomenon.

Then the dancing starts.  You dance song after song and not one of them is awkward.  Everyone you dance with is wonderful.  You’re up until the last of the bluesers at the late night trickle off.  You finally make your way back to your room and fall into bed, completely exhausted but at peace with the world.  You could die happy now.

Happy Birthday, Maggie!

But wait! There’s more….

The next morning you audition for placement in your Lindy Hop track.  Levels 3-9 require an audition.  But don’t fret.  It’s not this terrible fiery ordeal and the judges are normal people, just like you and me.  So breathe and just dance.  Waiting for your results has you quivering with antici………………….pation.

Finally, you get your level and you can settle in.  Or you can appeal and try to get a higher level, that’s cool too.  But for the most part, the judges are pretty dead on.

For the next week, the best of the best fill you with their vast and mighty knowledge of all things jazz, swing and dance.  It’s a lot to take in, so I definitely recommend bringing a notebook to take notes in.  A sad mistake I made last year was not having one and it made practicing rather difficult.

Live music at Lindy Focus

At the first official evening dance, you get to hear the first strains of the live music.  Last year’s choices included Ben Polcer and Paul Constentino of Boilermakers fame.

But holy goodness, the best is still yet to come: Instructor Showcase.

Let me tell you, I don’t think I have ever nerded so hard about dancing in my life.  By the time all of them were done dancing, I was pretty much in a puddle on the floor because of so much awesome.   And don’t even get me started on the competitions.  It’s just too much for words.

There was one thing I wish I had known about when I went to LF last year.  No one told there was going to be a New Year’s Even Show.  Although, maybe it was a good thing I didn’t know about it.  I might have actually exploded with impatience.

From “New Orleans Bump” Lindy Focus XI New Years Eve Show

Well, I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises that await in Lindy Focus Land, so I’ll stop here.  But you should all know that this is such an exciting event and there is so much to look forward to.

This is only the very tippy top of a ginormous iceberg

For those of you have already been to LF, what was your favourite part?  And for those of you who haven’t been yet, what is it you’re most looking forward to?

A vintage style lookbook | HotsyTotsyVintage

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Guys!  Look what I found!  I’m kind of in love with these ladies, their fashion sense and their blog posts!  Check them out!


A vintage style lookbook | HotsyTotsyVintage.

Oh, You Two Make Such a Cute Couple

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First, I apologize for the long absence, I had some crazy things going graduation.  Oh, yeah, hey guys, I GRADUATED COLLEGE!  Guess what that means?  No more homework!  EVER!  But, yeah, I’m sorry I’ve been MIA for a while, but I promise I’ll  be better about posting things!

Anyway, on to the important things.

So, I was watching an interview with Jaleel White, a.k.a. Steve Urkel, the other day and the topic of his stint with Dancing With The Stars came up.  Now, I know Katie Couric isn’t exactly clued in on the dance world, but she said something that made me pause.  “It’s amazing there aren’t more relationships between dance partners,” she said.

And she got me thinking.  As someone who has never had a steady dance partner, I don’t know much about this topic.  I do know, however, that dancing can be a very intimate experience.  For three minutes, there is nothing but you, your partner and the music. It can lead to some intense feelings, even for just the duration of the song.

Working together, day after day, working on a dance routine or lesson plan, you and your partner would get to know each other very well.  You would have to know how each other thinks, the best way for each of you to present information, what each of you is physically capable of, how the other moves.  If you throw in the added bonus of performing aerials, that takes a certain level of trust.  And then you would get to share all of the ups and downs in each other’s lives.  I imagine this would create a close connection between you.

Being dance partners requires you spending a lot of time together, and as such, would put a strain on relationships with significant others, especially if your significant other is not a dancer.  Non dancers sometimes don’t understand the passion we have for dancing and might have a hard time dealing with the fact that you want to spend so much time with someone who you’re not dating.

So from those of you who do have steady dance partners, are  you a couple?  Would you consider being a couple?  How do you deal with feeling that might develop between you and your partner?  How does your significant other feel about the relationship you have with your dance partner?  And how do you deal with a significant other who might have issues with how close you are to your partner?

The Biggest Threat to Swing Dancing Today | LA Lindy Hop

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An interesting read and something I’ve seen a lot of scenes face.  I think we should remember those infamous words: “Don’t forget to tip your bartender!”

The Biggest Threat to Swing Dancing Today | LA Lindy Hop.

The Dance Practice Blueprint — Dance World Takeover by Rebecca Brightly

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This is definitely worth a look!

The Dance Practice Blueprint — Dance World Takeover by Rebecca Brightly.

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