Everything old is new again, and again
The second, second coming of swing is showing up in Ventura
By Hannah Guzik 12/01/2011
Suddenly, 84-year-old saxophone players are cool again.
Trying to make some order out of the bump-and-grind chaos of the modern dance floor, the young and middle-aged are taking up swing dancing to the classics, including tunes by Big Jay McNeely, says Mark “Torch” Tortorici, a jazz musician, swing dancer and event booker.
Born in 1927, McNeely witnessed the beginning of the swing dance craze in Los Angeles and saw the scene come around again in the mid to late ‘90s. And now, it looks like he’ll live through another reincarnation of the fast-stepping, partner-spinning dance-driven culture.
“There’s a new generation again that is searching for music that is real music, that you can dance to with somebody,” Tortorici said. “There’s definitely a resurgence of interest in swing.”
If this is the second, second coming of swing, Ventura is in a position once again to be a hot spot, said Jan McWorter of Hi Hat Entertainment, which produces wildly popular shows every Friday at Yolie’s in Ventura.
“I book shows all over Ventura, and I’m seeing a lot more interest in swing and blues bands and dancing,” she said. “It’s on the rise.”
McNeely, known for his “honking” style of sax playing, will be belting out rhythm-and-blues tunes alongside Tortorici’s band, The Hollywood Combo, Friday night at Yolie’s. The show is one of many events scheduled in Ventura in the coming months, designed to appeal to the growing crowd of swing dancers.
After falling out of favor in the ‘60s, swing exploded in popularity three decades later, fueled partly by the independent film Swingers. Several swing revival bands sprang up in Ventura, making the city swing headquarters for dancers and musicians — the best-known being Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which toured nationally.
“They hit it big,” Tortorici said. “All of a sudden, swing music was in the Top 40, and that music hadn’t been in the Top 40 since the ‘40s. All of a sudden, people were interested in it again.”
Then, sometime in the early 2000s, swing’s popularity began to wane. After several years in the spotlight, it started to seem old hat again. The younger crowd returned to indie rock, pop and rap music, saying goodbye to the jive and jitterbug.
But now, teens and their parents, tired of the monotonous Britney Spears protégés, are seeking music of substance, says Tortorici. They’re turning back to the old standards and rediscovering how to dance to them.
According to Tortorici, people of all ages have been showing up for Rob and Diane van Haaren’s weekly swing classes at the Pierpont Racquet Club. The classes have grown so popular that this month they decided to hire his band to play during lessons. The couple also hosts a swing night and offers lessons at Golden China Restaurant on Thursdays, which is also drawing more dancers.
“The one thing that’s great about having a lot of dancers is, you really do feed off that energy,” Tortorici said. “There’s really not that much that beats that — being in a big room with bunch of people dancing, knowing that they’re enjoying the music.”
Working to get even more locals involved in swing, McWorter is organizing a free monthly swing dance gathering at the Pacific View Mall, where the Van Haaren’s will offer tips. The events are tentatively scheduled to begin in January. Last month, McWorter held a trial run.
“People were swing dancing all over the mall,” she said. “Older people and young people. It just goes to show you that it comes in cycles.”
The Hollywood Combo will perform with Big Jay McNeely from 8 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at Yolie’s, 138 W. Main St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit www.hihatentertainment.com.