Interview with Jonathan Stout, Leader of the Campus Five
Despite a recent automobile accident that totaled his car, Jonathan Stout gave us an IM interview about playing for dancers, going out swinging for the apocalypse, and what he has in store for DCLX. He assured us his answers were not affected by pain killers.
How are you doing after the automobile accident?
At this point, no worse for the wear – still a bit achy, but the stitches are out.
Alright, Jonathan, if that is your real name. When did you first begin playing music?
In 6th grade; I wanted to meet girls. It didn’t really work.
Tuba will do that to you.
No, playing Metallica has a way of doing that.
So what, rock guitar?
In 6th grade a friend of mine tuned my radio to “pirate radio” the local hard rock station. I couldn’t get it tuned back to the top 40 station clearly, so I just left it on pirate. That guy got a guitar (but never learned to play it). I thought I should get one too. My parents weren’t about to buy me one on a whim, so they offered to rent one while I took lessons. After 3 or 4 obsessive months of practicing constantly, my parents bought me my own guitar.
What came first–love of swing music or dancing?
I started taking swing dancing lessons in 1997 to meet girls (that one finally worked – years later – when I met my now wife, Rachel). That led to jazz music in general. When I went to college I was studying 50’s-60’s jazz guitar but I hated the program, and so as that interest waned, my interest in dancing waxed. Nick Williams and I went to college together. We started going dancing 7 nights-a-week, and I practically stopped playing guitar. It wasn’t until the summer after my freshman year that I saw the movie “Sweet and Lowdown” – that’s when I realized I could bring the two together.
Woody Allen. Good film. Who are your biggest influences in guitar? In big band?
The two go together. I started more in the Django-school, but as I became more and more interested in swing music, I started moving more toward the American-school because I’d rather dance to swing than hot jazz.
So, as far as big band, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Count Basie. Those might seem obvious, but they swung SOOOO hard. The list of all star side men in each band, the rhythm sections of each band – amazing. Goodman’s band in 37-38 was so aggressive and tight; if you watch the medley clip from “Hollywood hotel” – by the time they get to “House Hop” it’s just ripping.
Goodman’s band was all about pushing forward and driving NOT laying back. When Shaw got Buddy Rich (who I only really like in the late 30’s and early 40’s) that band just jumped so hard. “Man From Mars”, “Carioca”, “Traffic Jam.” Hell, even mellower numbers like “Rosalie” just drive.
And then Basie. Damn. He wasn’t as aggressive, but again the whole band swung so hard. Between Lester, and Herschel and Sweets and Buck, and the number of trombones to go through there. Still, I’m more of Goodman-Krupa kind of guy, than a Basie-Jo Jones one.
As far as guitar, I lean toward the American school, although I do a some of the Django thing, too. Rhythm guitar is what I do most of the time in the band, and for that Allan Reuss is the guy. He actually showed Freddie Green some stuff. Everybody else is always all about Freddie, and maybe I root for the underdog, but Reuss was the main time keeper in the 35-38 Goodman band because Krupa and Harry Goodman could be a little loose. He kept that band together. Plus, Reuss was an amazing chord soloist. He could play the block chord solos that swung really hard. He’s my guy.
Then again, if you want to play hot, it’s all about Charlie Christian. It’s incredibly hard to really play a hot single-note solo on an acoustic guitar even in a small band. The power of the early electric guitar sound is not to be under estimated. Charlie was really hot.
But, John Reynolds (of Mora’s Modern Rhythmists-fame) is my personal hero. He’s the mad scientist of pre-WWII jazz guitar. He gave me my first “Swing” guitar lesson back in 2000, and he constantly amazes me.
Does being a dancer effect the choices you make as a band leader? If so, how?
Entirely. Unless I’m playing a private party sans dancers, I don’t play anything that I wouldn’t want to dance to –no ballads, no Latin, nothing that isn’t swing danceable. Plus, I vary the repertoire for different dancing crowds.
Since you can generally dance faster doing balboa with less effort than lindy hopping at the same tempo, I might play a bit faster for a bal crowd. But even more than that, there are songs that are fairly fast but not that energetic or dynamic. You can bal to those comfortably, but lindy hopping to a fair fast song that isn’t really dynamic can be harder So, generally for a lindy crowd, I won’t play music at 180 bpm and above that isn’t really exciting. If you’re going to swing out at that tempo, it better be jumpin’.
So, basically, I’d say that being dancer informs everything about the band, except maybe for what key the song is in. Everything else is done with dancing in mind.
Well, as I’m sure you know, we appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of bands that go for the spirit of the classic swing-era music in the swing scene. Most modern swing bands go for an earlier sound, often with more Charleston or Dixieland influences. Your group, however, has always been rooted in the more swung rhythms. Would that be safe to say?
As Count Basie said “I can’t dig that two-beat jive the New Orleans cats play; cause my boys and I got to have four heavy beats to a bar and no cheating.” I don’t really like dancing to hot jazz. I’m a lindy hopper and balboa dancer. I’m not a Charleston dancer. I don’t want two-feel music.
Likewise, I don’t do groovy dancing. I don’t want post-1950 Basie or Lou Rawls.
One other thing besides the two beat/four beat/groovy feel thing that is important is dynamics. Jammy kinds of music don’t have sharp, quick dynamic breaks – things just ebb and flow. Both earlier and later styles of jazz are way more jammy, less arranged. Swing music – like a good big band arrangement has changes in texture and dynamics every 8 or 16 bars. Even the swing small groups (like the Goodman Sextet, Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, Cootie Williams’ war-time small groups which are the template for the Campus Five) had arrangements with textural shifts and dynamics. That is key for really danceable music: you need shifts to choreograph to or react to on the fly.
I don’t dance to the ebb and flow of a soloist. I dance to the shifts in the band – like the song goes to the bridge, or the song goes from a hot trumpet solo to a quiet piano solo. Macro-musicality, rather than micro-musicality.
I asked Kate is she had any questions for you; Hers was this: “Rhythm’s the shit, right? I mean, right?”
Yeah, yeah it is. You need solid rhythm as a base – the accents and off beats pop so much more. That’s syncopation.
Speaking of which: Your regular drummer, Josh Collazo, is revered far and wide as a favorite swing drummer to dance to. In your opinion, what does Josh do that other drummers don’t?
A couple things: he plays a really solid four-beat on the bass drum. It’s audible without being heavy. (Then again, almost nobody plays audibly anyway, so maybe being too heavy isn’t much of a concern)
Also, he has great dynamic shifts; most drummers change slowly from level to level. at the end of a hot chorus going into a soft one, josh might build up right to the last beat, and drop down right on the first beat of the new chorus. It makes things sharp and distinct. It makes the shifts pop. And like I said, those dynamic shifts are what make the music inspiring to dance to.
Also, there is this thing I’ve been learning more and more about lately, which is the backbeat (accent on 2+4), or lack there of. Josh alternates between backbeats on hot choruses, and almost an anti-back beat on others. Whenever Josh plays hi hats, he accents 1+3 which is the opposite beat. Listen to “Roll ‘Em” for an example how that anti-backbeat pushes music forward. The accent there is on 1+3 – SO driving.
Then add to all of that outstanding taste, inspiration and general music brilliance, and that’s josh.
Plus you can dance through his drum solos.
You give an outstanding lecture on swing music; where you mention why Josh’s drum solo’s are danceable. Would you mind mentioning why that is in case any hopeful swing drummers are reading?
I think it has to do with keeping the beat going on the bass drum and or hi-hats while playing the solo with your hands. Because that strong beat is there, the accents and syncopation pop more. Then add to that rhythmic ideas right out of the swing era and you’ve got it.
Bebop created a whole bunch of other rhythms, patterns and clichés that hide or confuse the beat. It’s great when you’re in a jazz club, but we don’t need that in dance music.
You grew up in “the streets” of the So-Cal Gang-like swing scene. Has that experience influenced your choices as a musician or business man in any way?
Well, it has made me an advocate and partisan for what I think Swing music and dancing should be about. I feel like I have mission to play REAL Swing music. Not hot jazz, not Dixieland, not groovy music.
Most of the people who complain about Swing music aren’t playing or hearing the right stuff, anyway. People who don’t like the Andrews Sisters say they think that swing music is too poppy, so they listen to 1932 Jelly Roll Morton. That’s not fair. You can’t pick a square, played out example, and then complain about it the whole genre being square.
I’m an advocate for REAL swing music. Not old arrangements played by modern cats, who play them with a modern feel. REAL swing music. The right beat. The right feel. The right tunes. The right everything – or least as close I can figure out how to do it.
If the apocalypse was starting, and you were given one last song to go out with swinging as the world ended, what would it be?
Wow. Um, playing or dancing?
I’ll give you one of each.
Playing – “Jammin’ the Blues”. I’d have Albert just keep going and going. Dancing – “Man from Mars” or “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” – depending on how tired I am.
No. Actually, I’d be “All Star Jump” from the 1941 Metronome All Star Band. Yeah. I love that record.
Anything big planned for DCLX?
Yeah, swingin’ off the hook for the dancers.