The San Diego Town and Country Hotel and Convention Center played host the 38th Annual San Diego Jazz & Swing Extravaganza over the 2017 Thanksgiving weekend. Sponsored by the America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society, this five-day event took over the hotel convention center and turned into a mecca of first class music, dancing and entertainment. Kicking off the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving and culminating the following Sunday afternoon, 6 ballrooms and salons became a jazz musical and swing dance paradise. More than 35 jazz and swing bands and musicians from all over the United States participated in the celebration of 100 years of jazz music.
We arrived for the Friday evening festivities and were lucky enough to sit in on variety of jazz, swing and rockabilly performances. Each ballroom was set with a center stage with dance floors anchoring either side, a sound system and theater style seating. The lobby areas and hallways were filled with food and service vendors, crafts vendors, information booths filled with volunteers that were happy to answer any questions about the festival and the artists, and vendors selling a variety of swing dance costumes, shoe and accessories. As a ballroom dancer, resistance to the vendors were futile and I felt compelled to do my part and purchased a beautiful handmade “fascinator” for one of my own upcoming dance events.
Greeted by the ever so charming, society secretary, Myrna Goodwin, she offered her assistance and information on the society and festival, itself and then sent us off to wander from ballroom to ballroom. We first meandered into the San Diego ballroom to find Champagne Dixie in mid-set. A San Diego based jazz ensemble that performs regularly at the Welk Resort, located in north San Diego county and AFCDJS concerts and private events. They are a seven-piece brass and string band that plays what they refer to as “danceable Dixieland”. They were a joy to watch and fun way to kick off the evening’s entertainment. While I was unable to locate a website or additional information on Champagne Dixie, you can find their band profile page on Facebook and additional information on the San Diego Welk Resorts website: www.welkresorts.com/san-diego .
Scheduled next in the San Diego room was San Diego’s own, Sue Palmer, “Queen of the Boogie Woogie” and her Motel Swing Orchestra. Sue and her band were a staple throughout the festival and attendees had several chances to see these talented musicians and vocalists regardless of the day. Leading on piano and vocals, Sue’s orchestra consists of seven talented artists, including strings and brass along with additional vocalists that really know how to rally a crowd with their stage presence and perfect harmonies. Sue and her orchestra are not only an audible treat but a visual one, as well. Super high energy performances, colorful costumes, expressive theatrical stylings make for a performance not to be missed. While Sue has performed both nationally and internationally, she calls San Diego her home. A local favorite, Sue and her famous blues, jazz and swing shows can be found all over the greater San Diego area. Swing dancers, both young and young-at-heart, beginners and experience, quickly filled both sides of the stage and remained that way throughout the set. You can find Sue on social media and her music on reputable music service sites, and you can also read more about this superb individual, her orchestra and find her event schedule on her website: http://www.suepalmer.com; with several CD’s to her name, they can all be purchased at any of her live events and performances.
On the heels of Sue Palmer and Motel Swing Orchestra came Bennett’s Memphis Speed Kings, performing in the largest of the venues, the Golden Ballroom. Another festival favorite, David Bennett and Bennett’s Memphis Speed Kings were performing several times throughout the event and if you are a fan of rockabilly, the Speed Kings take no prisoners. Based in Searcy, AR, David Bennett and his variety of rockabilly and jazz ensembles entertain audiences nationwide. You can find this clarinet playing extraordinaire fronting not only the Memphis Speed Kings, but you can add The Clarinet Swing Kings, The David Bennett Quartet, Benny Goodman tribute shows, Rockin’ the 50’s and Swing to 50’s Rock to his resume and repertoire. The Memphis Speed Kings are a four-piece force to reckon with, with a classic rock set-up except for an upright bass, manned by Joe Jazdzewski, who sets the stage on fire with his stunning talent and skill. Not knowing anything about the Memphis Speed Kings when we wandered through the doors, we were met with a large crowd of seated and standing fans and two large dance floors that adorned either side of the stage that were packed with swing dancers and Lindy-hoppers that were as much fun to watch as the band itself, so for me, it made for a bit of a tennis game as my eyes moved from dance floor left, to center stage to dance floor right and back again. With nods to such historic icons as Benny Goodman, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins to the more contemporary Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and even more contemporary, Stray Cats, Lee Rocker and Brian Setzer, David Bennett and the Memphis Speed Kings are all wrapped up into one perfect package.
In researching some of their history, I found it no surprise that David Bennett and his band of troubadours, entertain packed houses not only throughout the nation on land, but also on sea as they are currently under contract with Jazzdagen Tours cruising through the Panama Canal. David Bennett and the Memphis Speed Kings can be found on most social media and music service sites and you can keep up with their goings-on, tour schedule and read more about them on David’s website: www.davebennett.com .
Our evening ended back in the San Diego room, to meet up with San Diego’s jazz and swing band, the Mad Hat Hucksters. Fairly new on the San Diego music scene, the Mad Hat Hucksters, were celebrating the release of their first CD, “Jazz and Swing Music for Dancing”. They performed several times over the duration of the festival, including a special CD release party set, on Friday afternoon. The Mad Hat Hucksters is a six-piece ensemble consisting of clarinet, saxophone, guitar, upright bass and electronic washboard! They perform a wide variety of jazz and swing music mainly from the 1930’s and 40’s era. You will hear such influences as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Clarence Williams, Slim Gaillard, Benny Goodman, The Harlem Hamfats and Artie Shaw.
Founder and washboard player, Morgan Day, along with tenor sax, Lindy Edwards, lend their exquisite vocals to each performance that blend effortlessly into the quintessential sound of the jazz and swing heyday. Once again, swing and Lindy Hop dancers of all ages and levels of experience filled the dance floors throughout their performance as we said goodnight to an evening filled with music and talent that took us back to a time where jazz was king, and swing was queen. The Mad Hat Hucksters perform in the local San Diego area and can be found on social media, music service sites and you can find their band profile and purchase their new CD on www.themadhathucksters.bandcamp.com. If you would like more information America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society and the annual San Diego Jazz Fest and Swing Extravaganza, including how to donate or join the society, please visit their website at: http://www.sdjazzfest.org
BackStage360 would like to thank the society and Myrna Goodwin for allowing us to be a guest at the festival and for being a very gracious host.
By: Siege / BackStage360