Swing and Blues Corner Posts

The movie Hellzapoppin’ features, as most swing dancers know, the greatest Lindy Hop routine ever to appear in the cinema – in a scene preceded by an absolutely fantastic jam featuring some of the great names of jazz.

This year, a German company named Anolis Entertainment has released it on Bluray – and the quality is absolutely stunning.

So naturally, I’ve dusted off my retiming project!

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A month ago, we finally managed to revisit what was once called the Whitley Bay Jazz Festival, and is now called Mike Durham’s International Jazz Party. This was a long overdue trip – and we have no real excuse for not going, since it’s a legendary jazz event, and it’s practically on our doorstep. This year we spent a whole weekend there, and oh boy was it good.

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Showcases can be a big highlight of swing dance events – a chance to see the teachers and other great dancers showing off their amazing skills.

And there’s usually someone sitting in the background playing the music. This sounds so easy – just sit there, start the right song when they’re ready, stop it when they’re done, surely? In actual fact, it can be surprisingly stressful, and there’s any number of things that can go horribly wrong. So here are a few of my hard-learned tips on how to make sure they go right, and how to add a professional touch to your show DJing.

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You know what they say – no project is ever finished. You just stop working on it. Case in point – my recent restoration / upscale of Jammin’ the Blues

Of course – sometimes that break lasts only until fresh inspiration comes along or, as in this case, you stumble on a better source to use for the project, and you feel obliged to start it again from scratch.

TLDR: I’ve massively improved on my Jammin’ the Blues upscale / restoration. More after the fold.

Quick note – if you haven’t yet watched Jammin’ the Blues, you are in for a treat. Nearly eighty years later, it’s still one of the finest and most beautiful jazz films ever made.

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Jammin’ the Blues is near-legendary piece of jazz art. Made in 1944, nominated for an Acadamy Award, and described by Turner Movie Classics as “one of the greatest of all jazz films” – it came into being when innovative photographer Gjon Mili, and Jazz producer Norman Granz joined forces to recreate on film a jam session of the type that was popular in the 30s and 40s. With a stellar cast of musicians and dancers, the result was a beautiful landmark in jazz movie-making, the like of which has never been done since.

Oh – and it’s only viewable on standard definition, in only passable quality. Which, of course, makes it a prime candidate for some upscaling work to try and bring out the real beauty of the film for everyone to enjoy.

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Video upscaling software seems to be getting very popular these days – and I was blissfully unaware until the folks at Estiloswing blew everyone away with an incredible-looking upscaled version of the HD Hellzapoppin’ routine version which Atilio Menéndez found a while back. Of course… there was nothing for it but to revisit my retiming project, and see if I could use similar techniques to enhance it.

All I needed to do was find out what tools to use, run the original video through it, drop that into my existing project! Easy, yes?

Cue the deranged laughter. No. Nothing is ever that simple. Many hours later, many tens of hours of dedicated computer processing time, at least four start-from-scratch versions, over a dozen “I think I’ve finally finished” versions, the lucky unearthing of another HD copy of the full film, infinite patience on the part of my wonderful and long-suffering partner, a few more lost hair follicles….

And yes – I believe I do – finally – have something to show for it.

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One of the classic Tranky Doo clips that we have is the Spirit Moves one, and most of the routine – as we dance it today – is derived from this version. Ironically, this version is almost certainly the reason it’s usually danced to Dipsy Doodle – I say ironically, because it’s pretty unlikely that Dipsy Doodle is what they were dancing to in the clip – and in true Spirit Moves fashion, then music was added as an afterthought, and in no way matches the dancing.

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Over the lockdown, we spent twenty two weeks teaching our superhumanly patient group what could well be the world’s longest Big Apple course. For the benefit of the group, and for anyone else who’s interested, it feels like a great time to share a bit more detail on the Apple – some of the history, who the dancers were, musical breakdowns, and a few fun details we’ve spotted along the way. After the fold – some of the history, and the dancers who we see in this classic piece of dance history.

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