I’ve been thinking lately about the little coincidences that can change our lives entirely. For example, one of the reasons why I love swing music, and longed for years to be able to swing dance, was because of a guy we’ll call Sam. We were in high school together, both in band, both in the same Honors and AP classes. I had a crush on him. He was different, a little aloof, and very cool. He grew his hair a little long, and had a little hoop earring in one ear. I thought this made him look most romantically like a pirate. One year we both sat at the same desk in the chemistry classroom in different periods. Somehow we got in the habit of writing poems on the desktop and leaving them for the other to see and respond to. We both used pseudonyms, which provided just enough pseudo-anonymity to make it both safe, and (to me, at least) wildly romantic. After a while the janitor washed the accumulated ink and graphite off the desk and it ended.
Anyway, the point of all this is that one day in class Sam did a presentation on Dizzy Gillespie, one of his favorite musicians. I decided to find out more about Gillespie, hoping that maybe I would like him too, and maybe be able to use it to build some deeper relationship with Sam. However, when I checked the shelves in the media section at the library, they didn’t have any tapes of Gillespie’s music. However, they did have Benny Goodman. I figured that this was close enough, and checked them out. I played them at home, and was intrigued and fascinated by what I heard. However, I didn’t know any other jazz or swing artists, and I had no idea what else to listen to.
A little while later my oldest sister went to a Harry Connick Jr. concert and brought home one of his CDs, which quickly went into heavy play at our house. At some point after that I discovered the Mamma Jazz radio show on 88.5, an NPR radio station I could receive with luck, and by holding my little walkman radio at just the right angle. My very strict parents didn’t approve of us listening to the radio, so I kept an Amy Grant tape in the walkman to show whenever they asked what I was listening to. I would have gotten away with it entirely, except I started calling in to the show to request songs, not realizing that it was a long distance call. My parents were puzzled at these $.25 charges that were showing up on their pone bill until they caught me in the act of making one. They were more bewildered than anything at this odd child calling up, of all things, a jazz show.
A few years later the Neo-Swing revival hit. The first I heard of it was when watching The Mask with Jim Carey. I bought a copy of the soundtrack, and for the first time read the names of bands like Royal Crown Revue. It was the first time I’d ever seen people my age who liked this kind of music. I was smitten, and after I moved home to Dayton, joined an online forum for swing music lovers. That was where I heard of bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and Indigo Swing. Their albums weren’t available in local shops, so I mailed off for BBVD’s first release (they included a sweet thank-you note with it), and an early Indigo Swing. One Easter I heard the Royal Crown Revue was doing a show down at Canal Street, and persuaded some of my siblings to skip out early on Easter dinner to go see them. I still have the copy of Mugzy’s Move I bought there, with the liner notes signed by all the guys in the band.
Even though I loved the music, and wanted so much to be able to dance to it, I didn’t have the confidence to learn how. I knew there were lessons and dancing down at the now-defunct El Diablo downtown (I clipped their ad out of the paper and kept it on my bulletin board for years). However, I was too shy to go by myself without a partner, and I wasn’t able to convince any of my friends to go with me. It wasn’t until almost ten years later, in the summer of 2005, that The Beautiful T and I decided that we were going to learn how to swing dance even if we had to dance with each other. She found a clipping about a free swing dance lesson at Wegerzyn Park, gave it to me, and the rest is history.
So what happened to Sam, the guy who helped start it all? We graduated from high school, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since. This isn’t surprising – I was so glad to be done with high school that I left everything to do with it behind and didn’t look back. Every once in a while I’ve heard something about Sam’s family, and think fondly of him. A while back I decided to google him and maybe find out what happened to him. It seems that he worked for Apple for a while, and holds part of the patent on some USB-related technology that is now standard in Apple computers. So, you know, he’s done well for himself. I don’t really have any desire to get in contact with him, and I think I’d rather read nothing but Danielle Steele novels for the rest of my life than go to a high school reunion. Still, I’m grateful to him for the gift he gave me of swing music, and ultimately swing dancing. My life has been immeasurably richer because of him, and I’m glad.