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This one is about having fun

Swing music and dance lessons come to The Arts Block Friday

It was in 1931 that the Duke Ellington Orchestra first played “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” By 1935, big band leaders like Benny Goodman made swing, with its lively rhythms, fast tempos and heavy use of brass, the most popular music of the day. During the depression, people flocked to halls to dance their troubles away to the big-band sounds of Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey and many others. After World War II, the heyday of swing was over, but interest in this style of music has never gone away.

“The appeal of swing music is a simple one: it is uplifting music and it’s fun to dance to,” said Joe LoMonaco, the drummer of the Butterfly Swing Band, a quintet from Brattleboro, Vt., that loves playing this timeless music. “We aren’t singing ‘Eve of Destruction,’” he added with a laugh.

The Butterfly Swing Band will make its debut at The Arts Block in Greenfield on Friday, Sept. 6. A dance lesson will be offered prior to the show by Emily Fox of Dance Northampton and Greenfield Community College. The dance lesson begins at 7 p.m. and is included free with the price of admission. The Butterfly Swing Band will begin at 8 p.m.

In addition to LoMonaco, the Butterfly Swing Band includes Lynn Lovell on upright bass, Scott Sizer on trumpet, harmonica and vocals, Mark Anagnostopulus on guitar and vocals, and Walter Slowinski on clarinet and saxophone. The Butterfly Swing Band is a seasoned group of musicians whose members all have experience playing in a variety of jazz bands.

“Together, we have about 225 years of experience playing music,” said LoMonaco. “If you can’t put something together after playing music that long, you might as well hang it up.”

Since forming about three years ago, the band has performed at clubs, weddings and even a memorial service. It regularly plays to standing-room-only crowds at clubs like the Metropolis Wine Bar in Brattleboro. It draws all ages to its shows — everyone from older folks who listened to swing when they were kids to young people who may be unfamiliar with the genre, but are drawn to the infectious grooves and tight interplay between the musicians.

The Butterfly Swing Band describes its music as the classic swing grooves from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. When I asked LoMonaco to name some of the specific titles it plays, he quickly rattled off a long list that included “How High the Moon,” “Ain’t Misbehavin,” “Basin Street Blues,” “Bill Bailey,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and too many more to name, but they are all classic songs from the American Songbook.

Like his bandmates, LoMonaco has a long-time love of this music. He has played various genres with a number of bands (mostly as a guitarist), but his interest in swing goes back to his youth.

“I started playing guitar when I was in second grade,” recalled LoMonaco. “My cousin, who was much older, played in a swing band and I took lessons from him. As I got older, I got more into what my contemporaries were into, like the blues. Now that I am at retirement age, I’m back to where I started.”

This show marks the band’s first time in Greenfield and its members look forward to the playing a venue with such a great dance floor. In another first for the band, it will offer swing dance lessons at one of it shows.

If you are like me and think that swing demands an athletic style of dancing that includes swinging one partner into the air, you may want to think again. Dance instructor Emily Fox informed me that there are many styles of swing dancing (what I was thinking of is called Lindy Hop), and that it is not what she will be teaching at the Arts Block.

“We will be doing a more gentle style, East Coast Swing,” she said. “It uses basic walking steps (forward and backward) and, at the beginner’s level, a little bit of turning. It can get pretty jazzy with faster music, but for the lesson, we’ll be at a moderate tempo.”

Fox said one doesn’t need a partner to participate in the lesson, but that one does need to wear a shoe that doesn’t have a lot of friction and preferably has a front and back. So leave the flip-flops, crocs and high-heels at home!

LoMonaco hopes that beginners and accomplished swing dancers will come to the show but also stressed that one doesn’t have to know swing dance to dance to this music. He noted that people often come and dance like they would to any band and, like at any show, some people prefer to sit and listen. However, this is music that will inspire you to move.

“I have to say the last time we played Metropolis there wasn’t a single person left sitting down,” said LoMonaco. “It’s just a reaction to the music. It’s about getting out there and having fun.”

The Butterfly Swing Band are hoping that, if this show is a success, it could develop into an ongoing event. So, grab your dancing shoes and head to the Arts Block and swing!

The Arts Block is located at 289 Main St. in Greenfield. Tickets are $7 in advance and available at the www.theartsblock.com. For more information, call 413-774-0150.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com

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