The first ever Swing Week comes to Doha from March 22-28 at the Grand Hyatt. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the stars that will be performing and learn a little more about the music genre as well.
Get into the swing of things
The first ever Swing Week comes to Doha from March 22-28 at the Grand Hyatt. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the stars that will be performing and learn a little more about the music genre as well
The history of swing
Swing is a sub-genre of jazz that took off during the 1920s in America and by the 1930s it was the ‘pop’ music of its day. ‘Swing’ refers to the general feel of the music. It’s very bass heavy and rhythmic. The name of swing came from the phrase ‘swing feel,’ with a weaker pulse to the music. Its heyday in America was between the mid 30s-40s, with an emphasis on a lead vocalist and a big band. This shifted into more of a traditional pop culture swing movement coming about in the 1960s, with performers such as Nat King Cole, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Famous bandleaders of the swing movement include Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Supported by Qatar Airways, the first ever Swing Week is bound to chill Doha from March 22-28. With numerous international artists performing live, the week is bound to enthral guests with smooth tunes and fantastic musical ensembles. So here’s a rundown of the week, some of the vocalists and musicians, as well as finding out what swing is all about…
The artists at swing week
The lowdown: Nicola is the first born daughter of a swing/jazz dynasty, carrying on the fine tradition of vocal excellence her parents brought with them from South Africa to London in the 1960s.
She has had the honour and pleasure of performing with some wonderful music greats over the years, including Pete Townsend, Mike Oldfield, Jonas Gwonga, George Fenton, Phil Fearon, Guy Barker, Gary Crosby and Pete Long to name just a few, at some of the biggest venues to boot; The Albert Hall, The Barbican, Dean Street Jazz Rooms, Ronnie Scotts and Cadogan Hall.
Nicola has an effortless genuine jazz and swing spirit and voice, and makes a speciality of singing a cappella and throwing down incredible scat solos when the mood takes her.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations and why?
Patti Page, June Christie, Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland as vocalists because they could come across in a way that was like no other. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin for writing some of the best songs ever heard.
What does swing music resemble to you?
It brings back a by-gone era that should never be forgotten with big band music that captivates the heart and moves the soul.
So you’ll be performing songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s. Why do these mean more to you than contemporary swing and jazz?
The past has always been far more interesting to me than now. Contemporary swing and jazz is all well and good but it lacks a sense of the time I am in love with.
Why do you prefer swing to other musical genres?
It has a certain class that can’t be replicated with anything else, and it just moves me!
How does South African swing differ from others?
South African or Township swing and jazz differs to the American version (which is the most recognised) as it has a more distinctive sound that comes purely out of the struggle the musicians had to endure.
Six reasons to come and hear you perform…
1. I work hard at spreading the happiness.
2. I’m an original.
3. A genuine throwback to the 40s & 50s.
4. You’ll hear familiar songs and music.
5. I’m the real deal.
6. The songs are simply swinging.
The lowdown: Matthew was born in Brighton, England. His great grandmother was a Danish opera singer with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, so music runs in the family. Matthew works very closely with his pianist and musical director Gabriel Piers-Mantell. Matthew has entertained guests for HRH The Earl of Wessex’s 50th birthday in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh as well as HRH The Duke of York and HRH The Princess Royal. He has also given an impromptu performance of ‘Moon River’ at the House of Lords and has performed at The Savoy Hotel, Rosewood London, The Hospital Club in Covent Garden and at the world famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho.
Do you sometimes get carried away with the music?
Absolutely! You’ll notice me swinging my right arm and clicking my fingers when I perform – I can’t help it. It’s all about the groove!
What’s better – the old stuff or the new? What do you sing?
I love the early stuff, the tunes that featured in the big band arrangements of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. I work very closely with my pianist Gabriel Piers-Mantell, who has an eclectic appetite for R&B, hip-hop, funk and soul to name but a few. You can expect a refreshing spin and reworkings of the jazz standards that you already know, and well-known swing tunes with a few surprise song choices thrown in. I’m hugely inspired by the vocal prowess of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, the playfulness of Dean Martin, the musicality of Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett and the connection that artists like Nina Simone, Etta James and Sammy Davis Jr. formed between their music and the audience. I like to find the story within the song and it’s important to me to relate in some way to the lyrics.
Tell us ten things we may not have known about swing music:
1. It’s transgenerational.
2. It’s rooted to traditional gospel music.
3. As its popularity grew throughout the US, it met with resistance from the conservative public for its fast tempos, risqué lyrics and associations to swing dancing.
4. In the 1930s, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union banned the music outright for being politically unacceptable.
5. It was, however, inspirational and motivational to the American troops in World War II.
6. Swing music can be with or without lyrics.
7. Many Motown and Northern Soul artists were inspired by swing music.
8. It influenced fashion as dancers wore looser clothes to accommodate their athletic dance moves.
9. Swing music helped to break down the race barriers as black artists like Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole hit the clubs, radio and television. Frank Sinatra was a real advocate of racial equality.
10. In 1941, The New York Times suggested that Big Band Swing was responsible for emotional imbalance.
The lowdown: Pianist Gabriel Piers-Mantell has worked as bandleader and arranger with artists across a broad spectrum of genres, venues and events including Glastonbury Festival, Radio 2’s Live Lounge and the BBC Electric Proms. He joined Matthew vanKan in 2013 and his diverse range of musical tastes strongly influence his original arrangements.
Can you explain what swing is?
Swing music is characterised by an infectious bouncing groove that has been used in music right up to the present day. For example, Eliza Doolittle’s 2010 hit Pack Up.
Have you always had a passion for swing and jazz?
When I was younger I was turned on to 1950s jazz by my granddad when everyone else was into Eminem. Ironically, now I listen to a lot of hip-hop and rock and many of my peers are starting to get into vintage and improvised music!
What influences your music?
Working with Matthew vanKan, we have a particular interest in rhythm and groove, so I like anything that makes you move; hip-hop, funk, dance music and of course all elements of jazz. Matthew has such a great melodic sensibility and timing so it gives me lots of opportunities as an arranger to explore different grooves and feels. This Swing Week is going to be a lot of fun.
What is your favourite piece of music to play and why?
Massive question! It depends on my mood but with Matthew I always love playing our version of The Way You Look Tonight.
The lowdown: Caroline Loftus hails from Sydney and spent much of her childhood listening to Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald with her dad and Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner with her mum. After completing her education, Caroline began singing and writing, experimenting with jazz and dance music. She quickly had a record deal with an independent label in Sydney, and working with some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians she released her first of three solo albums, many collaborations and exclusive recordings for companies like Harvey Nichols. Eventually settling in London, she combined her love of travel with her love of music and ‘sang the globe,’ performing in such esteemed venues as the Sydney Opera House, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Royal National Theatre, as well as venues like Ronnie Scotts, The Den – NYC and clubs like ‘Escape’ in Amsterdam.
You’re quoted as having ‘a voice like honey.’ What do you think that means?
I hope I have a mellifluous quality to my vocal tone, that my sound flows over the melody and gently coats the rhythm.
Is swing big in Australia?
To be honest, I’m more of an expert on the UK where they’re mad about swing and its soothing pulse!
Was your move to the UK a musical decision?
I let fate guide me. There are so many amazing musicians in London and a wealth of wonderful cultural influences here.
You’ve performed and collaborated in numerous musical genres, including pop and dance, but does swing hold a special place for you?
I was inspired by the great American female vocalists of the last century, their depth of feeling and playful skill. My love of swing, firmly planted in my heart from the beginning, has been growing ever since.
Why is swing special?
All music is related, all music evolves but great music lives forever. The swing feel and its wonderful melodies connect with everyone.
What can we expect from your performance at Grand Hyatt Doha?
I’ll be singing favourites that everyone will recognise, but I’ll also introduce some unusual songs and early swing.
Tell us the best place you have ever performed, and why…
I’ve had so many good times! Manila was number one for fun. My dearest friend, choreographer Jason Gardiner, created a theatrical extravaganza for the 125th anniversary of Piaget. The stage was built over a huge pool and for the finale I was Marilyn Monroe, singing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, wearing $1.5 millions’ worth of jewels. The dancers surrounded me, I threw the necklace into the water and two security guards freaked out and dived in. The diamonds in the pool were fake and I still had the real ones tucked away!