by PAIGE RICHMOND & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & rying to decipher the genres of swing music is like learning another language. There's gypsy jazz (the rhythmic kind played by French musician Django Reinhardt), Western swing (sounding like country music with a steel guitar) and big band (as in, Count Basie's symphonic style), just to name a handful. And if you're like most people, you believe that swing -- a form of jazz that first appeared in the 1930s -- is as dead as Latin. But Think Swing! Jazz and Blues Festival founder Garrin Hertel is to Spokane what Max Fischer is to the Latin language in Wes Anderson's 1998 film Rushmore: He's keeping swing alive and hoping to change his community in the process.
"I want to do something for my community that says, 'You have another choice for entertainment,'" says Hertel, a married father of four who works in the Office of Institutional Research at Gonzaga University. He predicts he's not the only person in Spokane who grows tired of the typical dinner-and-a-movie fare. As a former member of the local band Hot Club of Spokane and a current member of 6 Foot Swing, Hertel believes a night of swing dancing offers an alternative to the social monotony Spokanites often feel. And for those who spend all their time at home watching TV, Hertel offers, "I'd like to get some of those people out of the house."
While swing is gaining momentum in Spokane over the past year -- the Moonlight Ballroom and Supper Club now offers live music and dance lessons every weekend -- Hertel and Think Swing! face an uphill battle: Not since bands like the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy spawned a 1990s revival has swing been part of the popular music scene. But there's more to swing than just a strong rhythm section and mid-tempo jazz. Here are a few reasons why you should head out to Think Swing! next weekend -- and why you should enjoy it, too.
1. You probably already like swing music, you just don't know it. Swing has been around for the better part of the last century and influenced more well-known genres like country and early rock-and-roll. Chances are, the Think Swing! roster holds something you'll like. Spokane's own rockabilly band, the Sharecroppers, appeals to country lovers. The Stolen Sweets (from Portland, Ore.) will hit home with fans of girl-rocker Neko Case, while those who still idolize Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley will appreciate the stride piano of Seattle's Casey McGill's Blue 4 Trio.
2. Swing is as complicated as some classical music but not as boring. Do you grow tired of three-chord rock music but can't bear the idea of sitting through Bach's Brandenburg Concerto? Swing is technical -- Paul Grove of Hot Club of Spokane teaches classical guitar at Gonzaga, for example -- but you'd never fall asleep during a performance. The guitars, horns and drums are too loud and fast.
3. This music screams vintage. Admit it: You love watching old Marilyn Monroe movies and shopping at thrift stores. Swing is the soundtrack to that vintage lifestyle. "I'd like to see a return to the little bit more romantic kind of culture," says Hertel, "where people kind of get dressed up a little bit more, go out to dinner, cut the rug a little bit." But this is not your grandma's music: Live swing performances are about improvisation, so the music feels new and unpredictable.
4. Swing is more heartbreaking than emo or folk music. For those who like a little Prozac with their melodies, swing will do the trick. According to Hertel, John Bole from the Sharecroppers has said, "This music is about the strange mess of American life." And American life is pretty messed up these days, much like it was during the Great Depression, when swing first left its mark on modern music.
5. But it's still more upbeat than most rock. "Even when the themes are dark, the rhythm just sort of gets under your skin," says Hertel. Swing may be Depression-era music, but -- as cheesy as it sounds -- it also comes from a time when people overcame adversity. So it's more hopeful than, say, the indie-rock of Elliott Smith. Think of it as a sun break on a cloudy day.
6. There's more to Pacific Northwest music than the indie scene. While last year's Think Swing! festival provided aid to New Orleans bands affected by Hurricane Katrina (Hertel raised enough money to fly several New Orleans bands to Spokane and paid them to play), this year's festival is about the PacNW community. All the bands playing are from Portland, Seattle or Spokane. "There's an attitude that nothing cool happens here," says Hertel about Spokane's music scene. "Gypsy jazz is really popular right now, especially in the Northwest."
7. Swing is sexy. Sure, you probably think swing dancing is square and you'd rather drop it like it's hot or lean back to the rockaway. If you can't stand another night listening to Snoop or Fat Joe but still need to shake it, Think Swing! will have dance instructors on hand to teach newcomers. "There's the whole dance of seduction," says Hertel about swing dancing. "The girl kind of walks by the guy, rubbing her shoulders against his back and walking away sexily, the guy saying, 'Hmm... I'd like to dance with her.'" No better reason than a potential hook-up to give swing a chance.
Think Swing! Blues and Jazz Festival will be at CenterStage Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 8-10. $95 for a three-day pass; individual shows $22-$35. 747-8243.