Southern California has some great bands to swing dance to, from authentic 20’s and 30’s bands, to big bands, to jump blues and rockabilly bands. We are spoiled! Currently, it seems that 20’s/30’s Gypsy Jazz/Dixieland Jazz is all the rage (just look at the number of bands in that genre). Of the bands in this category, the California Feetwarmers (see photo above) seem to have some of the most devoted followers (and for good reason – they are excellent).
There are probably a lot of great bands missing from this list, simply because I haven’t got a chance to see them yet in person… Many apologies to those not on this list..
20s/30s/Dixieland/Gypsy Jazz/New Orleans Jazz
- The Barrel House Wailers – New Orleans jazz, great for dancing to. Based in Ventura, CA.
- The Benny Brydern Quartet – Led by jazz violinist Benny Brydern, this is one of my favorite bands playing 1930’s Swing classics. They don’t play very often, but make sure to catch them when they do, mainly at Joe’s Bar.
- The Big Butter Jazz Band – Led by guitarist Conrad Cayman, this dancer favorite band plays New Orleans and Chicago jazz from the 1910’s to 1930’s. They always draw a lot of dancers!
- The California Feetwarmers – A dancer favorite playing authentic 30’s, Dixieland, Bluegrass, and Tin Pan Alley classics. Instruments consist of guitar, banjos, accordion, horns, and clarinet. Percussion section is a bass drum and washboard – no drum kit, but the rhythms are no less potent. Usually draws a good turnout of dancers. Highly recommended if you like Balboa. Look for them at Gorbals or Joe’s Bar. Voted #4 best band in Southern California in the 2013 LA Lindy Hop Desert Island Swing Band poll. (Their photo is shown as the featured image at the top of this page).
- Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang – Authentic 20’s and 30’s tunes with some great musicians. No website, so the link goes to a YouTube video. Excellent for Balboa, or just listening. Look for them at the Culver Hotel. Voted the #3 best band in the 2013 LA Lindy Hop Desert Island Swing Band poll.
- Ellis Island Boys – Quartet which includes John Reynolds, playing 1920’s and 30’s jazz. Look for them at Disneyland and California Adventure. Voted the #7 best band in the 2013 LA Lindy Hop Desert Island Swing Band poll.
- Fabus Four – Talented saxaphonist and singer Jason Fabus leads this talented young jazz quartet. Highly recommended!
- Hedgehog Swing – Young Gypsy jazz band based in Long Beach. Popular at Joe’s Bar.
- The Hi-Fi Honeydrops – Five members with three electric guitars playing 1930’s hot jazz. Look for them at Joe’s Bar.
- Holy Crow Jazz Band – They play trad jazz from the 20’s and 30’s. Brush up on your Balboa. Good stuff!
- Icy Hot Club – Along with authentic Gypsy Jazz from the 1930′s, they “re-imagine” modern songs in the 1930′s style. Imagine Depeche Mode’s “Policy of Truth” in a Balboa style. Or the Star Wars Cantina theme. Or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”. How about the Doors’ “Whiskey Bar”? Yes! Definitely check them out!
- Janet Klein – They perform quirky, but really good and danceable, songs from the 20’s and 30’s.
- Jennifer Keith – Another top-notch band featuring some of the best musicians in L.A.
- Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five – Great Django inspired tunes, great for Shag and Balboa. One of my favorites. They play all around. A good turnout of swing dancers is almost guaranteed wherever they play! They are the house band at Camp Hollywood and many other dance camps. Voted the #1 best band in the 2013 LA Lindy Hop Desert Island Swing Band poll.
- Leftover Cuties – If you have a chance to see this band, just GO. They are fantastic. My favorite is their cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, but with banjos and all acoustic instruments. They are getting quite famous touring the whole country, so when they are in town, don’t miss them!
- Mora’s Modern Rhythmists – Authentic music from the 20′s and 30′s. Great for Balboa. Usually draws a good crowd of dancers.
- The New Recessionaires – “Hot jazz for hard times” is their motto. Featuring former members of Royal Crowne Revue, the New Recessionaires specializes in music from the 20’s and 30’s, although they play songs from all the way up to the 50’s as well as original tunes. Very danceable, good for Balboa, although they do play some slower numbers to Lindy to. Look for them at The Edison.
- The Red Skunk Band – Hailing from the Central Coast of California, these musicians play Django-inspired 30’s music including their rendition of the Star Wars Cantina Theme. Very highly recommended! Definitely a dancer favorite when they are in town.
- The Swingsations – Jim Ziegler’s band devoted to classic jazz and swing from the 20′s to the 40′s. Great for Balboa and Shag.
- The Esquires Big Band – Classic big band playing your swing favorites. They came in at a very respectable #9 in the 2013 LA Lindy Hop Desert Island Swing Band poll.
- Jack’s Cats – Plays a variety of danceable Swing favorites, often a the Cicada Club.
- The Jonathan Stout Orchestra, featuring Hilary Alexander – The 14-piece big band incarnation of Jonathan Stout’s band.
- The Ladd McIntosh Swing Orchestra – Plays authentic big band swing favorites.
- Pete Jacobs Wartime Radio Revue – Big band dressed in authentic military uniforms. Look for them at PBDA.
- The San Andreas Sisters – Trio singing tunes from the Andrews Sisters and more.
- Sylvia and the Rhythm Boys – Play regularly around town and in the Long Beach / San Pedro area. They have danceable tunes and a following of dancers.
- The Swing Cats Big Band – This seventeen-piece big band is dedicated to the performance and preservation of big band music. They play at Downtown Disney and many other locations in Southern California.
- Phat Cat Swinger – An unapologetically “neo-swing” in a time when most bands of that genre are well past the height of their popularity. Plays high-energy originals and covers of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, as well as vintage classics from Sinatra and others. See them if you’re tired of 20’s and 30’s music and want your guilty-pleasure fix of 40’s big band music done in a modern style. Lots of devoted fans!
- Alpha Rhythm Kings – Trumpet player Robert Dehlinger leads this popular Swing / Jump Blues band from the Bay Area. A dancer-favorite for sure!
- Stompy Jones – This used to be arguably the #1 favorite Swing dancer band but their popularity has waned since the departure of their beloved lead singer, “Pops”. Still, they came in #2 in the 2013 LA Lindy Hop Desert Island Swing Band poll. Find them at Disneyland, PBDA, and other So. Cal. venues.
- Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys – Popular rockabilly band with fast, danceable guitar-based original songs.
- Crown City Bombers – Rockabilly and 50′s-inspired tunes.
- The Leapin’ Lizards Featuring Aileen Quinn – Upbeat Rockabilly and dance friendly classics!
- Lil’ Mo And The Dynaflos – Excellent 50′s do-wop band catering to swing dancers (because many of the members are swing dancers..)
- Maureen and the Mercury 5 – Jump Swing and rockabilly songs that are very danceable.
- The Moontones – High energy dance band with electric guitar and horns section. They play classics from the 50’s, as well as stuff that sounds like Brian Setzer or even BBVD, and I mean that in a good way.
- Deke Dickerson – Quirky, fun western swing. Many songs have funny lyrics, but all are highly danceable!
- James Intveld – Fronts a popular Western swing/rockabilly band. Catch them at Joe’s Bar.
- The Lucky Stars – Self-deprecating lyrics and danceable tunes make this Western swing band really awesome. Check them out at places like Joe’s Bar. They came it at #8 in the 2013 LA Lindy Hop Desert Island Swing Band poll.
- Petunia and the Vipers – Western band complete with yodeling. Much darker songs than Deke or the Lucky Stars. From Canada, but they stop by LA on their tours every so often. Has a strong core of fans.
- The Stagecoach Looters – Consisting of mostly members of the California Feetwarmers, this incarnation plays Western Swing accompanied by accordion on occasion.
- Dustbowl Revival – Really popular large roots/jazz/Americana band. They don’t always play danceable songs, but they’re always good and have tremendous energy. The Dustbowl Revival were voted the #1 live band in LA by LA Weekly magazine (beating out bands from all other genres). WARNING: lately a trusted source has told me that they are playing mostly pop/rock now and now swing-danceable songs.
- Caravan Palace – French Paris-based electroswing and hot jazz band. Highly infectious and catchy! Find their videos on YouTube. The best electroswing band around, in my opinion.
- Red Light District – A more acoustic take on electroswing, if that makes sense (i.e., they don’t sound like DJ’d loops).
- Hey Mister Jesse Podcast – long-running podcast about Swing music.
- Live Collegiate Shag music on Bandcamp – this site has Shag music selected by local dancer Kendall Roderick.
- Rockstep Radio – Online radio station with music for Swing dancers!
Please leave a comment if there is a good band that I have left off! Thanks, Brian