The Ottawa Swing Dance Society celebrated its 19th anniversary in style Friday evening with dancing, birthday cake and snacks, and most importantly – live jazz.
They brought in one of their favourite Ottawa jazz bands – Peter Liu and the Pollcats – to perform three sets of vintage swing music, and the band invited a special guest singer, JUNO-Award-winning vocalist Kellylee Evans. The Pollcats have previously invited Evans to sing with them at swing dances, and Evans had Liu guest with her at her swing-themed concert at the NAC a year ago.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was there for the band's second set, in which Evans and Liu each led the Pollcats in a lively selection of jazz standards.
Evans' flexible, vibrant voice easily navigated the lyrics to tunes that included “Pennies from Heaven”, and “I Like Pie (I Like You Best of All)”. On “Love Me or Leave Me” (from her JUNO-winning album, Nina), she was scatting joyfully and singing with her whole body; on “It's Only a Paper Moon”, she was bouncing up and down to the beat.
Liu sang the ballad “But Not For Me” with feeling, and gave upbeat numbers like “Exactly like you” and “Blue Skies” a smiling, dancing vibe.
The Pollcats' energy level was consistently high. Scott Poll was a third expressive voice on clarinet and saxophone, Peter Turner added growling and inflected trombone lines, Alex Tompkins contributed assured guitar solos, and Yves Laroche inserted glistening piano – all held together by forceful drumming from Glenn Robb.
The last number of the set featured Liu and Evans together on the sizzling “Diga Diga Doo” – exchanging lines and then singing in unison as dancers swung across the floor. As they ended the number, the audience responded with stomps and immediate demands for ”one more song”. They finally closed with the sweet and romantic “My Baby Just Cares For Me” (another Nina Simone number), trading lines and singing together. As the music faded out, it was greeted with loud cheers and applause.
The large bamboo dance floor in the renovated basement of St. Joseph's Parish Church in Sandy Hill, where the society regularly holds its dances, was consistently filled with dancers. They ranged from teens to seniors and included family groups. Some were dressed in the suits or flared knee-length dresses reminiscent of the heyday of Lindy Hop in the 1940s, others in jeans and more casual wear.
They danced in pairs, but also alone or in circles of four or six, twirling and circling around the floor. During “Exactly Like You”, a group of dancers energetically swirled together while others stood in a semi-circle around them clapping in time. Despite the cold, damp conditions outside and two huge fans at the bottom entrance that drew in colder air from the outside, the room was almost sultry from all the people moving.
Dancers regularly circulated on and off the dance floor, drinking from the omnipresent water bottles, sitting and chatting with friends, having their pictures taken in groups at the photo stand, and eating the fruit and vegetables and hummus and other healthy snacks, as well as the special birthday cake and sheets of cupcakes.
It was a dynamic and happy event – a good way to celebrate a birthday!
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