June 3, 2011

Music Madness 2011

This was my first year at the Experiment, and I had a blast! I was invited out for one week, starting in the middle of the first week and ending the middle of the second week. David Rehm had asked me to present on a few topics: music history and DJing, as well as being a staff DJ for the evening festivities. Aside from the gnarly flu-like thing that I got my last few days at the Experiment, I had a wonderful time.

The students, staff, instructors and food were outstanding. The evening dancing was top notch, and the music was incredible (even excluding my own personal music). David puts on a top notch camp!

Exclusive to this years camp was the first ever Music Madness. A celebration and competition of high quality swing music (complete with Sponsors!). The setup is easy, 64 of the best songs to dance balboa were pitted head to head in a single elimination tournament, where one song took the home the Chick Webb Memorial Trophy.

(The tournament is modeled after the popular NCAA March Madness Basketball Tournament)

The idea of Music Madness came about from the classic big band battles of the swing era. Chick vs. Benny; Fletch vs. Goldkette. And the idea of both recreating those classic battles, and battles that never happened was exciting. Put that together with the eternal debate of “what is balboa music?” or “This song is better than that song” and you have the recepie for a down and dirty, knock out drag out music battle!

Now, I do realize that the Experiment is only 30 or so people, and that the music was selected by me, however, I am not here to claim that this is the answer to all your questions, concerns, hopes and dreams. This was purely my own little “experiment” and something that was fun and …come to find out… very popular among the dancers.

On to the battle!

There were some deviations from the tournament in order to accommodate the large field of music and the limited amount of time. The 1st and 2nd round of the tournament were held before the Experiment as it was determined that there wouldn’t be enough time to run those rounds given the other events that take place over the week at the Experiment. Those rounds were “scientifically” (a.k.a. I chose the winners at home, with a scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other). Be sure to check out the full bracket PDF at the bottom for full event results, including some of the big upsets of the tournament (Did Sing, Sing, Sing really beat out Jonathan Stout? How and the hell did Bie Mir Bist Du Shein beat White Heat?) Since I was there for two different weeks of the camp, we were able to run it for both weeks and potentially crown two different winners. The audience at the Experiment started to weigh in on their favorites when the tournament arrived at the Palomar Ballroom and Hollywood Palladium.

How did it go?

Each pair of songs were played back to back. At the end of the second song, the audience was asked to cheer for their favorite. After a few seconds of voting a winner was announced and moved on to the next round.

Here are some highlight winners from week 1 and week 2 from the 3rd round.

  • Organ Grinders Swing came away with a big upset against the #1 seed Honeysuckle Rose (If you ask me, this was the biggest upset of the tournament)
  • In both weeks, Willie Bryant’s version of Rigamarole beat out Mora’s Modern Rhythmists version. Well done Willie!
  • Turns out that Swingin’ The Blues might have bought their way into the #3 seed, getting beaten by Jam Session both weeks, and I must say, by a WIDE margin each week.

Final Four:

The Final Four and ensuing championship round were played out just the same as the previous rounds, however, there were a few duels where additional voting was required as we were unable to determine a winner from the initial voting. It was a tight match up for some.


Both a surprise and a “duh” was that the winner of Week 1 was also the winner of Week2, Man From Mars by Artie Shaw. A classic big band track, with plenty of twists and turns throughout the song, Man From Mars was the clear winner in both weeks. It really is no surprise that such a classic, recognizable tune would dominate the tournament. Not only does the song deliver great energy, it also delivers a wonderful amount of audio interest for the dancers to play on.

Winner of the Chick Webb Memorial Trophy 2011: Man From Mars, Artie Shaw

You can download a PDF version of the brackets here.

Week 1 Bracket PDF

Week 2 Bracket PDF

Thanks to everyone who participated and help drive the energy of Music Madness. I am extremely excited to have already been asked back to the Experiment next year, and hopefully I will be able to hang around for all three weeks, and hopefully we will see a return of Music Madness.

I would love to hear what you guys think about this whole thing. I was really stoked with it from start to finish and can’t wait to do it again.


*** Correction: Kim Smith (my wife) was a critical part of the success of this project. Without her guidance, passion, assistance and critical thinking skills, none of this would have been possible.


  1. David L

    Wonderful list and neat idea. Wish we could have participated in it for week 3. It is amzing how much similarity there is between the two weeks with the exception of Minor Swing.

  2. Randy Maestretti

    Was there a repeat of this contest in 2012?

    • Unfortunately there was not. We wanted to run something a bit different from year to year. But, hopefully, it will come back…soon!

    • And actually, what we replaced it with was a “Favorites Friday” Set list. Where during the week, all the attendees and teachers told me their favorite songs and then on Friday night we played nothing but those. It was outstanding. And the amazing thing was the lack of repeats of favorite songs. We only had like 3 repeats. Outstanding!

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