On getting "swing".

Imagine it: it’s 8:00 on a Wednesday night in a rural town in Ohio, and a 15-year-old, brash, confident, yet ultimately quite naïve trombonist is finishing a lesson with her infinitely patient trombone instructor. She’s standing there looking over his shoulder as he decides what to assign her to practice for the next week. The secretary waits impatiently at the desk, eager to lock the studio for the night and go home.

And all of a sudden, Satin Doll starts playing from under their feet.

This is not entirely unexpected; the music studio is on the second floor of a building that may have been constructed prior to radical ideas like “indoor plumbing”. The floorboards creak with every move, and the two trombonists have been hearing people filing into the rehearsal hall underneath for the past half hour.

The young trombonist sighs, realizing that her instructor has closed his eyes and is pausing, listening to the music from below them. “I don’t get it,” she admits over the saxophones. “I don’t understand swing.”

He opens his eyes, staring at her. “It’s about dancing,” he says, putting down the Bordogni book he’d been leafing through. “The motion of the music, you just…” He’s clearly struggling for words.

She shrugs.

He grins, reaches forward and takes her hand, puts his other hand on her hip. She laughs, putting her hand on his shoulder a little awkwardly – but he steps and she steps with him, slowly to half the tempo of the music below. She has no idea what she’s doing, but he twirls her under his arm and suddenly the steps don’t matter anymore. The floorboards creak like an added instrument, they dance in the lobby, and suddenly she understands.

Three months later, just after her sixteenth birthday, she finds herself sitting third trombone in that same big band, playing that very same arrangement of Satin Doll.

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