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Happy Feet, I’ve Got Those Happy Feet

When I arrived in Chicago in 1976 on a freight train one of the first places I went was the Congress Hotel. I wanted to see the Joseph Urban Room. It was one of the fabulous night clubs of the 1930’s.  I was familiar with it because of recordings of broadcasts from there by Benny Goodman in 1935.  Joseph Urban had been one of the great designers of the 20’s and 30’s.  At the beautiful Congress Hotel I not only did not find any trace of the Joseph Urban Room; I found no one  who had ever heard of it.

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I had left Seattle over a month earlier on a southbound freight.  In Seattle I had discovered Lindy Hop and Jitterbug dancing by going to see The New Deal Rhythm Band.  The band was led by John Holte and featured the singer Cheryl Bentyne.  She went on to sing with the Manhattan Transfer.


I spent about a month in Chicago.  During the day I would watch the Cubs play in Wrigley Field, or if they were on the road, look at art in the Art Institute of Chicago.  Many days were spent  just walking around inside the loop marveling at the fabulous buildings, including great examples of the work of Louis Sullivan.


During the evenings I would look for jazz music.  At the Ravinia Festival out doors I saw Benny Goodman.  A week later at the same place I saw Ella Fitzgerald backed up by Roy Eldridge.  I saw The Wolverine Jazz Orchestra somewhere on the north side and also watched movies in the Biograph Theater.  That was where John Dillinger watched Manhattan Melodrama and then stepped outside to meet a hail of gunfire.


I made it back to Seattle and the University of Washington later that summer.  John Holte was leading a new band called the Swingland Express at an extended engagement at the Windjammer Restaurant.   Over the next year or two the band often played at the G-Note Tavern in Greenwood.  It had a nice dance floor.  One night at the G-Note Odessa Swan showed up wearing a vintage poodle skirt of heavy felt that was fully decorated with sequins.  Midway through a dance I put her into a spin.  The skirt edge rose to nearly horizontal and knocked a half full pitcher of beer completely off a too close table.

In 1980 I finally made it to New York.  That had been my goal during the summer of freight train riding in 1976 but I never did make it.  Just to make sure in 1980 I flew.  Once there I met up with Odessa Swan and Robin Reid.  We went dancing at various places.  One place was a long narrow dance hall where the Widespread Depression Orchestra had a regular gig.

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Another place to dance was the Roseland Ballroom.  At the time the Les and Larry Elgart band was playing there.  It was hanging on to the last vestiges of a bygone era with employed dance hostesses and hosts, both men and women, who could be bought to dance with at somewhat more than a dime a dance.

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Easily the best place to dance in New York was The Rainbow Room.  It featured a tiered seating area that sloped down to a dance floor of adequate size in front of a  bandstand where Sy Oliver led a swinging band.  The Joseph Urban Room couldn’t have been any better.





6 responses to “Happy Feet, I’ve Got Those Happy Feet”

  1. Robin says:

    Ahhhh. I remember it all so well. The music, the dancing, your incredible happy dancing feet. You are the dance partner of a lifetime. Perfect timing, versatile, funny, readily Improvising at the drop of a hat. No stick up the whatever ballroom guy but a loose boned Nordic Fred Astaire in pleated pants and spectaor’s. Thank you so much for the memories. PS- when we were leaving the Rainbow room that night in NY a man slipped me a note with his telephone number and this, “You are the reason the Rainbow Room was built-just for you to dance in”. I still have it, romantic that I am ;-))

  2. Dan McK says:

    Hey Dennis,

    Was just googling “John Holte” and “Swingland Espress” and came across this page. (there isn’t much from this search)

    Thanks for posting. I had the pleasure of knowing and playing with John in the Swingland Express. Do you have any photos?


    Dan McKinnon

  3. Dennis Nyback says:

    Dan, thanks for searching and reading. I’ll be seeing Claire Golding at the end of September. I’ll see what photos she has.

  4. Dan McK says:

    Hi again,

    Just did a search on “Swingland Express” and got a bunch of good hits, the best of which is http://www.originalcast.com, which is a website that has a compilation of bands that the Seattle bassist Pete Leinonen played in. Click John Holte’s Radio Rhythm Orchestra for some choice pics of some of John’s bands including New Deal Rhythm Band and others, as well as a musical and character tribute to John. Also lots of information about the swing scene in Seattle a while back.
    I miss John.

  5. Linda Olson says:

    I miss you guys, and those days.
    Deluxe Junk is gone, Robin is married and on the east side(?)
    and I haven’t talked to OD for a couple of years …
    you and robin were my roommates and Odessa lived next door
    and I shoulda been there too, the Rainbow Room.
    But I was, in spirit

  6. Dan, I created wikipedia page for John Holte. There is a picture on = it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Holte

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