Meet Bradley Connlain, our Guest Conductor for our Summer Concert!

Since 1984, City Swing, an 18-piece big band, has dazzled audiences and dancers by bringing to life the sounds of big band jazz. Conducted by featured trumpet soloist Bradley Connlain, City Swing has cherry picked the best charts from the books of swing era greats like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and Glen Miller.

In 1986, the band was honored to be declared the City of San Francisco’s “Goodwill Ambassadors” to the ‘86 World Expo in Vancouver, B.C., by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 1988, City Swing performed at City Hall for the Mayor’s Inaugural Ball, and in 2000, City Swing was flown to Palm Springs as the centerpiece of a gala benefit for the AIDS Assistance Program. In 2001, City Swing performed on the top deck of the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, providing WWII-era music for this National Liberty Ship Memorial on its annual Fleet Week cruise on the Bay. In 2005, City Swing performed as the house band for the Imperial Court of San Francisco’s 40th Anniversary Ball at the Gift Center Pavilion.

City Swing starts a new chapter in 2007 with jazz singer Joyce Grant. The great-great-niece of famed ragtime composer Scott Joplin, Grant has been singing jazz in Bay Area venues like the Plush Room and the Donatello Hotel for 20 years. A mezzo-soprano with a voice like dark honey, Grant has a performance resume includes a wide range of venues including the Empire Plush Room and the Donatello Hotel (9 years) in San Francisco, the Ledson Hotel in Sonoma, Cetrella in Half Moon Bay, the Liberty Hotel in Pittsburg, Slates in Walnut Creek, Joe’s of Lafayette, the Woodminster Amphitheater, and the Zingari Ristorante (5 years) in San Francisco.

Also with Guest Artist, Leanne Borhesi

Swing History

The Oakland-East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus is pairing with City Swing to perform a Concert of Swing right out of the Great American Song Book. So, what exactly is swing?

Swing is a quintessential 20th century American sound, and it reflects all of our nation’s joy and struggle. Swing is inherently intertwined with class, race, the Great Depression, World War II, and the nostalgia that looked back to those eras in the later 20th century.  Swing itself rose out of the 1920s African-American jazz scene of New Orleans, which influenced the jazz scene in Chicago, and then the scene in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Swing comes out of several styles, notably blending the more formal structure of syncopation found in ragtime (here is “the Maple Leaf Rag”, note how structured this is),  and the improvised overlay of Dixieland, which has multiple soloists improvising together or in call and response with other sections; one of the most recognizable songs of Dixieland style is “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In” (Louis Armstrong performing a later version—note the multiple lines of melody, overlapping solos, and band sections including vocals playing off each other.)

Swing is recognizable by a strong downbeat in the drums and bass with a looser off-the-beat syncopation in the brass and woodwinds. Structured, written sections alternate with individual solos, which allows for a sometimes frenetic, sometimes chill sound.  The most iconic of this style is, perhaps, Duke Ellingtons’ 1931 “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”. This  1943 Duke Ellington Band version starts with a solo violin, then gets moving with on-the-beat left hand piano (later adds drums) and an off-beat syncopated melody in the right-hand piano, winds and vocals. It exemplifies that the written-out structured sections alternate with free-form solos including the vocalists. Often the formally written sections are intricate, harmonic, fast, and well-rehearsed. The lyric, “Makes no difference if it’s sweet or hot, just give that rhythm every little thing you’ve got,” alludes to the fact that swing is often described as “sweet” (more laid-back) or “hot” (more frenetic), and gives rise to dancing of both styles. Sweet Swing dancing (check out this 1946 “Swing Dance”), although employing rapid foot work and a body that is always in motion, uses more sway and more body connection than hot swing, which includes, jumps, kicks, running, and tossing your partner, as shown in this film version of “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

With the back drop of the Great Depression and the US entry into WWII, Swing also represents the US’s long struggle with segregation and integration. Louis Armstrong, who was instrumental in moving New Orleans jazz to Chicago and then to New York, brought his solo trumpet style to the Fletcher Henderson Band, which is credited with experimenting with the specific Swing form in the ‘20s. Armstrong’s characteristic trumpet sound gave Big Bands the swing form of a structured written section that alternates with improvised solos. While Swing rises from the African-American Fletcher Henderson Band with Louis Armstrong, it was the white Benny Goodman’s weekly radio show that gave Swing wide public popularity and made Swing the sound of the ‘30s and ‘40s.  Benny Goodman’s band was one of the first to integrate; Goodman employed Henderson to arrange and perform, and Goodman hired other African-Americans; yet many other band leaders, as well as the movie industry, theatres, and hotels had problems showing integrated bands.

Swing is the sound of travel by train, and notably, Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”, which we are singing, reflects the implicit yet rarely acknowledged racial division of the era. In the era of Swing, southerners, mostly African-Americans, moved north and west, as the story of George Swanson Starling shows, in Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, (NY: Vintage Books, 2010).  George, who fled Florida because he angered the crop owners when he tied to unionize the citrus workers, moved to New York and became a railroad porter who travelled back and forth to the south. He tells of integrated train cars in the north and the regulations that required segregation at the Mason-Dixon line, meaning blacks had to all move to the front of the train. After President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the trains were not to be segregated, yet the practice continued. George helped people understand their rights, even if it sometimes meant standing up to the violent dying gasps of the Jim Crow south. Chattanooga would have been below the line, yet this sweet Swing song barely acknowledges race; the lyrics, “Pardon me, boy,” and “Boy, you can give me a shine,” are understood as the racial epithet, “boy,” (We’ve changed the lyrics to “boys”, alluding to gay chorus members), but there is nothing else about segregation in the song.

Swing also took note of the new form of travel, flying, as in our version of “Come, Fly with Me.” That song marks the ease of travelling quickly somewhere, and the exhilaration of the being up with the birds. Compared to today’s extreme concern with security and over-packed airlines, the song seems incredibly naïve, when we sing the lyric, “just say the word and we’ll beat the birds down to Alcapulco Bay.”

Swing’s sweet naiveté is often balanced by it’s hot innuendos to sex or violence. As a subtle soundtrack to the issues of race and economics, offering joyful dance tunes into a period of violence, hunger, poverty and war, Swing and the iconic uniform of swingers, the zoot suit, was at the center of cultural wars. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, in this 1997-written hot Swing number “Zoot Suit Riot”, refer to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, which pitted white servicemen against zoot-suit wearing Latinos, African-American and Filipino-Americans across the country.

The Swing sound is ubiquitous throughout the Great American Song Book, in movies, on the radio, and leading toward other genres. Swing, which lost some popularity after the war, was revived in the ‘50s and ‘60s by Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and other Rat Pack performers.  Later orchestras like those of Ray Coniff (whose version of “On the Street Where You Live” we are singing) and Lawrence Welk, used the sweet sound of Swing in their big bands, adapting newer songs into the older swing form.  Hot Swing had a nostalgic revival again in the ‘90s and early 2000’s with groups like the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Brian Stetzer Orchestra (check out this 1999 version of “Jump, Jive an’ Wail”). More recently the Post-Modern Juke Box takes modern songs and makes them swing (check out this sweet Swing version of “All About That Bass”).

So what is Swing? Sweet, hot, American rhythm, syncopated, laid-back and off-the-beat, reflecting our racial struggles, a soundtrack to eras of financial struggle, and a nostalgic look at times when music hid all our troubles. Join us for this toe-tapping excursion.

Come Swing with Us!!!! July 15 & 16, 2017 at Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 338 Ninth St, Oakland CA.

Tickets available at

A Praire Homo Companion Skit

Written by Tony Clark

Summer Concert 2017 Tickets

Come Swing with Us

The Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus is proud to partner with City Swing to bring you Come Swing with Us – a night of lively music and dancing! Featuring special guest artist Leanne Borghesi, who joins the chorus to bring some beloved jazz and swing-era favorites to the stage!

We encourage the audience to join the fun as we transform the Oakland Asian Cultural Center into a night club, complete with cocktail tables, thrilling big band music, and a dance floor to show off those moves! We encourage the audience to join the fun as we transform the Oakland Asian Cultural Center into a night club, complete with cocktail tables, thrilling big band music, and a dance floor to show off those moves! We encourage the audience to dress-up in period costumes (think Zoot Suits, WWII or 50’s Hollywood Glamour)…and will be awarding prizes for best outfit!

Behind the Scenes: In Writing The Skit For “A Prairie Homo Companion”

A Praire Homo Companion Skit

Six years ago, my Husband and I moved here from Minnesota, where Prairie Home Companion takes place and Garrison Keillor lives. I have seen the show live twice, and I listen to it most Sundays on my way home from church. Minnesota has embraced Prairie Home Companion as its own; there is a Lake Woe-Be-Gone State Park in central Minnesota; near our house in St. Paul was a bar called Chatterbox Pub; the show is broadcast live annually from the Minnesota State Fair. A radio variety show, which seems anachronistic, makes sense when the winters nights and the summer days are long, and the jokes about Lutherans and hot-dish (called casseroles by the rest of us) are funnier when you have spent significant time in Minnesota. When Billy announced that our spring concert would be a parody of the show, I began to wonder what I have to offer to our concert.

I am excited in the way we at OEBGMC will both honor and parody the show with our own gay stylings. The music we are singing in this concert, called “Prairie Homo Companion”, could easily be on a radio variety show. We are singing fun songs, big songs, gay anthems, a song based on the words of President Obama, a musical setting of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a piece by Verdi, and a song from the musical The Student Prince called “Let’s All Be Gay, Boys.” Although we definitely bring our own Oakland-East Bay point-of-view, these songs could easily be sung on the famous Minnesota-based radio show; we just need some skits to break up the music and draw the show out—skits that remind us of the radio show if it were just a bit more gay.

When Billy suggested that one of the skits could be a mash-up of the Garrison Keillor cowboy skit and Broke Back Mountain, I volunteered to write it. “The Days of our Lives of our Cowboys,” stars Rusty and Hefty, who just can’t seem to quit each other. As they approach retirement, Rusty and Hefty must decide where they will settle down, and where they might take the cattle they have been herding all these years. Rusty and Hefty decide to take the cattle to the Cow Palace, because, well, don’t the cattle deserve to live in something called the Cow Palace? With an invitation from their long-time female friend, who recently came out, Rusty and Hefty visit their home in the East Bay Hills, and decide to settle down with a view over the hills and pastures of the East Bay, staying visually close to cattle. They realize that they may be more than friends, and they can finally be the Broke-Back Mountain cowboys they’ve secretly fantasized about.

In writing the skit, I thought about how our culture looks at men. While some in our culture laugh at the intimacy of men (for example, the buddy movies of the 50s and 60s poked fun at gender and sexuality by caricaturing men who desired to be around other men), art and advertising use the hyper-masculine stereotype of cowboys to sell products like cigarettes, trucks, and alcohol. And then there is the homoerotic art that uses the cowboy type as a fantasy man. What is it about men of the land, the Marlboro Man, camping and fishing with other men, rodeos, and men working together to rope and herd cattle that both captivates our culture and creates some discomfort in us? Although it very dirty, sweaty and dangerous work, it’s also hard, active and athletic work. That may be what lends the romantic air of rugged individualism to being a cowboy. Roping cattle and riding horses is almost the ultimate definition of masculine (butch) gender expression and sexuality. There is also this gay fetish/fantasy around uniforms, pointed to by The Village People, which placed a Cowboy along with the (politically incorrect) Indian, Policeman and Construction Worker, all of whom objectified the gay culture’s fixation with uniforms that reflect our ideals of men as objects of desire. And, then there is Broke Back Mountain, which played society’s view of the masculine cowboy against the stereotype that men who love men are somehow soft.

Garrison Keillor himself understands this; his cowboy segments are parodies of both older cowboy radio shows and the buddy films. One cowboy is grizzled and rough while the other is well-read and perfect-mannered, and he gets teased by the rougher one for being a bit too soft for the trail. There is a sense that the two cowboys deny any male intimacy; yet because they share time and space with another man as 24-7 coworkers, intimacy cannot be overlooked. Like Garrison, I had fun playing with that notion.

I also had fun thinking about the segment and how it is always bookended by a fake commercial. I chose Sharon’s Sure Shine Saddle Soap and Shoe Polish as the sponsor, to also play on the leather scene within the gay community. The tag line is “Wear your harness with pride to Pride, when you shine it up with Sharon’s Sure Shine Saddle Soap and Shoe Polish.”

In writing this, I am reminded of the saying, “The sincerest form of flattery is parody.” I hope my parody flatters the original by honoring it while making it our own brand of gay. I hope you like our version, our Prairie Homo Companion!

Tony Clark, Second Tenor

New Member Story | Joey Raven

by Joey Raven 4/13/17

New Member Story | Joey Raven | Oakland-East Bay Gay Men's Chorus

I’m proud to say that I’ve been with the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus for over seven months, about to perform my second set of concerts. It has been an amazingly rewarding experience, and for some time now I’ve been thinking about a way to express how important this chorus has been to me.

Before I started singing with OEBGMC, I didn’t know many gay people (aside from myself). I found it pretty easy to feel disconnected from society. Watching the news, or seeing the inescapable political threads on social media, sometimes makes me dispassionate, like the world caters to interests other than my own. It’s frightening, to set out into that world as a young person carrying the feeling that I won’t be accepted for who I am, that there are people out there who hate me for something I cannot and would not change.

Perhaps the intolerance I was feeling was internal, ingrained in me as much as the rest of society. Either way, it drove me to seek shelter from a storm. I decided to find a group of people that, at least in this one way, were like me—somewhere I could feel safe. It didn’t take me long to find the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus.

It was as difficult as anything I’ve ever done, writing the email to schedule an audition and showing up in a room full of strangers to sing. Everyone from the chorus was of course incredibly welcoming and helpful, and the audition itself was more about placing new singers in their proper vocal section, but even so, I was completely terrified. I had no choral experience whatsoever, didn’t know how to read sheet music, had never sung in front of strangers before.

Something about the experience, a feeling about what it might become, compelled me to stick with the chorus for a time, even though my nerves begged me not to. I stumbled through my first few rehearsals feeling very much like the music was over my head and that I had just found yet another place that I didn’t belong.

But then something started to change. I put in some solid practice a few times a week, and I started to get the hang of some of the songs. And when that happened, I realized I was starting to read music. The chorus offers a ton of help to its singers, rehearsal tracks to practice to, a compendium of information and a strong, connected presence online. My chorus mates were all so fun and friendly and made me feel at home.

By the time our concerts rolled along, I was absolutely in love with my new family. I realized at some point, gearing up for our winter shows, that we weren’t just weathering a storm together. We weren’t walling ourselves off from the world, making a safe haven for ourselves to block out intolerance and cruelty; we were stepping out, smiling, singing, loving, connecting, and facing the world while wearing silly hats. Our concerts were full of laughter and tears and all that good stuff you want a concert to be filled with. And the joy it brought me to be up on stage with my friends, literally watching happiness spread through our community, was indescribable.

As I was considering how best to express what this organization has meant to me, I decided that this thing I’m writing really had three points. The first, to convey my deepest, eternal gratitude to OEBGMC and each and every one of its members for making me feel like I have a place in the world. I have no doubt that this is the most wonderful group of men in the universe and I am honored to be a part of it.

The second, as a message of encouragement to anyone thinking about joining this chorus, or any other group like it. As I was going into my second concert season, I realized something that, to me, was pretty significant: in the beginning, nobody knows what they’re doing. No one that I’ve ever met walks into a rehearsal, looks at a piece of music for the first time and nails it on the first try. We are all stumbling and bumbling together, and we all put in an incredible amount of work and we all somehow manage to put on a terrific show at the end of the season. While the chorus is filled with amazingly talented people and is privileged enough to work with some truly talented musicians and soloists, it’s really our passion for what we do that makes our shows so amazing.

And the third, as an example of the impact this organization can have. Joining OEBGMC quite literally changed my life, added to my purpose and continues to this day to make me feel more whole. The passion that we all have for our music, the drive of our group, isn’t something we keep to ourselves. Not everyone in the chorus had the same experience when they first joined, to be sure, but the love and dedication for what we do is something we all share, and it’s something we bring with us each time we step out into our community.