GVSU students find creative outlet in swing band

GVL / Courtesy - 501 Swing

GVL / Courtesy – 501 Swing

Ty Konell

At Grand Valley State University, as well as in the greater Grand Rapids area, swing dancing has made a prominent name for itself. For certain musical students at GVSU, this sparked an interest in establishing a jazz band. 

Out of this idea and a lot of organizing, 501 Swing Street was born. 

The musical styles of the band are heavily influenced by Lindy Hop—a style of swing dancing—and the music that accompanies it.

“501’s repertoire of big band and small ensemble, like Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian, came after starting Lindy Hop with the Underground Dance Community into my junior year of GVSU,” said Brenden Hoekstra, a GVSU education major who plays trumpet in the band and spearheaded its formation.

After attending an event that featured a live jazz band, Hoekstra was struck by inspiration.

“The group was formed after catching inspiration from a group out of Nashville,” Hoekstra said. “This was a group of seven college musicians playing jazz in a swing style. I saw this and decided I could totally do that. I play trumpet, I know other musicians and I know what dancers want.”

For some members, playing in 501 Swing Street gives them a chance to pursue not only their passion but the possibility of future educational and musical endeavors. 

“I’m a music education major, which focuses on classical music, but my real passion is for jazz,” said Logan Vanderlaan, a GVSU student who plays trombone in the band. “I’m trying to play as much jazz as I can right now to get experience so I can audition for grad school for jazz performance.” 

The more established the band becomes, the more gigs they get, and they don’t intend to slow down anytime soon.

“We have played for one wedding this summer,” Hoekstra said. “We have also played with Western Swing Club, Grand Valley Swing Club, including our debut with Grand Valley’s Presidents’ Ball. Our most recent gig was with Motor City Swing in Detroit. Looking forward, we are lining up gigs with two local dance scenes downtown GR and hopefully repeating some gigs we did this past year.”

Vanderlaan said he hopes the band will be able to perform not only more swing events but longer ones.

“I’m hoping to play larger and larger swing dance events this year,” he said. “It would be great if we could play a weekend-long event.”

For Hoekstra, who commits hours every week to swing dancing, being able to play for other dancers is a particularly meaningful experience.

“It is amazing to give back to the dance community,” he said. “Dancers thrive on live music. Personally, I have had fantastic experiences with live music, and it’s awesome to give the dancers one more outlet for their steps. My favorite part of playing with 501 Swing Street is watching the dancers react to our music. 

There are songs that I know dancers love, and I love it when we play them and the dancers react positively to that musical selection.”

For members of the band, being able to create music they love with people they respect and enjoy being around makes the hard work worth it.

“My favorite part of (being in) the group is that I’m friends with everyone, and on top of that, I get to play with some of the best musicians GVSU has to offer,” Vanderlaan said.