KRTU’s Skyline Swing event makes its return to campus

KRTU brings Dirty River Jazz Band to campus for their first Skyline Swing event since COVID

With live music and free dance lessons, the Skyline Swing event returns to campus this Saturday, Feb. 4. The dancing lessons begin at 7 p.m. in the Skyline room located on the second floor of the Coates Student Center, and a live band will be there from 8-10 p.m. The event is hosted by Trinity’s own radio station, KRTU 91.7 FM, with the help of Trinity’s Swing Bums dance club, and will feature the Dirty River Jazz Band. The event is free for Trinity students and the San Antonio community and is open to dancers of all levels. After the passing of local legend Jim Collum, Jr. in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the event is finally ready to make a comeback.

The event used to take place annually, but the programming was halted by COVID-19 and is just beginning to return to its normal format. Monica Reina, station manager at KRTU, explained that the event got started with the help of the late Jim Cullum, Jr.

“It got started with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. It was their idea to do this event in the Skyline room because it’s such a beautiful view overlooking downtown San Antonio. And it’s a big space. It was just a great space for the dancers to come out and dance. … Jim Cullum [Jr.] passed away, unfortunately, and then COVID happened, so we hadn’t done the event since before COVID. We’re looking forward to bringing it back,” Reina said.

The Skyline Swing event will honor the legacy of Cullum and the Jim Cullum Jazz Band while providing a space for the San Antonio community to come together over live music and swing dancing. Reina explained why KRTU chose the Dirty River Jazz band to perform.

“[Dirty River Jazz Band] also plays the same kind of music that the Jim Cullum Jazz Band played, which is considered traditional jazz, like New Orleans-style swing jazz. … They [are] a younger band, but they’ve played some of our other events. They were like a perfect fit for this because they’re kind of carrying on the torch of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and continuing to pay homage to that music. It’ll be exciting to have them now performing,” Reina said.

Chris Alvarado, leader of the Dirty River Jazz Band, explained the impact Cullum had on him and his band.

“Jim Cullum’s legacy is a very famous legacy. He started the band over 50 years ago with his dad, Jim Cullum, Sr., who was a musician already and was good friends with people like Louis Armstrong. Jim [Sr.] had a very strong connection with all those early jazz people. And he had his radio show [Live from the Riverwalk] here in San Antonio at his jazz club for 35 years. It was on NPR and it’s very educational and very informative. … He had a huge impact [on Dirty River Jazz Band] because he … did a home concert at our university and that’s kind of where we saw him the first time and where he impacted us. And ever since then, our band has been a thing,” Alvarado said.

Abby Smith, senior applied physics major and vice president of the Swing Bums club, recounted Swing Bums’ history with the event.

“I don’t remember [when the event started], it’s been a very long time. I think Skyline has happened for a while. I remember meeting people that used to live in San Antonio five or six years ago and they would mention Skyline Swing. So I know it’s happened for at least a couple years before I came here [in 2019], but I think it’s happened since maybe 2015,” Smith said.

Historically, Swing Bums has been a part of the event by participating in the set-up and free swing dance lessons. The San Antonio Swing Dance Society will be in charge of the free swing dancing lessons with help from any Swing Bums member that wishes to participate.

“They really start with the basics. It’s a rock step and they show you how to do that. And then once you get that down, then they’ll show you another step. Then just add on to that. Of course, you have to practice, and you’ve got to do it a few times. … It’s a great opportunity to come to learn,” Reina said.

The swing music that will be played resembles the style of swing music originally popularized in the early 20th century. The event is open to all ages and skill levels, with free dancing lessons to encourage participation. Alvarado further explained the style and history of the music his band will play.

“The majority of music is going to be dancer friendly. It’s geared towards dancers since it is mostly a dance event. But we’re going to play mostly late 20s to early 40s music, kind of in the golden age of swing, to keep it up-tempo and bouncy and very danceable for swing dancers. That’s the goal, is to get all the organizations out, including the Swing Bums, and other organizations in town that will hopefully come out and make it a big community event,” Alvarado said.

Several organizations in San Antonio will be encouraging their members to attend the event, such as The Alamo City Swing Revival, the San Antonio Swing Dance Society, KRTU and Swing Bums. KRTU used to charge a cover fee for the event, and only certain members of swing organizations could get in for free. Now, after the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of Jim Cullum, Jr., the event is focused on being accessible and bringing the community back together.