Original Songs by Don Neely Written in Jazz Age Style

San Jose Mercury

Summer, 2019

Music To Camp By

Bay Area residents rejoiced at the news that Yosemite National Park has regained the Ahwahnee name for the park's grand hotel. But only one was crooning about it -- Don Neely, the San Jose State University music grad who formed the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra and has made a career of reviving 1920s and '30s jazz classics. Neely also writes music in the style of that era, and in 2006 he debuted one of his whimsical tunes, "I Wanna Camp At The Ahwahnee," a welcome refrain to anyone who prefers a bed to a sleeping bag. Trad jazz fan and Mercury News colleague Linda Zavoral reports that last weekend, to the delight of the crowd at "Radio Day by the Bay" in Alameda, Neely reprised the song and announced that he knew constant pressure on the scalawags who had claimed rights to the name would eventually win out. "That and $12 million," he drolly remarked.

Syncopated Times  

Don Neely

by Brian R. Sheridan

Excerpt 2019

One can’t imagine the vintage music scene today without the influence of Don Neely, the founder of the long-running Royal Society Jazz

Orchestra. The California-based bandleader, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer has more than 30 years of musical experience playing

tunes from the 1920s and 1930s. He expanded the audience for hot syncopated music beyond the Bay area without sacrificing authenticity.

Dapper Don, with his silver hair and mustache making him look like the elder statesman he has become, still performs around California with

other bands and his own 11-piece Royal Jazz Society Orchestra.


Tunes written by Don Neely
and performed by the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra.  


My song writing career began at the encouragement of Carla Normand who heard me noodling around on the piano on several occasions. Until then, I had improvised on the piano but never thought of writing anything down.  As a response to her emphatic prodding, I wrote and arranged my first new '20s song, "When I Dance With You," followed by my first big hit, "The Record Skip Hop."


The  inspirations for my songs come from observations and situations, sometimes from personal experiences such as dancing, or perhaps listening to a scratched 78 rpm record on an antique phonograph. Some others are inspired by the places we've played — The Ashkenaz, The Wawona Hotel, The Ahwahnee Hotel, the town of Eureka, and The Oakland Paramount Theatre. Some just come from a simple phrase: "Rover Got Run'd Over" and "When Lulu Does That Zulu Dance," both of which were given to me by Carla Normand as a challenge to write. Some were inspired by a bad pun such as we have with "Tequila Mocking Bird."


The songs range from the sublime to the silly, complex to simple, happy to melancholy and in the case of "Rover," the funny-sad genre. The styles I have incorporated have been: the Fox Trot, Charleston, Swing, Rumba, Tango, Waltz, Indian Intermezzo, and even a Polka.

Fooled The Experts

I had never written lyrics before, but I am rather proud of the lyrics I've written especially, "Hetch Hetchy," "Redwood" and "I Wanna Camp at the Ahwahnee." I am also proud of the fact that I managed to fool a few musicologists into thinking that my new songs were from the period and had them wondering why they had never heard them before. Check out the conversation about my song "HOW?" on Youtube.  You can watch the concert performance the RSJO did with Carla Normand singing under the redwoods at the Armstrong Woods Amphitheatre.

Don Neely Songs (Partial List) See also our CD Page for details about our recordings.
Record Skip Hop  On CD Jump Start
 This is the second song that I wrote and was inspired by my personal relationship with an ancient Victrola.
Deja Vu
 Named after a Hippyesque dance venue in Berkeley that the RSJO performed in a number of times. It is written in the Count Basie style of the 1930s.
I Wanna Camp at the Ahwahnee
On CD What A Perfect Combination
 Inspired by my love of Yosemite and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, and is a true statement. I figure that when I am asleep I may as well be in a good bed near a toilet.

Jump Start
On CD Jump Start
 I wrote this one for the Jump Swing dancers and is a late '30s Boogie Woogie arrangement.
On CD Deja Vu
 Inspired by walks in the glorious Armstrong Woods near the Russian River in Guerneville CA., in whose beautiful amphitheatre we debuted this song in concert.
Bungee Jump
On CD Sweet & Lowdown
 Another play on words title done in the Boogie Woogie style.
Try, Try Again
 On CD Deja Vu
 A play on an old saying with a new twist
On CD Deja Vu
 I wrote this one for our performance at the Eureka Jazz Festival.
On CD Deja Vu
 I asked Tom Bopp, musician and Yosemite historian, if there were any songs about Hetch-Hetchy, which there were not. So, I wrote this ironic composition as if it were a 1903 Indian Intermezzo (a popular genre at the time).
Tequilla Mocking Bird
On CD Deja Vu
 Based on a bad pun and my observations of Mocking Bird behavior.
Rover Got Run'd Over
On CD Deja Vu
 This song comes from sheer silliness on the part of Carla and myself, and then became a challenge to write it. It is the most controversial song I have written because you either love it or hate it. 'Rover' may be the saddest funny song you’ve heard lately.
On CD Deja Vu
 I always wanted to write a song with a one word title. I wrote this while driving from Los Angeles to Petaluma, CA.
Wa-Wo-Na Waltz
On CD Deja Vu
 Another Yosemite inspired composition, it accurately describes the very quaint hotel where Tom Bopp performs nightly, and the wonderful setting of Wawona in the Sierra Mountains.
When Lulu Does that Zulu Dance
On CD Deja Vu
 This title idea comes from Carla Normand and was written in response to her challenge to write the song. Done in the “Hot Dance” style of the '20s.

Obligatory Polka
On CD Deja Vu
 My years of playing in a German band in my teens and twenties is the inspiration for this tune, which is controversial in some circles.
Lin's Lament
On CD Deja Vu
 This song is dedicated to one of the original members of the RSJO, Lin Patch , who was a wonderful tenor sax and reed player, and who had the '20s and '30s style in his soul, and was an Ellington devotee. This is song is written in his Cotton Club style.
When I Dance With You
On CD Jump Start
 Because of encouragement from Carla Normand, this is the first new old song that I wrote.
Deja Vu
On CD Deja Vu
 This is my first foré into the sophisticated 1930s style of writing.