Archive for the ‘swing history’ Category
Heard this song at the dance last night, thought I’d blather on about it a little here.
First of all, here’s the clip.
It’s the song “Killin’ Jive” by the group Cats and the Fiddle. This clip is from a movie called “The Duke is Tops,” a so-called “race film” from 1938, back in the days when black people and white people couldn’t be in the same movies together unless the black people were bringing the white people drinks on little trays, taking their hats, and not saying much of anything. So understandably, the black people said phooey and made their own movies.
These kind of pictures had all-black casts and were intended for exclusively black audiences. Made outside the Hollywood studio system, the pictures were low-budget but not necessarily low-quality; they were actually among the first successful “independent” films, which is pretty cool if you think about it. Sadly, Wikipedia tells me that of the around 500 race movies made between 1915 and 1952, less than 100 are still in existence.
Some of these remaining pictures are a treasure trove for swing dancers and jazz historians, because they feature such amazing singers, dancers and musicians. “The Duke is Tops” was an early vehicle for Lena Horne, and as Fred Sanford always said, don’t mess with the Horne.
Despite its rather deteriorated condition, I love this movie, and the scene with the Cats and the Fiddle is great. Incidentally, the group was organized in 1937 and, with a few membership alterations, stayed together until 1950. In a dozen years of recording, they never made it to the charts. As you can see, their style was a bit unusual, being built around their tight four-part vocal harmony, while at the same time they were providing all their own instrumental accompaniment as well. Plus dance steps and some acrobatic hijinks with the upright bass. Pretty impressive! If you compare the Cats and the Fiddle to a group like their contemporaries the Mills Brothers, it is clear they were a little ahead of their time musically, having more of an R&B sound that the world had not yet caught up with. But they get the last laugh, because they’re still being danced to today!
The other song you’ve heard by them is Gang Busters.
Okay, that’s all the blathering for now. See you on the dance floor!
It was on this day, December 9, eighty-five years ago, that Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five recorded the seminal track, “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.”
The tune was written by pianist Lil Hardin, to whom Armstrong happened to be married at the time. It remained an instrumental piece for fourteen years, until songwriter Don Raye (who penned such classics as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Fry Me, Cookie, With a Can of Lard”) added some lyrics to the tune.
Now, on hearing the words of this song, one naturally pictures someone strutting down the street, carrying a plate of saucy ribs on the tips of his fingers and possibly doing a little truckin.’ A messy and probably dangerous enterprise, but understandable nonetheless. Yet it turns out that picture may be somewhat inaccurate.
The official website of the Cab Calloway Orchestra contains Cab’s “Jive Dictionary,” which is a primary source document of swing terminology. According to Calloway, the word “Barbecue” does not mean slow-cooked, spicy meat. It actually refers to “the girlfriend” or “a beauty.” So someone who is “struttin’ with some barbecue” is actually sauntering down the street with his sweetiepie.
So how did “barbecue” come to mean “girlfriend”? Aside from the obvious allusions to the lady’s being hot, spicy, saucy or what-have-you, I believe there may be a more complex etymology at work here. Interestingly, in the 1941 Barbara Stanwyck film “Ball of Fire” (another considerable compendium of hepster lingo), the Stanwyck character refers to a lady by the term “rib.” This would seem to reference the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, in which Eve was supposedly created from one of Adam’s ribs. Naturally, what is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of ribs? Barbecue!
Well, it’s just a theory.
Anyway, here is a link to the 1927 recording. Now dance your little hearts out!
Compare these two men:
I just wanted to observe that the man on the right is no more obnoxious and terrifying to parents today than the man on the left was in his day.
Today, a lot of parents cringe at hearing the faint sounds of hip-hop emanating from their kids’ headphones. That is the same way parents in the 1920s reacted at hearing the sound of jazz pouring out of the Victrola in the next room.
And, in both cases, with good reason. Not only are the words as indecipherable to the ear, and rhythms as unsettling to the nervous system, but both kinds of music carry the same criminal undertones.
Remember, early jazz musicians were not nice people. Jelly Roll Morton was a pimp and a drug dealer. Louis Armstrong practically grew up in prison. Sydney Bechet was convicted for assault and deported from England. Gangster rappers have nothing on these people.
So whenever folks try to make you feel like a dork for preferring hot jazz to whatever bunk they’re playing on the radio these days, you can be reassured that eighty years from now, only dorks will be listening to hip-hop. In 2092, hip-hop will be “retro,” and those who listen to it, dance to it and study it will be considered specialists and eccentrics. Rap will be a subculture, just like swing is today.
And those of us who are still listening to jazz? Well, I guess we’ll be like Beethoven fans or something. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
We post-feminists and latter-day Jazz Babies owe a lot to the New Women of the 1920s. To that intrepid brand of vintage female we owe the right to cut our hair, to show some skin, to wear makeup, and to do anything we damn well please with whomever we like without fear of social ostracism. And most indispensably, the flappers taught us to Charleston.
They achieved momentous things for us, and we should be grateful.
But not every habit bequeathed to us from the Jazz Age generation was beneficial. For example, smoking. The flappers made folks accustomed to seeing women smoking cigarettes in public. Thank you, but no. They also had a disturbing tendency toward giving themselves alcohol poisoning.
Nearly as harmful was what the flapper did to our spines.
Here is what fashionable posture looked like a generation before the flappers:
Here, in contrast, is fashionable flapper posture:
And here is what fashionable posture looks like today:
The visual record is clear. As dancers in a culture that places little value on the spine, we need to be flappers with our attitude, but Victorians with our posture.
Also, don’t smoke.
Found on Yehoodi.com – a 1961 Ebony magazine article on the history of American social dancing. Here, Al Minns and Leon James demonstrate some familiar jazz steps.
You can find the rest of the article and, in fact, the entire issue of the magazine here. Enjoy!
Just came across a clip today, courtesy of LindyHopMoves.com. Have you seen this thing? It’s a compilation of classic lindy hop moments, all choreographed into an amazing routine and performed by Andrew Thigpen and Karen Turman at ILHC 2010.
Now, find out how big a dance nerd you really are! How many of the references did you recognize?
1 – 7: They call you the Pretzel King.
8 – 14: Very impressive! Frankie would be proud.
15 – 21: This dance thing might be getting a little out of control.
22 – 28: Total Dance Nerd – do you even have a real job?
Now, here are the original clips, and here’s the clips in order of appearance:
1) After Seben, 1929
2) A Day at the Races, 1937
3) The Big Apple in Keep Punchin’, 1939
4) Hellzapoppin, 1941
5) Buck Privates, 1941
6) The quick stop, Groovie Movie, 1944
7) Mama Lou Parks, 1982
8) Mama Lou’s Parkets at Basie Ball, 2004
9) Frankie Manning leading the Shim Sham, 2003
10) The Jitterbug Stroll, 1990′s
11) The Rhythm Hotshots at Can’t Top the Lindy Hop (Frankie Manning’s 80th Birthday Festival), 1994
12) Jam Circle featuring Ryan Francois and Sing Lim at Can’t Top the Lindy Hop (Frankie Manning’s 80th Birthday Festival), 1994
13) Swingers/Big Bad Voodoo Daddy/Neo-Swing, 1996
14) The Gap Commercial, 1998
15) Erik Robeson and Sylvia Skylar Showcase at ALHC, 1998
16) Minnie’s Moochers at NADC, 2000
17) Todd Yannacone and Emily (now known as Jo) Hoffberg Showcase at ALHC, 2001
18) Mad Dog at ALHC, 2002
19) Kevin St. Laurent and Carla Heiny at NADC, 2003
20) Todd Yannacone and Naomi Uyama Showcase at ULHS, 2005
21) Todd Yannacone and Naomi Uyama Liberation Finals at ULHS, 2005
22) Skye Humphries and Frida Segerdahl Showcase at ULHS, 2007
23) Max Pitruzzella and Annie Trudeau Showcase at ILHC, 2008
24) The California Rolls at ILHC, 2009
25) The Silver Shadows at Frankie 95 (Frankie Manning’s 95th Birthday Festival), 2009
26) The Silver Shadows at ULHS, 2005
27) The Silver Shadows at ALHC, 2006
28) Andrew Thigpen and Karen Turman Showcase at Lindy Focus VII, 2009
I just stumbled upon a wonderful video about Frankie Manning on YouTube. Maybe you’ve seen it.
So as usual, I’m a day late and a dollar short. But as you no doubt are aware, his birthday was last Saturday. So in observation of the one-week anniversary of his 98th birthday, why not take ten minutes and watch the video?
That’s all I have today. Thank you.
Happened to pick up The Autobiography of Malcolm X today for the first time in about a decade. I’d actually forgotten that he was a lindy hopper in his early days. In chapter five he talks about going to see Dinah Washington perform with Lionel Hampton’s band at the Savoy:
“The ballroom made the Roseland in Boston look small and shabby by comparison. And the lindy hopping there matched the size and elegance of the place. Hampton’s hard-driving outfit kept a red-hot pace… I went a couple of rounds on the floor with girls from the sidelines… The people kept shouting for Hamp’s ‘Flyin’ Home,’ and finally he did it… I had never seen such fever-heat dancing.”
What is it about this song? On the website All About Jazz, David Rickert says that “Flying Home” once had such a reputation for whipping crowds into a frenzy that it was sometimes banned from certain venues, for fear the place would collapse.
Of the song’s most famous recording, by Hampton’s big band for Decca in 1942, Rickert writes:
“After a brief vibes introduction, punchy riffs from the saxophone section introduce the main theme. Soon after, Illinois Jacquet swoops in on tenor sax for the longest solo on the record. He builds on a series of variations on the main theme, before heating things up with a single note phrase while the trombones fan the flames underneath. It was a celebrated solo that was a tour de force in honking and wailing and served as the template for almost every R&B saxophonist that followed in his footsteps… Like many of the high-powered riff tunes of the time, “Flying Home doesn’t disappoint when it builds to a climax. Hampton plays bursts of riffs followed by trumpet blasts from Ernie Royal that increase in pitch and intensity. Finally, with a thunderous crescendo, the band riffs out.”
By the way, that famous saxophone solo? The one that’s been ripped off by everyone and became the prototype for every R&B saxophone solo ever recorded? Jacquet was eighteen at the time.
Here’s the song. I know you’ve heard it a million times. But doesn’t that still just make you feel like dancing?
So go. Dance. See you tomorrow!
To wrap up my series on Mr. Lawrence Hostetler and his 1942 book, Walk Your Way to Better Dancing, I will just share here his list of common mistakes in Lindy Hop:
- Doing the lindy like a fox-trot. The latter is danced primarily from the hips, while the lindy stresses knee action.
- Exaggerating movements. The style of a dance should conform to the surroundings. The lindy can be done in a modified form that is not objectionable.
- Taking steps too long. Especially in the double lindy, steps should be quite short.”
There you have it – words to live by, straight out of dance history.
Now, dance nerds all, may we find, with Mr. Hostetler’s help, that our lindy remains forever “not objectionable”!
(By the way, the full text of this book can be found here.)
In Mr. Lawrence Hostetler’s 1942 book, Walk Your Way to Better Dancing, in his section on Lindy Hop, he describes both a “single lindy” and a “double lindy.” His single lindy turns out to be very similar to what we would call a single-time Balboa basic. What might double lindy happen to be?
Here he describes it:
“Just as extra steps are added to the single conga to convert it into the double conga, in the same way you can easily transform the single lindy into the double. The general pattern of the basic step remains the same. To account for the extra steps the count of and is used. Whereas the four counts to the measure of the single lindy denote quarter-notes (“Bounce Me Brother with a Solid Four”) the and count indicates an eighth-note (“Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar”). The additional steps are made very short and without lifting the feet from the floor.
“The Double Lindy Turning Left:
- Step back L in open position facing the line of dance.
- Step R in place.
- Short step forward L. At the same time turn partner in front of you to the closed position.
And Close with R.
- Short step forward L, beginning left turn.
- Step side R, completing quarter-turn left to face center of room.
- Cross L over R.
- Short step to side R.
And Close with L.
- Short step to side R.
“While the man is making only a quarter-turn left, the girl makes a three-quarters turn. To repeat the step and complete the turn, swing your partner to the open position facing opposite to the line of dance and step back L.”
So, in other words, the same as the single lindy, but with triple steps. Duh.
But now he goes on to describe something really interesting:
“Thus far we have considered only figures of 8 counts or two measures each. Now, however, we come to an important and much used variation – the double lindy “break” or “throw-out.” Unlike the break of the single lindy, which uses the same pattern as the basic figure, the double lindy break is done in 6 counts or one and a half measures, thus changing the 8 count rhythm of the basic step.
“The Double Lindy Break:
- Lift L knee and step back L in open position.
- Lift R knee and step R in place.
- Short step forward L. At same time swing partner away from you with firm pressure of right hand at her waist.
And Close with R.
- Step L approximately in place.
- Short step to side R.
And Close with L.
- Step R approximately in place.
“This break figure can be considered as merely the basic step with two counts omitted. Not only is the action thus speeded up, but also an interesting change of rhythm is provided. The counts deleted are counts 5 and 6 of the basic step.
“As in the break of the single lindy, the man keeps the rhythm of the step in place while swinging his partner away from himself. As the girl travels backwards away from her partner, he keeps a firm grasp of her right hand with his left…
“From this throw-out or break position a couple can go into numerous variations… The 6 count rhythm of the break figure can be repeated or they can return to the 8 count basic step.”
So essentially what we have here, if we extend a little tolerance to his “firm pressure on her waist” nonsense, is a six-count sendout. And that, folks, is as close as Mr. Lawrence Hostetler ever gets to describing a lindy swingout.
Tomorrow, I’ll finish up with Mr. Hostetler by sharing his list of common mistakes in Lindy Hop.