I know very little about Pearl Primus, but I’ve been fascinated by this photo since I found it on the Google Life photo collection (you can see more photos here.
She’s not a ‘jazz dancer’ in the strictest sense – she probably fits a little more comfortably into the concert dance or even ballet basket. But she was very much an activist, with a passion for African and African American dance, and she was definitely active as a dancer, performer and choreographer during the 1930s and 40s.
I did a bit of googling and came up with very few actual videos of her dancing on youtube, but I did find this little doco about her that only fuelled my interest:
Then I found this video of her dancing, which isn’t too great – you can’t really see what she’s doing, and I’m not sure it really does her work justice.
NB that first photo is from a series called ‘Jam Session’ by Gjon Mili in the Life Magazine collection on google, which features many other amazing pics.
Gjon Mili is interesting because he directed ‘Blues for Greasy’ jam session film which starred:
Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison: trumpet
Lester Young: Tenor Sax
Flip Phillips: Tenor Sax
Bill Harris: Trombone
Hank Jones: Piano
Ray Brown: Bass
Buddy Rich: Drums
Ella Fitzgerald: Vocals
Mili worked with Norman Granz on this film, and Granz owned the Verve record label as well as organising the Jazz At The Philarmonic concerts and being hardcore anti-segregation.