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.
Member of the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Ann Johnson was seriously badass (you can see her undies – and hardcore leg muscles – here. She and her partner (Billy Williams) are the first onto the floor in the jitterbug contest section of the ‘Keep Punchin” short (at about 3.08 in this clip):
Dunham was a dancer, but also a choreographer, and I think I want to give some concert dance choreographers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s and 50s a bit of space as well.
Dunham’s piece ‘Barrelhouse Blues’ is really interesting. I think it gives me a place to start thinking about ‘blues dancing’ performances in historical context – this piece was a response to (and incorporates) the vernacular dance of the period, rather than an ‘accurate’ ‘depiction’ of vernacular dance.
It’s the second piece in this clip, but I want to include the first piece ‘Ostrich’ because it’s so amazing, and really positions Dunham within the context of other choreographers and dancers of this period who were exploring African dance within an African American context. Also, because ‘Ostrich’ is AMAZING.
Extreme awesome lindy hopper from Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers! You can see her in clips like the Keep Punchin Big Apple and Jitterbug Contest, but I can’t pick her – can you?
…btw, her inestimable partner was Thomas ‘Tops’ Lee.
Today, a woman who particularly inspires/inspired me!
I was in this class with Sugar and Peter, and one morning early in the week Sugar self-corrected describing the leads as ‘he’ with the comment: “because these days girls lead too, and that’s alright!” I led in most of my classes that week, and she was one of the few teachers I’ve _ever_ had who’s been so encouraging of women leads.