I keep coming across white organisations telling a ‘history’ of lindy hop that gives ‘the revival’ pride of place. ie white people claiming the modern lindy hop world as their own altruistic work.
So the term ‘revival’ is problematic because it implies that lindy hop was dead (replaced by rock and roll and/or bebop) before white people came along and brought it back to life. In this narrative, white people are heroes for saving ‘this wonderful dance’ and bringing it back to life.
Black people are totally absent from this story, except as venerable elders who teach eager white people. The white people are also credited with bringing these elders ‘out of retirement’ and back to the dance floor.
It’s all very problematic.
1. Lindy hop wasn’t dead. There’s a whole family of Black social partner dances that are thriving (Tena Morales’ event the International Swing Dance Championships showcases them every year, but white people don’t go to that and aren’t involved, so it must not exist).
2. Because it wasn’t dead, it didn’t need reviving. Declaring lindy hop ‘terra nullius’ (ie no people living in this territory) was white people giving themselves permission to take lindy hop. So the white people who ‘went looking’ for Black elders were pretty much just out on a bit of a colonial expedition. Just like Captain Cook expanding the British Empire, ‘discovering’ a huge big southern continent (‘Australia’).
3. Those Black elders, like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller and so on were still dancing, but in their families and homes and community spaces. Black spaces, to which white people did not have access. The story told most often about Frankie Manning, that his working in the post office was somehow less important or lower status than his dance career is classist and racist. The US Postal Service has a long history as an important employer and union locus for Black communities. It was good, solid work. Norma, of course, was running a dance business (managing troupes), Mama Lou Parkes was still dancing professionally… and so on.
4. The Black dancers who were involved in lindy hop in the 1980s tend to disappear in these revivalist narratives. Angela Andrew and other Black women have lots to say about the number of Black dancers out there lindy hopping in the 1980s, but they somehow disappear when white people tell the stories.
5. The white ‘ownership’ (appropriation) of Black lindy hop in that 1980s period is not only about selling places in classes and workshops (and thereby ‘creating community’ via economic relationships), but also about the exploitation of Black dancers working for white troupe managers (we won’t go into some of the more troubling accounts from that period).
RE the USPS:
I came across references to the importance of the postal service in Hidden Figures and the way it provided a pathway to the space program for Black women (SUCH a good book).
There’s also Philip F. Rubio’s book ‘There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality’ (which I haven’t read, but have read _about_.
This all makes the US govt’s cuts to the USPS a matter of institutional racism and white supremacy, rather than a push for smaller government generally (though I’d argue the two are the same thing).
The more I learn about the USPS as a site for unionising, civil rights activism and Black community empowerment, the more troubled I am by white histories of lindy hop that devalue the USPS in Manning’s life. If the civil rights elements of this workplace are ignored, then white ‘historians’ can continue with their bullshit about ‘Frankie never talked about racism in lindy hop, so it didn’t happen’. I’d say that Frankie, as with any other Black worker in America then and now, was very much aware of racism in the entertainment industry and in America generally, and was very careful about what he said to white people about it, and when.
As with the workers who continue to go back to places like Herrang, despite unsafe or inequitable working environments, when you don’t have the financial and personal safety of white privilege, you have fewer choices about the work you can do. And teaching middle class white kids to lindy hop might have suited Manning.
We all love Dee, right (yes), and if you haven’t seen Helena dance, you need to follow her on instagram right now. RIGHT now.
Anyway, BLHF is one of the very few organisations in the lindy hopping world which hires only Black artists (and pays them real money, not ‘exposure’), and makes it easier for Black dancers to attend the workshops. They are fucking legit on this. And intensives (ie workshops) are really top shelf. I’ve only managed to be involved in three, but they are just the best.
As a student, I had fun, but as a teacher, I learnt that Black teachers work in a different way. And I learnt a lot about these approaches to teaching. If you’ve been following that recent conversation we had in this group about whether a teaching method can be anti-racist, you’ll find these BLHF sessions really interesting. Because they _are_ the definition of anti-racism work.
This is Helena’s ig account. This video blew my mind. It’s such a clear example of how the history of Black dance lives in Black bodies and Black dance _today_. You can’t talk about lindy hop without talking about contemporary Black culture.
risha is a Black British dancer. She and other female Black British dancers (including people like Angela ‘Cookie’ Andrews) are often left out of stories about lindy hop in the UK. Angela is a truly great dancer. Watching her in this, I just can’t look away. She. Is. So. Good.
Oh, and because there’s MORE, here is a video we all know and love. Featuring Angela and Dee. Cookie told me that she was _judging_ the contest, but just couldn’t help getting in there.
“The ruling went over the history of the ban, and said it “arose out of a concern that, as a result of the rising popularity ‘of ‘Kung Fu’ movies and shows,′ ‘various circles of the state’s youth’ — including ‘muggers and street gangs’ — were ‘widely’ using nunchaku to cause ‘many serious injuries.’”
“New York lawmakers worried that some young people might be using the device nefariously. “
In 1974 ‘muggers and street gangs’ in New York was code for ‘Black kids’. ‘Kung fu’ films, tv, etc was hugely popular with Black kids (you can read more about that here).
The ‘nunchuck’ ban is interesting because it was clearly targeting this segment of the community in a period of economic freefall and city corruption.
I’m fascinated by this period in American history. There’s a really good documentary called Blank City, which looks at the rise of indy cinema in NY at that moment as well (including Lizzie Borden’s radical feminist film Born In Flames).
If you catch covid, you have a 10-30% chance of it becoming long covid. One of the most comment symptoms of long covid is fatigue.
If we work with those assumptions, what does that mean for a community of dancers?
Let me be clear: I not an epidemiologist, a health specialist, a physiotherapist, or a disease expert. And I’m not sure if this long covid symptom is true across all covid variants and communities. But I am a cultural studies researcher. I have a lot of experience looking specifically at cultural practice within a particular community of people. So let’s start with this: what could happen to a community of dancers where some of the community members are living with long covid, and those people are representative of the different groups within the community? Teachers, performers, organisers, students, new dancers, experienced dancers, old people, young people, cancer survivors, volunteers, business people, trans people, everyone.
We’ve already seen the consequences of managing covid risk: massive financial loss, spacing requiring larger (more expensive rooms), crowd size management, no partner changing, no partner dancing, mandatory masks (and the effect on vigorous exercise), no social dancing, increased workloads for organisers, etc.
But what about the effects of one symptom of covid itself, specifically, fatigue?
Fatigue is not just being tired, where you can push through. Fatigue means you sit down to eat your breakfast, but afterwards you’re so tired from eating you can’t get up from the chair. You have to sit there for a couple of hours. Meanwhile your body cramps and you’re in pain. But this exhaustion is mental as well – you cannot concentrate, cannot follow ideas, and so on. What does this mean for a dancer?
If you’re a professional lindy hopper (a teacher or performer, or someone working in film or television), living with fatigue from long covid, then you cannot dance. You cannot work. Your income is gone. You cannot perform, you cannot choreograph, you cannot practice. Your body, already affected by illness (respiratory illness being the least of it), loses muscle tone and fitness. Your memory and ability to retain choreography disappears. That ‘muscle memory’ stuff (which is actually your brain working) dissolves. Not only can you not train for the hours every day your work requires, you cannot even coach other dancers and earn an income for choreographing for other people. Living will illness, and being separated from your support networks result in serious mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. And it’s impossible to do creative work living with an illness like this.
If you’re a new dancer who has to live with long covid, then you simply stop dancing. And probably never return to it. New dancers are the bread and butter of most dance classes and dance schools today. Dance organisations often fund their social events and weekend events with income from beginner classes. Without that cash flow, the parties dry up. Work for musicians and DJs dries up. The ability to play for dancers dries up.
What does this mean for dancing in the rest of the community? Even if those dancers falling ill are local teachers rather than traveling professionals, all that accumulated teaching knowledge, which lindy hop is notoriously poor at retaining and sharing, will be lost. All that historical and cultural knowledge is taken out of the community. The musical knowledge and dancing knowledge is gone. Not only in that one person, but in all the people they taught, danced with, inspired, and provoked into rivalry.
This is a little like having the Black men removed from jazz music and dance by conscription during the second world war. Whereas jazz music and dance at that time were actually real social practices, happening in sustainable social spaces (families, neighbourhoods, thriving businesses, cross generational gatherings), modern lindy hop in many scenes is not socially sustainable. It collapses when just one or two key people in a local community disappear.
Most lindy hop communities are small*, with perhaps a few hundred dancers, and classes and events run by two or a handful of people. Lose one or two or a handful of those, and that local scene will crumble. If that scene is socially sustainable, with different aged people, a sharing of power and responsibility, etc, then it may be fine. But we have seen over the past ten years, particularly in discussions around sexual assault and racism, that the modern lindy hop world in most cities is not socially sustainable. Patriarchy (and late capitalism) is doomed to collapse under its own weight.
But is it so dire to see a community based on white supremacy and patriarchy break down? Nope. But the thing about covid is that it infects everyone. Even rich white men. The real, serious difficulty with covid is that vaccination and risk management is much harder when you’re poor, you’re disabled, you’re homeless, you’re marginalised.
When a local cultural community collapses, we also see innovative and new types of work in that local field disappear. The modern lindy hop world is dominated by the concept of historical reenactment, with the implication that the best lindy hop is old lindy hop. This ideology in practice (as many people have pointed out elsewhere) is racist, as it privileges the white people who’ve been lindy hopping the longest, and marginalises (discredits! devalues!) living modern Black culture. As Thomas DeFrantz said in his Collective Voices for Change talk, Black dance is a medium for change, for innovation, for action and activism as well as cherishing history and preserving legacy**. Long covid threatens this new and radical work.
Cancelled in 2121 by the rising Omicron wave, the Belgian event Upside Down has determinedly shifted online. But though online fun is still fun, the face to face necessity of lindy hop suffers.
I mention Upside Down for a few reasons. It is rooted in live music, with the organisers working closely with local musicians. Musicians who are some of the best and most talented in Europe. These musicians lose a weekend of work. Upside Down features some of the most creative promotional design, art, and social media engagement in the lindy hopping world. But while some of this might flourish online, the face to face element (the decorations, the unusual party structures, the creative energy and excitement) does not. Upside Down focusses on its local city, and on local dancers. It’s smaller scale (a few hundred rather than a thousand), and it aims to be environmentally sustainable. It’s also responded to the Black Lindy Hop Matters movement by asking its staff and attendees to engage with race and history and social power. This type of energy and enthusiasm is staggering under the pandemic. And individual cases of long covid in key personnel could be disastrous.
The greatest consequence in the cancellation of events like Upside Down is not in the loss of the event itself. It is losing those moments of creative catalyst that result in waves of new thinking, new creativity, new activism, that spread out into the wider community beyond Ghent.
Think of the Jazz Dance Continuum project spearheaded by LaTasha Barnes and her crew. I’m knocking on wood and tossing salt over my shoulder as I type, but imagine an actor like Barnes catching long covid? The woman is a force of nature, working in so many areas of jazz dance, and the wider creative world. She’s also a social agent of good, working with the Black Lindy Hoppers Fund, Frankie Manning Foundation and beyond. And what if Julie Living in New York, or Tena Morales-Armstrong in Houston became ill? These women are the backbones of their local and wider communities (once again, fucking hats off to Black women for being true forces of nature… and hardcore professionals). If we lose these types of people, the truly innovative work will be lost.
If you’re a Black American, catching covid is a very, very dangerous thing, for you and your family. The disease is bad enough, but the American ‘health’ system has never been kind to the Black community. The people most likely to be exposed to covid (the breadwinners and caregivers in the family) are removed from the family structure. Feeding nanna or putting food on the table gets harder. And if you catch covid, you still have things like long covid to consider. Individuals are going to be devoting what little energy they have to sustaining family, neighbours, parish, school, and friends. So the Black dancers and Black culture which have begun to make a difference to modern lindy hop are once again marginalised. This is, of course, a familiar consequence of racism. Racism makes people sick. Racism reduces life expectancy. Racism destroys communities.
I’m writing this now in Sydney, where our government has decided not to enforce lockdowns or other restrictions. Our covid case numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before, and we are behind other countries in vaccination. Two years into the pandemic, the national lindy hopping community has been fragmented into local, capital city based scenes. The live jazz scenes in the bigger cities is also suffering. I fear for the future of lindy hop and jazz dance. Mostly because I think that any future ‘revival’ will be based on the white dominated communities of the 80s-2010s, as we move further and further away from the swing era.
Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. Avoid crowds.
*If most lindy hop communities are small, them most teachers are teaching locally for smaller groups, most DJing is done for local crowds and smaller crowds, most of the live music dancers listen to is played by local musicians, and most of the venues they use are smaller. The budgets are smaller, most labour is unpaid, and most of this unpaid labour is conducted by women. This is is something I learnt during my doctoral research (pre 2006), but which has remained the case in the following fifteen years.
If most teaching is done locally, then the most valuable teaching skills center on attracting and retaining newer dancers, or local people (rather than margeting to the more experienced market for weekend events). This type of teaching must, by necessity be locally specific: catering to the culture, values, and people of it’s home society.
**This idea of Black dance embodying opposing forces like preserving the past and fostering innovation is not new. Embodying ‘hot and cool‘ is a feature of Black dance, as DeFrantz, Malone and countless other point out. It is, again as Malone points out, almost the stamp of a vernacular dance to take elements of the past and rework them for current needs and wants. In other words, lindy hop wants to preserve the past and innovate and create. It is the quintessential modern dance of the 20th century.
Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance. Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
—. “Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance.” Looking Out: Perspectives on Dance and Criticism in a Multicultural World. Eds. David Gere, et al. New York: Schirmer Books, 1995. 95 – 121.
Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. “African-American Vernacular Dance: Core Culture and Meaning Operatives.” Journal of Black Studies 15.4 (1985): 427-45.
—. Jookin’: The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
I’ve been chasing down as many of the antiracist groups in the lindy hop world as I can find. I want to make a list here, so people can have it as a resource. And by people I mean me, and by have, I mean share.
I’m thinking the groups that are specifically anti-racist in ideology and practice (rather than groups that have inclusive policies but other goals – eg Mobtown, Swingopedia, etc), and groups that focus on Black dance.
So far I’ve thought of:
Balboa In Color
(FB group for balboa dancers of colour, focussing on balboa)
Black Lindy Hop Matters
(based in Baltimore, USA, including Black board members, focussing on linking up Black jazz dance resources)
Black Lindy Hoppers Fund
(based in the USA, Black board members, focussed on fund raising for Black artists and presenting dance workshops)
Integrated Rhythm podcast (based in USA, including Black board members, focussing on discussing race and Black experience in jazz dance.) NB no website/fb, but podcast link
MOVE TOGETHER: Dancing Towards Inclusivity & Global Social Justice
(based in the USA, including Black board members focussing on hosting discussion forums and fund raising)
Obsidean Tea (based in the USA, Black staff, focussing on Black culture and dance today)
I’ve also been thinking about what we do with all this information. There’s lots to read and learn, but integrating it in our teaching practice can be harder. Especially if you’re not teaching at the moment.
I’ve been thinking that it’s good to combine one of the practical dance classes with one of the talk-and-think classes. eg the Harlem Renaissance link from Guardian Baltimore with a tap dance class from Josette Wiggans; Black Lindy Hoppers Fund with Collective Voices for Change. There are also some great Black DJs doing sets at various online parties (Global Online Social, Track Town Swing’s online party, etc etc), and they frequently speak a few words between songs. And of course, there’s the Blues In a Flat fundraiser/collab with Maputo Swing.
I’m feeling it’s essential to get up and do something, rather than just thinking or listening. Thinking and listening quietly is a very Anglo-European (settler) approach to learning. Getting up learning-through-being-and-doing is a cornerstone of Black dance culture. Most of the modern lindy hop world prioritises white ways of learning, where the ‘lesson’ is spelled out explicitly. It’s worth undoing that by taking a class or dancing to a set with Black artists, to undo that.
So my feel, generally, is that simply ‘adding Black history’ to your dance class isn’t anti-racist. It doesn’t change anything. To be really anti-racist, you need to make radical paradigm changes. And the most important one of those is for teachers to take classes and to focus on learning. Because the idea that a teacher is beyond learning is not only a BIG problem, it’s also really dull.
As I write this stuff, I’m super conscious of who is reading, and who I am, writing. I am a white woman. So I need to engage with that in my own thinking and practice. It’s a sad fact that most of the members of this group are not Black. So most of us have a lot of work to do; most of us need to be questioning everything we think we know about lindy hop and about teaching.
But what if you are a Black teacher or dancer? I know that there is an argument for decolonising your own thinking, as a Black artist. That might mean unlearning the ways of teaching you’ve learnt as a student in white-run classes. Which carries with it all sorts of risks. And I do not want to encourage Black dancers to doubt themselves!
I feel supremely uncomfortable writing those sorts of suggestions, as a white woman aware of my power and privilege. But perhaps Audre Lorde’s piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’ is the best piece to read for more on that. I’d like to end by saying to Black dancers: trust yourself, and trust your history and culture. You know much more about it than someone like me does. And I’m happy to clear a space so you can do what you need to do.
Yesterday I DJed a really nice zoom party/listening session for the San Antonio Swing Dance Society in Texas. I was in Sydney (still am), but perhaps one unexpected perks of a pandemic, is dance scenes’ refocussing on their local community. Quite a few local scenes have been running regular online meet-ups for the crews, keeping social and creative bonds alive.
In the days before COVID, it’s unlikely I’d have had a chance to DJ in San Antonio. I wouldn’t have travelled so far for a small gig that can’t defray costs, and I would have found it hard to make friends with the San Antonio peeps from Australia. But now – I can!
Anyhoo, the session was about 1.5 hours long, and is run weekly. It was so NICE to see a bunch of brand new people, and to make new friends! This sort of social interaction has just become so important for me during COVID. I’m used to traveling a lot during the year and meeting lots of new people. But it’s been a year of no traveling, and very little socialising. I’ve met far too few new people. But for this set, I only knew ONE of the participants!
I’ve done quite a few of these online/zoom sets now, and I’m really enjoying tailoring the session to the group and expectations of the organiser. Do they want solid party hits for dancing? Do they want a radio show style session with back announcing songs? Do they want history stuff? This session involves a fair bit of conversation in the chat, and there’s less dancing that pure social engagement. If everyone else is like me, they’re just soaking up all those faces on the screen.
Anyway, this one was a bit of talking (more than I usually do, but I checked with the organiser mid-set a few times to see if they wanted less talking, more music), but lots of good music, played the way I’d play a normal social dancing gig.
This is what I played:
(title year artist bpm album length)
Tippin’ Out 1946 Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) 112bpm Roy Eldridge: Little Jazz Giant 2:54
Hootie Boogie 1945 Jay McShann 148bpm Jay McShann: Complete Jazz Series 1944 – 1946 2:55
Tempo de Luxe 1940 Harry James and the Boogie Woogie Trio 130bpm New York World’s Fair, 1940 – The Blue Room, Hotel Lincoln 3:19
Ridin’ On The L&N 1946 Lionel Hampton and his Quartet (170) Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop 2:53
A Touch Of Boogie Woogie 1944 Teddy Wilson Sextet (Emmett Berry, Benny Morton, Edmond Hall, Slam Stewart, Sidney Catlett) 196bpm Teddy Wilson: The Complete Associated Transcriptions 1944 4:49
The Count 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Billy Butterfield, Al Davis, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Clint Neagley, Skip Martin, Vido Musso, George Berg, Chuck Gentry, Mel Powell, Tom Morgan, John Simmons, Sidney Catlett) 169bpm Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 04) 3:15
Take It 1941 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Jimmy Maxwell, Irving Goodman, Alec Fila, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, Gus Bivona, Les Robinson, Georgie Auld, Pete Mondello, Bob Snyder, Johnny Guarnieri, Mike Bryan, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) 174bpm Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 03) 3:13
If I Could Be With You 1948 Kay Starr featuring Novelty Orchestra (Joe Venuti, Les Paul) 124bpm Best Of The Standard Transcriptions [Disc 1] 1:53
No Regrets 1936 Billie Holiday and her Orchestra (Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Cozy Cole) 130bpm Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday On Columbia (1933-1944) (Disc 01) 2:38
When Day Is Done 1935 Mildred Bailey and her Swing Band (Chu Berry) 218bpm Classic Chu Berry Columbia And Victor Sessions (Mosaic disc 01) 3:32
Rose Room 1944 Esquire Metropolitan Opera house jam session (Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, Sidney Catlett) 196bpm Sid Catlett: Chronological Classics 1944-1946 5:56
Well All Right! 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 183bpm Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove 2:31
Flying Home 1940 Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra 185bpm Charlie Barnet : Skyliner 2:57
Redskin Rhumba 1940 Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra 186bpm Charlie Barnet : Skyliner 2:41
Algiers Stomp 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, JC Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes) 219bpm Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat 3:08
Apollo Jump 1943 Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra 143bpm Apollo Jump 3:27
Harlem Air-Shaft (Rumpus in Richmond) 1940 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 191bpm The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 08) 2:59
Barney Goin’ Easy (I’m Checkin Out Goom-Bye) (WM 1036-A) 1939 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Rex Stewart, Juan Tizol, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Billy Taylor, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy) 151bpm Duke Ellington: The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Mosaic disc 06) 2:59
Harmony In Harlem 1937 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 151bpm The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia And Master Recordings Of Duke Ellington And His Famous Orchestra (Mosaic disc 08) 3:08
Hello Little Boy 1950 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 180bpm Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 2:50
Hi Ho Trailus Boot Whip 1946 Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) 224bpm After You’ve Gone 2:46
All She Wants To Do Is Rock Wynonie Harris 145bpm Greatest Hits 2:34
Froggy Bottom 1957 Jay McShann and his Band (Jimmy Witherspoon) 155bpm Goin’ To Kansas City Blues (Mosaic) 2:37
C Jam Blues 1994 Statesmen Of Jazz 161bpm Statesman Of Jazz 6:32
Every Day I Have The Blues 1959 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Williams) 116bpm Breakfast Dance And Barbecue 3:49
Hallelujah, I Love Her So 1958 Count basie and his Atomic Band 133bpm Complete Live at the Crescendo 1958 (disc 2) 3:03
What did you do?
I began with an acknowledgement of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, traditional custodians of this land (where I was speaking from), and a shout out to the Black history of jazz music and dance, to the elders of that community.
Why did you play that?
Then I played one of my favourite songs, Hootie’s Boogie.
It has good energy, but isn’t too up in your face crazy loud/fast. Also it’s LOLsome.
Then Tempo deLuxe, which is another of my faves. It’s a song I’ve started a jillion sets with in the past, because it builds from a mellow intro to an upenergy, fun finale with shouting and shit. It’s a live recording from the 1939/1940 New York World Fair. This is a pretty fun connection for dancers, as the Savoy Ballroom had an exhibition at the fair. And there’s footage of it:
Yep, that’s women dancing with women, and men dancing with women. Always has been, always will be.
There are HEAPS of photos of people dancing lindy hop (and of lindy hoppers and jazz musicians), including this one:
You might recognise that jacket logo from the repro Chloe Hong from Seoul did a few years ago for Frankie100. When you think about the fact Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were promoting the Savoy, it makes complete sense that they were basically walking billboards.
Apparently working the World Fair gig was HARD WORK, with long hours, few breaks, hot sun, and bullshit working conditions. It gave us footage like the Hot Mikado, but it also pushed the Black dancers far too hard. Check out Frankie Manning’s bio for stories about his experiences, and the Alan Lomax bio, ‘Man Who Recorded the World’ for stories about how Lomax’s original ideas for showcasing Black music were curtailed by bullshit.
There’s a heap of stuff from the World Fair in the NY Public Library, so you should defs hunt that down!
Anyhow, I played that song second because it’s by Harry James’ Boogie Woogie Trio (though I think it’s more than three musicians :D) and I dig the boogie vibe.
Then it was Ridin On The L & N, which is one of my most faves. It also has a boogie piano feeling, this time feeling like a train (the L&N) riding down the track.
Then we had radio transcript, ‘A Touch Of Boogie Woogie’ by Teddy Wilson and his Sextet. I had intended to play the 1941 Wilson Orchestra version, because it’s such a surprise to hear that band play something so chunky and exciting and pulse-poundingly good. But the sextet version is equally good, BUT it features some interesting musicians: Sidney Catlett and Slam Stewart. We all know Teddy Wilson for his work with Billie Holiday, and then Benny Goodman’s small groups, but Catlett is a drummer who played in Goodman’s band too. But only for a few months.
Apparently Catlett was so charismatic, so exciting, and so popular, that Goodman fired him in a fit of jealousy. I don’t know if it’s true. But luckily we have some of his recordings with Goodman’s band, including the live album ‘Roll Em!’ from 1941. I don’t have that album, but there is photographic evidence of the gig:
And of course, Slam Stewart we know from Slim and Slam, and thinking of him in Mr Tighty-Whitey Rules Mc Rulesington Benny Goodman’s band is just weird. But there are recordings of him with the Goodman orchestra, and they are FANTASTIC.
(Stewart and Goodman waiting for something in 1945 (source)).
Anyway, I played ‘The Count’ by Goodman’s orchestra, featuring Catlett, so we could feel just how exciting the band was with this drummer. Incidentally, this song is a nice follow-up to the previous one, as it carries that big energy, lindy hopping fun with it. NB it’s just as great for balboa :D
I followed up with another Goodman Orchestra recording from the same year, this time with Dave Tough (our beloved Dave) on drums. Still amazing, but also different. Two songs by one artist in a row? Don’t mind if I do!
A Note: Catlett and Stewart are Black. Goodman was putting mixed race bands on stage for years, and copped flack for it.
After that, it was a complete change of pace, with Kay Starr singing ‘If I could be With You’. This is another transcript, and the band features Joe Venuti, which is weird, because I associate him with gypsy jazz. But by this point, he was major famous. But it’s also wonderful. This photo of them in the ABC Studios was taken ~1945, while the song was recorded in 1948.
Then we had some Billie Holiday, because I wanted to hear some more nice female vocals, with a bit of charm. 1936 put us back into the period I wanted to explore next.
Then ‘Day Is Done’ by Mildred Bailey and her band, featuring her husband Red Norvo.
This song is a nice companion to the previous two female vocals, and she and Holiday match well. But I wanted to play these two artists because they were important in the story of Goodman’s small groups. The story is that Bailey used to host great parties at her house, and at one of these in 1935, Goodman and Teddy Wilson met, and started jamming together. Later that year the Goodman Trio was born.
Bailey herself is super important as this sort of social lubricant, but also as a musician.
Then I played ‘Rose Room’ by an Esquire band, because it’s a live recording, and it features Catlett talking to the audience directly. And it has an epic drum solo at the end.
Then I just went with that exciting big band sound, and another live recording, this time Ella Fitzgerald with Webb’s band in 1939. I wanted to just play some good hard party music. YEAH!
Same for the next song, really: straight up party music. I ADORE this version of Flying Home.
And again – just another uptempo party song.
Then a slight change in tone, with Algier’s Stomp by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. I do recommend reading up about them. This song features Lucky Millinder.
Which was my segue to playing Apollo Jump, classic lindy hop party song.
Then I switched it up a smear, to play Harlem Air Shaft, by Ellington of course. I like this song for the story about it: that Ellington composed it to reflect the sounds that carry up the internal shaft in an Harlem apartment building.
I dropped a word here about the extreme crowding in Harlem in that 1920s-40s period, where thousands of Black Americans travelled north in the Great Migration, fleeing lynching and violence, and looking for jobs. This crowding led to extremely high rents, rent parties, and competition for housing. It also led to the burst of creativity and political activism that was the Harlem Renaissance.
Then on to something else by Ellington, but one of his smaller groups, playing something calmer. Here, I wanted to chill us out a bit, emotionally, but stick to Ellington and that period and sound.
And another Ellington, Harmony In Harlem. Because Harlem. Musically, it’s a bit chill, but it grows in energy. It’s a nice dancing song at first, because it’s quite simple and calm, but it gets louder and more exciting. Break over. Party time.
ANOTHER Ellington, but this is one of my super faves. It has a chill start, but a snappy tempo, and what makes it really interesting and fun, is the combination of characteristically weird Ellington harmonies with a solid, chunking beat, all over an old school blues structure and blues vocals. It’s about as Ellington as Ellington can get. You can enjoy it for the stompy rhythm and salty lyrics, for the clever harmonies and almost-dissonance, or all of it combined.
Then I just went hardcore with ‘High-ho trailus bootwhip’, which is loud and fun and exciting. In my head, I was thinking ‘let’s strengthen that blues structure and element, and go further towards jump blues. But I didn’t say that. I was just thinking it.
That song is quite quick, but it feels EXCITING. So I pulled a standard DJing stunt, and built energy with that, then followed up with a solid party hit at an accessible tempo, with shouting and clapping. Something that would fill the floor after the faster song. Wynonie Harris is straight up party music.
Then I just felt like it was a party.
Then I realised I hadn’t cued up a song :D So I fumbled, and pulled out the Elder Statesmen of Jazz, playing ‘C Jam Blues’.
Then back on party track with ‘Everyday I have the Blues’ from Breakfast Dance and Barbecue, the first Basie album I bought. It has a great story: held at about 3am, a party held by the American Disc Jockey’s Association, and everyone was drunk and tired. Then Basie’s band hit the stage, and it was PARTY TIME. Worth buying the CD for the liner notes!
And then the final song, a party version of Basie’s Atomic band playing ‘Hallelujah I love her so’. This is from a huge, multi-CD set, ‘Complete Live at the Crescendo 1958’, which you can listen to on youtube. Or buy for the liner notes.
WHAT a fun set. Lots of nice people talking and having fun. I love it.
I’m part way through ep1 of Small Axe, a BBC short film series about the West Indian community in London in the 1960s-80s. It’s directed by Steve McQueen and has a w o w cast (incl. Letita Wright and John Boyega).
If you want to know about the Black migrant history of the UK during this period, AND want regular doses of everyday eating, dancing, singing, and FIGHTING THE MAN, i reccomend. It’s a great companion piece to that BBC podcast series about Black music in Europe.