Sunday, December 25, 2011

A very Swinging, Vintage Christmas

A non-encyclopedic post this time; a more personal post recapping my Christmas...

© spread [spread on Facebook]
I hope my friend Zoie does not mind me using this photo of hers, but I just love this deer reminding me of my ‘80s childhood. The photo belongs to her upcoming project Spread Gallery [not allowed to say more]. I hope the project goes great, that it makes her very happy and that it brings her some much needed money...
Swinging with the Athens Lindy Hoppers again and again...

Our teachers are completely nuts and wonderful! Watch them here:

Christmas Party / Athens Lindy Hop [Mariangela, Nefeli, Alex], photo © Athena Liaskou
Attending Past Tense Vintage & Crafts bazaar...chatting with the lovely Swell Dame []...buying some of La Boom’s creations for friends close to my heart []. I need to note that the artist is as wonderful as her art.

Going through my mom’s old photos to find something winter-y or Christmacy for Les Broderies Anglaises' 'Winter Wonderland' photo contest and coming across such fabulous vintage photos from a trip in Vienna back in 1971...the one on the right is the one I entered in the contest and was one of the winning photos...!!

Winning a double invitation for Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums @ Half Note Jazz Club and attending with my fellow lindy hopper Roly ‘Flapper’. We enjoyed them very much!!

Finally, making this huge Christmas present to myself. All original recordings from the '30s, '40s and '50s. I am listening to them all day long - a big thanx to my friend Hector for suggesting them to me.

I hope we all have a happy new year with lots of joy, love and health!!! [jobs and money would not be such a bad idea either...] Swing you out there!!!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Big Apple

big apple night club
The dance that eventually became known as the Big Apple is speculated to have been created in the early 1930s by African American youth dancing at the Big Apple Club, which was at the former House of Peace Synagogue on Park Street in Columbia, South Carolina. The synagogue was converted into a black juke joint called the "Big Apple Night Club.” 

In 1936, three white students from the University of South Carolina – Billy Spivey, Donald Davis, and Harold "Goo-Goo" Wiles – heard the music coming from the juke joint as they were driving by. Even though it was very usual for whites to go into a black club, the three asked the club's owner, Frank "Fat Sam" Boyd, if they could enter. Skip Davis, the son of Donald Davis, said that "Fat Sam" made two conditions: They had to pay twenty five cents each and they had to sit in the balcony. During the next few months, the white students brought more friends to the night club to watch the black dancers. The white students became so fascinated with the dance that, in order to prevent the music from stopping, they would toss coins down to the black dancers below them when the dancers ran out of money. "We had a lot of nickels with us because it took a nickel to play a song. If the music stopped and the people on the floor didn't have any money, we didn't get any more dancing. We had to feed the Nickelodeon", recalls Harold E. Ross, who often visited the club and was 18 years old at the time.

The white dancers eventually called the dance the black dancers did the "Big Apple", after the night club where they first saw it. Ross commented that "We always did the best we could to imitate the steps we saw. But we called it the Little Apple. We didn't feel like we should copy the Big Apple, so we called it that." 
Rise in popularity (1937-1938)

During the summer of 1937, the students from the University of South Carolina started dancing the Big Apple at the Pavilion in Myrtle Beach. Betty Wood (née Henderson), a dancer who helped revive the Big Apple in the 1990s, first saw the dance there, and six months later she won a dance contest and become nicknamed "Big Apple Betty." The news of the new dance craze spread to New York, and a New York talent agent, Gay Foster, traveled to the Carolinas to audition dancers for a show at the Roxy Theater, the world's second-largest theater at that time. Eight couples were chosen for the show, including Wood, Spivey, and Davis, to perform the Big Apple during a three-week engagement that began on September 3, 1937. They performed six shows a day to sold-out audiences and greatly contributed to the dance's popularity. After the engagement at the Roxy, the group became known as "Billy Spivey's Big Apple Dancers" and toured the country for six months.

Arthur Murray, a dance instructor and entrepreneur, had two dance studios in New York in 1936. After seeing the Big Apple dancers at the Roxy in September 1937, Murray incorporated the Big Apple into his swing dance syllabus. Due to the popularity of the Big Apple and other popular dances such as the Conga, Murray started to offer franchises in 1937. By 1938, there were franchises in several major cities, including Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. The company continued to grow to over 200 Arthur Murray dance studios throughout the world by 2003 [on the Life Magazine photo above Arthur Murray can be seen on a chair at the back calling out the formations]. This is a link to a video on YouTube with the short film The Big Apple with the Arthur Murray "Shag" Dancers where you can see how the original Big Apple probably looked like. Dance arrangement and direction by Arthur Murray himself! It's very interesting and rare and hope nobody removes it. Unfortunately, for some reason I cannot post it in here.

frankie manning in the middle
In the fall of 1937, four couples from Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, a Lindy Hop performance group based at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York, traveled to Hollywood, California, to perform a Lindy Hop sequence for a Judy Garland movie called Everybody Sings. Soon after arriving in California, Herbert "Whitey" White, the manager for the group, sent a telegram to Frankie Manning, the lead dancer for the group, about the new dance craze in New York City called the Big Apple. Manning had never seen the dance before but based on the description of the dance in the telegram, he choreographed a Big Apple routine for the group. Since the dance was based on combining jazz steps that the Lindy hoppers were already familiar with, such as Truckin', the Suzie-Q, and Boogies, the group quickly learned the new steps. They performed their Big Apple routine for Everybody Sing, but the dance scene was eventually cut due to a dispute between the director and Whitey over the dance group's not receiving a break in the filming schedule. 

Frankie Manning remembers: "Whitey asked me to make up a big apple routine for the Lindy hoppers, so I got to work. At first, as I read the letter and tried visualizing the movements, I thought, What the hell is he talking about? Then I began playing some music and actually doing the steps. I used Count Basie's "John's Idea," initially, but then I switched to "One O'Clock Jump" because it was a little slower and more swinging" (Manning & Millman 143).

This is "John's Idea":

And here's Count Basie & his Orchestra performing "One O'Clock Jump" live for the 1943 film Reveille with Beverly.

When the group returned to Harlem, Manning taught his Big Apple version to other dancers in Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, before ever having seen the version done by the Big Apple dancers at the Roxy. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers would dance the Big Apple mixed with Lindy Hop at the Savoy Ballroom until interest in the dance died out.

Later in 1939, the group performed a Big Apple sequence for the movie Keep Punching, which has been recreated by Lindy hop performance groups since the 1990s. 

[Check out my post entitled "Tranky Doo" for a video from The Spirit Moves documentary that includes the Big Apple routine]. 

Frankie Manning notes: "People think that the big apple in Keep Punching is my original routine, but it's not, although it's similar to what we did in Everybody Sing. Actually, I've never re-created the first version of the big apple exactly, but the majority of the steps from it are still done. They form a solid base for the many different versions I've made over the years" (Manning & Millman 147).

The song heard on Keep Punching was re-recorded by The Solomon Douglas Swingtet and is called "Big Apple Contest". You can find it in their album Swingmatism from 2006.

By the end of 1937, the Big Apple had become a national dance craze.  On December 20, 1937, Life featured the Big Apple in a four-page photo spread and the magazine predicted that 1937 would be remembered as the year of the Big Apple.

The moves of the Big Apple are frequently used in Lindy Hop. This is also used as a warm up before Lindy Hop classes. Note that the moves are very 8-count centered, like tap dance. That is, they almost all start on count 8.

Here's a clip from Judy Pritchett's documentary Dancing the Big Apple 1937: African Americans Inspire a National Craze which explores the Big Apple dance in the context of American history:

1. The text in black comes from Wikipedia: Big Apple (dance) 
2. The text in red comes from Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop by F. Manning & C.R. Millman.
3. The photo of the Big Apple night club I found here: 
4. The photo of white youth dancing as well as the Arthur Murray photo and the Life Magazine article photo I found here:
5. The photo with Frankie Manning I found in several places on the internet.
6. The last photo with the title "Lesson 4" I found in pixelnaiad's photostream and it's most probably a spread from one of Arthur Murray's dance instruction manuals.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jam Circle

still from the film Swing Kids
Jamming in dance culture is a kind of informal show-off during a social dance party. Dancers clear a circle (jam circle or dance circle) and dancers or dance couples take turns showing their best tricks while the remaining dancers cheer the jammers on. While some jam circles are staged, most form organically and spontaneously when the energy and mood is right. 

The term jam circle originated during the swing era of dancing, probably borrowed or appeared in parallel with the expression "jam session" in music. Scenes with jamming may be seen in movies and musicals, such as Hellzapoppin. 

How do they start?  
They can start different ways. Sometimes a jam circle will start spontaneously. Two people are dancing, and the dancers around them stop and start clapping to encourage them. This can happen because people are simply wowed by their style and musicality. Sometimes the music is so fast that only one or two couples are feeling up to the challenge, and so the other couples instead choose to encourage them. Other times you just see some of your friends doing some crazy stuff, and you're so overcome by their coolness or hilarity that you choose to cheer them on instead of going off and dancing. Often these will turn into steal wars, where one couple is dancing in a circle of a few friends, and then someone in the circle will steal one of the dancers. 

Other times people hear a song played at just the right time, when the energy screams "jam circle!" and they'll start clapping. More and more people will start clapping, a circle forms, and eventually a couple takes the plunge and jumps in the jam circle. 

Finally, at some places they actually announce jam circles. This is a good way to introduce the concept in a place where jam circles don't often happen, and it especially makes it easier to get less experienced people comfortable with going in the circle. 

So, what do you do in a jam circle?  
Well, sometimes jam circles are a bit intimate and a lot like a group of musicians getting together and jamming. It's just about dancing together among friends and improvising to the music. You don't really think about doing anything spectacular, you just play around and enjoy yourself. 

Other times, jam circles can be all about showing off. Swing dancing has from the very beginning been a dance with social and performance aspects, and the jam circle is kind of a way to mix the two by showing off in a social context. Jam circles are a chance to do moves such as aerials which aren't usually safe to do in social dancing. 

So usually the jam circle is when people pull out all the stops, and do those crazy moves they've been practicing with a partner for the last few months. People will do their tricks, drops, aerials, and crazy Charleston steps--basically anything that will get people to cheer, and anything that takes a lot of practicing with a partner to really get down pat. Of course you don't have to go in with a partner--just get in there and dance your butt off. But if you've been working with a partner on some cool stuff, this is your chance to do it. 

It's especially a chance to do moves that require more room, or moves that are too dangerous to do on the social dance floor, like aerials and some drops and tricks. These are the kinds of moves that you should save for jam circles, when people will really appreciate them.

Entering the jam circle
It's important to know how to enter and leave the circle. If it's a more intimate circle, all you have to know is to let the person before you dance for a while before you jump in. Watch them carefully to see if they look like they're about to do something cool that you don't want to interrupt. Generally it's best to wait until the end of a phrase, because that gives them a nice musical point--a break or a focal point--to do anything cool they were planning on. If they don't use it, too bad for them, but at least give them the chance! 

Another thing to do is to edge to the inside of the jam circle with your partner, moving to the music or doing a jockey step so that the people dancing can tell that someone is ready to enter. 

If you really want to show off, plan something cool for your entrance. You can go in with partnered jazz steps (like boogie woogie or Shorty George, or something more original or complex), with a move like the toss (a classic aerial for entering a jam circle), a drag, a slide, or anything creative you can think up. The main thing is that you're trying to entertain your friends and show your stuff. You can be stylish or you can draw on your days as the class clown or drama queen; the thing is to get people laughing, cheering, and clapping.

Now that you're in...  
Once you're in the jam circle, anything goes. Obviously, don't do anything unsafe that you haven't practiced with that partner. Not only could it be dangerous, but you'll look like an idiot... which is only cool if you do it on purpose. 

If you're going to do an aerial, plan it to go with a focal point in the music, which usually but not always happens at the end of a phrase. At the same time, don't try to overload your time in the jam circle with a bunch of crazy moves. Go in the circle with one, maybe two cool moves in mind, and just think about doing them. Often it's best to have contrasting moves, too, like a cool drop followed by an aerial, or something circular followed by something zippy and linear. If you're going to do aerials, often it's a good idea to choreograph a sequence with a good entrance and exit from the aerial to ensure a smooth transition. 

There's nothing worse than getting in there, and trying to do every cool move or funky styling you've ever learned, and it all turning into a rushed mess. 

One trick for the leaders is to use lots of simple six-count moves interspersed with cool moves. The reason is twofold: first, you'll look cooler doing stuff you know well, and six-counts last less time! Which means that if at the last moment you realize you miscalculated when the focal part in the music was going to come, then you can change the move to an eight count or elongate it even more. So your six-count bring-in-the-girl can change into a Swingout, Lindy Circle or Rhythm Circle. In fact, it's very useful to be able to turn any move into a similar move with a different count. 

Get outta there! 
So you've done your one or two cool moves, and since you've been looking around you the whole time, you see that another couple is ready to enter the circle. Just like for the entrances, it's cool to be creative with your exit. You've still got the same ideas I mentioned for the entrances, but what can be fun for the girl and good for comic effect, is for the girl drag the guy off in some creative way. The main thing is creativity. 

Done well enough, the entrance or exit can be the main thing. You can do a cool entrance, get in there and do a few swingouts and stuff, and then the girl decides to drag the guy out! 

Just one last thing for jam circles: CLAP ON TWO! 
Swing Victoria / Class Notes by Byron []

I liked Byron's notes so much I re-posted them here almost in their entirety. Here's the site they come from: []

Monday, November 14, 2011


Fred Astaire & Eleanor Powell
The beguine is a dance and music form, similar to a slow rumba, that was popular in the 1930s, coming from the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, where in local Creole Beke or Begue means a White person, and Beguine is the female form. It is a combination of Latin folk dance and French ballroom dance, and is a spirited but slow, close dance with a roll of the hips.
After Cole Porter wrote the song "Begin the Beguine", the dance became more widely known beyond the Caribbean. The song was introduced in Porter's Jubilee (1935). Artie Shaw's extended swing orchestral version was a hit in 1938, and after its appearance in the musical Broadway Melody of 1940, it became a big band staple and eventually a pop standard by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

Artie Shaw's version:

Ella's version:

This is a Greek song from 1946 called “Mini from Trinidad” [music: Fotis Polymeris, vocals: Danae] – in the caption it says that it is beguine. This is where I saw the term and checked it out. I like this song...

Broadway Melody of 1940 is a 1940 MGM movie musical starring Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy. It was directed by Norman Taurog and features music by Cole Porter, including "Begin the Beguine".

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Saddle Shoe

Whether you call them ‘saddle shoes,’ ‘saddle oxfords’ or just plain ‘saddles,’ the saddle shoe, introduced early in the 20th century as an athletic shoe, has enjoyed nearly a century of popularity. Many people associate saddle shoes with the 1950's while in fact the style has been used and reused by footwear designers since their introduction (1906) and have appeared in every shape and color combination imaginable. Saddle shoes are truly the ultimate ALL AMERICAN SHOE. []

The saddle shoe is a low-heeled, oxford, casual shoe characterized by a plain toe and distinctive, saddle-shaped decorative panel placed mid foot. Saddle shoes are typically constructed of leather and are most frequently white with a black saddle, although any color combination is possible. 


Check 'Saddle Shoe Habitat's' photostream on Flickr for more saddle shoe images:

Also, this is the prettiest reproduction I found on the internet:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fats Waller [1904-1943]

Fats Waller, I suppose, is not a name one immediately associates with big band swing, or lindy hop, and the truth is most of his music is more 20s in rhythm & style. Still, he was a great musician, incredibly funny, definitely one of my favourites (if not actually my favourite), so he gets an entire post, and you, visitor, get a whole bunch of (maybe useless) information about his life, but also two track lists, one for lindy hopping and one for doing the Charleston. Without further ado, "Ladies and Gentlemen Fats Waller, yeaaaaaah" (imagine Kermit saying that – it’s much funnier...btw Fats Waller would have made such a great guest at the Muppet Show...)

Jazz music's first organist and one of the giants of piano jazz Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was born on May 21, 1904 in Harlem into a musical family. His grandfather was an accomplished violinist and his mother was the church organist. His family had moved to New York City from Virginia in the late 1880s and his father was the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. His first exposure of music was in the form of church hymns and organ music, an instrument that he was taught to play by his mother and the church musical director. The latter introduced him to the works of J.S. Bach which he played on and off for the rest of his life. [1]  

Waller took up the piano at age six, playing in a school orchestra led by Edgar Sampson (of Chick Webb fame) [2].

His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and go into a career in religion but Waller wanted to pursue his passion for music so in 1920, after his mother died, because of the disagreements he had with his father over this issue he moved out of his family's house and in with the family of pianist Russell Brooks where he met James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith two of the giants of the Harlem stride. James P. Johnson took the young Waller under his wing and taught him the stride piano style and advanced his musical education in general. Smith also influenced the young man by introducing him to the works of the impressionistic composers of the 19th century. [1]

At age 14 he won a talent contest playing Carolina Shout by James P. Johnson, a song he had learned by watching a pianola play it. That year he left school and worked at odd jobs for a year. In 1919 he got his first regular job when he was hired by a movie theatre to play organ accompaniment to the silent films they showed [1]

After making his first record at age 18 for Okeh in 1922, "Birmingham Blues"/"'Muscle Shoals Blues,"" he backed various blues singers and worked as house pianist and organist at rent parties and in movie theaters and clubs. He began to attract attention as a composer during the early- and mid-'20s, forming a most fruitful alliance with lyricist Andy Razaf that resulted in three Broadway shows in the late '20s, Keep Shufflin', Load of Coal, and Hot Chocolates. [1]

Waller started making records for Victor in 1926; his most significant early records for that label were a series of brilliant 1929 solo piano sides of his own compositions like "Handful of Keys" and "Smashing Thirds." [2] Waller composed many novelty swing tunes in the 1920s and 1930s and sold them for relatively small sums. When the compositions became hits, other songwriters claimed them as their own. Many standards are alternatively and sometimes controversially attributed to Waller. [3]

The anonymous sleeve notes on the 1960 RCA (UK) album Handful of Keys state that Waller copyrighted over 400 new tunes, many of which co-written with his closest collaborator Andy Razaf. After Waller's death in 1943, Razaf described his partner as "the soul of melody... a man who made the piano sing... both big in body and in mind... known for his generosity... a bubbling bundle of joy". [3]

His playing once put him at risk of injury. Waller was kidnapped in Chicago leaving a performance in 1926. Four men bundled him into a car and took him to the Hawthorne Inn, owned by gangster Al Capone. Fats was ordered inside the building, and found a party in full swing. Gun to his back, he was pushed towards a piano, and told to play. A terrified Waller realized he was the "surprise guest" at Al Capone's birthday party, and took comfort that the gangsters didn't intend to kill him. According to rumor, Waller played for three days. When he left the Hawthorne Inn, he was very drunk, extremely tired, and had earned thousands of dollars in cash from Capone and other party-goers as tips. [3]

In 1931 he toured Paris and upon his return to New York he formed his small combo Fats Waller and His Rhythm with whom he would perform and record until his death. [1] After finally signing an exclusive Victor contract in 1934, he began the long-running, prolific series of records with His Rhythm, which won him great fame and produced several hits, including "Your Feet's Too Big," "The Joint Is Jumpin'" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." He began to appear in films like Hooray for Love and King of Burlesque in 1935 while continuing regular appearances on radio that dated back to 1923. 

He toured Europe in 1938, made organ recordings in London for HMV, and appeared on one of the first television broadcasts. He returned to London the following spring to record his most extensive composition, "London Suite" for piano and percussion, and embark on an extensive continental tour (which, alas, was canceled by fears of impending war with Germany). Well aware of the popularity of big bands in the '30s, Waller tried to form his own, but they were short-lived. [2]
Into the 1940s, Waller's touring schedule of the U.S. escalated, he contributed music to another musical, Early to Bed, the film appearances kept coming (including a memorable stretch of Stormy Weather in 1943 where he led an all-star band that included Benny Carter, Slam Stewart & Zutty Singleton), the recordings continued to flow and he continued to eat and drink in extremely heavy quantities. Years of draining alimony squabbles, plus overindulgence and, no doubt, frustration over not being taken more seriously as an artist, began to wear the pianist down. [2]

Finally, after becoming ill during a gig at the Zanzibar Room in Hollywood in December, 1943, Waller boarded the Santa Fe Chief train for the long trip back to New York. He never made it, dying of pneumonia aboard the train during a stop at Union Station in Kansas City [2] [on December 15, 1943 [3]].

Not only was Fats Waller one of the greatest pianists jazz has ever known, he was also one of its most exuberantly funny entertainers -- and as so often happens, one facet tends to obscure the other. His extraordinarily light and flexible touch belied his ample physical girth; he could swing as hard as any pianist alive or dead in his classic James P. Johnson-derived stride manner, with a powerful left hand delivering the octaves and tenths in a tireless, rapid, seamless stream. Waller also pioneered the use of the pipe organ and Hammond organ in jazz -- he called the pipe organ the "God box" -- adapting his irresistible sense of swing to the pedals and a staccato right hand while making imaginative changes of the registration. As a composer and improviser, his melodic invention rarely flagged, and he contributed fistfuls of joyous yet paradoxically winsome songs like "Honeysuckle Rose," "Ain't Misbehavin,'" "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," "Blue Turning Grey Over You" and the extraordinary "Jitterbug Waltz" to the jazz repertoire.

During his lifetime and afterwards, though, Fats Waller was best known to the world for his outsized comic personality and sly vocals, where he would send up trashy tunes that Victor Records made him record with his nifty combo, Fats Waller & His Rhythm. Yet on virtually any of his records, whether the song is an evergreen standard or the most trite bit of doggerel that a Tin Pan Alley hack could serve up, you will hear a winning combination of good knockabout humor, foot-tapping rhythm and fantastic piano playing. Today, almost all of Fats Waller's studio recordings can be found on RCA's on-again-off-again series The Complete Fats Waller.

While every clown longs to play Hamlet as per the cliche -- and Waller did have so-called serious musical pretensions, longing to follow in George Gershwin's footsteps and compose concert music -- it probably was not in the cards anyway due to the racial barriers of the first half of the 20th century. Besides, given the fact that Waller influenced a long line of pianists of and after his time, including Count Basie (who studied with Fats), Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck and countless others, his impact has been truly profound. [2]


Tunes for Lindy Hopping:
The Joint Is Jumpin'
Chant of the Groove
Beat It Out
Come and Get It
Lounging At the Waldorf
Fat and Greasy
Hold Tight
All That Meat and No Potatoes
Spreadin' Rhythm Around
You've Been Taking Lessons In Love
Boogie Woogie
Copper Colored Gal
Spring Cleaning                                              
Tunes for Charleston:
The Minor Drag
Everybody Loves My Baby
I Got Rhythm
Handful of Keys
T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do
Floatin' Down to Cotton Town
There Goes My Attraction
Fractious Fingering
Big Chief De Sota
Got a Bran' New Suit
Hey! Stop Kissing My Sister
Christopher Columbus
Twelfth Street Rag
The Sheik of Araby
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