Saturday, November 17, 2012

House Rent Parties

According to Wikipedia, “a rent party is a social occasion where tenants hire a musician or band to play and pass the hat to raise money to pay their rent, originating in Harlem during the 1920s. The rent party played a major role in the development of jazz and blues music…many notable jazz musicians are associated with rent parties, including pianists Speckled Red, James P. Johnson, Willie "the Lion" Smith, and Fats Waller, although rent parties also featured bands as well.” [1]

Frankie Manning remembers: “…house rent parties…were a way for people to raise money to help pay their landlord. They were held right in someone’s apartment, and you’d pay 25 cents to get in. Once you were inside, you’d have someone playing stride piano and blues for food and tips, pig’s feet and potato salad to eat, bathtub gin for 10 cents a mug…and dancing.” [2] 

Louis Prima explains it all in “House Rent Party Day”. Pay attention to the lyrics! 

“You haven’t seen slow dancing until you’ve been to a house rent party. When people wanted to get funky, they’d do the black bottom, the mess-around, and slow drags – honky-tonk dances, what they did to slower music. If it was a blues number, everybody would be out there shakin’ butt. You’d hear someone say, ‘Turn the lights down low and let the party get started!’ Or, as Fats Waller used to say, ‘Put out the lights and call the law.’” [2] 

No idea if the party on this old video is a house rent party, but it might as well be. The song is "The Joint is Jumpin'" and Fats Waller is on the piano.

"When they played hot music - fast music, ragtime or Charleston-type music – if someone started getting a little wilder than everybody else, the crowd would back up and form a circle. Everybody would stand around clapping for the people in the middle, who would start shining, what we called ‘showing off’.” [2] Manning is referring to the 'jam circles' or 'jamming' - more about them in my post Jam Circle.

© Bettman/Corbis

[2] F. Manning & C.R. Millman, Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop, 25

Image: Jam circle at the Savoy Ballroom, circa late 1930s. Herbert "Whitey" White encourages Ann Johnson (with leg bent) to enter circle with George Greenidge (facing Ann). Johnny Innis stands to Whitey's left (F. Manning & C.R. Millman, Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop).

For further reading:

One Year Anniversary

It’s just over a year now since I started learning the Lindy hop, the leader’s part mind you, since we were lacking boys and some of us girls had to volunteer to dance the boy’s part. I haven’t regretted volunteering one bit!! I really enjoy the leader’s part – it’s much more challenging, interesting and jazzy than the girl’s part, so I am still taking classes and seminars as a leader. However, I sometimes feel a bit of an alien because I am not dancing as a follow at all, plus I also get the feeling that sometimes it’s looked down upon for a girl to dance the leader’s part. That’s why last week I took my first class as a follow and hopefully a year from now I won’t be as lousy a follow as I am now….Still, I think I will always be a much better leader.

One year ago I also started this blog as a sort of notebook for myself and others to learn more about the swing era, the music, the fashion, the society. As a one year anniversary present of sorts I bought myself these two books representing two eras (the '20s and the '30s), two different dances (the Charleston and the Lindy Hop), but also two sides of me: the leader part that is often looking to Frankie Manning for styling, and the girl part that is always looking to the Flappers for styling. The '20s and the Flappers I have loved for almost two decades now, who knows why. My obsession with Woody Allen movies and his obsession with the '20s might have something to do with it. In college, I even took an entire seminar on the 1920’s and the 'lost generation' of writers and even wrote a paper on the Flapper herself. As for the '30s and Frankie Manning, I got to learn a lot about them this last year, and hopefully you have learned some things along with me through this blog.

Last night I started reading Frankie Manning - Ambassador of Lindy Hop and I thought that maybe some future posts on this blog might be about various subjects mentioned in the book, with the hope that they will inspire you to go on Amazon and buy the book yourselves. It’s a wonderful edition, beautifully narrated by Manning himself, and I think every Lindy hopper ought to own a copy.

I hope you stay tuned for future posts and if you enjoy the ambiance of this blog, you can also come join My Swing Archives on Facebook for a trip back in the '20s, '30s & '40s.

Swing Heil!!

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