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).

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