Sunday, December 9, 2012

Swingin' with Frankie

In the book Frankie Manning – Ambassador of Lindy Hop I came across the titles of many swing tunes, some of which I had never heard before. In honor of Frankie, and as a way of celebrating my 20th Swing Mix on I decided to make a mix of 8 tunes that Frankie used to dance to. Follow the link Swing Mix #20 or press play on the Swing Mix #20 player on the right side of this blog.  
Below, in book (not track) order, are the excerpts in which the songs (in bold) are mentioned and some YouTube videos with songs that are mentioned but do not appear in my mix.

#1 Savoy Lindy hoppers liked dancing to fast tunes (like Chick Webb’s “Clap Hands! Here Come Charley,” flag wavers as he called them, which meant crowd pleasers), but not all the time, so orchestras didn’t play fast numbers all night. Dancers today like doing jam circles to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” but we never jammed to music like that. We didn’t even like “Sing, Sing, Sing.” There was too much drum. I’d dance to a fast tune if it was swinging and I liked it. Otherwise, I’d sit it out. (70)

#2 In late 1934 Frankie Manning and his then partner Hilda Morris got to perform at the Apollo Theater as part of a revue and ended up working with Duke Ellington and his band who were on the bill for that week. Frankie remembers: Now, we used to go see Duke all the time at the Apollo and the Harlem Opera House, and we loved his music, but there wasn’t anything I’d heard that was all that danceable. It was fantastic music, and it was exotic – we used to call it jungle music – but his band just didn’t work for the Lindy hoppers. This was 1934, so it was before he came out with all those swing tunes like “Jack the Bear,” “Cotton Tail,” “In a Mellotone,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train.” I’d been listening to “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and all this other beautiful music, but nothing that was swinging. Finally, Ellington said, “We have a tune called ‘Stompy Jones.’ Would you like to hear it?” I said, “I’ve never heard of it, but just play it and we’ll dance.” So Hilda and I performed the whole week to “Stompy Jones,” which worked just fine (84)
Here's Ellington's famous "Take the 'A' Train" from the film Reveille with Beverly from 1943:

#3 …the tune we always used in contests was “Christopher Columbus.” But earlier in the evening, Chick [Webb] had played “Down South Camp Meeting,” which is this real swingy tune. If you heard it, you’d dance to it. I had found that I could catch all these little breaks in the music, so I said, “How about ‘Down South Camp Meeting’?” “You got it," he said. “What tempo do you want?” “Something about right here,” I said, snapping my fingers. That little humpbacked man up there on the drums hit off the tempo, and those cats started swinging! (99)
#4 Soon after I introduced the first air step, I was at the Savoy dancing to Jimmie Lunceford’s “Posin’,” either while he was rehearsing in the afternoon or during one of those battle of the bands. As I’ve said, I used to like to catch breaks in the music, and “Posin’”, which he had just come out with, had a nice stop rhythm to it. Each time Willie Smith sang “Evvv-ry-bod-y pose!” and the music stopped, I would freeze my body, then begin dancing again when the band started up after holding for eight counts. Nobody else was doing that, but I did it with my partner because I was so in tune with the music” (103).

#5 In March 1936, we had a two - or three - week run at the Roxy Theater, the first time there for a group of Whitey’s dancers….Around this time, truckin’ was the new vogue, and everybody was doing it. A song titled “Truckin’” had recently come out that went something like, “They had to have something new, a dance to do, up here in Harlem – so, someone started truckin’. To truck, your feet shuffle right, left, right, left with the right side of your body leading as you move diagonally forward, and your right hand shakes while your index finger points up in the air. People said truckin’ was a dance, but it was really just one step, like the black bottom or the Suzie-Q. Whitey was always trying to add the latest dances into the Lindy to make it more exciting and more marketable. In order to make a routine for the stage out of any of these movements, you had to put them with other jazz steps or the Lindy hop. We went into the Roxy as truckers, according to the program, but we just mixed it into our Lindy solos, so the audience would say, “Yeah, they truckin’” (114). The version of "Truckin'" I included in my mix is by Duke Ellington with vocals by Ivie Anderson. Fats Waller's version, however, I have to admit is my favorite:

#6 Frankie recalls when he and Whitey’s Lindy hoppers toured with Cab Calloway back in 1937. At Cab’s first rehearsal for the tour…he asked if I had sheet music, which I didn't. Since I was supposed to know what I was doing by then, and every act was supposed to have its own music, I told him I would bring it the next day. That evening, I ran out and bought the music of Benny Goodman’s “Jam Session,” then stayed up all night listening to the record while I followed along. I couldn’t read the notes, but I counted everything out, visualizing the steps I wanted the Lindy hoppers to do. Sometimes I got up and actually did the movements. The next day, I told Cab I wanted so many choruses of thirty-two bars each of this section, so many of that section (I wanted to make the music longer), then jump back to this spot, and finish it out. Cab was laughing because, as I know now, “Jam Session” is in sixteen-bar choruses (130).  

#7 Later that spring I worked with Count Basie for the first time. I had been listening to Chick Webb since I first began going to the Savoy, but by early 1937 some of us were turning into Basie-ites. To me, Basie swung more than any band out there....Nowadays, whenever I hear Basie, it always makes me want to dance. Some of my favorite songs for dancing are "Shiny Stockings" and "Moten Swing." If I want to show off, I use "Jumpin' at the Woodside" or "Every Tub" (132-133). Of "Moten Swing" there are many Basie versions on YouTube. I am guessing this is probably closest to the version that Frankie would have danced to. I wanted to add it to my mix but 8tracks regulations do not allow you to add more than two tracks by each artist. 

#8 "John's Idea" is a very swinging tune by Count Basie that Frankie used initially in order to choreograph his version of the Big Apple routine back in 1937. Frankie says: 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" (143). [see also my post The Big Apple]
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