MUSIC and DANCE VIGNETTES
Saint Croix Steel — Bizet — ChaChaCzech — Lionel Hampton — Mahler — Moten Swing
Bar Con — Dancin' on The Road — My Kinda Woman — ¿Salsero? — Sixty Minute Man? — Theft?
A few blocks up a gentle grade I came across a plaza lined with food vendors and filled with people. I saw no face that wasn't black but they could have seen one.
Enjoying the milieu, I soon learned the reason for the crowd:
At one end of the plaza was an 80-piece pan band that gave a thrilling concert that included works by Beethoven, Chopin, Gershwin, Ellington, Tchai- kovsky, and included numbers from the US Pop and Broadway song books.
The musicians included children as well as a few who could have been their great-great grandparents. Some were in normal business wear, others dressed as workmen, and others obviously very poor. There were pans of every conceivable description playing the parts written for other instruments.
There was neither amplification nor sheet music but there was a highly animated and very enthusiastic conductor. The musicians might have been amateurs in the strictest sense of the word but their performance could have proudly shared a concert stage with any orchestra on the planet.
It was a joyous and musically thrilling evening. I was a bit saddened by the apparent absence of my fellow tourists but the thrill of that lovely evening's full and swinging sounds lingers and will no doubt stay with me 'til I die.
On August 19, 1995, I said
“Not all Swing music swings and not all music that swings is Swing music.”
Tivoli Gardens' excellent orchestra was small, perhaps forty musicians. I made it a point to be there for its philharmonic concert each of the six Thursdays of my Copenhagen visit.
———One evening they played Georges Bizet's L'Arlésienne. Some time during the performance, something happened. Everyone, audience, musicians, conductor could feel that the room had become electrified. The best way I can describe what was happening is to say that the orchestra was swingin'.
When the piece ended, there was a stun'd silence of perhaps three seconds before we, the audience, leapt-as-one out of our seats cheering and applauding. The conductor was applauding his musicians and us, the musicians were applauding each other, us, and the conductor.
It was an incredible moment that I cherish dearly.
19 March 1992Dear Mr. Hampton,
The oldest memory I have is of you!
You were performing at the Golden Gate Theater and provided what, for me, remains one of the most exciting and memorable days of my life:
You had a drum battle with Curley Johnson.
You danced upon the stage and upon a drum.
And, for the finale, you played Flying Home with the band striding up and down the aisles while Illinois Jacquet, wearing round steel-rim glasses, stood almost motionless at the center-stage microphone blowing the house down.
In a recent interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, Illinois commented that the balcony of the Golden Gate shook. I don't remember that but I had an aisle seat in the orchestra and couldn't have cared less about anything else going on at the time. But a theater employee later told me about that balcony shaking.
Illinois told me he left the band [a very long time ago] but doesn't remember the year you were at the Golden Gate. Regardless of when it was, I remember nothing in my life before seeing you and hearing your band.
I saw virtually every show at the Golden Gate Theater because the janitor would let me in to the theater through a door near the downstairs men's room. It was a form of baby-sitting.
I remain a fan to this day. You have provided me with much pleasure and excitement for, literally, all of my life!
Thank you very much.
Lionel Hampton died on August 31, 2002, at the age of 94.
Subject: It don't mean a thing — 1995/08/19
A few years ago, my Partner and I went to San José to hear the Johnny Lampson band. During that gig we danced to Moten Swing. It was the hardest swinging playing of that number I've ever heard. When the number ended, I went to sit, and burst into tears (they're welling with the writing).
She went to Johnny to complain: “Don't play so well” pointing at me. “You made him cry.”
No, I can't explain that strange reaction. I guess I was just overwhelmed.
Still in our road clothes, we went to the always hap'nin' Mandalay Bay. A rock band loudly played many tunes at the same tempo that was quite suitable for us to dance. After a dance, the singer announced “He,” indicating me, “has t'be the coolest guy in the room” and came to our table to honor the lounge act “Where-y'from?”-and-all-that legacy.
A San Francisco band leader asked me to “say ‘hello’ to my friend at” a music venue in Prague. He didn't tell me that she's among the cutest, first-sight-love-inspiring, girls who's ever walked this planet.
It was Cuban Music night. I stayed to eat and listen as there was no space to dance.
The quintette was very good. The tall Cuban leader did the singing and some occasional claves, maracas, and gourd. He was excellent in every respect. A guy introduced as a Peruvian was on bongos, cow bell, and other percussion but he wasn't even Hispanic.
The bass guitarist, pianist, and trumpeter were Czechs. The trumpeter wasn't any good but the others laid down a solid foundation.
An English tourist, unfamiliar with musica tropical, asked whether they were any good. I assured him that he was getting a treat.
An attractive blonde woman was video recording the performance from the doorway separating the tiny bar from the small music room. One number was so good that I moved some bar stools to provide a tiny place for me to dance a ChaCha all by m'se'f behind her, on the ceramic tiles. As far as I knew, she wasn't aware of me.
Some time later, I got up again to dance and, when I did a turn, there she was, smiling at me! I wordlessly presented a frame; she stept right in to make a picture. She felt so good that I started off with a complex combination, OnTwo, of a spin and a walk-around from a cross over (she just felt so right) that she followed beautifully. She followed everything else well. We parted with “Gracias”.
Her husband is the Cuban singer. She's a Russian who also speaks Czech but no English or Spanish.
Later, we danced a Mambo that was just as good as our ChaCha.
Proved to be a night of excellent music made better by two, maybe three, very good dances.
We dropped in to the Bellagio's Fontana Bar because our interest was piqued by a blurb about the band. Although physically as described, we didn't care for it. Nevertheless, we joined the crowd of dancers on the very fast floor.
We hadn't noticed that the floor had emptied until we realized that we had it to ourselves. Almost instantly after we returned to our table, a lovely young woman from London came to compliment us (I referred her to teachers there) and the moment she left, a gorgeous blond knelt before me to compliment us saying “My husband and I would like to buy you a drink” and left a $20 bill. Of course I referred her to her local dance club.
There's a digital juke box there, something we'd never before seen. Some guy stuck some money in it and a number suitable for NiteClub TwoStep came out. Suddenly, as we danced, we were bathed in light causing great amusement to us and those aware of us (an overhead bulb was switched on). We accepted our applause, took our bows and, on return to the car, a guy came running out, hand extended “I just want to thank you for bringing a little joy into my business”. Egad. How nice can one get?
We were Swingin' away on the Bellagio's Fontana Bar floor when a large man squeezed in. I intentionally made contact with him in order to keep him out of our dance space. He, with both hands, shoved me offa the floor and grabbed her.
Then I recognized him as a dancer from the SouthLand and scanned the room for his lovely wife. She was at the bar just outside the room, a place I didn't look.
Three years later, we showed up at the same bar and, again, they were there.
We stopped to have one dance in a bar at the Sahara. As we were collecting our things, the band leader was thanking “the dancers”, us and another couple who was on the floor. As we were leaving, he called to us asking “If we play a swing tune, will you dance again?” I nodded assent. So what did they play? Strayhorn's Take The A Train at about 160 Beats Per Minute. We not only are old, we look old. But we got through it thanks to a mid-dance pause.
It seems some musicians are under the impression that Swing Music and Swing Dance Music are the same.
…We came across a barber-shop attired Chicago Jazz quartette playing on [Michigan Avenue's] wide sidewalk. When we stopped to listen, the leader announced “courtesy of the City of Chicago”, took a step toward us and broadly gestured as he said “Dancing's allowed”.
“HehHeh” chuckled I into her ear, “he knoweth not to whom he spake.” As they concluded the number they were playing, I dramatically removed the light jacket I was wearing and threw it aside a plant and equally dramatically directed her to remove her jacket and purse. The timing was good. I requested “a shuffle beat around 120” that did not cause a blink. They chose the Louis Prima chart of Just a Gigolo and, when they saw we could hit the breaks, threw in a few extras. It was as good a dance as the circumstances allowed. We didn't draw an audience but the quartette was very appreciative of us as were we of them.
[Having an hour to kill] we went for a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant. The juke box played a number that she said was a Polka but I said was not so she got up to show me. A man across the room, who had the look and dress of a barely-dry mojado, motioned “Wait!” to her as he got up to dance ending with a big hug from him and applause from the other diners. No, it wasn't a Polka.
It was close to a warm Midnight when we finally got to the Spanish Steps that were obscured by the hundreds of people sitting on them. Near the bottom were four men with guitars. We positioned ourselves next to one of the two flanking singers who were leading the crowd in English-language song. When the correct beat and tempo were swung, we were surrendered the little space we needed to dance. The crowd roar'd its approval of each of the simple basic steps we did. At the end of the number there was a roar that can only be described as an ovation.
. . . we went to the SLOW-CLUB (130 rue Rivoli) to dance. We descended a flight of stone steps to get to the ticket booth and then down another flight of stone steps to arrive at a large, low-ceiling'd, cellar. The several rooms are separated by stone arches. One room has a bar, a few small tables, and some dance space; another a small platform for musicians and, of course, dance space; yet another with some tables and dance space and perhaps more. The playlist was the familiar classics of US Blues, Rock 'n' Roll, jazz, and pop. They were fine but not exceptional in that famous club where the greats of the post-war jazz world have performed.
Each of us danced with several others but they were doing their own dance, Rock and Roll, that, although similar to, is different from any of the dances that we do.
Near the end of the evening we danced to a song with several breaks. We had the good luck to hit them all, each differently. The French dance through the breaks; their wide eyes and dropt jaws indicated that they'd never seen a dance such as they were witnessing. It was perhaps the best dance my girlfriend and I had ever done in spite of my fever and pneumonia and her being so tired from the day's activities …
Our last Saturday evening we went to the EQUINOXE, a huge and apparent entertainment complex near the end of the Balard line, for a special dance … The fascinating part was the intermission music that was the same at each break: It was always in the same sequence and included a Waltz, Rumba, ChaCha, Swing, Bolero, Tango, another or two, and a Paso Doble. I had never before seen Paso Doble danced socially and was greatly impressed by the loveliness of the dance as well as the quality of the dancing and the great fun they were having doing it.
It was well after Midnight when we were drawn to the sound of music coming from the Bellagio's Fontana Bar. The small floor was filled with Lindy Hoppers. We stood at the entrance to watch.
When the number ended, the floor emptied. The band played the Fever riff as the woman drummer was introduced as the singer. She went to the front of the band, took a microphone, and started talking to the audience.
Then she looked our way to see her dressed in black accessoried with many rhinestones and sequins and I wearing black shirt and pants with a white dinner jacket, white tie and belt with sparkling accessories. “What are you doing there?” she asked, pointing and gesturing. “C'mon in!” We shook our heads in protest as she weaved through the tables to grab my hand to escort us to sit on the steps in front of the band.
She asked our names and stuff, the Fever riff behind it all, and then began to sing … to me! She embraced me, she kissed me, and she mussed my hair. Well, you can't do dat! My hair, once done, must not be touched. But it was and, when the audience saw the resulting Einstein doo, crakt up. My girlfriend tried to undo the damage but I knew it wasn't possible. The singer could hardly restrain a giggle at what she'd wrought. The audience's laughter seemed nervous.
About two/thirds of the way through the number, when I realized there'd be no bridge, we got up to dance having that small, but very good, floor to ourselves. Well! The audience went crazy! We did a bit of FoxTrot decorated with an Ocho then broke to do a Push (roars of approval and applause), a Whip (roars of approval and applause), a Spin (roars of approval and applause), a Swivel (roars of approval and applause), and whatever else we did, which wasn't much, the audience went crazy with roars of approval and applause. It was all we could do to keep from laughing. Of course we sat down before the end of the number. It was quite something!
My girlfriend said that had the point-source lights not prevented us from seeing the audience she would have froze.
Manhattan, New York: May 2000
The Copa Dancers were on their platforms; I simply didn't know where to look. I thought I wouldn't dare to dance there. But they played a solid ChaCha. Near me was a lovely woman in a short beaded dress breaking On Two all by herself. Without a word, I took her hand to the floor (the rest of her came with it) to have an excellent dance, drawing an audience and terminal applause even though she didn't accept my challenges. I took her back whence I found her; our only smilingly-delivered words were “Thank you!”
I turned to return whence I'd been to see a beaming Nuyorican wearing the shortest-possible of skirts with the lowest-possible of necklines and the largest-possible of midriffs crooking a “come hither” finger at me. UhOh.
She wasn't much of a dancer but we had a fun-filled conversation.
Before the evening was over, she who I thought the most beautiful woman there asked me to dance. She, too, wasn't much of a dancer but the man I was with told me Desi Arnez' son seemed to like dancing with her.
The place closed at four o'clock. As we poured out, people went out of their way to come to me to compliment my dancing. I was incredulous! I know I'm not a Salsero! I'm glad they didn't!
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Subject: Vignette — Phoenix 1997/07/26
Seeing the comment “His Love Amazes Me” (Sixty Minute Man?) appended to a post reminded me about two things in Phoenix, one I actually heard and the other I was told.
It was announced that there was to be a meeting of the “Swing Dancing God Freaks” (or something like that). I hadn't known they'd go to Phoenix in stead of DisneyLand/World but, then:
At the end of a dance a woman who appears to be, and is, a Jew was thanked, complimented, and asked “Do you love Jesus?”
“Of course, . .” she replied brightly, “. . . he's one of us!”
Thank God I'm an atheist
Subject: Routines 1997/07/26
My Partner and I have a little routine we do in bars that's quite amusing (no, we're not the only ones who think so). It's only four steps (about the longest sequence I can learn and even then she back-leads one part 'cause I have a tendency to either forget it or do it wrong). Because two of the things she does are choreographed and would not be done by a Follower who knows not what to do, I can't do it with anyone else.
What we do is set up a scam:
She'll go into a bar, find a table near the dance floor, and order a drink. If someone asks her to dance, she accepts.
A few minutes later, I'll go in, sit at the bar and order a drink. When the music's right
I take the longest possible route to get to her. Now people don't particularly notice someone walking by but it does register sub-consciously. So by the time I get to her, I've been within arm's reach of at least half of the patrons. When they see us dancing, they wonder “Isn't that the guy who just passed by us?”
We start doing simple stuff, enough for people to absent-mindedly watch. When enough are doing so, I'll throw in a double spin that catches their attention and then … well, all hell breaks loose. Well, not really ‘all hell’ but down 'n' dirty sex and vulgarity with a lot of physical humor.
We often hear sotto voce comments from nearby patrons: “Did you see that?!?” “Did you see what he did?!?” “Did you see what she did?!?” “Did you see what they did?!?” Many get it and laugh. Others don't and their jaws drop.
Musicians have told us that they've been told about patrons' shock and surprise thinking that we'd just met. Well, that's what we wanted them to think and it's mischievous fun when we succeed.
On one occasion, our favorite group was performing at a bar. She was there with some guy sitting in the front row next to the window wall. I was sitting with a groupie, one young enough to be my daughter, at the other end of the same row. I didn't even know my Partner was there 'til, during a slow Blues, she got up, slink'd 'tween the crowd and the band to strike a pose in front of, with a hand extended toward, me. She said nothing. Knowing well what she had in mind, I arose, wordlessly embraced her, and we engaged in some seriously sensuous vulgarity that drew roars of appreciation from the crowd.
At the end of the number, still neither a word nor a smile having passed between us, she returned to her escort. Minutes later, they left and he blew the whole thing by stopping to say ‘hello’ and shake my hand but it was great while it lasted. I think it woulda been better had he made some sorta physically threatening gesture. Oh, well. We gets our fun as it comes.
Subject: Side-topic Vignette — 1995/12/26
At the USOpen, I came across a woman who is quite attractive to me. She was leaning against a wall. In one of her hands was a cigarette; in the other a bottle of beer. I approached, affecting a muy macho gutteral voice to say:
“My kinda woman. Drinkin' and smokin'. What else d'y'do?”
Without even the briefest pause, she said “Read my lips” that she solicitously puckered. I promptly planted a peck.
Subject: Capital Swing Vignette — 1997/02/22
During the many years I've spent in the dance community, I've found little about which to complain that's worth serious consideration or that would cause worry.
At the Capital Swing Dancers' Convention in Sacramento there was a concern announced from the proscenium about things, personal belongings, disap- pearing. The first such announcement was the disappearance of a purse with all that means to the purse-ist. Later announcements concerned the disappearance of a variety of items including some photographic equipment.
I have always left things, including legal tender, laying around at dances without the slightest concern for their safety, of their being where I left them when I sought them. I find this change to be quite disturbing. However, I'm aware that the presence of but one person could have been the cause of the announcements and I'm further aware that it's possible the items were recovered yet not announced.
A day after the first announcement, I went to the well-known Angelina whose purse had disappeared to ask whether she'd recovered it. “A wonderful and kind man found it and returned it to me.” It will come as no surprise here, considering all the comments we've heard (including from me) about him and his partner, that it was Robert Royston who had found and returned the purse. If the return of that purse was announced, I didn't hear it.
The Obvious is Apparent