Books on Lindy Hop
These Books May Be Useful!
This stems from a conversation I've had with Chris B. at the Vienna Grille on Tuesday....and from the many visitors who come to our house who suddenly drop out of the group conversation and curl up in a corner with one of our many dance books. Steve will tell you that whenever I become obsessed with anything, I start collecting books on the subject. So here's my rather eclectic collection of dance books-- start your own library!
Swingin' at the Savoy, The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer, Norma Miller and Evette Jensen, Copyright 1996, Temple University Press, ISBN 1-56639-494-5 If you get just one book on Lindy, this is it. This is Norma's personal history of the birth and life of the Lindy Hop as only a member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers could witness. Ms. Jensen provides some extra research and historical context. What is so great about this book is that you see how this dance really shaped lives, neighborhoods, and communities.
Jazz Dance, the Story of American Vernacular Dance, Marshall & Jean Stearns, paperback edition, copyright 1994 Da Capo Press, New York (originally 1968, McMillan) ISBN 0-306-80553-7 This is the book all the other books quote--and the one that got Norma pumped to write her version. Some say that the Stearns got Lindy history all wrong. Others claim that it is a matter of perspective. Whatever you think, few can dispute that this is one of the first deeply researched books on jazz dancing. It's a seminal work, although a bit academic in tone. Get it for nothing else than the Laba notation in the back (a complex method of diagramming dance steps). Anyone who can explain this to me gets a prize.
Swing Changes, Big Band Jazz in New Deal America, David W. Stowe, 1994, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-85825-5 The book begins, "Ralph Ellison once described American culture as 'Jazz-shaped....the sudden turns, the shocks, the swift changes of pace (all jazz-shaped) that serve to remind us that the world is ever unexplored, and that while a complete mastery of life is mere illusion, the real secret of the game is to make life swing.' " With that beautiful quote, you embark on a journey to the height of the Swing Era in America. He explores what formed it (America moved from the individuality of the Victrola to the democracy of the radio), what made it popular (a nationwide medium: radio, a nationwide dance craze: swing, and a nationwide music: big band swing) to what made it die (and he discusses various theories). It's a good primer on the popular big bands--including a blow-by-blow account of the Benny Goodman 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.
Jookin', the Rise of Social Dance Formations in African American Culture, Katrina Hazzard-Gordon, Temple University Press, 1990 ISBN 0-87722-956-2. This book, while a bit academic, answers the question, "Where did swing come from?" Hazzard-Gordon takes you from the slave ship, where African slaves were forced to "dance at the lash" for "exercise" to the jook joints that populated the South and later, during the 20 century, the North. She discusses the "rent party" phenomenon as well as the division within the African American community itself over it's rural, African dance roots. Great pictures of dancers and joints you'd never get caught dead in.
Black Magic, A Pictorial History of the African-American in the Performing Arts, Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer, Originally copyrighted in 1967, Da Capo has released a paperback edition, copyrighted 1990, ISBN-0-306-80406-9 This book has some wonderful pictures: the cast of Hot Chocolates, portraits of many jazz stars, etc...but the highlight, under the section "Happy Feet" is a two page illustrated diagram of how to do the Lindy Hop,Truckin', Shim Sham Shimmy, and Snakehips. The stories and context is wonderful--by people who were actually there when it was all happening.
Swing Era New York, the Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson, Edited by W. Royal Stokes, Temple University Press, 1994 ISBN 1-56639-464-3 Great pictures, although more band pictures than dance pictures. There were a few of the Savoy ballroom--dancers and bands--and it gives you perhaps the best idea out there of what the interior looked like. This is the book that supposes that aerials were "inspired" by the Mr. Moto movies of the 1930s.
1920-1950, Black Beauty, White Heat, a Pictorial History of Classic Jazz, Frank Driggs and Harris Lewine, Da Capo Press, 1996 (originally published in 1986) ISBN 0-306-80672-X This is a coffee-table book on steroids for any jazz fan. It's got band pictures, musical advertisements, etc... not much in the way of dance pictures, but where else can you see both Cab Calloway's band in baseball uniforms AND Gene Krupa drumming a chorus girl's....shall we say....derriere.
The First Book of Jazz, Langston Hughes, The Ecco Press (under the Darktower Series, featuring reprints of overlooked works of African-American classics), 1997, first published 1955 ISBN 0-88001-552-7 Stumbled upon this at the Super Crown while shopping for Christmas. This was my birthday present to myself. What a joy. If you have kids, it's a must. If you just act like a kid, you'll love it too. It gives you an easy to read history of Jazz, the ten basic elements of Jazz (syncopation, improvisation, percussion, rhythm, blue notes, color, harmony, breaks, riffs, and the most important of all, the joy of playing). It comes complete with a great guide to the important soloists--sorted by instrument, and a wonderful discography to get you and the little tyke started.
Gay Shepardson also found these in the Library of Congress Database:
AUTHOR: Dance Guild, Inc., New York.
AUTHOR: Inga van der Wees and Andrea Thiem
AUTHOR: Aurora S. Villacorta
AUTHOR: Bemis Walker
AUTHOR: John Kersten
AUTHOR: John Javna
AUTHOR: Jacques Bense
Here are some books that we have been reading that provide a lot of insight into the Swing Era:
The Cotton Club, by Jim Haskins (1977, Random House, ISBN 0-394-49060-6, LCCN:76-53497, Call: ML200.8.N52C73, available in hardback and paperback). This book, loaded with interviews and pictures is the definitive treatment of the Cotton Club, Harlem's infamous nightclub that had black-only entertainers performing for white-only audiences. The book traces the three major eras of the club, characterized by the bands: Ellington, Lunceford and Calloway. The book was the source for the Francis Ford Coppola film of the same name.
The Best Years: 1945-1950, by Joseph C. Goulden(1976, Atheneum,ISBN: 0-689-10708-0,LCCN: 75-41852, Call: HN58.G66) This is an unvarnished look at the immediate postwar period from an author who actually lived through the times. This work does much to explain the apparent mindless conformity of the 1950s. Contrary to popular belief, the GIs did not receive a triumphant and glorious return home from World War II. Other than a few parades for the first boatloads, they were apparently met with indifference and some resentment as they tried to re-enter the economy. During the period 1945 -1948, divorce was a booming industry as veterans returned to wives they hardly knew. A shortage of consumer goods and housing was complicated by a crazy-quilt of price controls; this, in turn led to widespread dissatisfaction with government that created the climate in which the political witch-hunts of the McCarthy era could thrive. It is no wonder that vast numbers of people chose to move to cheap cracker-boxes in suburbia and keep their heads down for the rest of their lives. This book is a must for baby-boomers because it allows them to see a side of their parents' collective experience that has been neatly expunged from the history textbooks.
Long Live the King, by Lyn Tornabene (1976 , Longman Canada, Ltd) This is a definitive biography of Clark Gable which manages to capture the flavor of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. The author is very respectful of Gable and this work is very much an homage. Some of the revelations will be surprising to the uninitiated: Gable had false teeth for most of his life; he shaved all the hair on his body regularly; he had a penchant for unattractive women; and he was very active in the Masons. On the other hand, you will also find that Carole Lombard was the one true love of his life which included thousands of women. He took his military service very seriously. He was an all-around "Regular Guy" who thoroughly enjoyed rugged sports, motorcycles and fast cars. The photographs are worth the price of the book: this guy looked great in clothes and the photos illustrate a "must-have" vintage wardrobe.
Washington Deco: Art Deco Design in the Nation's Capital, by Hans Wirz and Richard Striner (1984, Smithsonian Institution Press,ISBN: 0-87474-970-0,LCCN: 84-600183, Call: NA735.W3W57 1984) This is an excellent book that details how glass block, aluminum and Vitriolite, along with sleek, zigzag, streamline designs came to merge with the austere neo-classical style of government buildings to create a synthesis that is unique to Washington. The book also traces the spread of Art Deco to the rest of the city in hundreds of stylish apartment buildings, buildings, restaurants, cinemas, banks, warehouses and stores. The change parallels Washington's evolution from a provincial capital to a world urban center. You will recognize some of the notable survivors such as the Greyhound Bus Terminal, the Kennedy-Warren and the Library of Congress annex. You will, most likely, not remember the Trans Lux theater on 14th St (demolished 1975). I remember going there and it was one of the very best Art Deco experiences that I have ever had. Demolition of the Trans Lux was a crime against humanity. But, you can at least savor the memory.
The American Heritage History of the 20s and 30s, Ralph Andrist, editor (1970, American Heritage Publishing,ISBN: 8281- 0097-7,LCCN: 72-117350) This is a very well-illustrated "coffee-table" book that effectively uses photos, art reproductions and well-written narrative to tell the story of these two important decades. Lots of great old WPA art, a good section on the movies and some fine pictures of Duke Ellington.
Orson Welles: a Biography, by Barbara Leaming (1985, Viking-Penguin,ISBN:0-670-52895-1 ,LCCN:83-40657 , Call: PN1998.A3W447) The author had Welles' cooperation in writing this work, so it has a certain authenticity. Only the 1930s could have cast up the flamboyant "boy-genius" Orson Welles, whose list of achievements in early life is unmatchable: as director of the so-called "Voodoo Macbeth" for the WPA and the fascist Julius Caesar for his own Mercury Theater, he revolutionized American drama; as The Shadow and --- more infamously --- as the creator of the infamous "War of the Worlds" broadcast, he threw a nation of radio listeners into a terrified frenzy; as a director and actor, he made cinematic history with movies like Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai, The Magnificent Ambersons, and The Third man; as a political columnist, speech-writer and aspiring candidate, he helped steer the course of FDR's 1944 campaign and to advocate the cause of international reconciliation in the postwar period. He had plenty of torrid romances as well, including Doris Del Rio, a stormy marriage with Rita Hayworth, an affair with Judy Garland, Marlena Dietrich, Eartha Kitt and others. The book provides insight into his long slide downhill culminating in the infamous and embarrassing Paul Masson wine commercials.
Rhythm and the Blues: a Life in American Music, by Jerry Wexler and David Ritz (1993 , Random House,ISBN: 0-679- 40102-4 ,LCCN: 92-31704, Call: ML429.W4A3) Jerry Wexler has been called "The Godfather of Soul Music," and as a music reporter in the late 1940s, he coined the term "Rhythm and Blues" for what had previously been known as "race music". He tells his own story from a pool-hall childhood in Washington Heights to a stint writing for Billboard and haunting the Brill Building (home of "Tin Pan Alley") and on to the founding of Atlantic Records with Ahmet Etregun and his association with other producers (John Hammond and Phil Spector) and labels (Chess and Stax). The book is particularly interesting in its account of the change between Big Band and Rock'n'Roll.
Swing, Swing, Swing: the Life and Times of Benny Goodman, by Ross Firestone (1993, W.L. Norton Co ,ISBN:0-393- 31168-6 ,LCCN: 92-9485 , Call: ML422.G65F6) This is the definitive biography of Benny Goodman. It provides excruciating detail about every aspect of his career and is a primary sourcebook for those interested in the facts of Goodman's career, particularly discographies, schedules and personnel changes in his bands. Strangely, it leaves one with little personal knowledge of the man, other that the fact that he was a poor kid who went on to become enormously successful.
SWINGIN' THE DREAM
Like so many other studies in that nascent academic discipline, or undiscipline, called "popular culture," this one overreaches itself, leaping from the narrow particular to the breathtakingly universal with little apparent regard for the validity of the exercise. More on that in a moment.
But first the good news. "Swingin' the Dream" is an intelligent, provocative study of the big band era, chiefly during its golden hours in the 1930s; not merely does Lewis A. Erenberg give the music its full due, but he places it in a larger context and makes, for the most part, a plausible case for its importance.
To say that he gives the music its due may seem unremarkable, but in fact students of American popular music have tended to belittle the big band music of the swing era as a "commercialized" transitional period between the "pure" early jazz that preceded it and the "pure" bebop that followed it.
Though the two greatest orchestras of the time were led by blacks, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, in the racially charged atmosphere of jazz criticism it is assumed that the popularity of bands led by whites, notably Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, was due to watered-down music made palatable for a mass white audience.
The truth, as Erenberg convincingly argues, is another matter. Until the swing era, jazz had been sharply divided racially, with black pioneers (King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong) on one side and their white adulators (Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Eddie Condon) on the other; the process of cross-fertilization, so central to the development of jazz, took place at a remove. But the big bands, notably Goodman's, began to break down the barriers, not merely putting black and white musicians onstage and in the recording studio together, but greatly accelerating their musical influence on one other.
The first regular black performer in a white unit, Teddy Wilson of the Benny Goodman Trio, called it "the first interracial organization in this country," and he may well have been right. "It was an asset, racial mixing," he said, because lovers of jazz "were just hungry for this sort of thing." The result was that white bands, because of their greater acceptability in the emerging mass market, were able to bring new attention and admiration to the music of black composers and arrangers.
In this mix, Erenberg places heavy emphasis, as Teddy Wilson did, on the role of the audience. Its members, he says, were "active participants in creating a music vital to their own lives." They were the parents and grandparents, literally and figuratively, of the later audience that participated in the birth of rock-and-roll:
"When they screamed at a concert or danced in the aisles to an exciting band, they were exercising their right to respond to music in their own ways -- not as parents, bandleaders or swing critics told them they must behave. At the same time, swing musicians operated nationally, in more open, democratic spaces. Those spaces now included greater interaction between whites and blacks than ever before. As aural media, radio and records removed some of the visual definitions of race, allowing music played by blacks or whites to reach the senses in direct, unrestricted ways. The swing era thus witnessed the possibility for mass personal liberation and the democratization of cultural connoisseurship."
That last sentence is a mouthful, but the essential argument is persuasive. The swing audience "represented both the emotional loosening of American musical culture and its democratization." After the big bands, American culture was no longer the province of an intellectual and/or aristocratic elite that imported most of what it admired from Europe; for better -- and the music of the big band era unquestionably was, to date, the high-water mark of American popular music -- and for worse, American culture was now the property of the American people.
This is fine so far as it goes, but too often Erenberg cannot resist going too far. "In the ruin of dreams," he writes, "torch singers and crooners expressed the spiritual letdown and insecurity of the era. The anguished and languid voice conveyed a loss of faith in individual power and male potency in a hostile world." Or: "The fascination with authentic jazz was part of the search for a cultural alternative to the dehumanization of society in the industrial world." If it sounds to you as if Erenberg is reading post-1960s attitudes into a 1930s context, well, it sounds that way to me, too. The best advice is to ignore most of Erenberg's generalizations and concentrate on his specifics, which are this book's real strength.
Review by: Jonathan Yardley
SWINGING THE MACHINE
This is an academic study of Everything about the Swing Era. It is very expensive, and at times is terribly pretentious. However, it contains a wealth of information, all suitably documented in extensive footnotes. Briefly, Dinerstein's theory is that the Swing Era represents Man's adaptation to the Machine as contrasted to transcendental movements such as Art Noveau that sought to escape the influence of the Industrial Revolution. Dinerstein examines art, music, theater and dance. There is also a subtext of the White Man stealing cultural innovations from the Black Man. His treatment of the 1939 World's Fair is very interesting. In general, I found this book interesting and thought-provoking, although it is quite abundantly clear that Dinerstein has never danced any Lindy Hop.
This is a very nice children's book written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. It's about a boy who was born the day the Savoy Ballroom opened and about the ballroom. The illustrations are fantastic. It's pretty short (even by kid book standards) but it still gives you a sense of the times. There's a reference to Frankie Manning and the book includes a list of Lindy dancers who made history.
"On March 12, 1926, the doors of the Savoy Ballroom swung open in Harlem. It was a night to remember, when blacks and whites, rich and poor, all came together to dance!"
Available at swingdanceshop.com or Amazon.com for $16.
Counter for the Entire Website - not just this page
Home | About Lindy | 1940s Collectibles | Upcoming Events | Vintage Clothing
The Guide - Establishments - Travel - Accessories
Music | Links | Photo Gallery | Extras | Contact