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|In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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The Symbiosis of Jazz and Dance (part I)
Like it or not, there was a very real symbiotic relationship between the popular music of the
teens, 20’s, and 30’s (Jazz) and a number of dance variations that evolved from that generation’
s urge to move to those rhythms. The “Jazz Age” is characterized by flappers, marathon
dances, and a myriad of exotic “steps.” Some tunes were named after dances and some
dances were named after tunes. There were also a lot of tunes directly associated with certain
dances of that age. Over the next three issues of the Earlyjas Rag we’ll explore some of those
dances and the tunes with which they were associated.
KING CHANTICLEER was written in 1910, by Nate Ayer, who also wrote “Oh, You Beautiful
Doll.” It was written expressly to cash in on the “Texas Tommy” dance craze.
The Texas Tommy was the father of the swing dance. Up until 1909, all the dances were done
in the “closed” position with the partners face-to-face. This new dance introduced the “break-
away” in which, at times, the partners broke away from each other and danced lively in an
“open” position. It has been described as a “rough Lindy Hop.”
EVERYBODY’S DOIN’ IT NOW was the 1912 song by Irving Berlin that introduced to New
York audiences the dance called the Grizzly Bear. The tune was written for the show “Over
the River,” and contains in its lyrics the repeated phrase “It’s a bear.” The Grizzly Bear steps
were clumsy and rough in imitation of a dancing bear, and the dancers would sporadically
holler out, “It’s a bear!” Not long after its introduction in New York, a “social ban” was
placed on it as well as some other current dances.
BALLIN’ THE JACK was written in 1914, by Chris Smith with lyrics by Jim Burris. The lyrics
are the only dance-song words of instruction to outlive its time. The song’s title is reputed to
have been derived from the Black railroad slang about how the engine (“jack”) moved
rapidly (“highballed”) down the line. The Ballin’ the Jack dance is basically a sensual,
gyration dance with bumps and grinds. It made its first appearance at the Lafayette Theater
in Harlem in 1913, and it became popular enough to inspire Smith to write this song shortly
STEALIN’ APPLES was written in 1936, by Fats Waller and is often associated with the swing
dance called The Big Apple which evolved about the same time at a Black night club, “The
Big Apple Night Club,” in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s a group participation dance with
some roots in square dance. Sometimes a solo dancer or couple would perform in the center
of a circle as the rest of the dancers circled around them.
The Symbiosis of Jazz and Dance (part II)
In the last Earlyjas Rag we began talking about the strong relationships between Jazz music
and contemporaneous dances of the teens, 20’s, and 30’s. Here, in part II, we’ll look at some
more of the relationships which made a lot of popular music of that time – dance music!
THE BLACK BOTTOM- seldom did vaudevillian, promoter, writer, publisher Perry
Bradford miss the musical pulse of his time, but it happened in 1923 when he revised one of
his old vaudeville numbers from 1919, and made it into “The Original Black Bottom Dance.”
It was introduced in Irvin Miller’s show, “Dinah,” and the dance became somewhat popular
in Harlem. But Bradford never had it published or recorded. When George White’s,
“Scandals of 1926,” opened Ann Pennington was dancing to a newly published DeSylva,
Brown, and Henderson tune called “The Black Bottom,” which was very successful. The
Black Bottom dance was derived from a southern dance called “The Echo” and was probably
first introduced by blues singer Alberta Hunter. It was a hopping, sliding, shuffling dance
that was based on the rhythms of “The Charleston.”
MEMPHIS BLUES – published in 1912, in Memphis by W.C.Handy as a piano composition
with its present title. It was originally written around 1908, to support a political candidate in
Memphis. Handy’s various bands played it for four years before it was published under the
title of “Memphis Blues.” In 1913, a New York publisher bought the rights to the song for $50.
It has been said that Handy’s “Memphis Blues” inspired Vernon Castle to create the dance
called The Bunny Hug, a steamy, grinding, shaking, and wiggling dance that was usually
done to real slow blues tunes. It caused a lot of uproar in polite society which made excellent
press fodder and, hence, publicity.
THIS JOINT IS JUMPIN’ – written by Thomas “Fats” Waller in 1937 with lyrics by Andy
Razaf. The tune was popularized by Waller himself with His Rhythm. It is strongly
associated with a dance that evolved during the 1920’s when the “Charleston” was all the
rage. The Breakaway and The Charleston began to mix and form a new yet unnamed dance
style with a few other dances thrown into the mix. Harlem’s Shorty George Snowden named it
the “Lindbergh Hop,” or, for short The Lindy Hop. When Benny Goodman became the “King
of Swing,” the Lindy Hop would become known as The Jitterbug.
BY THE BEAUTIFUL SEA – written in 1914 by Harry Carroll (music) and Harold R. Atteridge
(lyrics), this tune is forever linked to the dance called The Peabody which was a jaunty type
fast fox-trot done to ragtime music. The basic steps are the cross-step and the lock-step and
the body position is nearly that of a promenade.
The Symbiosis of Jazz and Dance (part III)
Here’s the last of our three part exposition of the relationship of Jazz music to dance and vice-
versa. Let it be known that there are a lot of other period dances or dance variations (teens, 20’
s and 30’s) that we haven’t even touched on here such as: The Turkey Trot, The Break-Away,
The Castle Walk, The Camel Walk, The Eagle Rock, The Suzy-Q, the Varsity Drag, etc.
AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING – was written by Kerry Mills in 1897, and is one of the few
cakewalks that has maintained continued popularity among Jazz bands. It was recorded by
the Original Dixieland Jazz band in 1918, and will forever be associated with a dance called
The Cakewalk which evolved from a mid-19th century dance called The Chalk Line Walk. In
this dance a couple promenades in a dignified manner, high-stepping and kicking. Some of
the more benevolent plantation owners would have a cake made as a prize for the slave
couple who put on the best show. The phrase, “That takes the cake!” came from this. This was
reputedly the first dance to cross over from Black to White society.
WHISPERING – written in 1920, by Malvin and John Shonberger, the recording of this tune,
which featured a slide-whistle solo, was the first million-seller for the Paul Whitemen
Orchestra and was associated with the early development of the dance called The Fox Trot.
This dance, according to pianist/composer Noble Sissle, was originated by Vernon and Irene
Castle from James Reese Europe’s version of W.C.Handy’s, “Memphis Blues.” The Castles
called it The Bunny Hug. Others have said the influence was their Castle Walk. In any case, it
may ultimately have been stolen by Harry Fox, a vaudeville performer who claimed the
simple trotting step was his invention which he called The Fox Trot.
SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE – was a 1917 tune by Spencer Williams that latched on to the early
1900’s vaudeville tap routine called The Shim-Sham or The Sham. The dance consisted of a
mixture of standard tap steps done in no particular order with some shaking and shimmying
thrown in. It was popular for a time at the Savoy Ballroom accompanied by Luis Russell’s
rendition of “The Song of the Freaks.”
TRUCKIN’ – this tune, written by Rube Bloom in 1935, is also the name of the oldest dance
variation we’ve talked about here. Truckin’ can be traced all the way back to the old minstrel
shows of the 1830’s in Louisville, Kentucky. The song was introduced by Cora La Redd in
1935’s “Cotton Club Review.” Fats Waller recorded it in the late summer of 1935, and it was
his biggest hit for that year. The dance variation is a slightly pigeon-toed shuffle with rising
and falling shoulders and index fingers pointed up and waving. It could be done within the
framework of many other dances.
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