Norma Miller’s Harlem Map

Follow in the steps of the Queen of Swing Norma Miller around Harlem and discover the neighbourhood where she grew up and danced.

Norma Miller’s Harlem Map (Google Maps)

Last year I created this map when I was in New York and was able to walk around Harlem tracking down many of the locations mentioned by Norma in her memoir Swingin’ at the Savoy. Born in 1919, Norma grew up in 1920s and 1930s Harlem, round the corner from the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom and many other famous venues that are sadly no longer standing.  I have added images, video and other content to the location markers to facilitate a virtual tour, so whether you are lucky to be in New York covering this on foot, or you are touring Harlem at a distance, I hope you find this useful. Just click on each marker for more content.

I recommend the Harlem Swing Dance Society’s Historical Tour to find out more about Harlem swing history first hand if you have the chance.  I would also like to thank the Frankie Manning Foundation for supporting my research and giving me the opportunity to visit New York.

The map is work in progress, so you can let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions!

Reading:

Miller, Norma & Jensen, Evette: Swingin’ at the Savoy: the Memoir of a Jazz Dancer (Temple University Press).

Miller, Norma, y Jensen, Evette: La reina del swing: las memorias de Norma Miller (Ediciones Carena) (en español).

Recordando a Norma Miller

English

El 24 de mayo, la comunidad swing, familiares y amigos de todo el mundo se reunieron en la Iglesia Presbiteriana de St James en Harlem para celebrar la vida de Norma Miller (2 diciembre 1919 – 5 mayo 2019).

Nos conmovió la cantidad de gente a la que Norma influyó a lo largo de su vida gracias a su espíritu, determinación y humor. Los que la conocimos sabemos lo afortunados que fuimos. Era única e irrepetible.

En palabras de Adam Brozowski: «Debemos estudiar y continuar el legado de Norma, y no sólo los pasos de baile o copiando clips… las ideas, el significado, la herencia que son tan relevantes ahora mismo en nuestras vidas. Un mensaje de unidad a través de la música, la danza y el amor».

Fue una ceremonia preciosa y, por supuesto, hubo baile y música swing para la Reina.

Ahora Norma descansa en buena compañía en el Jazz Corner del cementerio de Woodlawn. Que descanse en paz y ritmo.

despidiendo a norma miller_zazoo post
Texto publicado por Zazoo magazine (2019)

Un día especial en Harlem

Fue un honor asistir a esta ceremonia organizada con tanto amor en su lugar de nacimiento, Harlem, NYC (gracias a Mickey Davidson, la Fundación Frankie Manning y todos los demás implicados).

Algunos de los que compartieron sus recuerdos de Norma fueron John Biffar, Adam Brozowski, Bill Cobb, Darlene Gist, Lennart Westerland, Elliott Donnelley, Jackie Harris y Shirley Duncan. Frank Owens, Tina Fabrique y Melba Joyce aportaron la música y el swing.

Esa tarde la Harlem Swing Dance Society ofreció una velada especial Sugar Hill Swings! en honor de la Reina del Swing de Harlem. El evento incluía charlas sobre la historia del swing con invitados entre los que figuraban algunos antiguos bailarines de la compañía de baile de Norma Miller: Darlene Gist, Crystal Johnson, Maxine Simmons, Barbara Billups y Sonny Allen. Además, Chris Lee presentó una proyección de vídeos inéditos o desconocidos de Norma Miller. También hubo actuaciones, música swing de la mano del Sugar Hill Quartet y mucho bailoteo por parte de bailarines locales y visitantes de todo el mundo que se habían reunido para la ocasión.

Este fue un día realmente especial en Harlem  rindiendo tributo a la Reina del Swing.

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Algunas reflexiones sobre la Reina del Swing

Ahora que nos ha dejado Norma, todo ha cambiado. Era la última de los Whitey Lindy Hoppers que nos podía contar cómo fue realmente crecer en Harlem en los años veinte y bailar en el Savoy en su apogeo. Nos podía contar cómo, y en qué duras circunstancias, se creó este baile que tanto amamos; conocía el valor de su legado cultural y sabía que esta historia merecía ser contada (siempre adelantada a su tiempo). Hemos perdido tanto. Y, sin embargo, somos tan afortunados por haberla tenido aquí durante 99 años, por todo lo que ha compartido con nosotros a lo largo de su carrera en swing, humor, conocimiento y perseverancia. Ahora tenemos que pensar en cómo continuamos su legado, cómo «seguir swingueando», haciendo honor a su lema.

En los últimos años vi a Norma Miller en persona en dos ocasiones, sin embargo, he pasado muchísimas horas con ella: leyendo sus palabras, traduciéndolas, revisando y releyendo, en inglés y en español. Han sido largas horas en su compañía y pensaba conocerla bien (¡saberme la cronología de su vida mejor que la mía!), pero desde que nos ha dejado me he dado cuenta de que hay muchísimo más que aprender de ella. Estoy descubriendo ahora lo realmente excepcional que fue Norma Miller –ya sea en el ámbito del baile, la coreografía, la escritura, la música, la comedia o cualquier otra de sus múltiples facetas—, fue una pionera y su creatividad no supo de límites, a pesar de las adversidades a las que se tuvo que enfrentar como mujer negra en el mundo del espectáculo. Aún sigo investigando y sigo aprendiendo.

En lo personal, le estoy agradecida a Norma Miller por muchos momentos de felicidad, en particular en los últimos meses con la publicación de sus memorias en español. Me alegro de que publicáramos a tiempo de que ella se enterara y tuviera una copia del libro en sus manos. Después del trabajo solitario de traducción, hacer las presentaciones del libro ha sido una experiencia increíble, una oportunidad de acercar su historia a nuevos públicos. Ojalá hubiera tenido la oportunidad de hablarle de estos eventos y de todas las personas que se interesaron por sus memorias en lugares tan distantes como Santiago, Vigo, Madrid, Barcelona, Granada e  incluso Finisterre (el fin del mundo). Sé que le hubiera encantado visitar España. Desbordaba tanta energía que cuando la vi en diciembre pensé que celebraría su 100 cumpleaños con ella.

Hace un año aproximadamente estaba preparando un artículo biográfico, y apunté esta nota: «750 palabras. Sólo 750 palabras para contar la vida de Norma Miller…que sigue, sigue y sigue siendo ella misma a la edad de 98 años –en el fondo, el mayor logro al que podemos aspirar–». (A propósito, 750 palabras no fueron suficientes y 1000 llegaron justitas). Tengo la sensación de que Norma era tan ella misma a los 99 como lo había sido siempre, conservaba el mismo carácter, el mismo swing, el mismo entusiasmo…se mantuvo fiel a sí misma y a lo que quería en la vida hasta el final. No se me ocurre nada más inspirador.

 «Todo en esta vida tiene un ritmo. Cuando andas por la calle tus pies suenan al ritmo…¡Dame el ritmo!» (Gimme the Beat, por Norma Miller).

Norma, gracias por casi un siglo de swing. Te echamos de menos.

#queenofswingforever #lareinadelswing #keepswinging

¡Celebra el centenario de la Reina del Swing!

El 2 de diciembre se cumplirá el centenario del nacimiento de Norma Miller. La Fundación Frankie Manning recoge en esta página Homenaje a Norma  las diferentes formas en las que podemos participar en esta celebración y honrar su memoria.

#Norma100

Celebrating the Queen of Swing

Español

On 24 May the swing community, her family and friends from around the globe gathered at St James’ Presbyterian Church in Harlem to celebrate the life of Norma Miller (2 December 1919-5 may 2019).

We were moved by how many people Norma touched throughout her life with her spirit, determination and humour. Those of us who met her know how lucky we were. She was one of a kind.

“We must study and carry on Norma’s legacy”, in Adam Brozowski’s words, “And not just the steps or copying clips… the ideas, the meaning, the heritage which is so relevant right now in our lives. A message of unity through music, dance and love.”

It was a beautiful ceremony and of course there was swinging music and dancing for the Queen.

Now Norma rests in good company in the Jazz Corner at Woodlawn Cemetery.  May she “Rest in Rhythm”.

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Text published by Zazoo magazine (2019)

A special day in Harlem

I was honoured to attend this ceremony in her birthplace, Harlem, NYC, which was so lovingly organized (thank you Mickey Davidson, the Frankie Manning Foundation and everyone involved).

Some of the speakers who shared their memories of Norma included John Biffar, Adam Brozowski, Bill Cobb, Darlene Gist, Lennart Westerland, Elliott Donnelley, Jackie Harris and Shirley Duncan. Music and swing were provided by Frank Owens, Tina Fabrique and Melba Joyce.

That evening the Harlem Swing Dance Society hosted a special Sugar Hill Swings! event honouring Harlem’s own Queen of Swing. With guest history panels featuring some former Norma Miller dancers: Darlene Gist, Crystal Johnson, Maxine Simmons, Barbara Billups and Sonny Allen, and a screening of rare (previously unseen by me) footage of Norma Miller presented by Chris Lee. There were also performances, swinging music by the Sugar Hill Quartet and lots of dancing by locals and visitors from around the globe who had come together for this occasion.

This was a truly special day in Harlem honouring the Queen of Swing.

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Some thoughts on the Queen of Swing

Now that Norma is gone, everything has changed. She was the last of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers who could tell us what growing up in 1920s Harlem and dancing in the Savoy in its heyday was really like. She could tell us how this dance we love so much was created and in what difficult circumstances; she knew the value of her cultural heritage and that this was a story that needed to be told (well ahead of the curve, as usual). We have lost so much. And yet we have also been so lucky to have had her for 99 years, for everything she has shared with us throughout her career in swing, humour, knowledge and perseverance. Now we have to think about how we continue her legacy, how we “keep swingin’”, to follow her signature motto.

Over the last few years I met Norma Miller twice in person, yet I have spent so many hours with her: reading her words, translating, proofreading and re-reading, in English and Spanish. These have been long hours in her company and I thought I knew her well (knew her life chronology better than my own!), but since she left us I have found there is so much more to learn about her. I am realizing now how truly exceptional Norma Miller was –whether in dance, choreography, writing, music, stand-up comedy or any other of her multiple facets– she was a pioneer and her creativity was not limited by any bounds, despite the adversity she faced as a single black woman in show business. I am still researching and still learning.

On a personal level, I am thankful to Norma Miller for much joy, in particular in the last few months thanks to the publication of her memoir in Spanish. I am happy we did publish in time for her to know about it and hold a copy in her hands. After the solitary translation work, doing the book launches has been an incredible experience, an opportunity to bring her story to new audiences –-I wish I had had the chance to tell her about these events and all the people who were interested in her memoir in places as distant as Santiago, Vigo, Madrid, Barcelona, Granada and even Finisterre (aka “the end of the world”). I know she would have enjoyed visiting Spain. She was so full of energy when I met her in December that I had expected to see her at her 100th birthday.

About a year ago I was preparing a biographical article and I wrote this note: “750 words. Just 750 words to tell the life of Norma Miller…who keeps on, keeps on going and keeps on being herself at age 98 –which I guess is the greatest achievement anyone can aspire to!”.  (Incidentally, 750 words was not sufficient, 1000 was tight enough). I feel Norma was as much herself at 99 as ever, with as much character, as much swing, as much joy…She remained true to herself and what she wanted in life. I cannot think of anything more inspiring.

 “Everything in Life’s got a beat. When you walk down the street your feet tap to the beat…Gimme the Beat!” (Gimme the Beat, by Norma Miller).

Norma, thank you for nearly a century of swing. You are missed.

#queenofswingforever #lareinadelswing #keepswinging

Time to celebrate the Queen of Swing

2nd December will be Norma Miller’s centenary. There are several ways in which you can honor the Queen of Swing and join in Birthday the celebrations, find out more on the Frankie Manning Foundation Norma page.

#Norma100

La reina del swing

Me siento muy feliz de poder anunciar la publicación de las memorias de Norma Miller, La reina del swing, con Ediciones Carena (por primera vez en español).

La reina del swingIMAGENportada

Norma Miller, la «reina del swing», empezó a bailar lindy hop a los quince años y, actualmente, a sus 99 años, es todo un mito en el mundo del baile. Su biografía ofrece un recorrido apasionante por su vida y su carrera como bailarina, coreógrafa y humorista.

Sus memorias evocan el Nueva York de los años treinta y el ambiente en el que nació la música swing y su baile, el lindy hop, en la emblemática sala de baile Savoy de la mano de las grandes bandas de Chick Webb, Duke Ellington y Count Basie.

Es un relato emocionante, con su característico humor y a un ritmo trepidante.

Los que me conocen saben que llevo más de tres años con este proyecto (llámese ilusión u obsesión).  Tengo que agradecer a muchas personas que me han apoyado y ayudado de diferentes formas durante este tiempo, pero primero quiero agradecer a Big South Swing que creyeran en esta propuesta, porque sin ellos no hubiera sido posible realizarlo.

El viernes 21 de diciembre presentamos La reina del swing en la sede de Big South en Madrid. Fue un honor y un placer poder hablar de Norma Miller con un público que comparte esta pasión por el baile. Al fin y al cabo, ¿a qué loco no le gusta hablar de su tema? Creo que fue el sitio ideal para que La reina del swing diera sus primeros pasos.

Es algo realmente insólito que estemos publicando sus memorias poco días después de que Norma Miller celebrara su 99 cumpleaños. Gracias Norma por compartir tu historia, por ser una inspiración y por seguir swingueando.

Ahora que me ha llegado el primer envío, puedo confirmar que es muy emocionante tener el libro entre manos por primera vez. No sé por qué caminos me llevará La reina del swing, pero siento que el 2019 tendrá mucho ritmo.

Espero que lo disfrutéis Lindy hoppers.

Calendario de Presentaciones de “La reina del swing”

21/12/2018 – Big South Swing, Madrid.

12/02/2019 – Sala Riquela, Santiago de Compostela.

08/02/2019 – La Casa del Libro, Vigo.

14/02/2019 – La Casa del Libro, Calle Fuencarral, Madrid.

20/02/2019 – Librería Númax, Santiago de Compostela.

22/02/2019 – Sala Mardi Gras, La Coruña.

17/03/2019- Pazo de San Marcos, Lugo.

22/03/2019 – Librería 1616 Books, Salobreña.

23/03/2019 – Librería Picasso, Granada.

30/03/2019 – La Central del Raval, Barcelona.

29/06/2019- Fisterra Blues Experience, Fisterra.

Algunas imágenes de las presentaciones

 

 

Banda sonora

Podéis ponerle música al libro escuchando esta banda sonora en Spotify 

Comprar

La reina del swing se puede comprar online en la web de Ediciones Carena , en las escuelas Big South Swing (Madrid), Swing Jazz Lugo y Swingmaniacs (Barcelona), además de las mejores librerías: La Casa del Libro en Madrid, La Central del Raval en Barcelona, 1616 Books en Salobreña,  Numax en Santiago de Compostela, La  Casa del Libro en Vigo y la Librería Picasso en Granada, entre otros.

La reina del swing: las memorias de Norma Miller (Norma Miller y Evette Jensen, Traducción de Karen Campos McCormack. Ediciones Carena, 2018).

 

New York soundtrack

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A month in New York seems like years in other places. When I wasn’t in the library I was getting in as much live music and dance as I could: swing, jazz and blues. I heard some fantastic artists, saw some great tapping and enjoyed the dances, but my personal favourite in Harlem was American Legion Post 398 (thanks to Greg Izor for the recommendation). This venue belongs to the American Legion (a veterans association) located on 248 W 132nd St in the heart of Harlem and has become the home of jazz thanks to organist Seleno Clarke, who started the Sunday jam tradition. Seleno passed away in December, but the spirit of jazz continues, and every Thursday and Sunday there is a jam session led by saxophonist David Lee Jones and other resident musicians, with the best local talent and musicians from all over the globe joining in. The atmosphere is very welcoming with an audience that combines veteran regulars and music-loving tourists. Russell, Barbara and Karen behind the bar, made me feel at home watching the Oscars gala with them during the band breaks.  The music is fantastic and on any given night you can find some well-known Harlem artists such as Anette St John, a singer who also performs at the Cotton Club and Smoke, among others. There is no cover charge (just a bucket collection for the band) and, a rare phenomenon in New York, –it’s possible to have a beer and a decent meal at a reasonable price. I cannot think of a better place to spend a Sunday evening and enjoy the jazz.

 

 

The Cotton Club, a mythical name for any jazz or swing fan, has inspired countless songs and films. Despite being a nightclub that only admitted white patrons and perpetuated a segregated society, performing there meant attaining the top in show business for African American artists of the twenties and thirties (among others Duke Ellington or Cab Calloway). The club was located initially on 142nd St with Lenox Avenue, later it moved downtown to 48th St and its latest incarnation is on 125th St. Those seeking the legendary Cotton Club of the twenties should be warned that the current venue somewhat lacks the glamour, although it keeps alive the musical and dance show tradition that made it famous. It was an unmissable  rendez-vous, so I headed there on a cold Monday in March. Attendance was low, mostly tourists, but the quality of the musicians and dancers was well worth the 25 dollar cover charge. An excellent big band was swinging with singer Anette St John. I loved the chorus girl numbers with their sparkly jazz dance and the incredible tap dancers. Some of the band numbers were danceable, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an event for Lindy hoppers unless you were going with a partner or a group. The night I went there were few social dancers, although I was lucky to dance several songs with Ice, a charming gentleman who is a regular at all the swing dance events I attended in New York (he told me he only takes Wednesdays off). Here I also met Shana Weaver: chorus girl, Lindy hop dancer and Ambassador for the Frankie Manning Foundation, she continues the Cotton Club chorus line tradition that gave rise to great stars like Josephine Baker or Lena Horne.

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Cotton Club dancers

Guitar prodigy King Solomon Hicks  stands out among the club’s performers. I was lucky to see him playing again at Terra Blues, a highly recommended venue on Bleecker St. The 22 year-old achieves a moving blues sound and he easily wins the audience over with his technical virtuosity and charm. The Harlem guitar player started by playing in local neighbourhood jam sessions, where he earned his stripes with high quality musicians. He was still a teenager when he participated in the Apollo Amateur Night and was promptly hired by the Cotton Club. Nowadays, when he is not playing in the city he can be seen on tour around the US and Europe (last year he was in Spain playing in venues like the Jamboree club in Barcelona or Café Central in Madrid, as well as other festivals).

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King Solomon Hicks playing Terra Blues

If you like your jazz with spectacular views the place is Jazz at Lincoln Center, a unique institution led by Wynton Marsalis, whose mission is to promote the enjoyment of jazz through performance and education “in the spirit of swing”. I have to love an organization that has a “Swing University”. Located at Columbus Circle (very close to Trump Tower, that’s New York for you), the venue’s window façade overlooking the city and Central Park alone is worth a visit. Jazz at Lincoln offers a high-quality varied music programme, ranging from its in-house orchestra led by Marsalis in person to the late night performances at Dizzy’s Coca Cola Club. Those who cannot attend live performances (either due to location or budget) can enjoy these concerts in live-streaming. In addition, Jazz at Lincoln provides an excellent education programme. I was very fortunate to attend a Listening Party about the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an integrated all-woman big band of the 1930s and 1940s. Kit McClure’s orchestra, comprising ten women musicians, played versions from the repertoire of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm as well as showing some original footage. It was a double discovery: of the fascinating history of these pioneering women in swing, and of Kit McClure’s band, who offered a really swinging interpretation of great classics like “Jump Children”, “Vi Vigor” or “How About that Jive?”. More about New York: in a city where a coffee can cost five dollars I was able to enjoy the best swing music for free.

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Kit McClure’s orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Not all jazz plans need be nocturnal, and a musical Sunday can start with a delicious jazz breakfast at Smoke (in this case featuring a trio and vocalist). This well-known Upper West “jazz and supper club” offers quality music in an intimate and cozy setting. The brunch menu is not cheap, but a jazz fan has got to keep her strength up in a city like this.

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Performance at Smoke

Swing 46  is a classic of the New York swing scene (located on 46th St). With live music seven days a week, Swing 46 was a favourite spot among dance legends like Dawn Hampton (several photos honouring her decorate a corner table where she used to sit). Tuesdays is the night of the George Gee Swing Orchestra, a band that has been playing for dancers for over thirty years, and their swing did not disappoint. Given the quality of this band and the discount price for dancers of only 10 dollars, I was surprised at the small number of dancers in attendance: barely a handful of couples and some inexperienced tourists (the weather might have been a factor: I learned the meaning of a Nor’Eastern during my stay). Luckily tireless Ice was there, always smiling and ready to cut a rug, with whom I danced some fun numbers — although I found it hard to keep up with this swing veteran.

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Dancing at Swing 46

A note to Dancers: the most buzzing dance night I found was the Frim Fram, which takes place every Thursday at a dance school (Club 412 on 8th Avenue). There is no live music but it is a meeting point for dancers from all over New York (and beyond) of all ages and levels. The atmosphere is relaxed and I danced non-stop: in summary, a night to dance your feet off and meet other local Lindy hoppers.

There is very little of Swing Era Harlem still standing, which is why the Apollo Theater on 125th deserves a special mention.  With the Savoy and other major Harlem venues razed to the ground, the Apollo Theater is the only theatre that is still functioning, and very successfully, since 1934. That year Amateur Night at the Apollo started, the forerunner of the Got Talents and X-Factors of today, to which we owe the discovery of Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill or dancer Norma Miller, who also started her career winning a dance competition on this stage when she was only fourteen.

The list of stars who have performed at the Apollo is too long to detail, from James Brown to Michael Jackson, and a few years ago a “Walk of Fame” was installed on the sidewalk outside reflecting the premier place of this theatre in American culture. Many things have changed, but Amateur Night is still held every Wednesday (with a 10,000 dollar prize for the season winner). It is advertised as “The best fun you can have in this town for under $30”, and I can vouch this comedy and talent show makes good on its promise. Unlike other similar competitions, the audience not only chooses the winner by applause, but also has the power to boo-off performers: at which point a siren goes off and the famous “executioner” sweeps them off stage with his broom and dance. In this interactive show the audience is as much the protagonist as the contestants, of which there were all sorts: singers, dancers, rappers, poets…The Harlem crowd is not easy to please: if it does not like something it makes it known immediately and loudly.The night I attended they booed off the first three hopefuls as soon as they opened their mouths, which really makes me admire the bravery of the contestants who followed these acts on stage. Without question the best fun in Harlem.

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Apollo Theatre

My last week in New York I enjoyed dinner and a gig at Silvana’s Café, on 116th St in Harlem, thanks to my friend Loli Barbazán who now lives in the Big Apple. Less soaked in history, with a younger crowd and a friendly and multicultural vibe, Silvana’s brings together in its café cultural activities, good food and music. I was very pleasantly surprised by the different groups that played that night, anything from jazz to hip hop, and I especially fell in love with the tap dancers who went up to jam on-stage with the musicians. I wouldn’t mind going back.

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Jam at Silvana’s

I couldn’t leave without visiting Paris Blues, the well-known Harlem bar that was located round the corner from my apartment (also recommended by writer and occasional New Yorker Elvira Lindo). I wanted to spend my last hours soaking up all the neighbourhood music and charm that I could. The bar has been proudly run by Samuel Hargress, Jr. since 1968 and it remains true to its spirit: here you can find live jazz and blues every night until 3am for the price of a beer. The house band plays in a jam where other musicians join in, both young and old (a father with his teenage son for example). The warm atmosphere of this small bar encourages friendly conversation. There are few places like this left and it is worth enjoying them, even if it is just one for the road.

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Paris Blues, Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. Live music every night.

I read today that: “After all New York is a fiction, a literary genre that adapts to the traveller’s state of mind.” (Manuel Vicent, El País,19 August 2018), although in this case I experienced the city as a song or an album that accompanied me throughout all my wanderings (and in New York you can wander a lot, walking, on the train…). I haven’t tired of the songs at any time and I hope to return soon, although I know that a city like New York cannot repeat itself, with its constant rhythm and improvisation it never plays the same tune twice.

I want to thank the Frankie Manning Foundation for having given me the opportunity to stay in New York in order to carry out my research on the history of Lindy hop (which I will talk about in another post).

 

BSO de Nueva York

English

Un mes en Nueva York parecen años en otros sitios. Cuando no estaba en la biblioteca me dedicaba a escuchar toda la música en directo que pudiera, además de bailar: swing, jazz y blues. Escuché algunos artistas increíbles, vi bastante claqué y disfruté de los bailes, pero sin duda mi local favorito fue el American Legion Post 398 (gracias por la recomendación Greg Izor). Este local de la Legión Americana (asociación de veteranos) se encuentra en 248 W 132nd St en pleno Harlem y se convirtió en el hogar del jazz gracias al organista Seleno Clarke, que empezó la tradición de las jams del domingo. Seleno se murió en diciembre, pero el espíritu del jazz continúa, y todos los jueves y domingos hay una jam dirigida por el saxofonista David Lee Jones y los otros músicos residentes, a los que se van sumando lo mejor del talento local y músicos de todas partes del planeta. El  ambiente es muy hogareño, con un público que combina los veteranos asiduos y turistas amantes de la música. Russell, Barbara y Karen detrás de la barra, me hicieron sentir como en casa viendo la gala de los Óscar con ellos en los descansos de la banda. La música es buenísima y en una noche cualquiera se pueden ver algunos artistas muy conocidos de Harlem como Anette St John, cantante que también actúa en el Cotton Club y Smoke, entre otros. No se paga entrada (solo la voluntad) y se da el rarísimo fenómeno de poder tomar una cerveza y buena comida a un precio razonable en Nueva York. No se me ocurre mejor sitio para pasar una tarde de domingo y dejarse llevar por el jazz.

 

 

 

El Cotton Club es un nombre mítico para cualquier aficionado al jazz y al swing que ha inspirado un sin número de canciones y películas. A pesar de que era un local que solo admitía un público blanco y perpetuaba una sociedad segregada, actuar allí suponía coronar la cima para cualquier artista afroamericano de los años veinte y treinta (entre otros Duke Ellington o Cab Calloway). El local se situaba inicialmente en la calle 142 con Lenox Avenue, luego se trasladó a la calle 48 en el distrito teatral y su última encarnación se encuentra en la calle 125. Para los que vayan buscando el legendario Cotton Club de los años veinte hay que advertir que el local actual carece de ese glamur, aunque mantiene vivo el formato de espectáculo musical y de baile que le dio renombre. Me pareció una cita ineludible así que acudí un frío lunes de marzo; el público era escaso y mayoritariamente turista, pero la calidad de los músicos y los bailarines bien valen los 25 dólares de la entrada. Tocaba una excelente big band con muchas tablas con la cantante Anette St John. Me encantaron los números de baile de las coristas, con su centelleante baile de jazz, y los números de claqué. Se podían bailar algunos números de la orquesta, pero no lo recomendaría como un evento para Lindy hoppers, a menos que se vaya con pareja o en grupo. La noche que fui había muy pocos bailarines sociales, aunque tuve la suerte de bailar varias con Ice — un señor encantador y asiduo a todos los eventos de baile swing a los que asistí en Nueva York (me dijo que solo descansaba los miércoles)–. Allí conocí también a Shana Weaver: corista, bailarina de Lindy hop y Embajadora de la Fundación Frankie Manning, continúa la tradición de las coristas del Cotton Club donde empezaron grandes estrellas como Josephine Baker o Lena Horne.

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Bailarinas del Cotton Club

De entre los artistas del Cotton Club destaca el prodigio de la guitarra King Solomon Hicks, al que tuve la oportunidad de ver otra vez tocando en Terra Blues, un local muy recomendable en Bleecker St. Con sólo 22 años consigue un sonido blues emocionante y su virtuosismo técnico y encanto atrapan al público sin dificultad. El guitarrista de Harlem empezó tocando en jams en los locales del barrio, curtiéndose con músicos de gran calidad. De adolescente participó en la competición del Amateur Night en el Teatro Apollo y lo ficharon enseguida en el Cotton Club. Ahora, cuando no está tocando en Nueva York se le puede ver de gira por EEUU y Europa (el año pasado estuvo en España tocando en locales como el Jamboree en Barcelona o el Café Central en Madrid además de varios festivales).

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King Solomon Hicks playing Terra Blues

 

Si te gusta el jazz con vistas espectaculares el lugar es Jazz at Lincoln Center, una institución única liderada por Wynton Marsalis, cuya misión es promover el disfrute del jazz y la educación siguiendo “el espíritu del swing”. Una organización que tiene una “Universidad de Swing” ya me tiene ganada. Situado en Columbus Circle (muy cerca de la Trump Tower, cosas de Nueva York) el local, abierto al público, dispone de un gran ventanal con vistas de la ciudad y Central Park. Ofrece un programa variadísimo de actuaciones de la más alta calidad, desde su orquesta propia dirigida en persona por Marsalis a las actuaciones nocturnas en Dizzy’s Coca Cola Club. Los que no puedan asistir a las actuaciones en directo (por razones de bolsillo o por ubicación) también pueden disfrutar de ellos en live streaming. Además, ofrece un excelente programa educativo. Tuve la inmensa suerte de poder asistir a un concierto didáctico sobre el swing en femenino: la orquesta de Kit McClure, compuesta por diez mujeres, tocaron versiones del repertorio de las International Sweethearts of Rhythm, una “girl band” de los años treinta y cuarenta. Fue un doble descubrimiento de las pioneras del swing y su fascinante historia, y de la orquesta de Kit McClure, que ofreció una interpretación realmente swingueante de grandes temas como “Jump Children”, “Vi Vigor” o “How About that Jive?”. Más cosas de Nueva York: en una ciudad donde un café con leche te cuesta cinco dólares (más propina), pude disfrutar de la mejor música swing gratis.

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Kit McClure’s orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center

No todos los planes de jazz son nocturnos, y un domingo musical puede empezar con un delicioso desayuno a ritmo de jazz (en este caso un trío con vocalista) en Smoke. Este conocido “jazz and supper club” del Upper West ofrece buena música en un ambiente íntimo y confortable. El menú de desayuno (o “brunch” ) no es barato, pero una aficionada tiene que coger fuerzas en una ciudad como ésta.

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Performance at Smoke

Swing 46 es un clásico de la escena swing de Nueva York (en la calle 46). Con música en directo siete días a la semana, Swing 46 era uno de los locales de referencia donde acudían leyendas del baile como Dawn Hampton (la mesita en la que se solía sentar tiene varias fotos dedicadas a su memoria). Los martes toca la George Gee Swing Orchestra, con más de tres décadas de historia tocando para bailarines y un sonido que no defraudó. Tratándose de una big band de esta calidad, y con un precio descontado para bailarines de solo 10 dólares, me sorprendió el pequeño número de bailarines que había: apenas un par de parejas y algunos turistas inexpertos (el mal tiempo pudo ser un factor: aprendí lo que significa una tormenta de nieve en Nueva York durante mi estancia). Menos mal que estaba el incansable Ice siempre sonriente y dispuesto a quemar la pista, con el que bailé varios temas muy divertidos aunque me costara seguirle el ritmo a este veterano del swing.

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Dancing at Swing 46

Un apunte para bailarines: la noche de baile social que encontré más animada fue el Frim Fram, que tiene lugar todos los jueves en una academia de baile (Club 412 en la Octava Avenida). No hay música en directo pero es un punto de encuentro para bailarines de todo Nueva York (y más allá) de todas las edades y niveles. El ambiente me pareció muy relajado y bailé sin parar: en resumen una noche para sudar la camiseta y conocer los lindy hoppers del lugar.

Queda muy poco en pie del Harlem de la era del swing, por eso el Teatro Apollo en la calle 125 se merece una mención especial. Desaparecidos el Savoy y otros locales de entretenimiento, el Teatro Apollo es el único teatro que sigue funcionando, y con gran éxito, desde 1934. En ese año empezó a celebrarse el concurso Amateur Night en el Apollo, precursora de los Got Talent y Factor X de nuestros días, y gracias a la cual fue descubierta Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, o la bailarina Norma Miller, que también empezó su carrera ganando una competición de baile sobre este escenario con solo 14 años. La lista de estrellas que ha actuado en el Apollo es demasiado larga para detallarla, desde James Brown a Michael Jackson, como se refleja en el paseo de estrellas de la acera que confirma el lugar destacado de este teatro en la cultura americana.  Han cambiado muchas cosas, pero el Amateur Night sigue celebrándose cada miércoles (con un premio de 10,000 dólares al ganador de la temporada). Se anuncia como: “El máximo de diversión que puedes conseguir en Nueva York por menos de treinta dólares”, y doy fe de que cumple con su promesa en un espectáculo completo de humor y talento. A diferencia de otros concursos del estilo, el público no solo elige el número ganador con sus aplausos, sino que también tiene el poder de echar a los concursantes con sus abucheos: en ese momento suena una sirena y sale el famoso “verdugo” para echarlos del escenario con su escoba y un baile. En este espectáculo interactivo el público es tan protagonista como los concursantes, de los que hubo de todo tipo: cantantes, bailarines, raperos, poetas…y el público de Harlem no es fácil de contentar: si no le gusta lo hace saber inmediatamente y a voz en cuello. La noche que fui abuchearon a los tres primeros concursantes nada más abrir la boca, por lo que tengo que admirar el valor de los concursantes que salían a continuación. Sin duda lo más divertido de Harlem.

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Apollo Theatre

Mi última semana en Nueva York disfruté de una cena y concierto en Silvana’s Café, en la calle 116 en Harlem, gracias a mi amiga Loli Barbazán que ahora vive allí. Un local con menos historia pero con un ambiente muy multicultural y acogedor, de público mayoritariamente joven, combina el café con las actividades culturales, la buena comida y la música. Me sorprendieron muy gratamente los diferentes grupos que tocaron desde el jazz al hip hop y sobre todo me enamoraron los bailarines de claqué que salieron a hacer jam con los músicos. Un lugar para repetir.

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Jam at Silvana’s

No podía irme sin visitar el Paris Blues, el conocido bar de Harlem que estaba a la vuelta de la esquina de mi casa y además venía recomendado por la escritora Elvira Lindo, conocedora de la ciudad. Quise agotar las últimas horas empapándome de toda la música y todo el encanto del barrio que pudiese. El local lo lleva Samuel Hargress, Jr. con mucho orgullo desde 1968 y se mantiene fiel a su espíritu: allí se puede encontrar jazz y blues en directo todas las noches hasta las tres de la mañana por el precio de una birra. La banda de la casa toca en una jam a la que se van sumando diferentes músicos veteranos y jóvenes (un padre con su hijo adolescente por ejemplo). Es un local pequeño que invita a la cercanía y la conversación. Quedan pocos sitios así y merece la pena disfrutarlos, aunque sea para tomar la penúltima.

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Paris Blues, Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. Live music every night.

He leído hoy que: “Después de todo Nueva York es una ficción, un género literario que se adapta a cualquier estado de ánimo del viajero” (Manuel Vicent, El País, 19-08-2018), aunque en este caso la he vivido como una canción o un álbum que me ha acompañado en todos mis recorridos (y en Nueva York se hace mucho recorrido, en metro, a pie…). No me he cansado de los temas en ningún momento y espero volver pronto, aunque sepa que una ciudad como ésta no puede repetirse, con su ritmo y su improvisación constante sonará siempre diferente.

Quiero agradecer a la Fundación Frankie Manning el haberme dado la oportunidad de la estancia en Nueva York para realizar mi trabajo de investigación sobre la historia del Lindy hop (de eso hablaré en otro post).

Swinging Archives and Libraries

This article was originally published on the Frankie Manning Foundation blog on 28 August 2018.

In March 2018 I was lucky to spend a month in New York, in Harlem, researching the history of Lindy hop thanks to the support of the Frankie Manning Foundation. I had previously researched the history of swing via the internet, Amazon, second hand bookshops and the limited resources available on this topic at my local library in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), but this would be the first time I had the opportunity to research the origins of swing and Lindy hop at its birthplace. I have been working on translating Norma Miller’s book Swingin’ at the Savoy: the Memoir of a Jazz Dancer into Spanish for the last couple of years, and now I would be able to follow Norma’s footsteps about Harlem, not to mention everything else Manhattan has to offer. Needless to say I was excited.

I was interested in exploring the roots of Lindy hop in Harlem and gaining a fuller understanding of its local context and significance at the time, considering issues like race and gender, as well how the dance developed in relation to music and other forms of dance. I was especially curious to find out more about some members of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers who visited Europe in the 1930s and have received little attention. Underpinning my research were questions such as: what is the legacy of swing in Harlem? How can we contribute to recovering the memory of this African American dance as a mostly white swing dance community?

I did not think one of the most thrilling parts of my visit to New York would be visiting the libraries and archives. I had expected to enjoy the rush of Manhattan city life, and it did not disappoint, but the Lindy hop joys I found in libraries and archives were a surprise. This is a personal guide to the libraries and archives that I visited.

New York Public Library, 42nd Street (photo by author, March 2018).

The New York Public Library might just be the best library in the world. Having filled out a simple online form before my trip I was given a visitor library card, which grants full access to the NYPL’s digital and on-site collections for 3 months and the right to borrow up to 50 books (!) to any visitor to the city. If you are planning a longer stay in New York you could consider some “research tourism”. I spent most of my time at the New York Library for the Performing Arts (Lincoln Center) and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Malcolm X Blvd), but also visited the Microform room at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (42nd Street), the Institute for Jazz Studies (Newark) and other resources, including access to some fantastic private libraries.

Searching the catalogue

In advance of any visit to the NYPL I would recommend a search of its online catalogue (https://catalog.nypl.org/), starting with generic terms like “Lindy hop”, “Swing” or “Savoy” for example, to draw up an initial reading list and scope out the locations for different items. Once on-site I found the library staff were generally very helpful when it came to navigating searches for more obscure items like articles, papers or film material.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard (135th St and Malcolm X Blvd).

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (photo by author, March 2018).

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture houses a great collection of books, papers and photographs for the curious Lindy hopper. Located at the heart of Harlem on 135th St, directly opposite the school that Frankie Manning and Norma Miller attended, this library is of great significance for the neighborhood and African American culture. Arturo Schomburg was a Puerto Rican of African and German descent who moved to the United States and became a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance for researching and raising awareness about African American history. His collections were purchased by the NYPL in 1926 and form the basis of the library, which was named in his honor. There is even a film clip of Schomburg in the original library c. 1937  (thank you to Julia Loving for this information).

The Schomburg reading room, decorated with Aaron Douglas paintings, is an excellent place to start finding out more about swing era musicians, performers and Harlem venues. I enjoyed in particular Stuart Nicholson’s Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, Babylon Girls by Jayna Brown and Jazz: a History of the New York Scene by Samuel B. Charters. No booking is required to access this room and books are usually delivered within a few minutes of placing an order. Staff were very helpful and it was even possible to scan many items for free.

The Schomburg holds some beautiful original documents relating to the Savoy. You can for example view the Savoy 25th anniversary booklet The Savoy Story, produced in 1951 (before its closing in 1956). My standout item of the collection is the catalogue for Richard Yarde’s Savoy exhibition Savoy: an installation. This exhibition was on view at the Harlem Studio Museum from June to September 1983. It included live-size cut-out images of dancers and musicians recreating the Savoy Ballroom and its opening was an opportunity for many of the Savoy dancers to gather and a celebration of the Harlem community.

Savoy: an installation (Richard Yarde, 1983), image from the exhibition catalogue (Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture).

I was not as lucky in my hunt for Lindy hop references in The Manuscripts and Rare Documents Division this time (I examined Alberta Hunter’s and Sam Wooding’s papers), but it holds several other collections of interest for future visits. A word of warning: getting an appointment in this division can be difficult and requires booking a few weeks in advance.

The Photographs and Prints Division has “Dance” and “Harlem nightclubs” collections that are worth viewing for their unpublished images of social dance and venues (appointment also required, usually one day notice will be sufficient for this division).

As any time handling original documents and photographs, these must be treated with great care and certain limitations are in place (some archives will not allow pens or personal belongings in the room, for example).

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, Jerome Robbins Dance Division. 40 Lincoln Center Plaza (65th St and Columbus Ave).

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (photo by author, March 2018).

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has a fantastic collection of dance-related books, papers and films. In relation to the Lindy hop the star of the collection are Mura Dehn’s films and personal papers: it is one of only two places where you can watch the original five-hour The Spirit Moves documentary (the film is currently being digitized so viewing permission must be requested several days in advance).

Mura Dehn spent decades documenting and filming different forms of jazz dance and her legacy has provided us with unique footage of Savoy lindy hop dancers, both in the studio and dancing at the Savoy. Among her personal papers are several unpublished articles containing some interesting reflections on jazz dance and its history. These are available in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division Manuscripts section.

Unnamed dancers, image from the Mura Dehn collection at the NY Library for the Performing Arts.

“The source of Jazz is rhythm. Rhythm is what one has to learn. The movement is just a byproduct. A visual manifestation of each rhythm pattern which takes approximately the same form once the best solution is found.”
(“The ABC or The Fundamentals of Jazz Dance”, Mura Dehn papers, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts).

A much shorter documentary that is recommended viewing at the Library for the Performing Arts is The Call of the Jitterbug(Sorensen, Winding and Ross, 1988), a Danish film that includes interviews with Savoy dancers and musicians like Norma Miller, George Lloyd, Delilah Johnson, Bill Dillard, Dizzy Gillespie and Sugar Sullivan, among others. Some clips may be available on Youtube but the entire film is not easily found. America Dances! 1897-1948 (Carol Teten), also available at the library, provides a comprehensive compilation of different dance clips, starting with the Cake Walk and including the Lindy hop.

“Dancing was our high.”
(Sugar Sullivan in The Call of the Jitterbug, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts).

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Milstein Microform room.
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

This is the most famous NYPL building and I recommend visiting it even if it is only to admire its architecture or to access the internet on its public-use computers. The NYPL offers many digitized newspaper collections (including the Amsterdam News, a Harlem newspaper that is still in print), however, other newspapers such as The Daily News have not been digitized and must be viewed onsite at the Milstein Microform room.

The Daily News sponsored the first Harvest Moon Ball in 1935, which was a major launching pad for the Lindy hop and the Savoy dancers. In fact, the contest was so popular that the first edition on August 15, 1935 had to be cancelled and rescheduled to August 28 due to over 100,000 attendees overcrowding the park. Leon James and Edith Matthews were the Lindy hop division winners of this first edition and a very young Norma Miller (just fifteen) and Billy Hill were also among the finalists who later went on to tour Europe. I found many articles and photos in relation to the preliminary contests and the finals. The Daily News had several editions each day and it is laborious to work through them on microform, so it is highly advisable to know specific dates for searches. No appointment required for this division (only a NYPL library card).

Leon James and Edith Mathews, first prize winners in the Lindy Hop Harvest Moon Ball competition (Daily News, August 29, 1935).

NYPL Online resources
Among the many NYPL online resources I would highlight A People’s History of Harlem: A Harlem Neighborhood Oral History Project (http://oralhistory.nypl.org/neighborhoods/harlem). I have only started exploring this resource that deserves further attention, as it contains some accounts by residents who remember the swing era in Harlem and can provide some unusual insights into this fascinating neighborhood.

For those who are not in New York, the digital collections resources are also worth checking out https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/ .

Institute for Jazz Studies, Newark.

Rutgers University, 185 University Avenue, Newark, NJ 07102.
The heart of the Institute for Jazz Studies (IJS) is the Marshall Stearns collection. Author of the fundamental book Jazz Dance: the Story of American Vernacular Dance, he was the first to pay academic attention to this form of dance. The collection containing his research papers for this work gives an indication of the breadth and depth of his study (although with some notable gaps in relation to Lindy hop). I spent a very enjoyable day at the IJS exploring 10 boxes of papers (although there is a wealth of material) and seeing his notes on interviews with “Shorty” George Snowden, Leon James and Al Minns.

The absolute highlight for me was holding in my hands letters from Fred Astaire (where incidentally he clarifies that he does not see himself primarily as a tap dancer “I dance according to my own rules – in other words I just dance as it comes to me.”) and a beautifully handwritten letter by Fayard Nicholas, where he discusses his career with his brother (The Nicholas Brothers).

Letter from Fayard Nicholas (Marshall Stearns collection, IJS, Newark, photo by author).

I contacted the IJS in advance of my visit but there was no problem scheduling a visit for the next day and I found the staff to be extremely helpful.

Private collections

My guide to the libraries and archives I visited during my research stay in New York would not be complete without a special mention of the personal collections to which I was given access: Cynthia’s Millman’s and Lana Turner’s home libraries were a pleasure to explore and I am very grateful for their generosity and support in this endeavour.

Beyond the library…

When I was not at the library I made the most of my visit walking about Harlem (I recommend the Harlem Swing Dance Society tour), visiting exhibitions, listening to amazing live music, dancing and getting to know more about the local swing scene and dancers –too much to include in this single article.

Institute of Jazz Studies, Newark, photo by author.

The most worthwhile part of my trip was the people I met: other Lindy hop researchers and local New York swing dancers, teachers and artists. These conversations have been immensely interesting and valuable for my research and thinking about Lindy hop history. I want to thank Cynthia Millman especially for her support organizing my trip and during my stay, Buddy Steves and Rowena Young for an incredible Lindyfest experience in Houston, the Frankie Manning Foundation for making my trip possible, as well as the following people: Judy Pritchett, Barbara Jones, Margaret Batiuchok, LaTasha Barnes, Shana Weaver, Samuel Coleman, Robert P. Crease, Bobby White, Mike Thibault and Julia Loving, with a special thank you to Alice Pifer and Lana Turner.

 

Guest BloggerKaren Campos McCormackKaren Campos McCormack is a freelance translator and swing dance, music and history enthusiast. She is currently working on the Spanish translation of Norma Miller’s Swingin’ at the Savoy: the Memoir of a Jazz Dancer (Temple University Press). She is the founder of Compostela Swing and you can find more of her articles in English and Spanish on Atlantic Lindy Hopper.

Library links

New York Public Library https://www.nypl.org/
• Plan your research visit https://www.nypl.org/about/locations/using-the-library/plan-your-research-visit
• Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture https://www.nypl.org/about/locations/schomburg
• Jerome Robbins Dance Division, NYPL for the Performing Arts https://www.nypl.org/about/divisions/jerome-robbins-dance-division
• Stephen A. Schwarzman Building https://www.nypl.org/about/locations/schwarzman
• Digital collections https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/
Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University (Newark) https://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/jazz