Count Basie in Harlem

“Count Basie had the best swing band ever…It wasn’t that the other bands weren’t good, it’s just nobody was better at it than Count Basie.” (Norma Miller).

It’s been a while since I have written here…this has been a strange year. There has been little dancing and more study these months, so I will share some summer reading I am enjoying at the moment.

William “Count” Basie (1904-1984) was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, but moved to Harlem when he was about twenty and just starting his career.  Recently I have been reading Count Basie’s autobiography,  Good Morning Blues (co-written with Albert Murray), where he shares his first impressions of the neighbourhood. I was excited to find out the first place he went was the Alhambra –which was a theatre at the time, but later was converted into the famous Alhambra Ballroom, one of the few venues from that era still standing in Harlem. Only last year I attended at a very special event at the Alhambra Ballroom honouring Norma Miller and Frankie Manning’s 105th Birthday. I have walked many of these streets tracing the venues and locations while preparing Norma Miller’s Harlem map — Count Basie’s directions would have come in handy!

His first address was 2150 Seventh Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard), between 127th and 128th streets.

“When we arrived in New York at the end of that summer, Smitty met us at the station and took us uptown. Our first address was 2150 Seventh Avenue, which was in the block between 127th and 128th streets in Harlem. The apartment was on the third floor, and for a few days we didn’t go anywhere. Because we didn’t know where to go…It took us a few days to get our bearings, and the only place I remember going during that time was the Alhambra Theatre, which was only about a block away on the same side of Seventh Avenue, at the corner of 126th Steet. Other than that, the main thing I recollect is how Elmer Williams and I used to come downstairs and out onto the porch where the other tenants used to sit chatting from around dusk dark until late into the night. I remember sitting out there on the railing and on the steps looking at the people strolling along the sidewalk and the traffic moving up and down Seventh Avenue. ” (p 49).

The Alhambra Ballroom, on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard

alhambra ballroom

Basie mentions that the Alhambra Theatre was segregated at the time, something common in Harlem despite it becoming the black cultural capital of America (when the Savoy opened in 1926 it was the first integrated ballroom).

“That was the biggest stage show I had ever seen up to that time, and Elmer Williams and I enjoyed it in spite of the fact that the only way you could get in there was through a side entrance for coloured people on 126th Street, and the only section you could sit in was the balcony. I hadn’t expected to find anything like that in Harlem but that is the way it was, and the Alhambra Theatre was not the only segregated place along that part of Seventh Avenue in those days”.

In fact, 126th was on the southern edge of Harlem back then: “Everything stopped at 126th Street. You didn’t go much further down than that. When you came to 125th Street, it was like another part of town.” (p50).  Many of the venues on 125th Street were “lily-white”, including the Theresa Hotel, and Basie and his fellow musician Elmer Williams didn’t have much interest in anything further down from 125th Street or going sightseeing in Manhattan –their priority was where they were going to play music and meeting other musicians and people in show business.

After getting their bearings, they decided to explore Harlem, bringing them up to 140th Street.

“Then that next Sunday we decided to get out and go exploring in Harlem. So we checked our landmarks and started up Seventh Avenue. We passed the Lafayette Theater between 131st and 132nd streets and went on beyond 135th Street and came to the Renaissance Casino at the corner of 138th Street, which was kitty-corner across Seventh Avenue from a section of houses known as Strivers’ Row. As I looked around, I figured we must be getting into the main part of Harlem, and later on I found out that wasn’t very far off. ” (p 51).

They end up at a matinee in the Capitol Palace (140th Street and Lenox Avenue) where Basie sees the Washingtonians and Duke Ellington playing for the first time. What a significant musical coincidence! It is also when he hears the famous pianist Willie “the Lion” Smith. Another thing he notes about that matinee is the new dance step one of the dance acts was featuring: “It was called the Charleston and it was just catching on as a ballroom fad because it had made a big hit in a Broadway musical called Running Wild” (p52).

He stayed in Harlem playing in different venues and returning there between tours (he worked as a pianist with Katie Krippen on the Columbus Burlesque Circuit and later toured the TOBA circuit with Gonzelle White) for several years before settling in Kansas  in 1927, where his musical career really took off.  He would return to Harlem in 1936/37 with his own band, and play the Savoy Ballroom — an event that Frankie Manning and Norma Miller remember well.  But that is all another chapter.

“There was so much going on all around in Harlem during those days. I wish I could get myself together about more of it. But I’ll never be able to do justice to what it all meant to me…Maybe I wasn’t raising any hell, but I was there, and in my mind I was one of them. So when I would get a chance to go on those little out-of-town dates that came up every now and then, I was not from Red Bank anymore. I was from New York.” (p84).

Next time I am in Harlem – and it’s a place it is always worth returning to- I will be sure to visit Basie’s locations.

This is only the beginning of Count Basie’s adventure, if you would like to read more I recommend the book!

count basie cover

Good Morning Blues: the Autobiography of Count Basie (as told to Albert Murray).  Albert Murray and Count Basie Productions, 1985.


New York soundtrack


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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

Atlantic Lindy Hopper hops the Atlantic


Atlantic Lindy Hopper is going to New York in March 2018 thanks to the the support of the Frankie Manning Foundation.

I will be researching the origins of Lindy hop in Harlem: early press materials, the history of the dancers and the venues where they danced. The treasures of the NYPL await (this library even has its own film).

It’s not all going to be archives, there will also be an escapade to LindyFest in Houston, one of the major swing festivals in the US.

I hope to come back with lots of new stories for Atlantic Lindy Hopper, watch this space.

Atlantic Lindy Hopper salta el charco


Atlantic Lindy Hopper se va a Nueva York en marzo 2018 gracias a la ayuda de la Frankie Manning Foundation.

Estaré investigando los orígenes del Lindy hop en Harlem: las primeras menciones en prensa, la historia de los bailarines y los locales donde bailaban. Los tesoros de la NYPL me esperan (esta biblioteca incluso tiene su propia película).

No todo va a ser archivos, también habrá una escapada al LindyFest en Houston, una de los mayores festivales de Lindy de los EEUU.

Espero volver con muchas historias nuevas para Atlantic Lindy Hopper.



Harlem on Parade: Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs in Dublin

This post was originally published as a guest post on the Frankie Manning Foundation site (by Karen Campos McCormack).

This might not be a widely known fact among the Irish Lindy Hopping community, but Frankie Manning was in Dublin in 1937. He was performing with Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs, as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were billed on this European tour with the Cotton Club Revue. They landed in Dublin following a successful ten weeks run at the Moulin Rouge in Paris and six weeks at the London Palladium. In his memoir, Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop (see notes below), after describing their tour of Paris and London, Frankie mentions briefly that they also performed in Dublin and Manchester. I was intrigued by this single line, and decided to do some research last summer when I was in Ireland. I was amazed at what I discovered in just a few days at the library and trawling through online Irish newspaper archives. Since I first fell in love with Lindy Hop in Dublin, knowing that Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers actually danced here and walked the streets of Dublin is especially meaningful for me.

CWhyte’s Hopping Maniacs –presenting something new in dance creations–in “Harlem on Parade” which comes to the Theatre Royal, to-day.’ (The Irish Press, Monday 30 August 1937). From left to right: Naomi Waller, Frankie Manning, Lucille Middleton, Jerome Willliams, Mildred Cruse and Billy Williams.


Advert in The Irish Press, 31 August 1937 (Source: Irish News Archive).


The Cotton Club Revue was billed as ‘Harlem on Parade’ in its visit to Dublin. It opened at the Theatre Royal on Monday 30 August 1937 and ran that week, closing on Saturday 4 September.

 ‘Everyone should go and see the Cotton Club Revue’

The Cotton Club Revue set sail from New York on 25 May 1937 and showcased the best African American musical and dance talent. It was spectacular in all senses, with a travelling cast of sixty artists including the Teddy Hill Orchestra, the Three Berry Brothers dance act, singers Rollin’ Smith and Alberta Hunter, Harlem dancers Freddy and Ginger, tap dancer Bill Bailey, Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs, the Tramp Band (a novel musical act), and a chorus line of ‘25 copper coloured gals’, as they were advertised. The Revue performed in full in Paris and London, but the chorus line was dropped for their shows in Dublin and Manchester. For the European tour Teddy Hill was replacing the Cab Calloway band from the original New York show, and similarly, Bill Bailey replaced tap star Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. Frankie said about Teddy Hill’s orchestra, which at the time included a young Dizzie Gillespie, ‘I always loved dancing to that band. They knew how to improvise on the spot.’ (Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop, p135). The Cotton Club was the epitome of show business, and performing there was a turning point in his career.

The show gathered enthusiastic reviews in its European tour. Playing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris it attracted Django Rheinhardt and Hugues Panassié, the famous French jazz critic, (the former went to see them perform every night according to Frankie, and Panassié went to see them fifteen or twenty times). For Panassié, ‘The biggest event of the 1937 season in Paris was the arrival of the Cotton Club Revue’, and ‘Everyone should go to see the Cotton Club Revue.’ (Quotes from Paris Blues, p77).

London Palladium Cotton Club Revue programme, 1937 (Source Flashbak)

It was advertised in British papers as ‘The fastest entertainment in the world and given by Harlem’s foremost entertainers.’

Swing comes to town

It was late August 1937 when Harlem on Parade came to Dublin. These were dark times in European history, the Irish newspapers are full of news about the Spanish Civil War (refugees fleeing from Franco’s troupes in Santander) and thousands gathering at the Nazi Annual Congress in Nuremberg, on the same pages that Harlem on Parade is advertised. In the face of the Depression and increasing world conflict, Harlem was spreading its message of swing and joy across Europe, a ‘riot of music, dancing, song and rollicking fun’, as described by the Irish paper the Saturday Herald (28 August).

Down with Jazz

Ireland might not have seemed like the most swingin’ location. Just a few years earlier, leading religious figures and politicians, including President Eamon De Valera, had supported a ‘Down with Jazz’ campaign (1934). Jazz music, and dancing in particular, were seen as a pagan threat to Catholic morality and Ireland’s newly independent national identity, claiming that jazz dancing was ‘suggestive and demoralizing’, ‘a menace to their very civilization as well as religion’. To give foreign readers an idea of the sway of the Catholic Church at the time, just about a quarter of Ireland’s population (i.e. one million people) had gathered at the 1932 Eucharistic Congress High Mass in Phoenix Park (Dublin). Despite this campaign and the severe restrictions of the 1935 Dance Hall Act, jazz music and dancing were hugely popular—Swing music was the music of the moment worldwide, and American film and music were pervasive, as much in Ireland as in Franco’s Spain and even Germany. Dubliners who wished to evade the dark news coming from Europe had no end of jazzy entertainment options from cinemas to theatres or dances.

Harlem on Parade at the Theatre Royal

Image of the Theatre Royal from its opening programme in 1935 (source

Harlem on Parade opened on Monday 30 August 1937 in Dublin’s top venue, the (third) Theatre Royal, located on Hawkins Street. An ambitious modernist entertainment venue opened in 1935, it was the largest theatre in Ireland, and one of the largest in Europe, with seating for 3,850 people. It included the luxury Regal Rooms (dining room and ballroom) and a cinema. Harlem on Parade was at the Theatre Royal in a cine-variety format, including local artists and two short films; the Theatre Royal had been especially designed for this type of entertainment, which was very popular before the advent of TV. Unfortunately, nothing remains on its former site to give us an idea of the splendour of the Theatre Royal, as it was demolished in 1962 (and replaced by probably the ugliest government buildings in Dublin).  The only surviving element is the grand marble staircase from the Theatre Royal’s Regal Rooms, now located in the Marks and Spencer’s store on Grafton Street, which is open to the public if you wish to literally follow in Frankie’s steps.

Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs

Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs were Whitey’s top group and comprised three teams on the European tour: Naomi Waller and Frankie Manning, Lucille Middleton and Jerome Williams, Mildred Cruse and Billy Williams. They had started performing at the Cotton Club in 1936. Whitey had several dance groups going at that time under different names, such as the group dancing in the Marx Brothers movie. Frankie suggested the name of Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs because they were crazy, but over the years all the groups came to be referred to under the umbrella of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers (Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop, p125).

Harlem Celebrations in Dublin

The entirely African American cast of Harlem on Parade would have attracted quite some attention in Dublin, which was not as racially diverse then as nowadays. Although Irish audiences would have been familiar with African American performers from films and touring shows. I was excited to find several photographs of the cast around Dublin, including some of Frankie and other members of Whitey’s Hopping Maniacs, published in the Irish newspapers.

The big news story that week (aside from the Spanish civil war and the Nazi congress) was the heavyweight world championship fight between Joe Louis and Welshman Farr (the ‘white hope’ to regain the championship from ‘negro’ Joe Louis, Evening Herald 31 August) which was taking place in New York. The fight was given full-page round-by-round coverage, and there are two related photos of the Harlem on Parade cast, one of them reading the latest news scoop, and another celebrating Joe Louis’ victory. As Norma Miller explains in her memoirs, Joe Louis was an important hero for the African American community (Swingin’ at the Savoy). The Evening Herald photo of the Harlem cast celebrations (31 August), provides us with the first identifiable image of Frankie in Dublin.

‘Members of the “Harlem on Parade” cast are appearing at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, this week, reading The Irish Presss “scoop” poster -Louis To Cover Fight for Us.’ (The Irish Press, 31 August 1937. Source: Irish News Archive). Unidentified cast members.
‘Harlem celebrations in Dublin: Enthusiastic members fo the “Harlem on Parade” cast who are appearing at the Theatre Royal, rejoice at the result of the big fight. Picture taken early this morning.’ (Evening Herald, Tuesday 31 August 1937). (Source: Irish News Archive). Frankie Manning, easily recognizable sitting centre-left looking at the camera, with Dizzy Gillespie just in front of him waving his hat, and other unidentified cast members, possibly including, left to right, Naomi, Mildred and Lucille, to be confirmed.

The hottest thing in town

There is also a photo of the Harlem on Parade cast looking at the Gas Company Building window display. Cynthia Millman helped me identify this photo where we can see Lucille Middleton and Naomi Waller (possibly even Frankie and Billy, but this is more uncertain due to the grainy image). This is an image of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers walking Dublin’s streets in a recognizable location. The Gas Company on D’Olier Street, now the Trinity College Dublin School of Midwifery, is one of the few well preserved examples of Art Deco in Dublin, and is open to the public. The association between the Gas Company and the Harlem on Parade show seems to have gone even further, judging by the Gas Company advert that ran in the Evening Herald; also note the interesting jazz-inspired window display.

‘Members of the “Harlem on Parade” company are interested in the Gas Company’s novel window display.’ (Saturday Herald, 4 September 1937), (source: Irish News Archive). Female figures left to right: Lucille Middleton and Naomi Waller, closest to the window. Male figures possibly include Frankie Manning, Billy Williams and Jerome, but the image is insufficiently clear to confirm.
Gas Company advert, (Evening Herald, 30 August 1937). (Source: Irish News Archive).

A Day at the Races

Harlem on Parade provided Dublin audiences with the first opportunity to see the Lindy Hop live but, interestingly, they might have already seen Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers on screen, only shortly after American audiences. The Marx Brothers’ film A Day at the Races, which featured a dance scene with a different Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers group, was released in June 1937 in the US and had a pre-London release in early August in Dublin at the Savoy Cinema (still Dublin’s foremost cinema today). The Harlem on Parade show arrived hot on its heels, and it is fun to imagine that it might even have been possible for Frankie to have seen the first Hollywood Lindy Hop performance while in Dublin, although there is no evidence to back this. A Day at the Races continued to tour Irish cinemas well into 1938.

A Day at the Races advert (Evening Herald, 7 August 1937), (source: Irish News Archive).

From Dublin the Cotton Club Revue went on to Manchester before returning to the US in September 1937.

In the press:

The Evening Herald:

 “Harlem on Parade”, the show which comes to the Theatre Royal on August 30, has been acclaimed as the greatest cavalcade of coloured artists in the world. Following a sensational ten weeks’ appearance at the French capital, they were engaged for six weeks at the London Palladium, where they broke all box-office records.’’ (Evening Herald, 26 August 1937).

The Irish Independent:

Royal’s Outstanding Show: At the top of the bill is “Harlem on Parade”…This feature is well worth seeing. The fine singing of Rollin’ Smith in “Ole Man River”, and “Poor Old Joe,” and the dancing of Bill Bailey, are notable in the performance. Several new dances are presented. There is the “Lindy Hop” by Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs. Then there is the music of Teddy Hill and his orchestra from New York. (Irish Independent, 31 August 1937).

The Manchester Guardian:

Then the first crisp trumpet notes of the Teddy Hill’s band are heard through the curtain. Immediately the whole atmosphere changes, and the Cotton Club artists from New York set out show this benighted continent what hot jazz really is…Whyte’s Hopping Maniacs abandon themselves whole-heartedly to the primitive ebullience of the Lindy Hop. (Manchester Guardian, September 7 1937. Source: Proquest Historical Newspapers, the Guardian and the Observer).

Hugues Panassié (French jazz critic):

Whitey’s Hopper Maniacs are three couples who specialise in a dance called the lindy hop (the name comes from the Lindbergh hop), a dance which has been raging for some time in America. The six dancers are remarkable, in particular Naomi Waller and Lucille Middleton. It is difficult to give readers who have never seen the lindy hop an idea of what it looks like. It is the most dynamic dance in the world. The dancers throw their partners up in the air, jump in front of each other and perform the most unpredictable gags.  (Hugues Panassié, as quoted in This Thing Called Swing, p220).

Celebrating Frankie in Dublin

This research is an on-going project, and I welcome any further information other readers can add about Whitey’s Hopping Maniacs’ visit to Dublin or help identifying the members of the cast in the photos. I would like to thank Cynthia Millman in particular and the Frankie Manning Foundation for their encouragement and support. I would also like to thank the staff of Trinity College Library.

I am interested in commemorating Frankie’s visit and the Harlem on Parade show in Dublin next year, as 2017 would be the 80th anniversary. If you would like to get involved please contact me.

Karen 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.



Batchelor, Christian, This Thing Called Swing: Study of Swing Music and the Lindy Hop, the Original Swing Dance. Original Lindy Hop Collection, 1997.

Brennan, Cathal, ‘The Anti-Jazz Campaign’, Irish History Online, 1 July 2011.

Devitt, David, ‘The Theatre Royal – A Palace of Cine-Variety’, History of Ireland, Vol. 21, No. 2 (March/April 2013).

Flashbak, ‘The Cotton Club Revue Visit London in 1937’,

Fry, Andy, Paris Blues: African American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960. University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Irish News Archive,

Kerins, Des, ‘The Story of a Staircase’,,

Lloyd, Mathew, ‘The Theatre Royal, Hawkins Street, Dublin’,,

Manning, Frankie & Millman, Cynthia R., Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

Miller, Norma & Jensen, Evette, Swingin’ at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.


Evening Herald, 7 August, 30 & 31 August 1937 (Irish news archive).

Manchester Guardian, 7 September 1937 (Proquest Historical Newspapers)

The Irish Independent, 31 August 1937 (Irish news archive).

The Irish Press, 30 & 31 August 1937 (Irish news archive).

Saturday Herald, 28 August and 4 September 1937 (Irish news archive).


La Llamada de Harlem

Juke Box Love Song (Langston Hughes)

Podría tomar la noche de Harlem
y arroparte con ella,
Tomar las luces de neón y hacer una corona,
Tomar los buses de la Avenida Lenox
Taxis, metros,
Y por tu canción de amor acallar su ruido.
Tomar el latido de Harlem,
Hacer un redoble de tambor,
Ponerlo en un disco, dejar que gire,
Y mientras lo escuchamos tocar,
Bailar contigo hasta el amanecer–
Bailar contigo, mi dulce morena de Harlem.

(Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, p227. Traducción de la autora).

Incluso Billie Holiday a los 13 años ya sabía que tenía que ir a Harlem. ¿Por qué quería ir todo el mundo a Harlem? Este barrio de Nueva York ejercía una poderosa atracción sobre los afroamericanos de todo tipo de origen en las primeras décadas del siglo XX. En los años 20 Harlem se convirtió en el hogar del movimiento del nuevo negro (New Negro Movement) en los EEUU, el primer movimiento por los derechos civiles encabezado por organizaciones como la NAACP (Asociación Nacional para el Progreso de las Personas de Color, según sus siglas en inglés) o la National Urban League; y en punto de encuentro para la cultura negra –en política, literatura, arte y música; un fenómeno que también se conoce como el Renacimiento de Harlem (oficialmente inaugurado en 1925). Originalmente un asentamiento holandés del siglo XVII, Harlem había experimentado varios influjos migratorios, pero en las primeras décadas del siglo XX se convirtió en el principal destino para la Gran Migración de afroamericanos que huían de la opresión y de las leyes segregadas (leyes de Jim Crow) del Sur en busca de mejores oportunidades en el Norte (Chicago sería otro destino importante).


Ningún sitio logró captar el espíritu de su tiempo como Harlem. Atraía a los intelectuales y artistas negros (los “nigeratti” según el término inventado por Zora Neale Hurston) — escritores como Langston Hughes (o la misma Neale Hurston), artistas como Aaron Douglas, músicos como Duke Ellington….pero también atraía a los afroamericanos de a pie que luchaban por la supervivencia y el respeto. Aquí he reunido algunas impresiones de Harlem.

Elmer-Simms-Campbell.-A-Night-Club-Map-of-Harlem.-1932Elmer Simms Campbell. Un mapa de locales nocturnos de Harlem, 1932.

Durante los años 20 y 30 Harlem encarnó el nuevo espíritu de la Era del Jazz y del Swing, con una influencia que llegaba más allá de la comunidad afroamericana, Nueva York o los EEUU. Aquí tocaban los mejores músicos y aquí nació el swing. Era el sitio de moda para salir por la noche, y no había escasez de locales, como vemos en esta imagen de 1932: el Cotton Club, el Teatro Apollo, el Savoy, Small´s Paradise e incontables clubes, salones de baile, teatros y bares clandestinos atraían a los juerguistas (blancos) del centro de Nueva York – incluyendo a muchas estrellas de Hollywood y Broadway como Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable o Tallulah Bankhead. Harlem ofrecía la mejor oportunidad para saborear la libertad de la Era del Jazz.

Romare Bearden (artista) visitaba el Savoy Ballroom a menudo en los años 30:

“Los mejores bailes del mundo ocurrían aquí, y la mejor música…Querrías estar en Harlem o en París entonces.  Eran los dos sitios donde estaban pasando cosas’

(Malone, Jazz Music in Motion).

IntroductionForaBluesQueen(UptownatSavoy)fromJazzSeries1979,R BeardenIntroduction for a blues queen (Uptown at Savoy), Jazz Series, 1979. Romare Bearden

Norma Miller (“Reina del Swing”) en una entrevista reciente para la BBC:

“Harlem era el paradigma de un pueblo que había descubierto una cierta libertad, así que cualquiera que pudiera andar, correr, bailar…venía a Harlem. Era el único lugar donde una persona negra podía sentir que tenía libertad”.

(Norma Miller, Entrevista de la BBC, febrero 2014)

Duke Ellington

Take the ‘A’ Train (vídeo)

Duke Ellington orchestra

Esta canción fue escrita en 1939 por Billy Strayhorn y Duke Ellington en referencia a la línea de metro de Nueva York que une Brooklyn con Harlem y se convirtió en la canción insignia de la banda de Duke Ellington. Aquí la tocan el Duque y su banda en una versión de 1943 para la película Reveille with Beverly.

“Harlem, para nosotros, tenía de verdad la atmósfera más glamurosa del mundo. Teníamos que ir allí.”

(Ellington, Music is My Mistress, p36)

Llegar a Harlem

La madre de Norma Miller, Zalama Barker, tenía sólo 15 años cuando emigró desde Barbados hasta Nueva York, entonces una travesía de dos semanas por mar:

“Iba camino de Nueva York – esa ciudad magnífica de la que tanto había oído hablar iba a ser su hogar. Estaba especialmente emocionada con ver el sitio del que más había oído hablar, donde iba toda la gente de color – Harlem.’

(Miller, Swingin’ at the Savoy p.5)

Billie Holiday describe su llegada en su autobiografía Lady Sings the Blues:

El abuelo me dejó en el tren con un billete a Long Branch, donde Mamá me estaría esperando. Pero en cuanto subí al tren decidí que Long Branch me importaba un comino y que de alguna manera llegaría a Harlem. Me arranqué la etiqueta y resolví apearme del tren en Nueva York y luego coger el metro a Harlem; lo pasaría bomba y luego me pondría en contacto con mi madre. 

Sólo tenía 13 años pero estaba muy espabilada para la edad. Viajaba ligera de equipaje – salvo la cesta con pollo [de la abuela] – pero viajaba.  

(Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues).

Billie Holiday experimentó la cara oscura de Harlem antes de convertirse en una estrella, pasando algún tiempo en un refugio para niños y en prisión.


Ralph Ellison (escritor). Describe las impresiones del protagonista de su novela Invisible Man cuando llega por primera vez a Harlem, proviniente del Sur:

“Nunca había visto tanta gente negra sobre un fondo de edificios de ladrillo, luces de neón, cristaleras y tráfico estruendoso – ni siquiera en los viajes que había hecho con el club de debates a Nueva Orleans, Dallas o Birmingham. Estaban en todas partes. Tantos y moviéndose con tanta tensión y ruido que no sabía a ciencia cierta si estaban a punto de celebrar una fiesta o de meterse en una pelea. Incluso vi chicas negras sirviendo los mostradores del Five and Ten al pasar.  Entonces en el cruce me quedé de piedra al ver un policía negro dirigiendo el tráfico  -–y había conductores blancos entre el tráfico que le hacían caso como si fuera lo más natural del mundo. Sí, claro que había oído hablar de esto, pero esto era real. Me dio coraje. Esto realmente era Harlem…el veterano tenía razón: para mí esto no era una ciudad de realidades sino de sueños, quizá porque siempre me había imaginado mi vida dentro de los confines del Sur.

(Ellison, Invisible Man, p159).

cropped-harlem-street.jpgCalle de Harlem

Hubo muchos más que siguieron este viaje a Harlem:  Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker (aunque a Baker no le impresionó tanto y pronto se fue a París) y un largo etcétera.

Harlem, Meca del Nuevo Negro

Harlem estaba en pleno apogeo –pero no todo era swing. El movimiento del nuevo negro (New Negro Movement) lo lideraron figuras como W.E.B DuBois, líder de la NAACP o el filósofo Alain Locke. Creían que una nueva literatura y un nuevo arte negro eran fundamentales para que los afroamericanos consiguieran igualdad de estatus y derechos.

Harlem Mecca of the New Negro – Survey Graphic (March 1925), Ed. Alain Locke


Portada de  ‘Harlem Mecca of the New Negro’, Survey Graphic, marzo 1925.

Alain Locke en su ensayo “Harlem” de 1925:

‘Sin pretender su significado político, Harlem tenía que jugar el mismo papel para el Nuevo Negro que Dublín había jugado para la nueva Irlanda o Praga para la nueva Checoslovaquia.’

(Locke en Levering Lewis, When Harlem was in Vogue).

¿Era Harlem un suburbio desfavorecido?  Harlem, que ya se había convertido en un barrio mayoritariamente negro en los años 20, ofrecía oportunidades y posibilidades para los americanos negros que no existían en otras zonas de los EEUU, sin embargo, la pobreza era un problema extendido, como se desprende de los testimonios de aquella época.

David Levering Lewis:

“Las estadísticas de Harlem eran terribles…Lo que ocultaban las estadísticas era el ambiente al norte de Central Park. A pesar de sus contradicciones….la única certeza que compartían casi todos los que vivían allí era que Harlem no era ningún suburbio deprimido. Gueto, quizás. Suburbio, nunca.[…] Quizá el trabajo y el dinero escaseaban, y los blancos poseían más del 80 por ciento de la riqueza de la comunidad, pero la gente corriente de Harlem –no sólo los abanderados de los derechos civiles o los talentos exultantes de provincias, rezumaban una confianza orgullosa que una vez perdida no se volvería a repetir.”

(Levering Lewis, When Harlem was in Vogue p109).


El mayor legado de Harlem seguramente sigue siendo la música (y el baile):

Ella Fitzgerald canta Drop me Off in Harlem, de Duke Ellington

Y ¿Quién no querría ir a Harlem si pudiera?

Banda sonora

Take the ‘A’ Train (Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, 1939)

Drop me Off in Harlem (Duke Ellington, 1933)


Ellington, Duke, Music is my Mistress. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973.

Ellison, Ralph Invisible Man. New York: Penguin, 2014.

Holiday, Billie, Lady Sings the Blues (traducción Iris Menéndez). Barcelona: Tuesquets Editores, 1990.

Langston, Hughes, Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Vintage Books, Random House Inc., 1959.

Levering Lewis, David, When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Penguin, 1979.

Malone, Jaqui, ‘Jazz Music in Motion’, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Chapter 18. Ed. Robert G. O’Meally. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Miller, Norma, Swingin’ at the Savoy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Miller, Norma, BBC interview, Feb2014


El Savoy, donde empezó todo


Me he preguntado cómo empezar este blog, pero en realidad la respuesta es simple: debo comenzar con el Savoy en Harlem — donde la música y el baile Swing nacieron, prosperaron y se hicieron mundialmente famosos.  Y el rey entre los bailes swing de la época era el Lindy Hop (también conocido como jitterbug).   El Lindy Hop, el swing y todo lo vintage vuelven a estar de moda – y es importante recordar sus raíces.  Subir la escalinata de mármol y espejos del Savoy, y entrar así en el mejor salón de baile del mundo es un buen sitio para empezar…

Una multitud se reúne delante del Savoy Ballroom, un importante foco cultural y local emblemático del barrio de Harlem (Photograph © Bettmann/Corbis.
Una multitud se reúne delante del Savoy Ballroom, un importante foco cultural y local emblemático del barrio de Harlem (Photograph © Bettmann/Corbis.

El Savoy era más que un salón de baile – era el corazón palpitante de Harlem. Aquí es dónde los mejores músicos y bailarines se juntaron para crear el swing.  Era el mayor y más elegante salón de baile en Harlem.  Para empezar estaba a otra escala en comparación a las otras salas, ocupando una manzana entera desde la calle 140 a la 141, unos 250 por 50 pies (1161m2) — podía dar cabida a miles de personas sobre la pista de baile: más de 5000 personas asistieron a su apertura la noche del 12 de marzo 1926 con la banda de Fletcher Henderson.

Así es cómo Frankie Manning, la gran leyenda del Lindy Hop, describió su primera visita al Savoy cuando tenía unos 19 años:

“Mientras subía los escalones que llevaban al salón de baile podía escuchar la música swing que se colaba por la escalera, y empezó a calar en mi cuerpo…llegué al último escalón, atravesé la doble puerta, y me paré por un momento de espaldas al escenario, asimilándolo todo. Cuando me di la vuelta y miré la sala de frente…bueno, simplemente me quedé parado con la boca abierta. Toda la pista estaba llena de gente y ¡estaban bailando! ¡La banda estaba aporreando! ¡Los tíos ahí subidos estaban aullando! La música era una pasada. Todo el mundo estaba moviéndose y meneándose…Empezamos a decir “Esto es el paraíso del baile”. Hasta parecía que el suelo se estaba animando porque también botaba arriba y abajo.”

Harlem se había convertido en un lugar de moda para la sociedad blanca del centro neoyorquino durante los años 20.  Harlem, un barrio de Nueva York mayoritariamente negro, experimentó un gran influjo de migrantes negros provenientes del Sur en las primeras décadas del siglo XX, cuando miles de personas huían de la terrible opresión del Sur en busca de nuevas oportunidades. Harlem ofrecía una promesa de libertad y orgullo, y se convirtió en un punto de encuentro para la creatividad y la cultura negras – en la música, el arte, la literatura y la política, durante un período conocido como el Renacimiento de Harlem (Harlem Renaissance).  A pesar de que era conocido como el barrio “Negro”, la segregación racial era aparente (como era el caso en diferente grado en todo Estados Unidos en aquella época) y la mayoría de los famosos clubes nocturnos eran exclusivamente para clientela blanca: el Cotton Club, el Apollo (que aún sigue en pie) etc. presentaban actuaciones con artistas negros, pero las personas negras no podían acceder como público por la entrada principal o mezclarse con la clientela blanca.   La segregación y la discriminación eran problemas aún mayores fuera de Nueva York – cuando el grupo de Lindy Hoppers de Whitey o las bandas de músicos iban de gira era a menudo difícil encontrar locales que les sirvieran comida o les ofrecieran alojamiento. Billie Holidy describe incontables incidentes en sus memorias, incluyendo la dificultad para encontrar lavabos que le permitieran utilizar, un pequeño ejemplo de los enormes retos a los que se enfrentaban.

El Savoy era único por ser un local no segregado – clientes negros y blancos podían asistir, sentarse, comer, beber y bailar juntos – “por primera vez en la historia se estaba cuestionando el status quo” comenta Norma Miller.  Frankie Manning ha dicho que no importaba si eras negro o blanco, verde, amarillo o lo que sea, sólo importaba si sabías bailar.   Creo que este espíritu inclusivo se refleja en el Lindy Hop y es un elemento clave de este baile alegre, de su legado y de cómo lo disfrutamos hoy en día.

El Savoy era el salón de baile más elegante de Harlem y superaba a todas las mejores salas de baile de América.  Era deslumbrante, en las palabras de Norma Miller “el salón de baile estaba decorado en dorado y azul con focos de colores. En los laterales se alineaban los reservados para tomar algo de comer o beber. La zona de baile…ocupaba el largo de una manzana, la pista en sí era un piso de madera hecho de muchas capas, como caoba y arce…lo reponían cada tres años, desgastado por el machaque constante [de los bailarines]”.

La música…y el baile

Chick Webb vs Count Basie, with Billie Holiday, Savoy

La música nunca paraba en el Savoy, había dos escenarios para las bandas, y uno de ellos siempre estaba tocando. Norma Miller recuerda escuchar la música desde la escalera de incendios de su edificio, y más tarde empezaría a bailar en la acera delante del Savoy.  Chick Webb era el líder habitual de la banda de la casa, y la suya era la banda favorita de los Lindy Hoppers.  A lo largo de los años siguientes más de 200 bandas de swing tocaron en el Savoy — había batallas de bandas legendarias entre bandas invitadas como la de Cab Calloway, Count Basie o Benny Goodman (que sólo tocó una vez en el Savoy pero visitaba a menudo) y la banda de Chick.  Para las batallas de bandas más famosas la cola daba la vuelta a varias manzanas — y eran los bailarines los que decidían el éxito de una banda.  El Savoy también fue clave en lanzar las carreras de varias cantantes famosas como Ella Fitzgerald, que fue elegida por Chick para cantar para su banda, y que continuó al frente de la banda después de la muerte de Chick en 1939. Chick Webb grabó Stompin’ at the Savoy en 1934. Aqui está Ella Fitzgerald con la orquesta de Chick Webb tocando St Louis Blues en el Savoy en algún momento de 1939.

En aquellos tiempos las bandas tocaban para los bailarines, y si querían quedarse tenían que mantener la pista llena, según Frankie Manning.  Jacqui Malone ha escrito un artículo muy interesante en Jazz Music in Motion:  Dancers and Big Bands donde defiende que hay que recuperar conciencia de la estrecha relación entre el baile y el desarrollo de la música jazz y swing “Noche tras noche, los bailarines y músicos del Savoy se incitaban unos a otros a llegar más alto, más profundo – siempre con una actitud de elegancia.” Duke Ellington comentaba “Empiezas a tocar y los bailarines empiezan a bailar ¡y tienen un ritmo tan fantástico que sólo tienes que agarrarte!”.

De esta estrecha colaboración con Chick Webb y otras swing bands nació el Lindy Hop. El Lindy Hop es un baile gozoso con mucha improvisación y un ritmo sincopado de 8 compases. Para todos los lindy hoppers que me leéis no necesito aportar más explicación. Evolucionó a partir de otros bailes de la época como el Charleston con el breakaway (paso separado), que permite mayor improvisación, e introdujo el swing-out, su paso estrella. Herbert White, el jefe de sala del Savoy, reunió a los bailarines de Lindy Hop con más talento para formar los Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers y otros grupos de baile.  El Lindy Hop se popularizó por toda América y el extranjero gracias en gran parte a Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers –que estuvieron de gira por Europa, Australia y Brasil, además de aparecer en varias películas y de figurar en la Expo de Nueva York de 1939.

Frankie Manning, una leyenda en la comunidad swing del que hablaremos con más detalle en otro post, fue uno de los bailarines de Whitey; fue un innovador y un coreógrafo clave que influyó en el estilo característico del baile, casi horizontal, y al crear con su pareja de baile de entonces los primeros pasos acrobáticos aéreos (conocidos como airsteps). Es también la inspiración que ha conducido el redescubrimiento del Lindy Hop en todo el mundo desde los años 90, y la inspiración tras el espíritu inclusivo de la comunidad swing.  El Lindy Hop no era el único baile que se bailaba en el Savoy, y otros bailes populares incluían el Shag, el Fox Trot, el Peabody, el Black Bottom, la Big Apple, el Shim Sham etc. pero tal vez sea el baile con el impacto más duradero, tal y como es sentido a diario por miles de Lindy Hoppers modernos en todo el mundo.

Aqui hay uno de los pocos clips de baile social en el Savoy.

…y más

El Savoy era más que un salón de baile, también cumplía la función de centro cívico de la comunidad negra en Harlem: aquí había a menudo eventos de gala de la comunidad los miércoles y los viernes, el ´Club de los 400´ y otras asociaciones de Harlem se reunían aquí y Adam Clayton Powell era cliente habitual. Tras los disturbios de 1935 se pensó que el Savoy era demasiado importante como para permanecer cerrado y se crearon las competiciones de baile del Harvest Moon Ball en un intento de remontar la moral dañada de la comunidad negra.   A pesar de ser un barrio mayoritariamente negro, la patria del Nuevo Negro y el Harlem Renaissance, Harlem era en su mayoría propiedad de gente blanca y muchos negocios no contrataban personal negro, contribuyendo a los disturbios que tuvieron lugar durante la Depresión. Es en este contexto que se hace más evidente el valor del Savoy como un local que empleaba y acogía a un personal y una clientela diversa – incluyendo desde los chavales del barrio a estrellas de Hollywood.

El Savoy abrió sus puertas en 1926 y cerró en 1958. Apenas hay ninguna gran banda de jazz que no tenga asociación con el Savoy, incluyendo bandas negras y blancas. Para bailarines de Lindy Hop como Frankie Manning, Norma Miller y muchos más se convirtió en un segundo hogar, “el hogar de los pies felices” (home of happy feet) como era conocido.  Ayudó a crear y popularizar la música más americana por excelencia, el swing, y un baile verdaderamente americano, el Lindy Hop. El Savoy era visita obligada en Harlem — y Harlem era donde tenías que estar en los años 20 y 30. Según Romare Bearden (artista) “Allí era donde mejor se bailaba en el mundo, y donde estaba la mejor música…Querrías estar en Harlem o Paris. Estos eran los dos lugares donde estaban ocurriendo cosas.”

¿y qué sería un post sobre el Savoy sin música? Aquí va una pequeña selección:

El Savoy abrió en 1926 y cerró permanentemente en 1958. Fue demolido para construir una promoción de viviendas. Frankie Manning y Norma Miller inauguraron una placa conmemorativa el 26 de mayo 2002, el día del 88 cumpleaños de Frankie.

Leer más

Hay mucho material sobre el Savoy. Yo recomendaría empezar por las biografías de Frankie Manning y Norma Miller para una visión personal de cómo era el Savoy. Hay algunos materiales documentales disponibles en youtube (por ejemplo El Savoy). Estas son algunas de las fuentes que utilicé, no es ni mucho una lista completa de todo lo que está disponible.

Burns, Ken, Jazz (serie de televisión y DVD, disponible en español e inglés)(PBS, 2000)

Malone, Jaqui, ‘Jazz Music in Motion’, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Chapter 18. Ed. Robert G. O’Meally. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Manning, Frankie & Millman, Cynthia, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

Miller, Norma, Swingin’ at the Savoy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Seisdedos, Iker, Cuando Harlem era una fiesta. El País, 5 Febrero 2015.

Stearns, Marshall & Jean, Jazz Dance: the Story of American Vernacular Dance, New York: Macmillan, 1968.

The Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (Times Mirror Books, New York: 1987).

The Savoy Plaque

The Savoy King (Documental), . Extracto del documental, The Savoy ballroom

Citas de

Malone, Jaqui, Jazz Music in Motion, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture Chapter 18.

Manning, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop.

Miller, Swingin’ at the Savoy.

The Savoy, where it all began


I have wondered how to start this blog, but really the answer is simple: I must start at the Savoy in Harlem – where Swing music and dance was born, thrived and became world famous. And king amongst the swing dances of the age was the Lindy Hop (also known as jitterbug). Lindy Hop, swing and all things vintage are back in vogue again – and it is important to remember its origins. Stepping up the Savoy’s marble and mirror staircase into the finest ballroom in the world is a good place to start…

Savoy, Harlem 1952
A crowd gathered outside the Savoy Ballroom, a major cultural hub and landmark for the Harlem neighborhood.(Photograph © Bettmann/Corbis.

The Savoy was more than a ballroom – it was the beating heart of Harlem. Here is where the best musicians and dancers came together to create swing. It was the largest and most elegant ballroom in Harlem. For a start it was on a different scale to other ballrooms, occupying a whole block from 140th to 141st street, about 250ft by 50ft with two bandstands – it could fit thousands on the dance floor, over 5,000 attended on its opening night on 12 March 1926[i] with Fletcher Henderson’s band.

This is how Frankie Manning, the great Lindy Hop legend, described his first visit to the Savoy when he was about nineteen:

‘As I was climbing the steps that led to the ballroom, I could hear the swinging music coming down the stairwell, and it started seeping right into my body…I got to the top step, went through the double doors, and stopped for a moment with my back to the bandstand, taking it all in. When I turned around and faced the room…well I just stood there with my mouth open. The whole floor was full of people –and they were dancing! The band was pounding! The guys up there were wailing! The music was rompin’ and stompin’. Everybody was movin’ and groovin’….We started saying ‘’This is dancin’ heaven’’. It even looked like the floor was getting in the mood because it was bouncing up and down too.’

Harlem had become a popular night spot for downtown white society during the 20s. Harlem, a predominantly black neighbourhood in New York experienced a huge influx of black migrants from the South in the early 20th Century decades as thousands fled from terrible oppression looking for new opportunities. Harlem provided a promise of freedom and pride, and it became a hotspot for black creativity and culture – in music, art, literature and politics, in a period known as the Harlem Renaissance. But although it was ostensibly the ‘Negro’ neighbourhood, it was also notably segregated (as was the case throughout the US to different degrees at the time), most of the famous nightclubs were for white patrons only: the Cotton Club, the Apollo (which is still standing today) etc. would feature black performers but black people could not use the main entrance or mix with the white audience.  Segregation and discrimination were even greater problems outside of New York – when Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers or bands and musicians went on tour it was often difficult to find places that would serve them food or provide accommodation. Billie Holiday describes countless incidents in her memoirs, including the difficulty in finding rest rooms she could use, just one small example of the challenges they faced.

The Savoy was unique as it was not segregated – black and white patrons could attend, sit, eat and drink and dance together, ‘for the first time in history the status quo was challenged’ states Norma Miller. Frankie Manning has said that it didn’t matter whether you were black or white, green, yellow or whatever, just whether you could dance.  I think this inclusive spirit is reflected in Lindy Hop and is a key feature of this joyful dance, of its legacy and how we enjoy this dance nowadays.

The Savoy was the most elegant ballroom in Harlem and surpassed all of America’s top dance halls. It was dazzling, as described by Norma Miller: ‘the ballroom itself was decorated in gold and blue with colored spotlights. The walls were lined with booths for eating and drinking. The dance area was…the length of a city block, the dancefloor itself was made of many layers of hardwood, such as mahogany and maple…it was replaced every three years, worn out by the constant pounding [of the dancers]’.

The music…and the dance

Chick Webb vs Count Basie, with Billie Holiday, Savoy
Advertisement for a battle of the bands between Chick Webb and Count Basie, with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

The music never stopped at the Savoy, there were two bandstands and one of them was always playing. Norma Miller recalls listening to this music from her home’s fire escape as a child, and later she started dancing on the pavement outside the Savoy. Chick Webb usually led the house band, and he was Lindy Hoppers’ favourite band. Over the next few years over 200 hundred swing bands played the Savoy – there were legendary battles between visiting bands like Cab Calloway’s, Count Basie’s or Benny Goodman’s (who only played the Savoy once but visited often) and Chick’s band. For top band battles the queue would go round several blocks – and it was the dancers who made a band’s success. The Savoy was also key in launching the careers of famous singers like Ella FitzGerald, who was picked by Chick to sing for his band, and continued to lead the band after his death in 1939. Chick Webb recorded Stompin’ at the Savoy in 1934. Here is Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb’s orchestra playing St Louis Blues at the Savoy, sometime in 1939.

Back then bands played for dancers, and if they wanted to stay they had to keep the floor packed according to Frankie Manning. Jacqui Malone has written a very interesting article on Jazz Music in Motion: Dancers and Big Bands which argues for re-claiming the close connection between dance and the development of jazz and swing music ‘Night after night, the dancers and musicians at the Savoy spurred one another on to greater heights and greater depths- always with an attitude of elegance’. Duke Ellington commented ‘You start playing, the dancers start dancing, and they have such a great beat you just hang on!’.

Out of this close collaboration with Chick Webb’s and other swing bands the Lindy Hop was born. The Lindy Hop is a joyous improvisational dance with a syncopated 8 count beat. For all the lindy hoppers reading this I do not need to provide further explanation. It evolved from other dances of the era with the breakaway, which allowed more room for improvisation, and introduced the swing-out, its star step. Herbert White, the Savoy floor manager, brought together the most talented Lindy Hoppers to form Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and other dance troupes. The Lindy Hop was popularized all over America and overseas thanks mainly to Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers – touring Europe, Australia and Brazil as well as appearing in several films and the 1939 New York World Fair.

Frankie Manning, a legend in the swing community who we will speak about more in another post, was one of Whitey’s dancers; he was a key innovator and choreographer, influencing the dance’s characteristic near-horizontal style and creating the first acrobatic airsteps with his dance partner. He has also been the inspiration leading the Lindy Hop worldwide revival since the 90s and contributing to the inclusive spirit of the swing community. The Lindy Hop was not the only dance danced at the Savoy and other popular dances included the Shag, the Fox Trot, the Peabody, the Black Bottom, the Big Apple, the Shim Sham etc. but it has perhaps had the most lasting impact, as experienced daily by thousands of modern Lindy Hoppers the world-over.

Here is some rare footage of dancing at the Savoy from a newsreel: Dancing at the Savoy

…and more

The Savoy was not only a ballroom, it also had a role as a civic centre for the black community in Harlem: there were regular community gala events on Wednesday and Friday nights, the ‘400 Club’ and other Harlem fraternities and associations met there and Adam Clayton Powell was a regular patron. Following the riots in 1935 it was felt the Savoy was too important to be closed and the Harvest Moon Ball competitions were created in an effort to re-build the damaged morale of the black community.  Despite it being a predominantly black neighbourhood, the home of the New Negro and the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem was mainly owned by white people and many Harlem businesses did not employ black people, contributing to these riots in the midst of the Depression. In this context the value of the Savoy as a venue that employed and welcomed a diversity of patrons – from local kids to Hollywood starts – becomes more apparent.

The Savoy opened in 1926 and closed in 1958. There is scarcely a big jazz band name that is not associated with the Savoy, including black and white bands. For the Lindy Hoppers like Frankie Manning and Norma Miller and many others it became a second home, the ‘home of happy feet’ as it was known.  It helped create and popularize the most quintessentially American music, swing, and a truly American dance, Lindy Hop. The Savoy was the place to be in Harlem – and Harlem was the place to be in the 20s and 30s. In the words of Romare Bearden (artist) ‘The best dancing in the world was there, and the best music…You’d want to be either in Harlem then or in Paris. These were the two places where things were happening.’

And what would a post about the Savoy be without music? Here is a selection of tracks:

The Savoy opened in 1926 and closed permanently in 1958. It was demolished for the construction of a housing complex. A conmemoration plaque was inaugurated on 26 May 2002 by Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, on Frankie’s 88th Birthday.

More reading

There is plenty of material about the Savoy. I would recommend starting with Frankie Manning’s and Norma Miller’s biographies for a personal account of what the Savoy was like. These are some of the sources I used, by no means a full list of what is available. Some video documentary material is also available on youtube (The Savoy ballroom).

Burns, Ken, Jazz (TV and DVD series, PBS, 2000)

Malone, Jaqui, ‘Jazz Music in Motion’, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Chapter 18. Ed. Robert G. O’Meally. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Manning, Frankie & Millman, Cynthia, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

Miller, Norma, Swingin’ at the Savoy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Seisdedos, Iker, ‘Cuando Harlem era una fiesta’. El País, 5 February, 2015.

Stearns, Marshall & Jean, Jazz Dance: the Story of American Vernacular Dance, New York: Macmillan, 1968

The Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America. New York: Times Mirror Books,1987.

The Savoy Plaque

The Savoy King Documentary, . Extract from the documentary, The Savoy ballroom

Quotes from:
Malone, Jaqui, Jazz Music in Motion, The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, Chapter 18.
Manning, Frankie, Frankie Manning, Ambassador of Lindy Hop.
Miller, Norma, Swingin’ at the Savoy.