The Empire State Building was under construction during Jitterbug! This 1930 picture shows a U.S. Navy blimp testing the airship mooring tower. Construction for the 1,250-foot structure began on March 17, 1930 with topping off 8-months later on November 21st with completion of the mooring mast. It opened on May 1, 1931, 13 and a half months following the first shovel of dirt and $41 million (over $535 million in today's dollars).
Love this inspiring dance scene from "Malcolm X." So much of it is oh, so... Jitterbug! right down to the Harlem invented Zoot Suits.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was in dire need of a zoot suit for its collection some years ago. When this rare piece of clothing came up at an auction on the East Coast, the museum bid on it by phone. The opening bid was $500.00 but within minutes had jumped to "five figures." The museum's successful bid "set a new auction record for twentieth-century menswear." The museum is making this most magnificent suit of clothes (seen below) available as a garment pattern for free download as part of its Pattern Project: Undertaking the Making. You can learn more about the Zoot Suit here.
CBS' Sunday Morning had a segment on 30-year-old NYC Ballet choreographer Justin Peck who has been called "the hottest commodity in the dance world." His work includes tap dancing in sneakers and is muy exciting. Would love to see what he brings to the Savoy Ballroom floor to win the climatic dance contest in Jitterbug!
Ben Vereen has always been an influence on writing the dance numbers in Jitterbug! When The Vereen was doing Pippin on Broadway in the '70's-- where he won the Tony for Best Actor in '73-- he'd follow each show with nightclub performances. Here he is explaining how it all began, when he asked his dad for ballet slippers instead of cowboy boots. Choreography by Tony winner Michael Peters.
Jitterbug's climatic finale takes place in Harlem at the legendary Savoy Ballroom, the "Home of Happy Feet." And arguably in front the largest group of the best dancers in the world. Impressing them wouldn't be easy. Although the dancical's stars, Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson, don't levitate to win the contest, they do reach into the future for dance steps that jaded crowd had never seen before.
Props to American Lindy Hop Championships for this and other great archival Harlem photos.
For a very long time-- longer than even I can believe-- I held out for black choreographers for Jitterbug! And Directors, too. The dancical is, after all for the most part, a dance-driven drama about African Americans. As its playwright and screenwriter I believed this one white guy was enough. In fact, there were times I was embarrassed by that fact. Not anymore. If I continue to wait for a talented black choreographer, director, or producer to fall in love with Jitterbug! I may have shuffled off to Buffalo (a place some consider Hell while others think is Heaven) before I see it ever mounted in a full blown production (as of this date, this hybrid has had only two NYC readings, the last one had dance numbers by an Emmy nominated black choreographer). As a screenplay, I've had one black producer (a UM alumni as myself) who wanted to make it into a film. Unfortunately, he didn't want to pay me for it (which is another story).
Now I'm reminded of the talented white choreographer Randy Skinner. He's nominated for an 2018 Olivier Award for his choreography of 42nd Street. In this great The Stage interview, he reminds us why he is worthy of choreographing any musical whether its cast is black, white, or any color in between. His inspiration comes from the great American movie musicals which he reaches back to for the West End's 42nd Street-- the 1933 original Pre-Code movie that told its adult story to grownups who appreciated the sexual innuendo and sensuous costuming. For an entertaining and in depth look at the making of that movie, please click here.
Here's hoping Randy Skinner wins the award!
The earliest version of Jitterbug!'s climatic dance scene at the Savoy Ballroom has its heroine Tharbis Jefferson getting thrown vertically into the air on the break. As she rises and spins and her skirt twirls outward around her like a spinning top, her partner Billy Rhythm drops to a split to accentuate the growing distance between them. The uptempo swing music also changes to Duke Ellington's symphonic tone poem Harlem. To pull this off. it helps if everything slows down. On film, that's possible. On stage, not so much. Still this short film by Julie Gaultier is inspiring as how it could be done and because of that gets added to the list of choreographic ideas.
A cool compilation of "moonwalking" by some of America's greatest dancers gathered together to inspire and envy.
Although Ornette Coleman was born in 1930, a year before Jitterbug!takes place, his music is used cinematically for certain scenes in the dancical. In the 1950's he created a style of improvising with other jazz musicians called "Free Jazz," a term he invented to describe this new sound which, unlike bebop, was freer and less rigid. Playing what he "heard" and "playing in the cracks" of the scale made many jazz musicians think he was playing out of tune. To learn more and to hear the music chosen for Jitterbug! please click here.
Everything Remains Raw is a great doc on the interconnections between the old and the new. Focusing on hip hop, it ties its roots to the Bronx in the early 70's and acknowledges appropriating dance moves that reach back into the 20's and 30's and even further back to the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th. Within the first 8-minutes, using archival TV footage, Marshall Stearns (Jazz Dance), Al Minns and Leon James demonstrate dance steps from back in that day. And Frankie Manning reminds us that only dance schools were counting out swing dance steps back then. He and other Harlem kids dancing at the Savoy Ballroom just... danced.
Multi-hyphenate with a penchant for writing.