Black Short Stories : What Ever Happen To the Jazz Hoffer-Don't mean a thing less it's got that jazz swing!

raymondobe

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What ever happened to the Jazz hoofer? That smartly dressed fellow you’d see wearing a classic tailored DB suite; that flaps, twists, wraps and rides about his crazy demeanour, like a cloak trailing the Cape Crusader. Saaaawish! Swish! This way and that with every sudden jerk, every daft pose that is part of his repertoire of cool jazz steps. And all beside the jacket itself is so wide. That’s the fit. The design accentuates the flow of motion. Besides, its’ a sharp cut, which wide lapels that make you look like some kind of Forties Chicago gangster…And the fat silk kipper tie, gaudily patterned, and those white-on-black spats. Or the stiff black shiny leather shoes, with the soles that enable you to slide from here to kingdom come, with a certain pazzas, glide and elegance! As if to give the illusion of running on ice. At some venues, its almost like the mob have turned out for their very own London fashion weekend. Like they’re all dressed to be heard. Sort of an eclectic statement on style…but with a Jazz orientation. You might even be fooled into thinking that is was the set for a new movie. Perhaps ‘Tap’, ‘Guy’s and Dolls,’ ‘The Cotton Club’, and ‘Duck Soup’ all rolled into one. To be more specific, a few of the girls have on those short black skirts, enabling you to see a lot more of what the legs are doing. Oh, and those black shoes with a small heel and buckle that fastens just above the ankle-the ones that look like tap shoes. Above the waist they seem to be wearing the top half of a leotard, only it has this extra piece of cloth that wraps around your body, and ties up at the back. The top itself is made of some cotton-stretch absorbent material-it has to be- it’s going to get hot! Then you’ve got hats, cravats, canes, garters, Argyle socks and britches, and even a monocle…Well what can I say…you don’t mellow to jazz! Dig.

Picture the scene…A dark room, a wooden floor, an empty stage, set up in preparation for the performance of a young saxophonist by the name of Steve Williamson, or a very young pianist name Jason Rebello, or a skat singer named Cleveland Watkiss. At the other end of the room, directly opposite the stage is a raised platform on which stands a DJ box. The stage almost looks like a sort of modern art structure-a skeletal architecture in fact-just a lot of empty mike stands, some drums; and thick wires running back and forth along the ground. At the other side of the room, opposite the platform there’s a set of decks, behind which stand the ubiquitous Giles Peterson and Patrick Forge. Get the picture and you’ve got a dim recollection of Dingwalls 1988 or there abouts.

Outside the sun could be shinning but at Dingwalls on a Sunday afternoon the joint is jumping, the crowd is hipper than thou and as I think Giles and Patrick would agree; its definitely a ‘we got the vibe situation”. Yeah, yeah, I was there!

But have you noticed how far some jazzuals memories will stretch when you talk about jazz-dance in Britain during the Eighties.

It’s like you get caught up in the romanticism, and you start to superimposed yourself on your favourite image of cool. Suddenly you’ve got an Afro-haired Chevy Chase playing hoops for the LA Lakers in Fletch, your girlfriend on the front cover of Vogue…and you in places that you never were. The Velcro tags’ in your head and everything sticks even the fluff.

Some of those goateed faces light right up, when you talk about the early days, and you know what’s coming next. Yeah, yeah, I was there-Electric Ballroom, 100 club, Dingwalls, Monday nights at the Wag (upstairs with Sylvester, heavy session….Whaat!) Breaking my knees and sweating so much, that no impressionable girl, or awe struck spectator in their right mind would stand within spraying distance…I must have washed the floor every week for a year. I lost weight in that room!

Truth is I’ve never even seen that dance floor at the Electric Ballroom. I’m not ashamed to say it…But in certain company truth just gets economised. Well know it is sometimes…everyone loves a legend. In which case I can lie with the same vague attention to detail as the rest of them.

That’s another thing…floors! Jazz dancers will take about floors the way newly-weds talk about bathroom suites. And it’s considered a real treat if you come across a wooden floor that’s been treated, sprung, or recently varnished-which means that there’s less stress on mileage on a slide. It all helps in the aesthetics and energy displacement. Dancing is hard work, and a little trick like the salt can help-but within reason. Nobody wants to spend a sunny afternoon countering gravitational pull. The steps are difficult enough as it is, without deliberately bring the stunt man factor into it.

Hey there’s Jerry from IDJ with that flat sole, sometimes tiptoe, almost boogaloo type shuffle. Done so fast that some of the kids got to thinking that all you had to do was shake in some kind of energetic fit, or throw yourself violently about the room out of time to the percolated snap! Crash! Pop! Of indecipherable percussion that is Art Blakey’s ‘Messiah’-and in short you were doing jazz.

Well I suppose you were in a rude and eager way.

After all it’s up to you how you interpret your own self-expression in the dance. This isn’t Fame, you don’t need permission to rampantly stomp, grind and bump in every occupied direction. But don’t tell this to some of the die-hard, footage-watching, history-knowing, every-beat hearing, dare I say it, purists! Don’t tell the kid whose lungs are about to explode during the five second, thank-god almighty break of Michel Le Grand, that there’s no co-ordination to his/her stuff. What’s more, some of those guys and girls actually look like trained dancers. But would you believe it. They’ve never felt the urge to look in on Pineapple Dance Studios, let alone take a class…Sacrilege! Like this is a street jig. You’ve got to hustle, squeeze your sphincter, pain your groin and strain you’re a walk to get anywhere near really good. Have you ever seen Sandman Williams do one of those pretty and perfect pirouettes? Of course not! It just doesn’t look right. It’s just too Fred Astaire for a hoofer.

You see, some dancers like to do a difficult move and make it look simple. That’s aesthetics. A hoofer does a difficult move and sweats for it. You know it was tough. He ain’t blowing for fun.

But before I run away with myself, don’t be conned into thinking that all the dancer are male. They’re not, but some of the moves are not exactly what a girl likes to find herself doing in public, unless she doesn’t mind sweating like a horse. For this reason serious dancers have been known to bring a change of garb. At the very least it a show of decency to fellow commuters if you happen to be going home by tube.

But you still get the odd folk who are able to dance for hors to Tito Puente without so much as a wet shadow bleeding from under the armpits. Gosh! The only thing I can think of is (and its highly speculative) sweat gland amputation! But that’s another story.

During a challenge, which is a bit like those old hip hop face offs, where some guy wearing a bandana came and stood two inches from your nose chewing gum, and expected you to respond in a non aggressive manner….Break dance in fact…(like really!) I’ll start again. During a challenge there are moments when the machismo element comes out…Like, for instance, when the crowd forms a circle and one or two egos start flying about-but it’s always friendly and good spirited. After all, jazz people are sensitive.

Hey there’s Eyvon, there’s Danielle. Danielle’s got this Latin style. It looks complicated-kind of film set jazz. Head held high, very precise, every elegant. Sometimes she’ll hold the hem of her skirt betraying a message of attitude. Jazz people often show attitude when they’re really getting into the dance. It’s what can make you stand out during a challenge-that and style.
And Eyvon, she dances like she’s possessed with the jazz spirit. Like the dances back in the Cotton club days, or somebody in one of those old black and white movies, where they Lindy Hop at 100 miles per hour. Everything looks so authentic, right down to her hand movements. She never misses a frantic bop beat. Pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap! With her fingers stretched out, just so, occasionally stroking the air as if demonstrating how one would delicately stroke the keys of a piano. And her head cocked to one side like she’s listening to something you can’t quite hear. Perfect!

So what is the jazz dancer trying to do? Imitate tap? Create a free-style form of dance that grows from, and is part of the music? Well of course…it’s the visual extension! Its’ what you might see if the notes had a tangible form. But in a way they do. Pap-pap-pap-pap-pap! You mean does the jazz dancer aim to do physically, what the artist does with his/her instrument? To improvise and reach his zenith. To be exciting, daring even. To be raw in his/her perfection!

Incidentally, don’t be ashamed if you are still confusing jazz dance with vigorous jogging on the spot, or a berserk form of hopscotch. It takes a little time to get used to the steps. It took me a while to understand what was going on at first. But it’s the fastest way to a head rush I know of- and it’s legal.

The thing is, during the dance you’re not exactly supposed to be off balance. But you never know when the rush of adrenaline, the pump in your heart, the imploring screams of ‘more more!’ from friends will prove to great; and two moves later you’re a shamble on the floor.

You see the jazz dancer thrives on the danger of the dance. You get caught up in the excitement of the thing. You’re a street dancer-untamed, a mustang if you will. You never truly know whether this is gonna be the day you don’t make the turn, the hand spring, the jump, the splits from that three foot drop….ouch! And after all, I did say you don’t mellow to jazz.

But to be honest the street thing isn’t entirely correct. I mean of the dancers do like to mix in a little ballet, (sorry, I meant to say contemporary) and it works. You get a sort of graceful movement. It’s not so kinetically desperate looking. It’s explosive, it’s fancy; and it provides the perfect excuse to show off in a crowd. What’s more no-one can steal your style right off, because in normal circumstances you need wings before you can fly. These guys to fly!

I couldn’t really talk about jazz dance in London without at least mentioning an all-time veteran of jazz rooms, the only man to hoof effectively in trainers. Nuff respect to the man called Rocky. Rocky has more stamina than a drum soloist, more staying power than a held note, more sheer vitality than an aerobic tutor on Prozac, and more quickness than a man shouting ‘cool wet grass,’ while stepping over hot coals. No doubt the footwork helped during his earlier pro-boxing days. Talk about and Ali Shuffle.

Oh yeah, I suppose I should mention the chap Johnston, Everton and I danced against at the UK Jazz dance championship in Camden (1992). Suddenly, from out of nowhere he ran like a maniac at the wall, he ran up the wall, and flipped over backwards landing solidly on his spats. Pure Nicholas Brothers. A hard act to follow, but as an American gentleman at Tower records once told me: ‘Kid, you don’t mellow to Jazz’.
 

$$RICH$$

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word up !!!!! now i got dat thing and found my Jazzy swing !!!
 

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