The British Pathe newsreel organization has released 85,000 films to YouTube — they can be found here.  Of course, I went to that channel and entered “jazz” in the search box.  Some of the film footage is silent, which is its own kind of frustration, but this one isn’t:

Three and a half minutes of Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, culminating in an ecstatic SNAKE RAG — played for young dancers thoroughly captivated by the music, the rhythm, and their own movement.  No stimulus but rhythm and “ginger pop,” the narrator tells us.

At first, I yearned for those good old days.  Imagine rooms full of young people dancing all night to King Oliver’s music . . .but then I realized that the best swing dance extravaganzas I’ve been to, in California and New York, with bands led by Clint Baker and Gordon Au, and others, have been just as evocative, just as moving.  So there’s hope.

May your happiness increase!

12 responses to “A RHYTHMIC ECSTASY, 1950

  1. Darn that foursome that came down from Liverpool a few years later to kill this scene. ;^)

  2. The Buddhists tell us that everything is in flux. We rarely like that feeling, but the evidence is all around us. And Humph went on a lovely long time, Beatles or no!

  3. Michael,

    Thanks for this post. It led me to find some footage of Leslie “Hutch” Hutchison, a great cabaret performer, most prominent in 1930s London.

    Here are some links to “Hutch” videos:

    There is a lot more “Hutch” on YouTube from various sources, including a three part documentary.


  4. By contrast, I find today’s swing dancers discouraging. Most of the dances they currently propogate did not exist in King Olivers time. Even their hunched over version of the Charleston is a product of the mid 30’s. In the 1920’s this dance was done in a more upright stance. Dancers to King Oliver’s band would have been doing dances that traveled around the floor in a counterclockwise circle, or line of dance. Fox-trot is a subtitle on about 70 percent of the records of the time. Today swing dancers command any available spot on the floor, often kicking and throwing out their hands, making any type of historically accurate traveling dances completely impossible.


  5. Phyllis Halle


  6. I admire your aesthetic and scholarly rigor, and I have seen a good deal of violent activity — nearly dangerous — at swing dances practiced by people seemingly unaware of floorcraft. I back up; I stay out of their way. But there’s a part of your historical-correctness I find myself unable to share. Could one dance to King Oliver’s music with a dance performed after his death? Do we know that he or his musicians would have been offended at the anachronism? I can, when the mood is right (or wrong), say, “No. That’s not the way it’s done.” But I have heard ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — to take a simple example — played beautifully by musicians in 1924, 1936, 1942, 2014, etc. So I think there is a place for “historically accurate travelling dances” and another place for people moving their bodies as the music wafts through them. Perhaps, dear Bridget, these two places are in separate rooms, but they both have validity.

  7. Roger Strong

    A little later than 1950 I think. I feel that it is Keith Christie on trombone-he joined Humph is 1949 so its possible I guess. Great stuff!

  8. I agree with your example. The Royal Garden Blues played by a band a la 1936, 1942, or 2014 (with a swing style rhythm section) should be swung to. The rhythm tells us what dance to do. But if a band reproduces a 1924 Bix chart of RGB, the rhythm tells me to Charleston, (or fox-trot when I get tired). Historical recreation of recording as Vince Giordano, Andy Schumm, among many others, is widely practiced, admired and sought after. This has not been as successful with pre swing era dance. I observe the same dance done to a wide variety of eras, tempos, and time signatures. There is no Lindy Hop in 3/4 time.

  9. Andrew J. Sammut

    Hello, Bridget. The only thing that rhythm, regardless of its source, can “tell” us is to move our bodies. Our mind then associates the rhythm with a particular historical/stylistic context, and then associates that context with specific physical movements we learned to be historically accurate. Yet to greatly paraphrase Michael (and I imagine many dance band musicians), if the music “hits you,” expecting historical accuracy of movement is ultimately beside the point. All those inaccurate dancers you’re observing might know as much as you do, but I wonder who is having a better time?

  10. Alice Blue Gown played in 3/4 as a waltz could have any dance done to it, but the rhythm tells me to take 3 steps per measure, rather than 4. To do otherwise ‘feels’ and appears awkward. As my love for the music is the reason I dance I am disappointed that it often is almost ignored for the sake of the show. A metronome would do as well, as a musician once put it.
    And you are correct, if I am physically prevented from dancing after flying 2000 or 3000 or 6000 miles to see a particular band play a rare style of music, I’m NOT having a very good time. Perhaps to hope for an authentic and all encompassing experience is too much to ask when the masses rule. But if Vince and the boys keep trying, so will I.

  11. Phyllis Halle

    I read your words and empathize with your feelings, but just want to remind you to try a more positive attitude to improve yourself! It is easier to be negative and critical but happier to be positive and encouraging! My best wishes to you miss dancer!

  12. Andrew, you may have interpreted my request for historically accurate dances as more complicated to learn or more difficult to perform. The one-step is merely walking in time to the music with a partner in your arms. The beauty of the early dances is their utter simplicity, hence everyone was able to participate. Any Chaplin short with a crowd dance scene will illustrate this. But to walk requires traveling. To travel requires a path. A dance floor without basic ballroom etiquette is akin to removing stoplights from the road. Chaos ensues and you wish you’d slept in.

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