Sandy Brown Jazz

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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

Down In The Jungles

 

Eubie Blake

 

 

 

'Harlem itself did not become heavily populated until during the war when a great many Negroes from the South came up to work in the plants. But the section called San Juan Hill, or The Jungles, located west of Broadway from Fifty-ninth up to Sixty-fourth was growing steadily. West Fifty-third Street started to become the meeting place of entertainers and musicians.....

...By this time Eubie Blake was becoming known as a composer, and we all liked the rag he had written called "Chevy Chase". I think some of his earlier tunes were better than the ones that he became famous for in later years. Everybody should remember his better-known songs like, "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and "Memories Of You".

 

Caricature of Eubie Blake courtesy of Jimmy Thomson

 

 

 

 

Listen to Eubie Blake and Chevy Chase

 

 

 

 

The place where the real action was in those days was right in the heart of The Jungles. One wild place was called Drake's Dancing Class (on Sixty-second Street) because they couldn't get a license to operate unless they taught dancing. We called it The Jungles Casino and it was really a beat-up, small dance hall; it was in a cellar where the rain used to flow down the walls. It Dancerswas so damp down there that they used to try to keep the piano dry by placing lit candles around it. The furnace, coal, and ashes were located right in the same room with the old upright. There were plenty of dancers but no teachers down there. It was some "ratskeller".

Many of the customers came off the boats that docked in the West Sixties .....These people came from around the Carolina and Georgia sea islands. They were called Gullahs and Geechies. These folks worked and played hard; they were able to dance all night after spending the day throwing boxes around as longshoremen.....

...The Gullahs would start out early in the evening dancing two-steps, waltzes, schottisches; but as the night wore on and the liquor began to work, they would start improvising their own steps and that was when they wanted us to get-in-the-alley, real lowdown. Those big Charleston, South Carolina, bruisers would grab a girl from the bar and stomp-it-down as the piano player swung into the gut-bucketiest music he could.

It was from the improvised dance steps that the Charleston dance originated. All the older folks remember it became a rage during the 1920s and all it really amounted to was a variation of a cotilllion step brought to the North by the Geechies. There were many variations danced at the Casino and this usually caused the piano player to make up his own musical variation to fit the dancing. One of James P. Johnson's variations was later published as a number called "The Charleston", and was used in the show Runnin' Wild on Broadway in 1923. Yes sir, The Brute's "Charleston" became a dance craze by the mid-twenties and is still being revived....'

From Music On My Mind by Willie The Lion Smith.

 

Listen to James P. Johnson's recording with a short video about the origins of The Charleston

 

 

 

 

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