Sunday, February 14, 2010

Toujours Gai, Dept.

Right, so I'm watching the first half-hour of the film Bobby Short at the Cafe Carlyle, the audience shots of which alone are worth the price of admission as an overview of a certain slice of NYC life in the Bad Old Good Old Days, i.e., 1979. And he's being Bobby Short, which, if you're Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters is intolerable, but, for the rest of us, is one paradigm of saloon singing, as he calls it. At any rate, the performance is interspersed with interview segments wherein he talks about his life and career. At one point, he talks about growing up listening to broadcasts from the Cotton Club in New York and learning the songs from each edition, that is, each year's revue, of the Cotton Club. He describes then going to New York in 1937 and meeting Duke Ellington, who was preparing the score for that year's Cotton Club show. Short describes the songs, particularly one number, "She's Tall, She's Tan, She's Terrific," as being "almost American folklore."

The scene returns to the Carlyle, where he launches into "She's Tall..." (which, in fact, was written by John Coots and Benny Davis and performed by Cab Calloway and His Cotton Club Orchestra in '37 and available here) as part of a medley that continues with a short bit of "Posin'" by Chaplin and Kahn, then a laidback version of "Truckin'," a Koehler and Bloom ditty recorded by Fats Waller in 1935, followed by "Breakfast in Harlem," most often associated with the team of Buck and Bubbles, and a bit of 1933's "Old Man Harlem" by Rudy Vallee and Hoagy Carmichael and then back for the big finish with a reprise of "Truckin'." In short, a fabulous medley of songs associated with Harlem, the Cotton Club, '30s dance culture and his own first exposure to the city.

What prompted this entry are the lyrics to "Posin'," which, in Short's performance, on paper and in Jimmie Lunceford's recording, remind your sobsister of nothing so much as Madonna's "Vogue." Here are the lyrics to the first two verses and chorus, transcribed from the Lunceford recording:

Oh, posin'!

Dee-dee, fall-e-oh!
There's a dance you ought to do,
Let me introduce to you,
Everybody pose!

Get a partner, then begin,
Hold whatever pose you're in,
Everybody pose!

It's a dance that you can dance with your girl or wife;
Find a pose, then stop; position's everything in life!
You'll find there's no telling when
Dance will stop and start again,
Everybody pose!

Me, I'm drawing a bright line between this number, inspired by Harlem during its '30s renaissance (at which time underground drag balls gave birth to the dramatic dance style known as "presentation" or "performance") and that *dear god* 20-year-old song, voguing itself the lineal descendant of presentation developed at house balls featuring competition between the "children" of the great style houses of New York. The history of house balls and culture is too big a topic for a blog post (although here's an informative article on the topic), but I enjoy drawing these lines, and so I have done.

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