Part eight of my Frankie Manning’s 95th Birthday Festival recap. In addition to a few grammatical edits, I've added a video of the last jam that was uploaded after my video recaps were done last year. You can see a compilation of videos from Monday here on my site. This note was originally posted on July 8, 2009.
I think I got the most sleep all weekend on Monday morning; about 4 hours worth. Then it was back to 424 W 34th street. We cleared that space of regular workshops and decided to schedule the rest of our presentations there.
We started off with a showing of a short documentary that dancers Tim Collins and Malou Meyenhofer put together to go with their Shim Sham submission. They both currently live in India where they teach dance.
The film gives a little more context to their instruction of the Shim Sham to some local children. It’s all very cute until it hits you in the gut at the end with the soul crushing reality that these kids live in. That part got to me. I admit it. I wept. Maybe it was the long weekend, but it’s amazing to think that you have this dance in common with a child living in complete poverty on the other side of the world. If you met this kid in person you would have a no other way to relate to each other, but you both would be able to dance together.
This event was so big that it was often times hard to comprehend everything all at once. But occasionally things like this would bring everything into razor sharp focus, even if it was just for a moment. I think it’s quite moving piece and I hope everyone will get an opportunity to see the whole thing. I believe I found a version of it on the 'tubes.
We followed that with one of Dawn Hampton’s famous “Bhangra” talks. I’ve heard a version of this before, which is why I only half listened to it while I worked on the evening’s production schedule. However, I caught enough of it that it seemed like it wasn’t quite the same thing I heard last time.
Up next was a screening of some selected rough cut scenes from a documentary that will be called “Everything Remains Raw” with its director, Moncel “Ill Cozby” Durden. He’s done an amazing amount of research and has gone through thousands of hours of film and video to recreate the evolution of African American vernacular dance through the past 100 years. Its amazing to see all the connections he’s made to link everything from black bottom to breakin’ and present them as the singular tradition that they represent.
The last lecture was a video presentation by Peter Loggins who probably has the largest collection of Lindy Hop and other jazz dances on film outside of the late Ernie Smith. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay because I had to help with the final preparations for the evening.
Every major activity was behind us at this point, and this was the last night of the festival. Any last night of a dance event is usually going to be much more chill than everything preceding it. Our only problem was that we didn’t have much of a plan for that evening.
This wasn’t as serious as it sounds. We had bands. We had performers. The question was going to be what was going to go in between them to fill out the night.
We had the whole thing mapped out before Frankie passed away, but obviously all those plans had to be shelved. There was also the added consideration that Frankie’s birthday was on Tuesday, the 26th. The question of how to handle all of this hung over us up until that afternoon.
Every thing we did was done in consultation with Frankie himself and Judy Pritchett, his long time companion. After Frankie’s death we tried not to overwhelm her with too many questions because we knew everything was just going to be too much.
I saw her getting the store ready in the lobby where I was trying to figure out how to make our printer work with no yellow toner. As I’ve said before, I never formally met Frankie and I was only introduced to Judy very briefly a couple of times at some of the meetings. It was usually up to the executive committee to approach her about things like this, but once we got to Monday afternoon and there was still no set evening agenda, I knew this couldn’t wait any longer. We had a very short conversation, mostly because I felt like a douchebag for having to bring this up.
The thing I remember most was the melancholy in her voice. She was thankful for everything we were doing, but I could tell that she wanted it to be over. With nothing else, I went over the list of things we were going to do before Frankie passed away. Eventually she decided that it would be best if we just let the night go by without acknowledging the birthday itself. I think she felt that it was going to be too much emotionally to sing happy birthday and have a birthday dance for someone who had just died.
I keep saying how overwhelming the event was, but I can’t imagine what it was like for Judy to experience so much joy and sorrow at the same time all weekend. Everything we did was on a scale never done before at a Lindy event. So much of it seemed unreal, but this is when everything stopped being abstract. I could see it become very personal for at least one person. I wanted to respect that as much as possible and not put her through any more, so I thanked her and went ahead to finish getting ready for the night.
The advantage of scheduling next to nothing is that it doesn’t take very long. Elliot offered to print off the schedule at his hotel, which would have been helpful to know five days before since it would have saved me $50.00. Then . . . didn’t do a whole lot else. We were pretty much set for the evening. Going into the fifth dance of the weekend, everyone knew their roles and took care of what they needed to do without asking very many questions. I had so much time that I actually was able to go grab dinner at dinner time for the first time all weekend.
It wasn’t anything elaborate, just grabbed a burrito from Chipotle across the street and took it back to eat in the organizer green room. Having that space to get us through the weekend was a godsend. It was both the nexus of our back stage operations and an oasis to get away from everything.
As I finished my dinner I noticed that green room was the most calm I had felt all weekend. The pace was pretty casual at this point. The front doors opened to the public with little fanfare. I got my radio and headed out to get the evening presentation going. Not that I had to do anything. Everyone knew what they needed to do at that point. I just had to sit back and actually enjoy what I had informally termed in the schedule as the “I Love the 80’s” panel discussion.
It was fun to finally hear the stories of all the people who were there at ground zero of the Lindy Hop revival. The best part was seeing the old clips they had dusted off to show just for this occasion. The winner was an old tape of Frankie teaching Erin Stevens and Steven Mitchell. Let’s just remember that it was the 80’s, and Steven was dressed in the way dancers dressed in the 80’s. Not Lindy Hoppers, but dancers. Think “Fame” and “Flashdance.” Let’s just say that Steven had some mighty fine legs. The head band was pretty snazzy too. I’m surprised that video didn’t hit YouTube as soon as they pressed stop.
I sat next to Ramona at the start of that presentation, and was mildly curious when she was mysteriously called away. A little later on she came back to recruit Peter. Peter didn’t seem to be in the mood, but I guess the lure of becoming a Norma Miller Dancer was too much to resist. I didn’t quite understand then, but I would later.
Sometime during the presentation, Elliot finally showed up with the copies of the schedule. I immediately noticed something odd. Everything that I had deleted previously was back in. When I asked what happened, he just responded that they had worked it out with everyone. I was a little confused and more than a little annoyed. That didn’t seem right. But the night was getting under way and there wasn’t any time to talk about it.
As Houston Person’s band hit the stage, we still had the minor problem of sorting out who was performing and in what order. The Harlem Hot Shots were thought to be performing possibly two numbers, but no one had been able to talk to them all day. Karen Turman & Andrew Thigpen had stepped forward to perform that evening. The Big Apple Lindy Hoppers were a question mark because one of their dancers injured themselves during the rehearsals. Then there was the curious case of Norma Miller who was going to perform with a band, but hadn’t asked any of the bands as of the start of the dance.
That sounds like a lot, but considering everything that happened the rest of the weekend, this was pretty pedestrian. Still, it took some time to sort out, and combined with my questions about the birthday stuff, I was getting grumpy.
Peter Strom helped me track down the Hot Shots who confirmed that they were doing two pieces. The Big Apple Lindy Hoppers made some adjustments to their routine and pronounced themselves good to go. Finally, we got word that Norma had asked one of the bands to play for her performance.
All the performances went well. The Hot Shots started with a recreation of the famous One Man dance from the Duke Ellington short film, “Black & Tan Fantasy.”
The Big Apple Lindy Hoppers followed. The team was originally co-founded by Frankie Manning himself many years ago, and they performed a piece with some of his original choreography.
The Hot Shots returned with probably the most outside the box piece all weekend. The Hot Shots described it to me beforehand as a comedic piece. I'm honestly not sure everyone got it, but it was fun to watch.
Karen & Andrew reprised the routine that’s been getting them rave reviews all over the country ever since they debuted it at Lindy Focus last New Years’s. It’s funny without being stupid, and plus it puts Karen Turman’s facial expressions to good use. Humor without subtly is hard to achieve in Lindy Hop routines, but we got it back to back with these guys and the Hot Shots. It’s been one of my favorite routines of the past year along with the stuff by Stefan & Bethany and The Silver Shadows.
Finally Norma sang the special song she wrote about Frankie just for this weekend. I heard that she performed it the night before during the show, but I missed it. However, we got the added benefit of seeing her perform it with the live backing of Wycliff Gordon and his band who graciously agreed to play despite it being in the middle of their band break.
It was fun to see the mixture of dancers that Norma got together for this. It included a lot of her old friends, Chachi representing a different kind of old school, as well as Ramona, Peter, and Andy Reid. It wasn’t anything very elaborate, and Ramona later told me that the last minute rehearsals were super chill and kinda fun.
In the mean time, we had some trouble communicating all the changes that needed to happen to everyone. It didn’t help that there were too many people involved and too much information was crisscrossing the radio waves. I think this is where my annoyance level reached its peak as I took the opportunity to verbally mark my territory over the radio.
That was pretty much it for me. Helping out with the performances was essentially my last major responsibility for the weekend, so as soon as Norma was done and they started to call up the staff and volunteers for the thank you jam, I took off my radio and walked out.
I went outside and ended up sitting on the steps of the very same post office that Frankie worked at for the time he was “retired” from dancing. I’d like to say I came to some sort of profound revelation about life, but I think I was too angry to think about anything. I sat there for awhile, and realized that the only thing I wanted to do was get out of town, so I went across the street to Penn Station and bought a train ticket to leave the next day.
I went back to the Manhattan Center and decided to make the best what was left of the event. I actually got in five whole dances, which was almost half of the total number of dances I had all weekend. My first dance that night was with Ann to Wycliff Gordon doing a great version of "Mood Indigo." We did a second dance after that, and I went on to have a dance with Ramona sandwiched between two others with Annelie.
I guess you can see a few number of dances as a good thing because they become that much more memorable. So I’d also like to thank Crista, Rachel, Carrie, and Mary for the other dances I had that weekend.
When I wasn’t dancing I was able to enjoy Wycliff Gordon’s last set. Sorry to say I missed out on Houston Person, but the Battle of The ‘Bones with Gordon, Art Baron and Benny Powell was some of the best music I’ve ever heard. Gordon represents the best of the current generation while Powell and Barron are two of our last direct links to Basie and Ellington.
The other musicians in Gordon’s band were no slouches either. The drummer was amazing, he looked like he was having a grand old time back there. I missed out on guest appearances by Lavay Smith and Kim Nalley earlier, but I did get to hear Savion Glover’s mother, Yvette Glover, take a turn at the mic. That woman was all power and soul, and it’s not hard to imagine how that has contributed to Savion’s talent.
Somewhere in there, they celebrated Frankie’s birthday. His family used to have a tradition when he was growing up where they would count down someone’s birthday at midnight. We recreated that, then followed it with a birthday jam with Chazz standing in for his father, Frankie, and finally a fast jam for everyone else.
I heard everything went well. I elected to go back to the green room and sit it out. I was still upset that they had overruled Judy’s wishes. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
No one had bothered to explain to me that Judy met with Elliot and Chazz after she talked with me. She was originally going to tell them how she was uncomfortable with the countdown and the birthday jam. I know Chazz felt the same way when the subject was brought up way before the weekend, but I guess something happened to change his mind. Actually it was the event itself. He was so inspired by all the appreciation shown for Frankie that he decided that he wanted to carry on his memory with everyone there as best as he could. Judy was touched, and for a moment she could see Frankie in Chazz, so she agreed.
Or a least that’s what I was told several days later by Tena. If Tena says something I believe it. But since I didn’t get that information until later, I was itching to get out of town and away from the event.
Eventually the event ended. Wycliff and the rest of the band stretched out their last set to almost two hours until the end of the event at 2:00 am. David Jacoby did some last minute scrambling to see if we could stay later, but Madonna waits for no one. Her crew was scheduled to take over the space at 6:00 am sharp and we needed to be completely out of there by then. I stuck around just long enough to see everyone leave the building and watch the take down process get started.
Oddly enough, the head of security asked to take a picture with me. I must have given him a weird look, but he explained that he had never met someone so cool under pressure in an event like this and that he had to get a picture with me. That was such a strange compliment at that point because I didn’t feel like a cool customer.
Despite all the work and lack of sleep I’m usually sorry to see these things end. But this time around I was just ready to go. I stuck around just long enough to make sure there was nothing else for me to do, said my good byes to whoever was still there and left the Manhattan Center for the last time.
Despite the fatigue, my body wasn’t ready to go to bed. Fortunately I saw some people I knew at the Tick Tock Diner next door. I chatted a bit there with Ann, Alex, Alexia, Alice, and Karen. Afterwards, I escorted the only non "A" name back to her hotel before going back to mine. Between that and packing to go home, I didn’t get to bed until after 6 am, and even then I was still ready to keep going. I think it was equally from the frustration as well as the conditioning from working the event all weekend.
I tried to relax as I got ready to go home the next day. Got to meet Annelie, Mikaela, and Ann at Fika, a Swedish café by Central Park for lunch. That was the one bit of non-Frankie95 pleasantness I experienced all weekend, but I was glad to finally get on the train to head home.