I posted a couple of links today on the Facebook page for this blog that led me to the idea of posting the full scene from "A Day At The Races" featuring Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. But since I had some thoughts lengthier than 420 characters, I just thought I'd turn it into a full blog post.
This clip reminded me of one of my many incomplete blog posts where I was doing research on my favorite Duke Ellington vocalist featured in this clip, and possibly my favorite female jazz vocalists of all time, Ivie Anderson. Had she lived longer, I have no doubt that she’d be considered in the same breath as Billie and Ella.
Lindy Hoppers only usually see the last part with the dancing, but there’s a lengthy sequence before that which sets it up including the beginning cue that pianist, Mark Kotishion, milks every time The Boilermaker Jazz Band plays the song. It’s worth wading through the unfortunately racist overtones of the rest of the scene to hear her belt out those first few notes. Plus there’s the way she grooves from the slow intro into the faster section which is unlike the actual recordings that the Ellington band did for popular release.
Speaking of Ellington and racism, several members of his band appear in this clip; however, the man himself is absent. Ellington was often called out in later years for being too passive in relation to standing up for civil rughts during this time. The best he could do was to avoid scenes like the one in "A Day at The Races." A musician of his reputation could afford to do so. That’s why you’ll only see pictures of him from this period looking as debonair as humanly possible. It was his silent way of undermining the way everyone viewed black Americans.
But as popular and influential as he was for a black musician, he was still considered a black musician. Not everyone could afford to turn down screen time in a major film. One of the few ways of getting any kind of mainstream exposure was for black artists to subject themselves to some pretty degrading situations. Even then, they would appear in scenes such as this one, that could easily be cut out for showing in certain areas that didn’t appreciate black and white performers in the same film.
A lot of people tend to forget that Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in Hellzapoppin’ all appear in servants’ garb for a reason. It wasn’t all pin up dresses and sailor uniforms back then, and not everyone had the luxury of choosing whether or not to wear high heels. As uncomfortable as parts of this scene is, it’s a good reminder of that time.
Also, here's one more link about “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm.” It gives more background about the song itself. Funny, I dug this article up awhile ago when I was looking up info about Ivie Anderson, but I just noticed the mention of Artie Shaw recording a version of this song. Sure enough, I looked it up and downloaded it . I think it’s a winner and you just might be hearing it sometime during DCLX next weekend. In the mean time, you can go back and listen to Boilermaker's version and hear the Shaw influences on Paul Cosentino’s clarinet playing.