12 November 2009
Jive at the Paramount Ballroom, 1947
‘THE HEP-CATS ARE at it, the jive is on, they’re in a groove.’ That’s how it was at the Paramount Ballroom in Tottenham Court Road in 1947, described by William Sansom in the anthology The Public’s Progress, which also included contributions from Alistair Cooke and Mass Observation founder Tom Harrisson. Here are a couple of excerpts:
But now Heilige Nacht has ended, the last notes like toothpaste have been squeezed from the tubular saxophone, the muted trumpet. A short pause and then all the brass of the orchestra crashes open the first tidal chord of a fast swing tune. An epithet much used in the idiom of swing is ‘solid’. A ‘solid’ driving beat is produced that ‘sends’ the dancers. It seems almost as if an invisible material force is at work, as though the instruments emit successive walls of sound that force the dancers on their way. And now these walls have already galvanized the floor with a strange excitement. The force of sudden movement, the unison enthusiasm, is palpable. The hep-cats are at it, the jive is on, they’re in a groove.
Later, he witnessed a jive competition:
The huge band plays only jive, and almost without a pause. There is little general dancing, the floor is split into huddled circles of enthusiasts pressing forward to see virtuoso exhibitions by experts [. . .] One may pick them out at random; the little five-foot girl in a white swing suit and a blue sailor hat, a six-foot soldier in a battle-dress, a negro with a curious low movement that keeps his zoot-tails nearly brushing the floor, two girls in woollen jumpers who dance arm in arm like skipping horses, a dancer from the Ballet Negre exaggerating the movements with his technical knowledge, and other less distinct but equally energetic enthusiasts jiving the night out to cheers and clapping and cries of ‘Harry!’ and ‘Go it, Bert!’ till the selections are made and the winners announced.