Best Swing Dance Sequence Ever

A dance sequence with some absolutely astonishing Lindy Hopping, from Hellzapoppin’ (Universal, 1941).  Things really get rolling at about 2:40 min. into the clip.

No seriously, this totally kicks ass.  Ya gotta see it.

If the Intermets aren’t failing me, the dance troupe are the Harlem Congaroo Dancers (aka Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers).  Featured in the routine, in order, are:

  • William Downes (overalls) and Frances “Mickey” Jones (maid)
  • Norma Miller and Billy Ricker (chef’s hat)
  • Al Minns (white coat, black pants) and Willa Mae Ricker
  • Ann Johnson (maid) and Frankie Manning (overalls)

Read some more about Hellzapoppin’s “plot,” and check out some vintage poster art and blog-grabs.

I watched Hellzapoppin’ on DVD a couple years ago, stumbling across it one night at Scarecrow.  (Forrest J Ackerman always used to refer to it in Famous Monsters of Filmland.)   It’s like Airplane! meets low-budget 1930s movie musical.  There’s some really pretty out-there stuff in it.  If you Google it, you’ll find some grey-market DVD-Rs floating around.

Vaya con Dios, Yma Sumac

Yma Sumac in later years - photo by Bart Everly,

The truly great singer Yma Sumac died on Saturday, November 1, 2008 at an assisted-living facility in Silver Lake, CA.  She had been diagnosed with colon cancer in February.  Her funeral was on November 8, “one week to the minute of her passing the week before,” according to her official web site.

Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo was born in Peru on September 13, 1922, probably in the village of Ichocán, Cajamarca or nearby.  As she broke into show business in South America, Zoila adopted the stage name of Imma Sumack (sometimes spelled Ymma Sumack and Ima Sumack).  With her husband, composer and band leader Moisés Vivanco, she moved to New York City in 1946.  In 1950, Yma Sumac signed a deal with Capitol Records.

Between 1943 and 1971, she recorded 10 LPs-worth of music, plus an early 10-inch 78rpm record and as many as 20 miscellaneous tracks recorded for Odeon Records at the beginning of her career.  Her last released song was “I Wonder” (from the film Sleeping Beauty) on the compilation Stay Awake (A&M, 1987), Hal Wilner’s collection of Disney movie songs reinterpreted by the likes of Tom Waits, Sun Ra, Ken Nordine, and others.

Yma Sumac’s remarkable singing voice spanned four and a half octaves (though her publicity tended to round it upward slightly), and is instantly recognizable as it is unique.  Yet even as her music exploited this range to its fullest — with contagious gusto — Sumac’s style was as much about discipline and technique as it was pure prowess.  Somehow, amidst the showbiz machinery of the Exotica fad, like a John Ford-style Hollywood auteur, she and Vivanco crafted some of the most astonishing, unique, and sometimes pretty much divine vocal music in human history.

A young 'Imma Sumack' performing for the radio, early 1940s

Sun Ra: “Calling Planet Earth”

Calling Planet Earth (1986)

Video short by Bill Sebastian. Made at Mission Control, Boston.  13 min.

“Visuals performed by Bill Sebastian on the Outerspace Visual Communicator.”

Music by Sun Ra and his Arkestra:  Ra-keyb, voc; Al Evans-tp; Fred Adams-tp; Tyrone Hill-tb; Marshall Allen-as; John Gilmore-ts; Danny Ray Thompson-bs; Eloe Omoe-bcl; James Jacson-bsn, perc; Bruce Edwards-eg; John Brown-d; June Tyson-voc. Dance, gesture, and Virtual Reality: Michael Ray, Barday, Eddie Thomas (Thomas Thaddeus), Atakatune.

Dennis Nyback’s Music Film Hootenanny All This Week at the Grand Illusion

Film collector extraordinaire and Washington expat Dennis Nyback is back in town with a mind-boggling series of programs devoted to music films, playing for the next week at the Grand Illusion Cinema (at the corner of 50th and University Way).

Many of the programs are one-show-only, so pay attention and carpe diem. Here’s the details courtesy of the Grand Illusion’s mailing list (which you should subscribe to via the web site, all the way at the bottom of the homepage):

On Friday, June 6th is ZERO TO MTV is a series of three minute musical shorts from 1914-1984 Contrary to popular belief, the three minute film short was not invented by MTV. Conversely, the very first sound films made were three minute music shorts. This program starts with an Edison test film made in 1914. It continues through the twenties with test films made by Lee DeForest, Fox-Case and Movietone. The thirties portion features Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and others. The forties feature shorts made by the Soundies company. In the fifties there are Snader Telescriptions. In the sixties Scopitones appeared. The program will end with 35mm shorts featuring Kiss, Motley Crue, Deep People and others. Friday June 6th at 7pm & 9pm

On Saturday, June 7th is THE HIGH LONESOME SOUND, a program of musical films by John Cohen, who traveled to the backwoods and hinterlands of America filming musicians. This program features his films THE HIGH LONESOME SOUND and MUSICAL HOLDOUTS. Musicians include Roscoe Holcomb, Bill Monroe and many others. See notes at Saturday June 7th at 7pm ONLY

Also on Saturday, June 7th is CHARLIE IS MY DARLING. This is a great and one of kind look at the Rolling Stones filmed during their tour of Ireland in 1965. It never had a wide release. The last time it was shown in Seattle was at the Pike Street Cinema in 1993. The short with it will be a production film on the making of the Beatles’ YELLOW SUBMARINE. Saturday June 7th at 9pm ONLY

On Sunday, June 8th is HILLBILLIES IN HOLLYWOOD. A fabulous bunch of Hillbilly, Cowboy, Hawaiian, Rockabilly, and other acts. Expect to have a foot stomping, Wa-Hooing great time! Sunday June 8th at 7pm ONLY

Also on Sunday June 8th is BOOGIE WOOGIE BOOGIE WOOGIE BOGGIE WOOGIE. There was a big Boogie Woogie craze in the 1940s. This program is made up filmed performers and cartoons. The performers include Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson in the great BOOGIE WOOGIE DREAM. It also features Lena Horne and Teddy Wilson. Maurice Rocco does Rumboogie. Ray Bradley with Freddy Slack does Boardwalk Boogie. Sunday June 8th at 9pm ONLY

On Monday, June 9th is JAZZ IN THE 1920′s. This program features two awesome films made by the enigmatic Dudley Murphy in 1929. You should look him up. They are BLACK AND TAN with Duke Ellington and ST. LOUIS BLUES with Bessie Smith. Also: Eddie Peabody and His College Chums (1928) with Hal Kemp’s band, Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. Monday June 9th at 7pm ONLY

Also on Monday, June 9th is HARLEM IN THE THIRTIES. Several of these films are suppressed due to racial content. This a very rare chance to see the greatness in them. Included performers will be Cab Calloway , Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters (in the film BUBBLING OVER), The Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and others. Monday June 9th at 9pm ONLY

Tuesday, June 10th features RADIO DAYS 1929-1944. All shorts featuring radio stations and people at home listening to radios. Included will be THE BLACK NETWORK (Nicholas Brothers), CAP’N HENRY’S SHOWBOAT (Annette Hanshaw), Cab Calloway (HI DE HO), RADIO SALUTES (Ruth Etting), Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith, and others. Tuesday June 10th at 7pm ONLY

Tuesday, June 10th also features VAUDEVILLE DELUXE. This program is highly recommended by Travis Stewart who wrote “NO APPLAUSE, JUST THROW MONEY”. I screened it for him in NY. It features vaudeville performers, both black and white, from 1928 (Gus Visser, the Man With the Duck) to 1937. You get to see W.C. Fields juggle, Roy Smeck play the uke, rope skippers, singers, Chaz Chase eating everything, and finally, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers with Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart. Tuesday June 10th at 9pm ONLY

Wednesday, June 11th is THE SOUND OF JAZZ (plus some Bebop). In 1957 CBS brought together the greatest assemblage of jazz talent ever brought together for a one hour live broadcast. The kinescope of it provided much of the footage in A GREAT DAY IN HARLEM. Here it is seen in full, including original commercials. Thelonious Monk, Billie Holliday, Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie, many more. Also on the program will be JAZZ DANCE (1954), Booker Little with Max Roach (1962) and more. Wednesday June 11th at 7pm ONLY

Wednesday, June 11th also has SOUNDIE PANORAMA. A lot of greatness and also some musical atrocities. Soundie films were shown in jukebox-like devices called a Mills Pan-O-Ram. Wednesday June 11th at 9pm ONLY

And finally, Thursday, June 12th is the infamous SCOPITONE A GO-GO. A hit in New York at the Cinema Village. The show that started the Scopitone buying craze. Eddie Vedder came to the Scopitone shows at the Pike Street Cinema and bought his own Scopitone machine. Thursday June 12th at 7pm & 9pm

Keep Warm, Burn Britain! Movies, Performance and Music on April 13 at The Rendezvous

Event poster, design by Brian Alter.This coming Sunday at the Rendezvous, the Sprocket Society presents a special event featuring original works by Los Angeles filmmaker and noted restorationist ROSS LIPMAN, plus live music by Seattle’s own RUBY THICKET and THE PHILISTINE LIBERATION ORCHESTRA.

Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 7:00 PM
The JewelBox Theater at the Rendezvous
2322 2nd Avenue, Seattle (in Belltown)
$5 suggested donation

More info at the Sprocket Society web site.

KEEP WARM, BURN BRITAIN! is Ross Lipman’s personal memoir of the London anarchist squatters movement during the 1980s. A work-in-progress, Ross will present it as a Magic Lantern slide show with live narration plus recorded music by legendary street performer Thoth (who was the subject of a 2002 Oscar-winning documentary short).

Lipman is internationally known for his film/video and performance work, as well his writings and restorations of independent cinema. His 16mm and 35mm experimental films have screened throughout the world at venues such as London International Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives (NYC), the Los Angeles Film Forum, the San Francisco Cinematheque, Sixpackfilm/Top-Kino (Vienna), AMIA (Austin, Minneapolis), Chinese Taipei Film Archive (Taiwan), and many others. This is his Seattle debut.

Lipman is also one of the world’s leading figures in the restoration of independent cinema. Working at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, he has restored films by John Cassavetes, Kenneth Anger, John Sayles, Emile de Antonio, and others. In 2007, the National Society of Film Critics gave Lipman their Film Heritage Award “for the restoration of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and other independent films.”

Also on the program are several of Ross’ earlier experimental shorts and and documentaries:

10-17-88 (1989, 16mm)
An optically printed collage of found and archival footage, with audio collage by John (Ruby Thicket) Shaw.

A requiem for Grandma Prisbrey’s famous cathedral of light, built entirely of glass bottles, pencils, and industrial detritus. With a score improvised on a broken piano by Jodie Baltazar (aka Monotrona).

A screen test for a film that was never made, a feature-length narrative about the unbridgeable gap and connection between a father and son.


Live music by RUBY THICKET
Featuring John Shaw (vocals, guitar, bass, harmonica), Mac McClure (bowed saw and vocals), Bob Barraza (drums, shakuhachi flute, ukulele, and vocals), Jillian Graham (vocals and rhythm guitar), and Jim Graham (bass). Download sample MP3s from their CD You Never Know What You’ll See.

Lounge and show standards crooned (or c-ruined?) over free improvised accompaniment. Featuring the velvet pipes of John Shaw backed by composer Bill Potter on guitar-synth, the lovely and talented David Milford on fiddle, members of Ruby Thicket, and other surprise guests. The set list includes songs associated with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Kate Smith, Robert Goulet, Man of La Mancha, and Woody Guthrie.

Hope to see you there!

PS — Ross Lipman will be presenting at the Pop Conference at EMP this Friday, April 11. He will give his lecture “Mingus, Cassavetes, and the Politics of Improv”, using film clips, texts, and still photographs to examine the complex and explosive collaboration of John Cassavetes and Charles Mingus for the film Shadows (1959) at a pivotal moment in the history of independent cinema, jazz, and race relations. More info is online at the Pop Conference web site.

Charles Gocher Tribute Article by Alan Bishop at Perfect Sound Forever

Alan Bishop sporting his Charlie-photo-ring.  Photo by Mark Sullo.

The new April/May 2008 edition of the online music zine Perfect Sound Forever includes an article by Alan Bishop about Charles Gocher, his adoptive soul brother and co-conspirator in Sun City Girls who died of cancer in February, 2007.

“Invisible Tempos of the Vanishing Assassin” was written over the course of a month-long journey through Indonesia that Alan took last August. It takes the form of a kind of memorial diary, in which Alan tells old stories, describes Charlie’s creative process, rants, and generally undertakes the impossible task of sketching who Charlie was.

It’s a great piece. Here’s a taste:

Gocher used to carry around an ant colony in his pants pocket in the form of a salt shaker filled with dirt, sugar, and a large collection of red ants burrowing within. He once brought a lawnmower to a SCG show and during the set, fired it up and ran it over several large trash bags filled with confetti. Afterwards, the confetti was stomped into the beer-soaked concrete floor and it took the manager the entire next day to remove it all with a scraper. At house parties in Arizona, he would hold court in the kitchens, playing oven rack concerts into the night or scat sing and dance till dawn. On tour in 1990, we visited the grave of Edgar Allen Poe in Baltimore and Charlie traded some new flowers he picked himself for the ones already on the grave. He later convinced a whole room of people at a late-night party to smoke those dried flowers from a pipe, claiming they had special powers from the spirit of Poe. There wasn’t a soul in the room who refused to smoke them. Regardless of how absurd or impractical he could be, people trusted him and listened to him, hanging on every word. And on the other side of the world, there he was as an aloof be-bop version of Peter Pan in a village in Sumatra 18 years ago playing a wooden flute leading a pack of 50 children all over town with the good citizens watching nervously along the way in disbelief as if an alien had landed from beyond and was taking their children away….

But this is all anecdotal. His greatest moments are reserved for those who could perceive them for their full-effect, as he was light years ahead of most of you and your shallow, socially-engineered points of reference, sorry.

…What’s a full-grown Bengal Tiger got to say to a roomful of crickets? I wouldn’t park a Rolls Royce next to an AMC Pacer. Gocher would have put the Bengal Tiger in the Rolls Royce and rammed it through the window of your fucking living room.

As the Sumatra anecdote above implies, Charlie really did have a way with kids, and kids dug him. At various parties and gatherings I attended over the years, he could almost always be found hanging out with the kids. They’d spend hours talking and laughing, pretty much in their own meta-party. For a while, he and the early-teen daughter of one scene perennial even formed their own band and gigged out a few times. She fronted, they created the music together, and it was both great stuff and inspiring to see.

How children respond to a person is, I maintain, a true barometer of that person’s character. Despite all of Charlie’s dark edges and interests, fanged black humor, and inner demons he was — deep down — a gentle and playful man with a huge heart. The kids always seemed to spot this a mile away and loved him for it. They’d bring out the best in each other.

I wasn’t especially close with Charlie (few were), and so I was spared seeing him at his darkest and worst. But every time I think of Charlie, I hear his laugh — mucousy from smoking so damn much, and because it came from deep down within him.

Be sure to catch Alan and Rick Bishop’s Brothers Unconnected: A Tribute to Charles Gocher & Sun City Girls, coming soon to a US or Canadian city near you.  Visit for latest tour info.

The Brothers Unconnected: Sun City Girls Tribute/Memorial Tour in May and June, 2008

Sun City Girls promo photo from the '80s. (Credit: Soda)

Beginning in May 2008 the surviving members of Sun City Girls, Alan and Richard Bishop, are embarking on a tour of the US and Canada called “The Brothers Unconnected: A tribute to the Sun City Girls and Charles Gocher.”

The tour begins in Seattle on Sunday, May 18 at The Triple Door. (Tickets are available online.)

As followers of the legendary band know, drummer Charles Gocher died of cancer in February 2007. A private memorial was held shortly after. With this tour, Alan and Rick make good on their solemn vow to publicly honor Charlie, his memory, and his immense talent.

Most dates will feature an opening 40 minute film of Charles Gocher’s video works, which are equal parts demented, brilliant, hilarious, and inventive. This will be followed by two acoustic sets of Alan and Rick playing selected songs from the impossibly voluminous catalog of Sun City Girls material created during their 27 year history together.

Listed below are the dates announced as I write this, and more will be announced as they are confirmed. For the very latest information please consult the official Sun City Girls web site.

Whatever you do don’t miss it, and while you’re there have a shot of cheap scotch for Charlie.

5.18.08 – Seattle, WA – Triple Door
5.19.08 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir
5.21.08 – San Francsico, CA – Slim’s
5.23.08 – Phoenix, AZ – Modified
5.25.08 – Los Angeles , CA – Echoplex
5.27.08 – Sacramento, CA – TBA
6.14.08 – Chicago, IL – Lakeshore Theater
6.15.08 – Louisville, KY – TBA
6.18.08 – Montreal, QC – La Sala Rosa
6.19.08 – Cambridge, MA – The Brattle Theater
6.20.08 – Portland, ME – SPACE
6.21.08 – Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s
6.22.08 – New York , NY – Knitting Factory
6.24.08 – Pittsburgh, PA – Andy Warhol Gallery
6.25.08 – Washington, D.C. – Black Cat
6.26.08 – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle
6.27.08 – Atlanta, GA – TBA

More Dates coming: Austin, Tucson, San Diego and more.

Al “Fingers” Capone

Mugshot of Al CaponeOf all the wonders and horrors of the Al Capone legend, I’ll bet you didn’t know that he once played banjo in a band with Machine Gun Kelly.

In late 1934, convict Capone was transferred from the federal prison in Atlanta to Alcatraz, the toughest prison in the country. As recounted by Gus Russo in his fine book, The Outfit (Bloomsbury, 2001):

After a year of begging, Capone persuaded the warden to allow him twenty minutes a day to form a band with other prisoners. Al had his family send him top of the line banjos, mandolins, and music charts and he succeeded in teaching himself some rudimentary songs. On drums was “Machine Gun” Kelly, while sax chores were handled by kidnapper Harmon Whaley. The ensemble was disbanded after a violent row erupted during a rehearsal.

According to legend, the sound of a ghostly banjo can still sometimes be heard wafting from Capone’s old cell.  If you want, you can visit Alcatraz today and perhaps shake a shank to some spectral hot jazz.

Climax Golden Twins, Alvarius B, and David Daniell this Thursday

Alvarius B, Climax Golden Twins, and David Daniell - Jan. 17, 2008, 10 PM - at the Rendezvous (Seattle)

Not to dis any of the other performers (all of them outstanding and well worth your lousy half-a-sawbuck all on their lonesome), but I think they would agree it goes without saying that The act to catch is Alvarius B (aka Alan Bishop from Sun City Girls), who will be playing only his third solo show ever.  If you haven’t heard his albums (or perhaps his collaborative releases with Cerberus Shoal and Dylan  Nyoukis) you’re missing out.  (Although:  the SCG site offers the recent CD re-issue of his first album.)  If you’re in town for this show Thursday night, you shouldn’t miss out even more.  So what if it’s a school night?  Everyone else at work will prolly have a hangover, too — only yours will be cooler.

There’s more about the line-up (including links to their various web sites) at The Rendezvous’ own web site.