jazz hands

The reason I left the Tru Thoughts 12th birthday show early on Saturday night was because I had something special on yesterday, a Sunday afternoon at Dingwalls.
As much as I enjoy jazz, I have no great love for it. I am too young to have gone to the original Sunday afteroons but this is one of my favourite events of the year. I started going because I loved Brazilian Love Affair with Patrick Forge. Over the last few years I trudge up to Camden, normally in the rain and freezing cold (this years sun and blue sky was a welcome change), join the queue munching on an Argentinian steak sandwich, to spend about 6 or 7 hours dancing to jazz and being part of what I believe is a special occasion. Even for myself, the Sunday Afternoons feel like a family get together. The queues start building outside at about 12 and the dancers and regulars all greet each other with the enthusiasm that a year long seperation can build. I recognise a number of them, indeed all main ones that normally take part in the circle of dance I now recognise. Behind me in the queue was a 58 year soul DJ who was telling a lady his group had befriended in the crowd (a mother of two who had come down on her own from Cambridge to get her jazz hands out) that he had been out in Ronnie Scott’s to 4am dancing, I felt ashamed that I had left Koko at 12:20 the night before. If I have that stamina at that age I will be a happy man.

Once inside, bags and coats are bundled on the stage and the hands, feet, legs and hips are released to the music. Straight out one of my favourite dancers, who always has a bowler hat on with his money tucked in the side is pirouetting and jumping as Patrick Forge warms the crowd up. Apart the bowler there are any number of hats, with flat caps being an almost essential piece of unofficial dress code. The only other essential is a hankerchief, because you will most definitely end up sweating, even just watching the jazz dancers perform in the middle of the circles will make you sweat. The bags left on stage at the beginning are raided periodically by their owners, t-shirts are changed and glistening brows wiped.

While at the bar I learned that the original Dingwalls run from 1987 to 1991, this was the 20th anniversary of the original afternoon. With all the acrobatic, energetic dancing it’s easy to forget that some of the regulars are not as young as their swinging would have you believe, at one point one of them was sat down at the back, having his leg massaged. Perhaps in recognition of the age of it’s regular crowd, there have been live sets in the last couple of Dingwalls (perhaps before then, I can’t remember). Yesterday Zara McFarlane showcased her outstanding voice with a band that me and my friend could not decide were either extremely young or not. Regardless, they were superb, and allowed the crowd to catch their breath, Zara later came out onto the dancefloor to join in the fun.
The music continued, Sir Norman Jay and his hat made an appearance, the man Gilles Peterson claimed was a great influence on him, Bob Jones was in attendence and a steady stream of people made their way up to Gilles and Patrick on the stage. At one point I turned around and there was a guy right behind me, he was a big dude, he went up and spoke to Gilles and Patrick and came back down to dance. Shortly after Patrick brought in what he claimed would be a future Dingwalls classic, from someone who was in the house tonight. The guy was Gregory Porter and the tune was 1960 what?.
Gilles Peterson got Gregory up on stage, it was the big dude who had been behind me. He acknowledged the appreciative crowd and smashed the words out over his own song, including the mini call and response that the crowd whole heartedly joined in with. He got a lot of love when he stepped down from the stage, and after an initial flurry of well wishers stood to the side jiving with everyone else.

It was that kind of atmosphere that made this a special dingwalls for me, if not the best I have been to. There is no attitude, no chicken necks, barely any kids, just a group of people who were there at the beginning, and people only just discovering it now, but I reckon almost everyone there was there for the music, for Gilles and Patrick, and to wave those jazz hands.


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