Lively jazz show at Hornchurch theatre hopes to swing audiences back to 1920s New York
PUBLISHED: 15:00 19 June 2018
For one night only the Queen's Theatre will be transported into 1920s New York City for an evening at Harlem's legendary nightclub, the Cotton Club.
The Lindy Hop Dance Company and the Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra with vocalists Marlene Hill and Megs Etherington are taking their show Swinging at the Cotton Club to Hornchurch.
Maurice Dennis, orchestra leader and musical director described Swinging at the Cotton Club as being similar to a variety show.
He told the Recorder: “It’s a very engaging, fast moving performance.
“There’s a lot of dancing, music from all forms of jazz and dance ranging from the Charleston, Jive, right through to chorus tap.
“We’ve got performances from specialist tap dancer, Lee Payne who toured with Diversity.
“We get quite a range of people who come to see the show and when younger people come, they always share how much they’ve enjoyed it.
“I always say if people say it’s been a fun show, then that’s a compliment, because it’s not a historical or academic, it’s all about entertainment.”
The Lindy Hop Dance Company and Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra also provide their audience with many opportunities to get involved.
“For the last number in the show we ask people if they would like to come up on the stage to dance with the dancers,” Maurice said.
“There’s a bit of comedy in the show, and while it’s difficult to explain - there are some surprises for the audience.”
In the 1920s performances by Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Waller would have had the Cotton Club swinging, while dancers such as Bojangles Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers lit up the stage with their breathtaking dance.
For years black entertainers performed for white audiences at the legendary nightspot in the Harlem district of New York.
Bandleader Duke Ellington is one of the most closely associated performers with the venue and it is said that the club inspired the jungle style of his well-known band.
Maurice, who believes that, “jazz is the one great thing to come out of America” added: “Because black people weren’t allowed to go into the dance clubs, all of the performers at [the jazz clubs] would be black and the audiences would be white.
“Then their music was appropriated and developed into something else, but as a black art form, some of the best music and dance happened in that period.
“Jazz came out of places like New Orleans, French African countries and from the West Indies - that mix of music developed a unique form of jazz which was largely improvised.
“It was played in a particular way that could only come out multicultural situations.”
Some of Ellington’s classics including Mood Indigo, Black and Tan Fantasy and Rockin’ in Rhythm were first performed by the band during their Cotton Club years.
“We feature a number of Ellington’s well-known songs like Minnie the Moocher, where the dancers echo the band. That song really gets the audience engaged,” said Maurice.
“We’re often stating the melody and then improvising, it’s a method that’s very unique to jazz.
“In a way, rap music has come out of that genre too.
“[The show] is a form of nostalgia for a wonderful period of music.”
Maurice’s band first came together in May, 1968 in Brighton and they recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.
“We’ve always played music from the 1920s and 1930s. As soon as we discovered the music of Duke Ellington we started to study it and include it in our performances.
“When we met the dancers we thought it would be a great idea to collaborate and celebrate the Cotton Club.”
This will be the band’s first time performing in Hornchurch, as they tend to perform in theatres in Chelmsford, Colchester and Dartford.
Swinging at the Cotton Club will be shown at the Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane on Saturday, July 28.
For tickets call 01708 443333.