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Radio Interview with Frankie Manning

by 3PBS

MELBOURNE 3PBS IT’S A GAS 4.00PM
11TH FEBRUARY, 2002.

JAMIE SUPPA – 3PBS PRESENTER:
Someone who will be able to tell you about savoy jump, who … well, he was there when it was jumping and swinging, in a big way, and I’d like to welcome him to the PBS studios, Frankie Manning.

FRANKIE MANNING: Hi.

JAMIE:
How are you, mate?

FRANKIE:
Oh, I’m hanging in there.

JAMIE: You’re hanging in?

FRANKIE:
(Laughs) Yeah.

JAMIE:
You’ve had a big weekend?

FRANKIE:
Oh, it was a wonderful weekend; fabulous. I think I’m going to make Melbourne my home, Jim (laughs).

JAMIE:
(Laughs) Well, Frankie, it’s great to have you back in Melbourne. You’ve … well, if people don’t know Frankie Manning, he is one of the great Lindy Hoppers from way back, if I can say that, mate?

FRANKIE:
Yeah, way, way back, from last century, yes (laughs).

JAMIE:
(Laughs) And your in fact last visit to Melbourne was 1938, I believe.

FRANKIE:
’38. Phew, that’s a long time ago, man (laughs).

JAMIE:
That’s a long time, and what were you doing out here in 1938?

FRANKIE:
Well, I came out with a show that was called the Hollywood Hotel Revue. And we played the Princess Theatre, and it was a very big revue and we had eight dancers. We were called the Eight Big Apple Dancers at that particular time.

JAMIE:
Okay. And so this is your first time back, brought back by Swing Patrol in fact, who brought you back here to do some workshops. Now, you’re more on the workshop scene these days?

FRANKIE:
Yeah, I do a lot of that now, and I want to thank Claudia and the Swing Patrol organisation for having me back here after all these years. Of course Melbourne doesn’t look like it looked in 1938 (laughs)

JAMIE(Laughs)

FRANKIE:
It’s much more advanced now.

JAMIE:
Fantastic. And I mean, how does it … I was with you on Friday, you were telling some stories to a group of very enthusiastic Lindy Hoppers about some of the times when … well, when you were back doing Lindy Hop, when it was … when the dance was first … well, it first sort of originated and was coming along, and you’ve been around for quite a long time. How does it feel to have … well, to have seen all that change and to … well, to see it come along? I mean, that’s all you knew, I suppose, back then.

FRANKIE:
Well that’s … yes, you’re practically right. That was all we knew back then, was dancing, and we … because we had such big bands like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford and those big name bands back in those days, we had an opportunity to dance practically every day, and … which was our outlet for … the Depression, I should say …

JAMIE:
Yeah, every day of the week, you say, you …

FRANKIE:
Every day of the week, yes.

JAMIE:
… dancing to big bands.

FRANKIE:
Yes.

JAMIE:
That’s amazing.

FRANKIE:
And that was a wonderful experience, and to be able to look back then and say, yeah man, I used to do that a long time ago, you know, and at this particular age I’m still, you know, able to move a little bit, you know, so I kind of appreciate having been here at that time and here at this time.

JAMIE:
Yeah (laughs).

FRANKIE:
(Laughs)

CLAUDIA FUNDER – SWING PATROL:
Frankie says he can move a little bit. I’m telling you, folks, Frankie can move a lot (laughs). He did a lot of moving over the weekend. He was a …

JAMIE:
He still moves good, Claudia, yeah?

CLAUDIA:
Moving very nicely, yeah.

JAMIE:
Yes, yes, moving good.

CLAUDIA:
Indeed, indeed.

JAMIE:
Unbelievable. And talking about some of the bands, what would some of your favourite bands be? I mean, you’ve probably seen a lot of great bands …

FRANKIE:
Yes, I did, and my favourite band of all time naturally would be … I said naturally because to me that’s the greatest swing band in the land.

JAMIE:
(Laughs)

FRANKIE:
… that was Count Basie’s band. And I had the great pleasure of being able to work with these guys quite a long time, and I got to know most of the musicians in the band and got to hang out with Count, you know, and that was great, you know.

JAMIE:
Fantastic.

FRANKIE:
I also worked with, you know, guys like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, and worked quite a bit with Cab and Basie. I did a couple of gigs with Duke Ellington but Cab and Basie, I worked quite a bit with them and I got to know them quite well. As a matter of fact Cab Calloway was a great basketball player, and we had a basketball team and he and I used to play on the same basketball team, so we had a wonderful time playing on that.

JAMIE:
Fantastic.

CLAUDIA:
A swinging basketball team? That’s fabulous.

FRANKIE:
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.

JAMIE:
Absolutely. Something I’ve always wanted to ask you, Frankie, have you … do you play a musical instrument at all?

FRANKIE:
Only with my feet.

JAMIE:
Only your feet (laughs)?

FRANKIE:
And that’s not drums, either (laughs). No, I don’t play any musical instruments. I really love to listen to them, and at one period of time I was able to distinguish musicians from … one from another, you know, because I used to listen to music so intently.

JAMIE:
So you knew who was on the trumpet or who was on the …

FRANKIE:
Yes. Yes.

JAMIE:
Oh wow, fantastic. Hey, something else I wanted to talk to you about. In Harlem, back when you grew up, back in the ‘20s and ‘30s I suppose, it was a vibrant scene and there was a lot to do back then, obviously. There was, like, a lot of ballrooms. You were talking about that on Friday. Just tell the folks out there about some of these ballrooms you used to visit.

FRANKIE:
Yeah, well back in those days … I think I mentioned a little earlier that that was kind of an outlet, because it was during the Depression time, and during I’d say the weekend mostly, people after they finished work they wanted to, you know, forget about the hard work that they had been doing. As you know, back in tho… no, you don’t know, you’re too young for that (laughs).

JAMIE:
(Laughs) I would like to know; I wish I was there, I tell you. Some of the stories you were telling have …

FRANKIE:
But anyway, back in those days there wasn’t a union. You know, people go to work from eight o’clock to eight at night, they would work twelve hours or as long as their boss tell them to work, you know. So when they got off from work they wanted to do something, you know, beside; they wanted to get away from that work and, you know, thing. So they would go to … they would go out dancing. And that was the big thing, because there were so many places for them to go dancing, and we had the opportunity to dance with these big name bands. I mean, live music, not … well, they didn’t have tapes. They didn’t have CDs. So you didn’t have to go to a ballroom and hear those things, you just heard a live band playing. So that was very inspirational for most of the people who went to the ballrooms. And there was such an exchange between the musicians and the dancers at that period of time, so a lot of people got to know the musicians and bands.

JAMIE:
And at this time you weren’t actu… I mean you were working I suppose, but your work was different. You were actually full time dancing, is that right?

FRANKIE:
Yes, I was dancing professionally. I danced with a group that was called Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and they were known as the fastest dancers in the world, you know (laughs) …

JAMIE:
Yeah.

FRANKIE:
… at that particular time. We were listed as … when we came out here with the Hollywood Hotel Revue, the Eight Big Apple Dancers, that’s the way they called … that’s the way they named us, the world’s fastest dancers, you know. And I guess they could kind of look upon us as the world’s fastest, because when we first came in and we played the Princess Theatre they couldn’t … it was hard for them to find a drummer who could play the music fast enough for us to dance to. So they had to go out to a nightclub and find, you know, a drummer that was playing some music at a night club, you know, and then he would come into the theatre and just play the music for our act, you know (laughs). So it was a …

JAMIE:
Fantastic.

FRANKIE:
Yeah, and so people considered us pretty fast.

JAMIE:
Yeah. Fantastic. I tell you what, we’ll play a little swing tune, Frankie, and then we’ll come back and have a bit more of a chat.

We’ve got Frankie Manning here in the studios of PBS, a fantastic swing dancer from way back. But anyhow, coming back with another chat with Frankie.

[track played]

Yes, Jimmie Lunceford there, Tain’t What You Do, and …

FRANKIE:
It’s the way how you do it.

JAMIE:
It certainly is.

FRANKIE:
(Laughs)

JAMIE:
And the man who knows how to do it, Frankie Manning, joining us here in the studios, and Frankie, just … I mean, you’ve probably seen Jimmie Lunceford do that song live.

FRANKIE:
Oh yes, many times I’ve heard Jimmie Lunceford do that particular tune, and the single and the song happen to be Trummy Young, and Sy Oliver did the arrangement and Willie Smith is on alto sax on that song. And the drums is … ooh …

CLAUDIA:
Testing, testing …

FRANKIE:
Joe … oh, what’s his name? Joe … Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe … I tell you in a few minutes (laughs).

JAMIE:
All right.

FRANKIE:
Oh, Joe [Jimmy] Crawford …

JAMIE:
Oh all right, yeah.

FRANKIE:… on the drums there.

JAMIE: Talking about some of the bands, just to sidetrack a little from the dancing, but I’ve seen … we’ve got some swing bands in Melbourne and stuff, and some of them aren’t bad but I find that when you talk about some of these bands from back in the ’30s and ‘40s, they just … when they play they just have a real presence. Do you find that with, like, bands in … all round the world these days it’s hard to get that same feel? I mean, is it because of the musicians? I know there’s a lot of … there was a lot of black musicians in the bands back then …

FRANKIE:
Mmm.

JAMIE:… and I find that some of the musicians just don’t have quite the feel that they had back then on, you know …

FRANKIE:
Well, I think that’s quite true. Back in the days when … you know, like in the ‘30s and ‘40s bands were, you know, like pop stars, you know. Like, if there was a show going on it would be like … say, for instance, say Count Basie and his Revue, which meant that he had acts with them. So the band had to play music for all the acts on the show.

JAMIE:
Right.

FRANKIE:
So they would be playing for dancers. And they would play for dancers who would tap dance or who would do any kind of dancing. Therefore when they went into a ballroom they would also still be playing for the dancers. So, it was a different feel to see and feel the dancers on the floor while you’re playing the music, because you know that if you play something that’s, you know, like a great riff in the music, you know, and then you see a dancer out on the floor try to do something to that riff that you just played, that inspires the … you know, the musician to try to play more. And then when the dancers feel that the musician is playing something along with them and the dancers say, oh yeah, I’m going to do something that he just played too, you know, so they got this communication going between them.

Or, mostly nowadays you go to hear a band and the best thing you can do is just sit in your seat and pat your feet. You know, I mean you pay to go and see a band and they performing on stage, you know, and they’re not playing for dancers …

JAMIE:
Yeah …

FRANKIE:
… so what happens is that they wind up playing for each other, you know, say like the guy next to you say, yeah man, that was great. You know, one of those things like that. Then they don’t get the feel of … like they playing for the dancers, therefore it’s a different feel for the guys that play now.

CLAUDIA:
We had a wonderful experience a couple of months ago on a Saturday night at Manchester Lane, a venue in the city, when there were a few dancers there dancing to the band, and the band just turned to us and the lead, Steve Purcell, who was leading the band said, how fast do you want it? And all the dancers started clapping the rhythm.

FRANKIE:
Mmm hmm.

CLAUDIA:
Some said, you know, we want it this fast, clap clap, and we set a little beat. And okay, guys, here we go; five, six, seven, away they go. And for a few tracks there the dancers were kind of setting the pace. And then the next track the band leader said, do you want faster, do you want slower? Oh yeah, we’ll go up a little bit. And we set the pace a little bit faster. And so they picked that up and they took that, and …

JAMIE:
So they worked with them. Worked with …

CLAUDIA:
And they worked with us.

JAMIE:
… the people, rather than just …

CLAUDIA:
And they worked with the dancers, and the feeling was just so different to just dancing to the music that happened to be being played by the band at the time. And then we started dancing in amongst the band, and we were dancing in amongst the bass player and in amongst … and, you know, teasing them a little and dancing around there. And it was … the interaction was just beautiful; just lovely. So I’m hoping that some of that will come back into the dance scene today.

FRANKIE:
Well that is quite true, Claudia, because back in our days the same thing would happen. We would be in the Savoy, like in the day time we had opportunity to go to the Savoy Ballroom where all the greatest bands played, and a lot of the time, say, a band was coming in to play for a week, and they might be rehearsing during the day, and we would be at the Savoy during the day rehearsing some of our stuff. And if they have a new tune they would usually come over to the dancers and say, well, hey, how do you like this tune, you know. And they’d play it, and they’d say, well, what about the tempo? And we’d say, well that’s a little bit too slow, or it’s a little bit too fast, why don’t you play it just about here? And they would do that because they knew that they were going to play this music for the dancers. So when they get feedback from the dancers they knew exactly how to play that music when they got on the bandstand.

JAMIE:
Yeah. Hey, you were … you’ve been dancing … well, you’ve danced a long time. You started dancing at the Savoy Ballroom, or other places too; you worked your way up to the Savoy, as you said, on Friday. And through the years you danced professionally. And then you left the dance scene around about in the ‘50s, is that right?

FRANKIE:
Yeah, and … yeah, 1954 I stopped dancing because the jobs were getting kind of scarce (laughs) …

JAMIE:
Yeah.

FRANKIE:
… and I was trying to raise a family, and my wife would say … or whatever jobs I got might have been out of town. I might do a nightclub and might be gone for six weeks, you know, or eight weeks or something like that, and my wife would say to me, say, well you always gone, you know. And the kids are going, you know … and so I said, well okay, I get a job. Because there wasn’t that many jobs anyway, so I got a job working in the post office, and I stayed in the post office short period of time, like thirty-five years, you know (laughs).

CLAUDIA: (
Laughs) Just a little while.

JAMIE:
Yeah. And then you …

FRANKIE:
Well, actually, I tell … I’m sorry.

JAMIE:
Yeah.

FRANKIE:
Actually, when I first went into the post office my idea was, I said, well, I’ll stay in here about a year, and I … and maybe the work will pick up and then I’ll leave, you know. But that year turned into thirty-five, so …

JAMIE:
Yeah, oh gee.

FRANKIE:
But I had a wonderful time there, I don’t regret it.

JAMIE:
So how did it feel to … from that, from having worked all that time in the post office, to then get rediscovered, I suppose, you were rediscovered, and then people started saying, well hey, Frankie’s still moving and he’s still got it, let’s get him out there and start teaching?

FRANKIE:
Well actually it was quite a surprise, and it was a wonderful surprise when I started back dancing and I saw that there was still some people out there who … oh, well there was a new crop of people coming up now who wanted to do this. I mean, at the time that I was in the post office there was very few people there had even heard of Lindy Hop, because the only thing they were talking about was Jitterbug and they didn’t know that there was a dance called Lindy Hop. And I would ask the question, I said well do you know how to do Lindy Hop? And they would look at me physic… I mean, you know, like physically and say, what are you talking about? I say, you know how to Jitterbug? Oh yeah. I say, ho, that’s the same thing, you know. I mean, ‘cause a lot of people ask me, so what’s the difference between Jitterbug and Lindy Hop? I said, well there isn’t any difference, Jitterbug is just a nickname for Lindy Hop.

Say if your name is William and they call you Bill, you’re the same guy. So it’s the same dance.

JAMIE:
Yeah.

FRANKIE:
It’s just that the name was, you know, put there instead of Lindy Hop, and most of the time those that started calling the Jitterbug back in the ‘30s, they were looking at Lindy Hoppers and saying, they’re Jitterbugs, so it’s the same thing.

CLAUDIA:
Mmm.

JAMIE:
Yeah. And I mean, having … well, I suppose it might have started off slowly, you started doing some workshops and kicking in with travelling around a little, but now these days you’re quite busy.

FRANKIE:
Oh well, yeah, I …

JAMIE:
Travelling the world.

FRANKIE:
Yeah, I … mmm, a little busy. I just … I have workshops practically every weekend, you know, so …

JAMIE:
Every weekend?

FRANKIE:
Yeah.

JAMIE:
That’s amazing. And you’re off to New Zealand?

FRANKIE:
Yeah, off to New Zealand tomorrow (laughs).

JAMIE:
Excellent. Sounds good. And you haven’t been there since 1938 as well I believe.

FRANKIE:
Yeah, man I’m looking forward to this trip.

JAMIE:
It probably hasn’t changed over there, to be honest, but …

[Laughter]

… we won’t go into that. A pleasure to have you in, Frankie, and if people want to see some of your work they can catch you at a workshop. Also, you’ve appeared in some movies as well in the past?

FRANKIE:
Ah, yes, I did a couple of movies (laughs).

JAMIE:
A couple of movies?

FRANKIE:
A few movies, yeah. I did A Day at the Races, Everybody Sing with Judy Garland, Radio City Revels with Ann Miller and Manhattan Merry-Go-Round with Ann Miller. And Hellzapoppin’ with Olson and Johnson, and Malcolm X with Denzel Washington and Spike Lee, and Stompin’ At The Savoy with Vanessa Williams (laughs).

CLAUDIA:
(Laughs) Got to get that. Well, no, I thought …

FRANKIE:
Boy, that was a wonderful thing, dancing with Vanessa Williams (laughs).

CLAUDIA:
I’m still back on Denzel Washington (laughs).

FRANKIE:
(Laughs)

JAMIE:
(Laughs)

FRANKIE:
I don’t blame you …

CLAUDIA:
How’s Denzel trotting around the floor (laughs)?

FRANKIE:
… I don’t blame you, girl (laughs).

JAMIE:
All right, mate, well you keep swinging, and good to see you back in town again.

CLAUDIA:
I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Frankie very much for coming to Melbourne. Swing Patrol had a fabulous weekend this weekend with Frankie, and we’ve just been thrilled and delighted to host him in Melbourne, and thank you also to Jamie and PBS for having us on, and …

JAMIE:
It’s a pleasure. It’s always good to promote this sort of stuff, and very …

CLAUDIA:
Yeah, and promoting a little bit of what we’re doing and trying to do, and get it out to the listeners out there who are interested and maybe didn’t make it, and … but also still take an interest. So thank you, Frankie, for coming back to Melbourne.

FRANKIE:
Well it has been a pleasure being here in Melbourne. As I mentioned to Claudia before, I go to Stockholm where this place called Herrang is outside of Stockholm and they have a big dance camp there. And people ask me, say, well, what’s your favourite place to go? I say, Herrang, you know. But now if they come over and start saying it, I … man, I like Melbourne, Jim (laughs). So I’m very …

CLAUDIA:
(Laughs) And we like you saying that.

FRANKIE:
I’m very happy to have been able to come here with the Swing Patrol hosts and hostesses.

JAMIE:
Pleasure to have you. A great ambassador for the swing scene, Mr Frankie Manning. See you next time, mate.

FRANKIE:
Thank you, Jamie.

END OF INTERVIEW