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Jump for Joy

Jump for Joy: Jazz, Basketball, and Black Culture in 1930s America

GENA CAPONI-TABERY
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk54b
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  • Book Info
    Jump for Joy
    Book Description:

    If the 1930s was the Swing Era, then the years from 1937 on might well be called the Jump Era. That summer Count Basie recorded “Jumping at the Woodside,” and suddenly jump tunes seemed to be everywhere. Along with the bouncy beat came a new dance step—the highflying aerials of the jitterbuggers—and the basketball games that took place in the dance halls of African America became faster, higher, and flashier. Duke Ellington and a cast of hundreds put the buoyant spirit of the era on stage with their 1941 musical revue, Jump for Joy, a title that captured the momentum and direction of the new culture of exuberance. Several highprofile public victories accompanied this increasing optimism: the spectacular successes of African American athletes at the 1936 Olympics, the 1937 union victory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Joe Louis's 1937 and 1938 heavyweight championship fights. For the first time in history, black Americans emerged as cultural heroes and ambassadors, and many felt a new pride in citizenship. In this book, Gena CaponiTabery chronicles these triumphs and shows how they shaped American music, sports, and dance of the 1930s and beyond. But she also shows how they emboldened ordinary African Americans to push for greater recognition and civil liberties—how cultural change preceded and catalyzed political action. Tracing the path of one symbolic gesture—the jump—across cultural and disciplinary boundaries, CaponiTabery provides a unique political, intellectual, and artistic analysis of the years immediately preceding World War II.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-077-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  4. CHAPTER 1: SNEAKERS AND TUXES
    (pp. 1-20)

    Former Boston Celtics player and coach Bill Russell wrote: “People in all kinds of cultures are known to ‘jump for joy’ in moments of supreme happiness. Jumping is an internationally recognized expression of joy, and basketball is a sport organized around jumping…. It’s possible for a player to jump because he’s happy, but it’s more likely that he’s happy because he’s jumping. I have heard players complain about almost every detail of the game—the rules, the size or color of the ball, the shape or temperature of the dressing room—but I’ve never heard anybody complain about the fact...

  5. CHAPTER 2: UP, UP, AND AWAY
    (pp. 21-34)

    In a 1937 article titled “What Is This Thing Called Swing?” Billy Rowe, writing for thePittsburgh Courier, declared, “Swing is the blues on roller skates, the old fox trot in the heat lap of a marathon; it’s dance time TNT.”¹ The upbeat tempo of swing music and jump blues reflected and embodied the newer, faster tempo of urban, mechanized twentieth-century American life. Now, in the 1930s, music and dance made the superpowers of speed and defiance of gravity available to everyone. The music critic Stanley Dance compared a swing band to “an airplane taking off after roaring down a...

  6. CHAPTER 3: THE 1936 OLYMPICS
    (pp. 35-50)

    The performances of America’s black athletes at the 1936 Olympics was unprecedented in world history. No country before had taken so many black competitors to the games, and to take such a team to Berlin, home of a new social and political system built on the presumption of racial purity, was audacious on an international scale. Many believed that with this Olympic team, the United States made a statement to the world, and specifically to Hitler, about the nature of democracy and equality.

    But the United States in 1936 was far from an egalitarian society. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer,...

  7. CHAPTER 4: THE LINDY HOP TAKES TO THE AIR
    (pp. 51-67)

    One of the earliest descriptions of the Lindy Hop appears in Carl Van Vechten’s novelParties: Scenes from Contemporary New York Life. In the 1930 novel Van Vechten states that the “first official appearance” of the Lindy Hop was at the Negro Marathon staged at the Manhattan Casino in 1928. Van Vechten, an active socialite and keen cultural observer, claims that by 1929 “it was possible to observe an entire ball-room filled with couples devoting themselves to its celebration.”¹ Van Vechten’s colorful narrative is full of the hyperbole of the era: “The Lindy Hop consists in a certain dislocation of...

  8. CHAPTER 5: THE JOINT IS JUMPING
    (pp. 68-80)

    The new social dances of the 1920s led to a nationwide demand for dancing and dance music. Bands that had previously specialized in ragtime or country-fiddle dance music, in brass band music, or even in supplying music for minstrel or carnival shows began to include jazz in their repertoire. Traveling territory bands brought dance music to small towns but also provided jobs and experience to young musicians and served as nomadic conservatories, where musicians could develop skills in playing, arranging, and in the business of music. In The Swing Era, Schuller asserts that “virtually all jazz orchestras were at one...

  9. CHAPTER 6: ʺTHATʹS NOT BASKETBALLʺ: FAST BREAKS, JUMP SHOTS, AND SLAM DUNKS
    (pp. 81-112)

    Basketball originated under city conditions—at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. It quickly became a game for all kinds of people and was played all over the United States—in small towns, in barnyards, on Indian reservations. Gymnasiums, schoolyards, and playgrounds put up hoops, and if they didn’t, players could make their own by nailing a tire rim or a basket to a post or a tree. Dedicated players who didn’t have a ball would make one by stuffing a sock with rags and dribbling it in the air. Old ball covers could be re-sewn and stuffed with sawdust.

    In...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 7: THE BROWN BOMBER: JOE LOUIS
    (pp. 113-134)

    Compared to the high-flying Lindy Hoppers or the fast-breaking, jump-shooting, flashy-passing, slam-dunking basketball players of the previous chapters, Joe Louis was positively ground-bound. Solid, soft-spoken, and powerful, as a representative figure Joe Louis seems to defy the airborne aesthetic of the late 1930s. But while Louis kept his feet on the ground, thousands of spectators did not. And while much of America was jumping up and down, celebrating his successes, Louis himself became a springboard for the aspirations of black Americans.

    As the most recognized black man of the 1930s, Louis was the first in the twentieth century to achieve...

  12. CHAPTER 8: RACIAL UPLIFT AND CULTURAL PERMISSION
    (pp. 135-144)

    Triumphs in African America must be measured against contemporary attitudes toward achievement. Sadly, a series of community riots in the United States formed a national pattern of white retaliation against black success. Riots from 1898 to 1906 resulted in several hundred lynchings. The tensions that erupted in those communities were sparked by fears of African American autonomy and self-determination. They were a warning to black America: Do not overstep your bounds. The Scottsboro case of 1931, in which nine black youths were charged with raping two white women on a train, is perhaps the best-known event in which African Americans...

  13. CHAPTER 9: JUMP JIM CROW
    (pp. 145-159)

    African American secular music is full of words that mean different things on different levels in different arenas that are somehow all connected. “Ragtime” may refer to a genre of music, to the “ragged time” (syncopation) characteristic of the music, to African American clog dancing, to the head rags dancers often wore, to the rags that were hoisted outside a barn or meeting hall to signal a dance, or to rags stuffed in the cracks of cabin walls to block out Sunday’s morning light, in hopes of prolonging the night.¹

    John S. Wright talks about the tangled legacy of meanings...

  14. CHAPTER 10: UPWARD MOBILITY: PULLMAN PORTERS, A. PHILIP RANDOLPH, AND POLITICAL CHANGE
    (pp. 160-174)

    The same year Joe Louis leveled James Braddock to win a world championship, an unspectacular group of men, known more for their deference than for their power or political prowess, won a victory of no less historic proportions. The 1937 contract between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Pullman Company was the first ever signed by a black union in the United States. With that contract, railroad porters became the most politically powerful group of African Americans in the country, at a time when they still made their living by serving white people.

    When George Mortimer Pullman began...

  15. CHAPTER 11: JUMP FOR JOY!
    (pp. 175-186)

    Randolph scheduled his 1941 march on Washington for July 1. The next day, on the other side of the country, tickets went on sale at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles for a musical revue, one that tried to do on stage what Randolph had partially accomplished with his threatened march—to bury Jim Crow. In the title song of this show, “Jump for Joy,” creator-composer Duke Ellington used one of his favorite musical devices to call to mind one of the most ubiquitous symbols of black life in America, one that harked back to Randolph’s Brotherhood of Pullman Porters:...

  16. AFTERWORD: JUMPING AS PLAY: AN AESTHETIC AND THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
    (pp. 187-200)

    In his introduction to the monumentally significant volume of essays, stories, and poetry titledThe New Negro(1925), Alain Locke, the public voice of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote about a “new spirit awake in the masses,” and said that a generation of African Americans was on the verge of a “spiritual emancipation.” Locke spoke of a community entering “a new dynamic phase, the buoyancy from within compensating for whatever pressure there may be of conditions from without.” Yet Locke believed his book would reach only the “thinking few,” and not the “migrant massees, shifting from countryside to city,” not the...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 201-238)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 239-260)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-261)