Jazzonia & the Harlem Diaspora
Curated by Diana Rodriguez & Judith Waring
01.07.09 - 01.08.09
Tuesday 30 June 2009 6-8.30pm
with a performance by dancers Tunji Falana and Annette Walker
In a Harlem cabaret
Six long-headed jazzers play.
A dancing girl whose eyes are bold
Lifts high a dress of silken gold.
This stanza from Langston Hughes' paean Jazzonia (1923) is a poetic riff on the vitality of New York's Harlem and an ode to African-American cultural history during the 'Jazz Age'. Harlem, real and imagined, challenged boundaries, racial, sexual and indeed musical. Throughout the inter-war years a diaspora of black artists arrived in Europe, epitomised now by Josephine Baker at the Folies Bergère in Paris. By the late 1930s London was the next gig.
In this show at CHELSEA space the London legacies of singers Adelaide Hall and Elisabeth Welch, who both had been in Paris with 'La Baker' are re-united with Jazz Tap legends Chuck Green and Honi Coles. George T. Nierenberg's classic film No Maps on My Taps (1979) was the catalyst for a renewed wider interest in artists originally from Harlem.
Vestiges of lives and of performances, a syncopation of the highs and lows of the 20th century against a backdrop of the Modernist movement reverberate from a variety of archives and reminiscences. The genesis of this exhibition was in a conversation with David Gothard. In the 1980s Gothard re-introduced these stars, by then in their 80s themselves, to live and film audiences during his artistic directorship at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith.
Archival footage, photographs, correspondence, posters, programmes and recordings 'perform' around what is absent and what is present: 'freedom' and improvisation with the voice and with the feet offer an aural history of African-American Modernism.