The Neo-Swing Revival:
A Hepcat Remembers The Scene
by Dante Murphy
It was going to be a cufflinks night. Vintage cufflinks and my favorite tie bar, the sword with the mother-of-pearl handle. Indigo Swing was in town, and everything had to be perfect.
I made sure the cufflinks were laying right then took inventory from bottom to top. The brown and tan spectators looked good, a scuff or two on the heels from too-quick Charleston but nothing that would show in the forgiving light of the Five Spot. Vintage single-clip sock garters held up vintage socks; if anyone looked closely, they’d see that the socks complemented the color in the pattern of my tie. The cuffs were wide, the waist high, and the crease razor-sharp on my linen trousers. From the pocket, a long loop of brass watch chain fell almost to my knee, then clipped to my suspenders. We’d all bought various sections of chain at the hardware store to make chains like this, but I somehow found a deco-inspired pattern that looked period and had great drape. My shirt was tucked in tight; nothing looked worse than a shirt-tail flapping out while your partner snapped a crisp double-spin. The vintage tie, a hand-painted geometric in copper and light-blue tones, was pressed out wide, four inches to be exact, and held fast by a sculptured Double-Windsor with just a hint of dimple. No jacket tonight; the club was a sweat lodge most of the summer, and with Indigo in town it would be a cauldron from start to finish. I grabbed my Panama with the brown pleated band, neatly folded three Jacksons into my vintage cigarette case, and made for the door.
My life wasn’t like this a year ago. Nobody’s was, at least not in Philadelphia. We were all dormant volcanoes of vintage, closeted fans of the music our grandparents loved and the style they radiated in their vivid memories and faded photographs.
There was no "big bang" that brought us all together. Philip Cohen had opened the Five Spot just a few months before, the only supper club in the city, and booked the City Rhythm Orchestra in on Sundays in the hopes of attracting a dinner and dancing crowd. Jacob Morris had relocated from Hollywood, he missed the Derby so he talked Philip into letting him offer swing dance lessons before the band started.
I was at that first lesson, and nearly every one after that as the crowds and my confidence grew. The faces of the other dancers became familiar, then friendly, then family. Philip was gracious, often buying a round or inviting us downstairs to meet the band; I guess it was his way of showing appreciation for his unofficial floor show. Jacob was quick to recognize and favor his regular students, choosing us to demonstrate moves or partner with those brave enough to come without a partner.
But really, it was the culture that held us together. We’d go vintage shopping together, and tip each other off to thrift stores with a cachet of period garb at good prices. One friend might buy a suit or dress that fit another just so it was owned by one of us. We’d share stories of being in the school jazz band or listening to 78s with our grandparents, tracing our roots back to the music that had brought us together. By the end of that first summer, our collective transformation into bastions of past style was complete. And it was only going to get better.
It's a Friday night, and like always there's a line, but this time it's stretching to the end of the alley. Word is out, and while most of the people in line have come to check out the scene, it's easy to spot the dancers. The men wear hats, some woefully out of period, and the women wear dresses spanning the seasons, but all with full skirts. Even if they're not exactly on target, they're close enough for me, and they'll look fine in the dim haze once we're all inside.