The Philippines, Swing Dance, and Jazz
Mabuhay! Originally for Filipino American History Month 2018 I wanted to write a well researched and edited post about the relationship between Filipinos, swing-era jazz, and swing dancing. Sadly I did not have the time to fully flesh out a well-written post but I did not want to put off sharing what I did find. This is by no means comprehensive, but I hope you learn something new.
Bodabil a.k.a. Vaudeville
To quote Wikipedia,
Vaudeville/bodabil in the Philippines, more commonly referred to as bodabil, was a popular genre of entertainment in the Philippines from the 1910s until the mid-1960s.
In 1920, a Filipino entertainer named Luis Borromeo returned from North America, renamed himself “Borromeo Lou”, and organized what became the first Filipino bodabil company. The main showcase of Borromeo Lou’s company was an orchestral band, which played what he called “Classical-Jazz Music”, and variety acts in between. Borromeo’s band is credited as having popularized jazz in the Philippines. It was also Borromeo who dubbed the emerging form as “vod-a-vil”, which soon became popularly known by its Filipinized name, bodabil.
In 1923, there were three theaters in Manila that were exclusively devoted to bodabil. By 1941, there were 40 theaters in Manila featuring bodabil shows. The popularity of bodabil was not confined to Manila stages. Bodabil routines were also staged in town fiestas and carnivals. The typical bodabil shows would feature a mixture of performances of American ballads, torch songs and blues numbers; dance numbers featuring tap dancers and chorus girls and jitterbug showcases; and even the occasional kundiman.
Notable performers and musicians
- Katy de la Cruz
- Hailed as “The Queen of Filipino Jazz” and as “The Queen of Bodabil” her signature tune was her rendition of St. Louis Blues.
- Article by Alex R. Castro that covers her background and her nomination for the 1924 Manila Carnivals. Held from 1908-1939, the 2-week fair was organized as a goodwill event to celebrate harmonious U.S.-Philippine relations and to showcase our commercial, industrial and agricultural progress.
- Her Wikipedia page gives a good general overview of her life and accomplishments.
- There was a musical based on her life named Katy! the Musical with music by Ryan Cayabyab and story and libretto by Jose Javier Reyes.
Katy de la Cruz performance of Some of These Days (Sadly it gets cut off early…)
- Luis Borromeo a.k.a. Borromeo Lou
- To quote this article from Alex’s R. Castro’s blog “Manila Carnivals”, “Luis Borromeo, originally from Cebu, was one of the first Filipino entertainers who made it big in the jazz music halls of America and Canada in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1920, Luis Borromeo returned to the Philippines, renamed himself Borromeo Lou, and put up a band that popularized classical-jazz music.”
- Fritz Schenker writes about some of his compositions here. Sadly the .mp3 links no longer work.
- “Creating Masculinity In Los Angeles Little Manila, Working-Class Filipinos and Popular Culuture, 1920s-1950s” by Linda España-Maram
- Written by a professor in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at California State Long Beach this book is relevant to fans of jazz and swing dancing because it talks about the taxi-dance hall culture in Los Angeles from the 1920s and onward in respect to Filipino men.
- A good overview of the book can be read here.
- “Pinoy Jazz Traditions” by Richie C. Quirino
- To quote this amazon page, “Pinoy Jazz Traditions, is an abridged version of an original manuscript, The History of Jazz in the Philippines, covering the full spectrum of jazz in the Philippines, from its beginnings in 1898, all the way up to contemporary times”
- There is a free documentary online named “Pinoy Jazz: The Story of Jazz in the Philippines” which is based on this book.
- “Filipino immgrant workers: Reinvented in McIntosh Suits” by the blog Fil-Am Experiences 1930-1945
- An article about McIntosh suits, a popular clothing choice for Filipino men in the 1930s.
While this was short I plan to commit to writing a more polished article next year. For other Pinoys reading this article I hope this helps bridge together our background as Filipinos, swing dancing, and jazz. Salamat po for your time.