Yesterday I noticed a blog that referenced my book Shanghai's Dancing World along with some other clips and images of 1920s-30s Shanghai (the blogger also had some nice things to say about an interview podcast I participated in for the Shanghai Lit Fest in March 2010, which I greatly appreciated). Among them was a British Movietone Newsreel from 1929 showing elegantly dressed Chinese couples in a garden cafe dancing to a Western jazz orchestra. I immediately recognized it as the Majestic Hotel outdoor garden (I am not quite 100 percent sure of this, but sure enough to make that claim) and the orchestra would be Whitey Smith's, even though the conductor's head is cut off in the clip (you can see his body and up to his neck, but I couldn't identify him as Smith). Whitey features prominently in my book, and most of the information I found about him comes from his own memoir, I Didn't Make a Million.
Here is a photo of the clover-leaf-shaped Majestic Hotel Ballroom, where Whitey Smith and his orchestra performed in the late 1920s. It was considered by many to be the finest ballroom in all of Asia. Unfortunately the hotel was closed for business and eventually torn down along with its ballroom in the early 1930s. The space it occupied is where the Westgate Mall (meilongzhen guangchang) is today, on the corner of Jiangning and Nanjing West Roads.
Whitey Smith came to Shanghai in 1922 after being recruited by Louis Ladow, an American nightclub owner who was building the Carlton Cafe, then touted as the finest ballroom in the city. It was soon surpassed by both the Astor House Hotel, which renovated its ballroom in the early 1920s in light of the Jazz Age, and by the Majestic Hotel Ballroom which opened in 1925-6. Whitey was one of the earliest American jazz musicians to play in Shanghai, and he eventually played in all three of these ballrooms, as well as the famed Paramount Ballroom in the 1930s. He was one of the most loved jazz musicians in China between the 1920s and 1930s, as both his own book and many other records from the era attest.
Here is a photo of Whitey Smith (fourth from left) and his all-American jazz orchestra, from the back cover inset of his book I Didn't Make a Million
The music that accompanied the British Movietone Newsreel posted on youtube was completely inappropriate for the clip, so I downloaded the video and cut a new one over Whitey Smith's song "Nightime in Old Shanghai."
This is the same clip (I think--would have to check on this) that appears in a documentary film on old Shanghai called "The Dragon and the Eagle", where you can actually see Whitey Smith singing this song. I got the recording from an album called Oriental Illusions, a collection of old jazz tunes about the Far East. Smith made several recordings, though only this one survives (not entirely true actually, I also have one more song of his on tape which I got from a private collector).
Anyhow, I hope people can enjoy Whitey's song and by listening to it over the clip (which I had to repeat a few times as it was much shorter than the song) they will see how well it goes with the dancing.