Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An afternoon of Brooklyn tap.

This past Sunday I went to the first annual BEAT Festival in Brooklyn to see Marshall Davis, Jr & Friends.  The festival is having performances of all types all around the borough of Brooklyn until this Sunday, Sept. 23rd.  The performance I went to was held in the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music in Park Slope.  Ironically, the only other time I've been there was years ago to see Jimmy Slyde perform.

Marshall was joined by another outstanding tap dancer, Maurice Chestnut and they sure "hit the boards" together and individually.  There were also three singers who interacted with Marshall and Maurice.  I don't want to describe much of the show because I want you to go see it.  Suffice it to say that there was no holding back in the energy of these fellows and interesting choices were made with music and rhythm.

To be honest, I have this ongoing concern with many of the current generation of dancers and the heavy tap that they get into.  It's incredible in terms of the rhythms they create and dedication they have to what they are doing when they dance.  But I wonder how their bodies will hold up for them as they move into their 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond.  Arthritis ain't fun.  I want believe that they will be dancing forever.  Having said that,  I still totally support what they do and urge you to check out his show.  There are three more performances this week in other Brooklyn venues as part of the festival.  GO! Click here for the info.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Winding down summer....

Well, yesterday was Labor Day, the unofficial sign that summer is ending.  A lot of tap has gone on in the last few months, the season for many tap festivals.  Feet were hitting the boards in Detroit, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Prague, Vancouver, San Francisco, to name a few places.  I had the pleasure of participating in the 3rd Annual New Jersey Tap Festival held in Bloomfield, NJ at the end of August.  Classes were held at Broadway Performing Arts and the final concert at Westminster Arts Center, a part of Bloomfield College, where I teach.

I did the history sessions, showing clips of dancers of importance and sharing some stories.  At one session I focused on Sammy Davis, Jr., because he's one of those people a new generation really know little about.  Below are three clips of Sammy and a clip of Michelle Dorrance, Hillary-Marie Michael (founder and director of the festival), Jeff Foote, Kyle Wilder and Evan Ruggiero jamming at the festival.

                            Sammy at age 7

Sammy in his 20's with his dad, Sammy Davis, Sr., and his "uncle" Will Mastin - The Will Mastin Trio

Sammy's last performance at a televised tribute for him.

By the way, if you haven't seen it already, check out the NY Times article about Michela Marino-Lerman's Wednesday tap jam at Small's in Greenwich Village.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tap City Awards 2012

Well, last Friday ended the six days of events and classes of the NewYork Tap Festival, better known as Tap City.  Last Wednesday was the festival's 2012 Awards Ceremony held in the Bruno Walter Auditorium of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  Each year people are honored who have made important contributions to the art of tap dance and, since the ceremony was not held last year, Wednesday's event presented awards for 2011 and 2012.  I was honored to be one of the presenters.

It was a nice, warm evening (I'm not talking about the weather, which thankfully was not real hot, but
Max Pollak and RumbaTap performing
the "vibe" of the show) with a full house and heart felt presentations.  I presented the 2011 Tap Preservation Award to my good friend Jacqui Malone, who is a writer and professor and just all around good person.  Before I spoke, two of her former students surprised her with a performance that  combined tap and African Dance, which totally was a surprise for Jacqui!  All the other awardees had performances to honor them before they got their awards.  The other awardees were;  2012 Tap Preservation Award -  Cobi Narita,  2011/2012 Hoofer Awards -  Max Pollak/Jason Samuels Smith,  2011/2012 International Tap Dance Hall of Fame -  Cholly Atkins/The Whitman Sisters Legacy, and 2011/2012 Toe Knee Awards -  Stephanie Waag Blackman & Cindy Roush/Thelma Goldberg.

Dianne Walker, Jacqui Malone Sally Sommers after the show
Constance Valis Hill, Sally Sommers and Jacqui all talked about Cholly Atkins.  Margaret Morrison gave a presentation on The Whitman Sisters.  Michela Marino Lerman danced to vocals by Baano for Cobi Narita.  Tony talked about the specialness of Stephanie, Cindy and Thelma.  Max actually danced with his group RumbaTap in a new work and then a member of that group, Chikako Iwahori, talked about Max.  Chloe Arnold, Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia hit the floor for Jason before each shared their feelings about him.  All awardees had genuine emotion in their acceptance speeches and Jason ended the evening talking about the importance of advancing the tap art form.

The audience had a bunch of heavy weights, too.  Harold Cromer, Brenda Bufalino. Susan Goldbetter, Megan Haungs, Dianne Walker, Al Heyward, Ann Kilkelly and more.  It was just good to be there.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Chasing The Bird"

I checked out Jason Samuels Smith's homage to Charlie Parker, Chasing The Bird at The Joyce Theater last Friday evening.  The show was in three parts;  "Imagine" with Jason doing extended solos, then Michelle Dorrance, Chloe Arnold and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards doing dancing excerpts from Jason's 2009 piece "Charlie's Angels" and finally Baakari Wilder, Zakiya Young and Frank Harts joining them for "Chasing The Bird" with dance, song and text.  It's the last segment that appears to be the beginning of a longer piece.  The whole evening was sort of a work in progress.

I enjoyed the evening and can see where it can be improved and developed.  I had a front row seat to the side (that's where the $10 tickets are!) with "partially obstructed view" which I didn't mind because, even though I would not be able to see the dancers' feet all the time (particularly the more upstage they got), I liked being up close to see the faces of dancers and get an interesting perspective on the show.   At one point, as Jason was really getting into it, I could see the sweat dripping of his face with a huge shadow of him cast to his side on the stage left wing curtains as his mom, Sue Samuels, watched the show off stage by those curtains.  I focused on the faces of Michelle, Chloe and Dormeshia as they watched each other and interacted in their segment.  All I could see of Theo Hill (musical director of the show) was his head moving enthusiastically as he played piano and conducted the band (Plume, Carlos Abadie, Ryan Berg and Kyle Poole).  When Baakari came out as the "Maestro" in the last segment of the evening, I spent a bit of time just watching him "oversee" the proceedings even when he was not performing or talking.  Because I know just about everyone in the show, having this more intimate view made me enjoy the show in a personal way.  It was nice seeing a bunch of talented people putting their full energy into something, executing it well and most importantly...being themselves on stage.

Jason is one of a group of tap dancers who are globally trying to stretch the boundaries of the art form by taking chances in their work.  I just find it frustrating that there are not as many opportunities for this to happen.  That a place like the Joyce has its one tap dance company of the season, but multiple modern companies.  Jason talked about this issue when he receive his Dance Magazine award a few years ago.

Anyway, the summer of tap continues at this moment with Tap City happening in NYC until this Friday.  In addition to the classes being held, yesterday was its "Copasetic Boat Ride", tomorrow awards will be given out (honorees include Jason, Max Pollak, Cobi Narita and Jacqui Malone), and Friday will the "Tap It Out" performances.  See the link to American Tap Dance Foundation in "Tap Related Websites" on the right for more Tap City details.

Here is a video about Jason's residency at the Joyce where he developed "Chasing The Bird"

Monday, July 2, 2012

Jason Samuels Smith

Starting tomorrow, Jason Samuels Smith begins a run at the Joyce Theater in NYC.  The main focus of his work will be working with the music of Charlie Parker.  He will be joined by some killer talent in the tap world and should not be missed.  Check out the interview with him from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle  and look at him doing some dancing with "Bird" from a few years ago.

Info for the Joyce Theater.  There are tickets for $10.00 available!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Story #1

Stories, I like to tell them and hear them.  I want to hear your stories, so on a regular basis I'll put up a question for you to answer.  Just go to the bottom of the post and where you see "comments", click and leave your answer/story.  Keep checking in for more chances to "tell your tales".

What was the experience of your first live tap performance to see?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Writing on Tap

Last Saturday, I went to an event called "Writing for Tap" that was co-sponsored by Collective for Writing and New Media and American Tap Dance Foundation.  It was fairly well attended by writers, dancers and writer/dancers.  The idea was to explore how tap dance has been written about and how it can be improved.  It was quite informative with not enough time to cover as much as we wanted, leading the coordinator, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, to conclude at the end that this needs to happen on a more regular basis.

Five people presented short talks about tap and then we broke into small groups to discuss issues brought up.  First, Constance Valis Hill (author of Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History) talked about issues of race, gender, and cultural roots related to tap.  What stood out for me was her description of art historian Robert Farris Thompson's criteria of assessing African rooted art forms.
Next came dancer/choreographer Derick K. Grant, who talked about his life in tap and showed a clip from a show he created called Imagine Tap!  He talked about how he is trying to be pro-active in getting tap dance seen in all its glory on the professional stage.  Veteran dancer/choreographer Brenda Bufalino followed Derick and instead of following her planned talk, decided to begin her segment by having us talk about the Imagine Tap! clip.  I thought this was very good for the session because what was mentioned were the references Derick had in his work to aspects of tap history.  The point made that if you know the history you can see the references and write about it in a review.  Michelle Dorannce followed on the same track when she came up by making comparisons between some ballet reviews and tap dance reviews she looked up.  The ballet review she quoted referenced the composer's work and the history of the ballet work in describing the performance, whereas the tap review was more general without the comparable specifics.  Last came pianist/arranger/musical director Frank Owen who has worked with many of us tap dancers and followed up on some of the issues of music that had also been mentioned by the previous speakers.  His main thing though was sharing some short stories of his experience with tap dancers and how he thrives on the challenge of working with us.

Before breaking into two smaller groups, Brenda, Michelle and Derick did a "mini jam" with Frank on piano.  The small groups allowed the writers to go back and forth with the dancers, sharing their concerns about covering tap dance.  By that point writer/dancer Jane Goldberg and dancer Max Pollak also showed up and contributed to the discussions.  I felt that people left the event sort of "charged up" and looking forward it happening again with more people.  What I believe would be really good the next time is to focus on showing more tap clip and talking about them, like what was done with Derik's clip.

What I enjoyed about the event was not only dealing with the topic at hand, but learning more about some of my colleagues as they talked and also about some of the people who are interested in writing about dance.  Dialogue and communication, even if we all don't agree on things, are so important for the tap community, especially now with so many young dancers around the world doing tap.  There is history for them to still learn and for me, too!  I did a series at Dixon Place a few times called The Story of Tap, which sort of inspired this blog, and the idea was not so much to tell a definitive history but have us dancers share our stories of this art form.  What's your story?  My next post will begin a stimulation to get that from you.....

            The "Mini Jam" with Derick, Michelle, Brenda and Frank

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Caterina Valente

I was checking out Facebook yesterday and ran across a posting that fascinated me.  It was of Caterina Valente tap dancing with four drummers, taken from "Hollywood Palace", a TV show from the 1960s.  I am not that familiar with Valente, but she was an all-around performer who acted, sang (in twelve languages!) and danced.  She's still around, although I'm not sure if she's performing.  Check out  her website - http://caterinavalente.com.  When I saw the clip (introduced by another great talent, Victor Borge) I remembered that there was a time when there were a number of performers out there who "did it all" and who were seen in mainstream media.  People like Pearl Bailey (who was married to one of the drummers in the Valente clip, Louie Bellson), Danny Kaye, Carol Lawrence, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr....the list goes on.  The general public is not exposed to that type of entertainer as much anymore, which is one reason so many people know nothing about tap these days.  Sad.  Anyway, check out the clip of Valente.

And here's a clip I found of her singing with Danny Kaye and a guy named Armstrong.  Talk about talented people!

Monday, June 18, 2012

A week in tap

Yesterday ended an interesting week for me and tap.  On Monday I went to Baltimore, the home town of the late tap master James "Buster" Brown to visit his last surviving sister, Ruth Jackson, who is 97.  Some of us tappers kept in touch with her after Buster died because she cared about us and knew the strong bond Buster had with us.  She told us stories about growing up in Baltimore in a loving family.  Now she is in a facility and having a challenging time.  When I visited her I met some relatives of hers that I knew and some that I didn't.  At one point it was just me and her there, she being in and out of being awake or talking.  I realized I had some media of Buster on my iPodTouch, so took it out, placed it by her ear and played what I had for her.  I then played some tap recordings and saw her feet moving under the covers.  Good to be there and just be present for this moment in her journey.

Wednesday I went to the weekly tap jam run by Michela Marino Lerman at Small's Jazz Club in Greenwich Village.  It was the day after her birthday and became somewhat of a celebration of that.  Michela was one of the folks who went to the tap jam Buster held at Swing 46 Jazz and Supper Club for years on Sunday evenings.  She now is carrying on in the same tradition at Small's.  What was special about Buster's jam was that he encouraged anyone to get up and dance no matter what their level of skill.  Consequently, many found this a safe place to take chances and grow.  Grow not only as tap dancers, but as people.  Michela has the same approach in her jam.  Plus, there is a nice floor to tap on.  Check it out (138 W. 10th St) on Wednesdays from 5 - 8pm....no cover!  You can dance or just watch.

Friday I went to Celebrate Brooklyn to see a collaboration between Geri Allen (pianist), Carrie Mae Weems (video/photography artist), Lizz Wright (vocalist), Esperanza Spalding (music artist) and Maurice Chestnut (tap), among others.  It was an interesting idea, but a bit too long for my taste.  However, there were some outstanding moments. which included the singing of Lizz Wright, with whom I was not familiar.  One of the songs she did that hooked me on her was "Grandma's Hands", one my favorite Bill Withers tunes.   Maurice had a few spots where he jammed with the musicians on stage.  The sound system was great, with those of us sitting way back on the lawn able to hear him quite well.  I used the super zoom on my camera to see him.  It was good to have tap in that venue.

Finally, I saw Savion Glover at The Blue Note last night.  What can I say?  He always knocks me out in what I feel is a spiritual journey into something rooted and deep.  He was there for a week working with different jazz artists on different nights which were;  McCoy Tyner (pianist), Jack DeJohnette (drummer) and Roy Haynes (drummer).   Last night was Roy Haynes.  Before Roy came out, Savion did some extended dancing with musician Patience Higgins playing.  Then at one point tap artist Marshall Davis, Jr. came on to join Savion in a two person rhythm communion that was transcendental.  Savion at one point let Marshall go on his own and I just looked at Marshall's face as he went into his own space.   87 year old Roy Haynes ended it all by playing/trading with Savion and even trying out the tap floor himself!  One of the added treats for me was meeting Amiri Baraka who was in the audience.  I mentioned that Roy did some impromptu tap, well check out this YouTube clip of Roy and Jack DeJohnette doing some tap trades of their own!  Roy is at the top and Jack has his back to the camera.

Upcoming is Jason Samuels Smith at the Joyce Theater in July.  You can get tickets for 10 bucks!
Go see and support tap....


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Lorraine Condos, widow of the great tap master Steve Condos,  backstage after the NY Tap Extravaganza.  I never knew Steve but was always impressed by his enthusiasm for tap manifested not only in his dance but in his discussion of the art form.  I first saw him dance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a big tap show called, "Tappin' Uptown".  His style was rapid fire taps with precision of sound.  He came out of Philadelphia (where a lot of tappers came from) and performed with his brothers in the 1930s and 1940s.  He died in 1990 right after having performed on stage at the Lyons International Dance Biennial in France.  He was 71.  I've always felt, if you gotta go, go out doing what you love and that's what he did.  The clip is from a 1988 episode of Nightline with Steve, Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr. talking about tap dance.

Speaking of Sammy, I was surfing the web and ran across a 1966 clip of him dancing with Count Basie.  The image quality is very bad, but worth putting up with to appreciate what they are doing.  Count was the master of doing only what was necessary on the piano as he played.  He made space and time that works well with tap.  Watch these guys...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

So, two years between blog entries.  I take my time, but this is ridiculous!  Hopefully I will stay more on top of this.

This is the end of a busy month in tap.  May has National Tap Day in it and many events happen surrounding this.  I was fortunate to be part of the Queens Tap Extravaganza, The NY Tap Extravaganza and Laraine Goodman's (along with Allison Plamondon) show at La Mama Galleria.  And now that school (Bloomfield College) is over for the year, I can try and get to Michela Marino Lerman's tap jam at Small's Jazz Club in Greenwich Village.  Oh yeah, I did a tap duet at Bloomfield College as part of its frist faculty talent showcase.  My partner was Nicole Franklin, who teaches Broadcast Journalism at the College but was a once chorus line dancer!  It was a lot of fun to do.

I think it's a great time in tap, with a lot of young people doing interesting stuff, with a lot of enthusiasm.  One of the things happening is that a number of short tap based films have been done in recent years, "Tap Heat", "The Rise and Fall of Miss Thang", "Gone" and "The Scroll".  An upcoming example of this trend is a film called, "Nostalgia" with a number of the current top tappers including, Chloe Arnold, Jason Samuels Smith and Dule Hill.  I'm not sure when it will be available, but here is a teaser for it.

More thoughts on the current state of tap will be forthcoming....before two years go by!