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...