Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vaudeville, Tap and Fun

Yesterday was the end of 2014 NJ Tap Festival, where I presented some tap related videos this past Thursday and Friday.  I talked about vaudeville and the performers from that time who did everything when it came to performing.  It was sort of a continuation of something I did at the American Tap Dance Foundation back in April.  At heart, I am a song and dance and comedy man when comes to being on stage and like it when performers bring all kinds of skills to the stage when they do their thing.  I wanted to show the students (most of them were rather young) some performers the may not know of and also inspire them to be creative in what they do.  Part of my focus was showing examples of how props and sets can be used in performance.  I also tried to show connections and relationships between different performers, like Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Burns & Allen, Fred Astaire, The Nicholas Brothers, Bob Hope, James Cagney, Gene Kelly, and Donald O'Connor, to name a few.  So here are some examples of what I showed.  The first is with two of my favorite performers, who actually have influenced my work.

  Hardest Working Men in Show Business

Three guys with top hats and canes...The Berry Brothers

Hope and Cagney from "The Seven Little Foys"

More to come......keep dancing!!!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Photo:  Matthew Jordan Smith
The phone rang.  It was Yvette Glover.  I said something like "How ya doing?", a basic hello phrase.  She said, "We lost Gregory".  I remember thinking this must be some older performer or dancer named Gregory that I didn't know, who Yvette probably assumed I knew, who maybe had been ailing.  I said, "Gregory who?".  I could not process her answer.  Gregory Hines?  What?  That was eleven
years ago today and I'm still trying to process her answer.  Eleven years ago was also when the first LA Tap Festival was held, just a few days after Gregory passed, and today is the last day of the 12th time that festival has been held.  It's a strong day.

Many people have feelings and stories about Gregory Hines.  He looms large in the tap community.  I feel he was the last tap dancer to be fairly well known in the general public, mainly because of the acting he did in TV and films.  In fact, I found a number of younger people (non tap dancers of course) didn't know he was a tap dancer because of the TV and film, non tap work that he did.  There are people like Melinda Sullivan, Chloe Arnold (Syncopated Ladies) and Jason Samuels Smith, who have aggressively worked to get tap on TV for the general public to see and I hope more do the same.   But if you asked the average person on the street to name a tap dancer, I bet they'd be stuck.

I did not really know Gregory.  We met a few times;  once when he appeared on Sesame Street where I was stage managing, a brief encounter on the closing day at Woodpeckers Studio (a tap studio/space in NYC's Soho area headed by Brenda Buffalino), passingly at a Cotton Club movie audition I did and the most extended experience being when I went to a La Mama show with him, Jane Goldberg and Sarah Safford.  When I think of him, it's hard not to think of
Gregory, Savion Glover and I on the set of Sesame Street @1992
his brother, Maurice (who I understand is developing a show where he talks about Gregory) and the act Hines, Hines and Dad.  When I was attending NYU in the late 1960's, studying TV Production, I was an NBC page and often worked on or around the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Hines, Hines and Dad often performed on that show and I loved watching them.  I had studied tap as a youngster and saw a lot of it on TV  in the 1950's but by the 60's it wasn't seen that much, so seeing these guys dance felt to me like they were keeping the tap/hoofing tradition alive.  I remember their father, Maurice Sr., liked to talk a lot during the breaks of rehearsing and Maurice was a bit heavier then and Gregory had a "process" (hair straightened).  They also played hotels in the Catskills and even did one or two independent TV specials directed by Hal Tulchin.  I know this because a fellow stage manager friend of mine worked those specials.  When the act broke up, for years I'd tell people about these guys who really could tap, but nobody knew what I was talking about.  Of course, by the late 70's, thanks to the Broadway show "Eubie", they were back on the scene and Gregory particularly started to make a name for himself.  I don't know the whole story about the Hines brothers and their ups and downs, but have always felt there is an important history there between them.

Maybe you have thoughts, memories or stories about Gregory.  Post them below in the Comments section.  The photo I have posted of Gregory and his shoes shot by Matthew Jordan Smith has a story behind it.  Click here on The Story behind the Photograph to hear Matthew talk about the "story".  To get a taste of Hines, Hines and Dad, check out the following clip of them on an episode of The Hollywood Palace that was hosted by Milton Berle.  As I said to a friend the other day, I still feel his presence...