Tony Waag and the American Tap Dance Foundation, Inc. presented a program to Duke Ellington music at Jazz at Lincoln Center's The Appel Room on Friday, July 14, 2017. It featured an eight-piece band directed by Eli Yamin and tap stars like Brenda Bufalino and Sam Weber. Duke Ellington's granddaughter, Mercedes, was also on hand to get the audience snapping their fingers.
The band started the evening off with a spirited arrangement of "Caravan" followed by a solo to "Fleurette Africaine" by Ayodele Casel. I don't know if Casel's choreography was improvised, but it certainly had that quality.
Next, Waag sang "I'm Just a Lucky So and So" followed by a terrific piece by Caleb Teicher and Sarah Reich to "Black Beauty." Their choreography was both romantic and funny, as they pretended to bump into each other and make mistakes. Planned "errors" are difficult to execute, and Teicher and Reich performed them flawlessly.
The Lisa La Touche Ensemble of six dancers (including La Touche) performed a slow piece to Ellington's "So." The clever choreography started out with a simple three-beat flap heel followed by rests on one foot and then the other. La Touche knows how to use syncopation to her advantage, occasionally allowing the choreography to crescendo but mostly maintaining a soft shoe quality.
One of the highlights of the evening was a duet by Joseph and Josette Wiggan. Joseph was obviously heavily influenced by Jimmy Slyde. What I liked most about this piece, however, was that the two of them performed different choreography simultaneously. This can make for a messy sound, but it was so skillfully done that their taps blended well.
Another highlight was a solo by Sam Weber, who is one of the best tap dancers around. I'm amazed by his buoyancy while executing such fast, intricate taps. Unlike many rhythm hoofers, he's exceptionally light on his feet.
The finale consisted of eight dancers from the New American Tap Dance Orchestra in a crowd-pleasing number by Bufalino. This piece included louder dynamics and some impressive wings that started out to "C Jam Blues," slowed down for "In a Sentimental Mood," and hit a crescendo to "Rockin' in Rhythm."
During the evening, Waag announced that Duke Ellington is the first musician to be inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame because he wrote a number of songs for tap dancers and included them in most of his shows. One of the band's solos Friday night was "Tap Dancer's Blues" by Ellington, which has the drummer mimicking a dancer's feet.
One of the things I love about tap dance is that you don't have to be young or svelte to do it well. The ages of the dancers on stage in The Appel Room spanned decades, and it was one of the best evenings of tap I've seen in a long time.
Photo Credit: Wallace Flores