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Tap-dance royalty
Jimmy Slyde and Savion Glover at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival

If we were to talk about a tap-dance royal family in America, we’d start with its king, the late Gregory Hines, his designated heir, Savion Glover, and the genial, smooth-sailing man with the shoes that float, Jimmy Slyde, whom Glover, Slyde’s former student, calls the "Grandfather of Tap." So it’s pretty exciting that Glover and Slyde will be performing next Saturday at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival.

Tap is an art form that’s been nourished by begats. It first stirred in the African dances that came off the slave ships. The drum beat accompaniment was gradually absorbed into the rhythms and the sounds of the feet and somehow, in the cauldron of immigration spilling onto our shores, melded with the folk dances of the white Europeans. Subtitled "American vernacular dance," a wide-ranging term used by historians Marshall and Jean Stearns to include any kind of influence from Appalachian-region clogging to improvisation to the cakewalk contests on the plantations, tap bubbled up through the social-dance occasions — indoors and out — to the jukin’ palaces of the South, the nightclub shows up North, and the vaudeville bills. Like jazz musicians, the tap dancers learned the form by imitation and expanded it by innovation to create a uniquely American way of moving.

Now 75, Slyde who was born James Godbolt and raised in Boston, cites the great vaudeville and film star Bill "Bojangles" Robinson as his inspiration. Like Robinson, Hines, and Glover (who came later), Slyde started dancing as a child, studying with the legendary Boston-based teacher Stanley Brown and Eddie "School Boy" Ford. He changed his name when he teamed up with Jimmy "Sir Slyde" Mitchell as a nightclub and concert act during the ’40s and ’50s, before the advent of rock and roll and television sent them and the other tappers underground.

Glover, who counts Hines and Slyde among his mentors, has been in the spotlight since 1983, when at age 12 he took over the leading role in the Broadway show The Tap Dance Kid, later appearing with Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. in the film Tap and with Hines again on Broadway in Jelly’s Last Jam. He won a Tony in 1996 for his choreography for Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk. As a teenager, Glover was an amazingly virtuosic performer, confident on stage but shy off, with dreams of becoming a professional basketball player, as he once told me. He’s grown into an imaginative choreographer mindful of tap traditions but also of the kind of nuances that can expand the form. He’s a riveting performer, hunched over, punishing the foot with his beats, dreadlocks flying. He’s also not a snob about venues, having presented his group of six dancers and musicians on stages as varied as the Blue Note and the Joyce Theater in New York, where he’ll appear next January.

Last May, Glover adorned the cover of Dance magazine, and inside, he told tap historian Jane Goldberg, "I’m just trying to hold down the art form. Keep it present, teach the youth coming up, carry on the tradition of whatever you call it: tap dancing, hoofing, hittin’, bringin’ it — I’m doing all of that. It’s basically just plain old tap dancing. Metal to the wood."

The Tanglewood Jazz Festival begins next Friday, September 3, at 8 p.m. with vocalist and pianist Elaine Elias plus Eddie Palmieri and La Perfecta II in Seiji Ozawa Hall. On Saturday, at 1 p.m. in the Theatre, Savion Glover and Jimmy Slyde perform with a jazz quintet. At 3 p.m. in Seiji Ozawa Hall, there’s Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, with Taylor Eigsti, and at 8 p.m., Harry Connick Jr. performs in the Koussevitzky Music Shed. On Sunday, Seiji Ozawa Hall hosts the Branford Marsalis Quartet, the Harry Connick Jr. Quartet, the Doug Wamble Quartet, and Miguel Zenón at 2 p.m. and Dave Brubeck with Symphonette and Quartet at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $45 for Slyde and Glover, $16 to $44 for Elias/Palmieri and McPartland/Eigsti, $22 to $80 for Connick, and $20 to $65 for Marsalis/Connick/Wamble/Zenón and Brubeck; call (888) 266-1200, or visit www.bso.org

Issue Date: August 27 - September 2, 2004
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