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Thoughts on Savion

I have gone to see/hear Savion Glover every night of his three-week run at the Joyce Theater, except the few when I’ve gotten into scrambles with his PR folks over the sold-out show and landed at a diner on the other side of Eighth Avenue, despondently eating red jello.

Savion Glover. Photograph by Savion Glover Productions.
Savion Glover. Photograph by Savion Glover Productions.

Though he is not new to the form, Glover has taken a new path for himself, tapping to classical music. Paul Draper made a lot of money doing it in the Persian Room once upon a time in the 1940s, and more recently, Sam Weber has performed it with the Jazz Tap Ensemble. Many, including Glover, have performed the Morton Gould Tap Dance Concerto. But he has opted for something more challenging here.

Last year, on the heels (pun intended) of his father figure/mentor Gregory Hines’s death, he broke through into some kind of extended freedom and began taking extended John Coltrane-like solos, singing and tapping nonstop. Now he’s doing two hours nonstop, running his own jazz band while also learning to conduct a chamber orchestra of cello, double bass, violins, violas, and harpsichord. Hopefully, unlike his idol Coltrane, he won’t burn out early. Last year he was blowing and blowing. This year, with the classical music, he’s refining, but still blowing hard. People are worrying in the lobby: What does he eat? He’s so thin.

Ever since Hines died in August 2003, I have given my unconditional love to Glover and gone over to his camp completely. True, I also think he has become a better artist, a freer artist. He has either been liberated from something or it’s part of his natural process as an artist during his prime. (And that’s a whole other argument. I like watching old hoofers on stage too. Hines and I used to argue all the time about what is considered prime in tap dancing. While he preferred the athleticism of  Glover right now, I enjoyed watching the entire life of a tapper on stage, someone who still never lost his/her “feet.”)

In any case, by the second night of Classical Savion, Glover had grown into the music of Vivaldi, Bach, and Mendelssohn, paying homage to Coltrane through Souza in “Stars and Stripes Forever (for Now)” and interpreting the music with his house band, The Otherz, and the classical musicians—all together in one final jam session.

Strangely enough, I have begun by the last week to enjoy the classical part more than the jazz. It’s tighter. I’ve gotten used to the “numbers.” Even though jazz lends itself to more intuitiveness, I like the tighter structure. The first night, I felt like Glover was copying the music, imitating the sounds, fooling us all. Maybe I wasn’t used to the classics, maybe it was that the music was written and he was not. Or maybe I had some stretching to do, some brushing up on my own Shakespeare.

But something clicked big time the second night. Like he got right inside the music—BIG TIME. He was composing on the spot, not just trying to find his way into the written stuff. Hearing/seeing the greatest and the last of the tap veterans in their sixties and seventies during the 1980s and ’90s and now seeing Savion in his early thirties is watching this tradition in a real transition. What will happen next? Will Savion be able to teach what he sponged up as a kid? Does he want to? At Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis earlier in the autumn, there was shock and awe all around. It felt that way at the Joyce, too. He’s our Nijinksy.


Jane Goldberg

Jane Goldberg has been involved in various aspects of tap dancing since 1973, most notably as a performer and writer. She has an act called Rhythm & Schmooze and is working on a book of personal essays regarding the tap renaissance years of the 1970s through the 1990s.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2005

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