Living the Legacy: Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s 23rd Annual Festival Taps Into Community & Beyond

Jazz lives deeply in Chicago, with a rich & powerful legacy… much like tap in Chicago, but for me it is one that feels somewhat invisible. perhaps it’s just me.  nonetheless this tap legacy is one that -after witnessing Chicago Human Rhythm Project‘s vibrant showcase- provokes the need for serious research and further excavation to understand the depth of its history….

this past Monday night, at the wonderfully intimate and warm  Jazz Showcase , Chicago Human Rhythm Project [CHRP] presented a brilliant showcase where “the ‘pros’ and ‘ams’ came together”. the impressive Lane Alexander, co-founder & director of CHRP, has brought together an incredible group of tap artists from around the world for this festival; in its 23rd year dubbed “Rhythm World”.  inside this world some will teach, others to learn, to perform…many will do ALL of the above.

Jazz Showcase
Jazz Showcase

tonight it’s a true mix of up & coming with masterful artists. walking into the entrance you can already feel the buzz and anticipation for what’s to come. and ambiance! the space: resonant  and low-lit with images of famous musician performers from the past. the present: a trio of musicians offering distinctive jazz  standards, medleys & mashups; complementing  the explosive tap percussive rhythms. and what better way to create ambiance for the tap to come than to have live music! especially with the stellar jazz trio led by Greg Spero on piano,  Junius Paul on bass and Makaya Mccraven on drums. inviting and compelling.

the stage is set…rather a floor has be set on top of the legendary stage of the Jazz Showcase – a staple for kool vibes and koolness all around since 1947. students, teachers and masters of tap have assembled with lovers of tap to witness, be part of and take part in this JAM.

 yes, the stage is about to be lit up! but FIRST:

Lane welcomes us then introduces our host for the evening, Stomp’s Lisa La Touche. she smartly articulates what’s about to happen,  who’s about to come up and offers up nicknames, tidbits and small anecdotes to give further insight into this expansive spectrum of artists & artistry.

with closed eyes listening, i wonder as it begins ‘to stomp or not to stomp’: how will each tap artist share their unique sensibility?

#1 Toronto (Christian) lanky, stomping, fresh eyed, eager

#2 Chicago (Mark/Chicago Tap Theatre) light touches, finely detailed execution, tickling the stage with his foot,  Ali-like, riffs, finesse

#3 NYC  based (Samara & Christina female duo) ‘flava’, communicative to musicians & each other, at points contrapuntal, awakened improvisatory sensation that continues to reverberate throughout the evening.

#4 Texas/NYC (Nicholas Young) spoke to musicians as if he was “conductor’, a conduit, groove, channeling the legacy of tap, put a smile on the pianist’s face, stomp, put his foot down! the strength of his dynamics

the way they communicated to the musicians…a creative symbiosis

#5 N. Carolina (Adriana) seeking to rise to above a challenge. setting the tone for the musicians, began sans music, a sweetness arose, in phrasing in expression, exudes the freeness of free jazz.

#6 Chicago/Boston (Ian/M.A.D.D Rhythms) relentless, confident, syncopated, TALL.

it’s about how they lay into the beat or against the beat, the dynamics, textures, phrasing

#7 Vegas & Australian international duet (Winston & Victoria) him from Melbourne, she living in Vegas. dressed in slacks & collard shirt, all black with dreads, he lays the foundation, hips slightly swaying curving inside the contours of the steps. she of comfort leggings & t shirt, much taller but light and smiling, pounces on top of his smoothness. they finish each others sentences. ends in a layered dense satisfying simultaneity of his and her feet coming together.

#8 Chicago/N. Carolina  ‘national duet’ (Luke & Donnetta) he white, she black both young and vibrant. bass begins, snaps ensue, they go! catch where one ends and take it somewhere else, dazzling footwork (hers),how he lays into a step.  summertime  and the livin is easy floats inside the musical renderings…she of footworKINGz he the “Justin Beiber of tap”.

#9 Chicago (Star) closes out first half.  young & beautifully hip with her tap boots & leggings, her multicolored long tresses.  a sincere koolness, she says hi to us sweetly and then works it out on the floor!  laughter, joy emanates, playfulness, with moments of complex and fast fast footwork.

BREAK. stage ‘cools off” room buzzing with what has been experienced. excitement for who’s to take the stage next….

Adriana Ogle at Jazz Showcase
Adriana Ogle at Jazz Showcase

AND WE’RE BACK!

as #10 Canada (Lisa), proudly proclaiming her “Canadianness” the hostess opens up the 2nd half, contributing her own flair to this richly diverse tapestry of tap. quite clean and graceful.

#11 Japan is in the house! (A trio) probably reppin the youngest tapper of the evening, she is quick and on point with her percussive footwork. two other older but still young men transmit and transcend moments of interplay between the three. snippets Route 66 drip inside the arrangement and they finish with a “bow” to the audience and musicians.

continuing the international flow…

#12 Switzerland (Daniel) head nodding, a far away look that as he searches the music for that precise moment(s) to land, hit, accent and punctuate…

Now for an all star line-up with faculty from CHRP’s festival workshops

#13 Ohio/NYC/Chicago (Sarah) fresh from working alongside Savion Glover,  gives the “go ahead” to the musicians..”I like that” she shares with us as the smile grows and the feet get to moving. sporting a “skull & crossbones” shirt, not at all symbolic of  her feet that are so alive! she shimmers her way to end and curtsies.

#14 Chicago/Riverdance (Tre) nonchalantly drops his keys on a nearby table and with his white patent leather shoes gives full on tap swagger.

diverting to numbers #16 – 18 ALL STARS CONTINUE

#16 Touring the world /Chicago (Nico) though i thought i heard “Rico” and with all intention he gives the best form of “suave” tap one can imagine. it is finessed.  it is smooth.

#17 NYC (Jason) New Jersey born he boldly takes the stage. stomps, commands.  ‘kicks up dust’. contends with the drum. tracks the beats, becomes the beat. an intensity of focus, an exquisite articulation and expression that inspires a mash up of music, an ’empire state of mind‘.

#18 Chicago (Jumaane)  Chi-town closes out the evening with the “bearded hoofer”, hip and elegant. skinny jeans. white shirt. jacket and gold shoes. yes golden. from southside he transports all of that and then some.  “yall know Dr. Jimmy Slyde?” he asks as if he is about to channel this beloved tap legend. indeed he carries forth that prowess as if he is channeling this man. but not just this man. it seems he is channeling the ancestors of Africa through the drums of his feet.  rhythms, at one point like murmurings that resonated throughout the intimate showcase space….ones that that feel ancient, yet he is truly a contemporary artist…

Jumaane Taylor's golden shoes
Jumaane’s golden shoes

and though they did not close out the evening they are the future

#15 Y-Tech (a crew of 10) members from CHRP’s annual Youth Tap Ensemble Conference, this group of young ardent students crowd  the small tap floor ready to jump in! it’s about the blues, a 12 bar moment for each one to show what they got. taking turns in sync with the shifts from chorus to phrase, individually offering a subtle or distinctive touch to how they choose to step, tap or slide. culminating in a full on jam of all 10 on the floor. yes they are students! we are reminded of this when Lisa challenges them by asking them to name the legendary artists displayed throughout The Jazz Showcase. they are still learning of this legacy but it is clear that they are absorbing the essence of tap and it lives deeply within their feet…

Tap Into the Night”,  in its third year at Jazz Showcase. Monday, July 29th, 2013

Jason Janas at Jazz Showcase
Jason Janas at Jazz Showcase

more to come on:

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s 23rd annual Festival performances  at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Wednesday, July 31st, August 1st and 3rd.

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Author: Barak adé Soleil

creative practitioner, independent consultant and curator. making dance, performance art and theatre. working within community.

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