This weekend as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the Herbst Theatre will feature tap dancer extraordinaire Savion Glover on Saturday and Latin saxophone and clarinet virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera on Sunday.
Tap dance is a quintessentially American art form, the dance analog to instrumental jazz. The roots of tap go back at least to the cakewalk of the 1890s, but when sound film entered the scene in 1929, fans all over the world had a chance to see and hear the great tappers do astounding feats with their astounding feets.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson danced up and down a flight of steps just on his toes. John Bubbles added heel taps to create rhythm tap. Dancers like Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins, who followed up on Bubbles innovations, were just as suave and sophisticated as Astaire and Kelly.
Eventually, Cholly became the choreographer for all the Motown groups. The Nicholas Brothers added acrobatics. By the Forties, when Bird and Diz were inventing bebop, dancers like Baby Lawrence and Bunny Briggs followed their lead and invented paddle and roll, a step that fit with the new rhythms.
Today we have Savion Glover who has bundled up all the steps and styles of the past and carried them into the present.
Nothing of the past has been lost, but something brand new has been added. Savion is the greatest living tap dancer because he is the most innovative and contemporary.
The last time he was in the area, at the Marin Center Veterans Memorial Auditorium in November, he presented a program of tapping to the classics. This could easily have been effete, but Savion had me convinced during Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, that he was right and everyone else had missed Mozart’s rhythmic and percussive genius.
His own rhythmic and percussive genius along with remarkable grace, energy and improvisational genius are not to be missed.
Alto saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera was born in Cuba in 1948. In fact he celebrated his 58th birthday just this week on June 4.
As a child prodigy in his native Cuba he often played with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, sometimes premiering works by top Cuban composers. His father, a tenor saxophonist, introduced him to jazz and he learned more from the radio show “Willis Conover Jazz Hour” which was broadcast to Cuba by the Voice of America.
Curiously, the Voice of America was barred by law from broadcasting in the United States, so Conover’s show, arguably the best jazz programming ever broadcast on radio, had a tremendous impact outside of the United States while we suffered here with very little decent jazz radio at that time. Paquito was a founding member of the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna. He went on to be a founding member of Irakere in 1973.
The group also included such future stars as trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and pianist Chucho Valdes. After defecting in 1980, Paquito moved to New York and was soon playing with Dizzy Gillespie, a musician who adored Cuban music and was adored in Cuba. Paquito, who brings his quintet to the festival, is certainly the greatest Latin alto player of all time, combining Cuban roots, bebop and his own personal lyricism.
Savion Glover presents two shows on Saturday, June 10, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco.
On the following night, Sunday, June 11, at 7 p.m., Paquito D’Rivera brings his quintet to Herbst Theatre.
For more information call 415-788-7353 or visit their website at sfjazz.org.