[Dixielandjazz] The Tap Dancer

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 18 13:49:20 PST 2003

BSJB plays many quartet (CLT, TB, BS, GU) gigs for Nursing Homes,
Special care facilities etc., during the holiday season. for small
audiences at greatly reduced rates. Last year when playing on at
Brandywine Home in West Chester, we met a 96 year old black man. He was
in a wheel chair, but obviously enjoying the music and moving his feet.

He said he was a tap dancer. We got into a chat with him and he told us
he had known Eubie Blake, Count Basie, Honey Coles, Chick Webb and a
host of others. We were impressed but still skeptical when he said he
also knew Earl Hines, Ella and Jimmy Rushing. He was there, he said in
1938 at Randall's Island in NYC when that great integrated Swing event,
hosted by Martin Block took place. As well as at the Savoy when Frankie
Manning and Norma Miller popularized the Lindy Hop.

"Yeah yeah" we said and left, because last year we had another gig
following that one.

Well he was there again yesterday, now 97, still in a wheel chair, but
with his eyes sparkling as he said. "Where you been, man, I've been
waiting all year for you." We laughed, hugged him and started to play.

What's that noise said Ace, our bassist. Sounds like somebody drumming
with knives on a plate. We looked over at our friend. He was sitting in
the wheel chair quietly tapping his feet. My heavens, he was wearing
"Tap Shoes".

We smiled and went into "Tea For Two", stop time, giving him a chance to
show his stuff. And for a 97 year old man it was pretty good. He knew
where the breaks were and went for them. We had a ball all during our
hour long show. Mind you, his dancing wasn't what it must have been 70
years ago, but it was pretty darn good. This gentle sit-in brought tears
to our eyes at the end when he said. "Thanks guys, you made my year."
Maybe I'll be out of this wheel chair next year.

I asked him how on earth he got into those shoes and he smiled and said,
"took me and two nurses had to help, but it was worth it."

All we could stammer, fighting back our emotion was "Go for it man."

Steve Barbone

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