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Watch the video of tap dancer Savion Glover and drum­mer Jack DeJohnette per­form­ing to­gether at the River­side Church in Man­hat­tan dur­ing jazz­in­no­va­tor Or­nette Cole­man’s me­mo­rial ser­vice last year, and you’ll wit­ness a full ar­ray of per­cus­sive prac­tices com­mon to jazz drum­mers: polyrhythms, press rolls, call-and-re­sponse, shuf­fles, and lines in dou­ble time. DeJohnette’s drum sticks rip­ple across his traps, and his feet dance on bass and hi-hat cym­bal ped­als. Glover’s in­stru­ment, floor and shoes, echo the drums while adding vari­a­tion. The two per­cus­sion­ists cre­ate a sort of rhyth­mic melody, us­ing dif­fer­ent pitch and tim­bre from snare and tom-toms, heel and toe, as they roll to­gether through pat­terns and ex­changes. They play — Glover ac­tu­ally makes it look like play — with move­ment and di­rec­tion. The ef­fect is like the best per­cus­sion jams, this one of floor and drums, two par­ti­cles col­lid­ing in an experiment that emits a siz­zling light.

Glover and DeJohnette will do some­thing sim­i­lar — “sim­i­lar” be­cause of the im­pro­vi­sa­tional qual­ity of jazz —when they ap­pear with pi­anist Ge­orge Col­li­gan, bassist Jerome Har­ris, and dancer Mar­shall Davis Jr. at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Sun­day, May 22. Both men em­pha­size the mu­si­cal­ity of what they do. “Yeah, I’m a dancer who plays the music, I’m a mu­si­cian that dances,” Glover told

Pasatiempo, days af­ter he was nom­i­nated for a Tony Award for his chore­og­ra­phy for Shuf­fle Along, or the Mak­ing of the Mu­si­cal Sen­sa­tion of 1921 and All That Fol­lowed, which opened in April. “I like ex­plor­ing the melodies, the dif­fer­ent sounds. I like to get feed­back from the floor. It’s that heard ver­sus seen thing. I’m go­ing for be­ing heard.”

DeJohnette, who’s seen watch­ing Glover in­tently in the Cole­man video, said he doesn’t take much from Glover’s phys­i­cal cues as he stomps, taps, and slides. “It’s the rhythm, man,” said DeJohnette on the phone from the New Or­leans Jazz Fest, where he was ap­pear­ing with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Gar­ri­son. “It’s putting the rhythm to­gether. Savion plays some drums, too and he’s def­i­nitely a rhythm guy. When [the group] is all play­ing, it’s about melody and com­po­si­tion and spon­tane­ity, sure, but be­tween him and me it’s mostly about rhythm.” Glover, who

be­gan danc­ing at seven, said he be­gan play­ing drums at the age of four.

The dancer, nom­i­nated for a Tony at fif­teen for his per­for­mance in Black and Blue (he won the Tony for chore­og­ra­phy in 1996 for Bring In ’Da Noise, Bring

In ’Da Funk) is both a tap in­no­va­tor and cham­pion of the tra­di­tion. He’s the lat­est in the lin­eage of tap­pers, in­clud­ing Gre­gory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr., known to the pub­lic at large from the­ater, film, and tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances. As a teenager — Glover was born in 1973 — he in­tro­duced con­tem­po­rary funk into the tap dance canon, even as he em­ployed the steps of tap in­no­va­tors Lon Chaney, Charles “Honi” Coles, and oth­ers. His beats, both funk and tra­di­tional, are based on spon­tane­ity, mak­ing for a nat­u­ral fit with im­pro­vi­sa­tional jazz. “I think what [Jack and I] do is what Gre­gory Hines called ‘im­prov-og­ra­phy.’ It’s part im­pro­vi­sa­tion and part chore­og­ra­phy. [Dancers] of course have the vo­cab­u­lary of steps and moves that we use in both. That’s the known. We know where they came from and how to ex­e­cute them. Choos­ing where and how we use that vo­cab­u­lary is the chore­og­ra­phy part. But we have im­pro­vi­sa­tion, the un­known part. I’ve been very in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing this un­known. I like chore­og­ra­phy, but, as a dancer, im­pro­vi­sa­tion is more my speed. It’s un­known. What’s go­ing to hap­pen? And who bet­ter to ex­plore the un­known, those im­pro­vi­sa­tional mo­ments, than with th­ese great con­trib­u­tors to jazz and free ex­pres­sion?”

Glover’s re­la­tion­ship to DeJohnette goes back to his teens. “Jack says we did some­thing to­gether when I was fif­teen, but I was all full of testos­terone back then and wasn’t as in tune with it as I am now. But I was al­ways lis­ten­ing to the music. Miles, Coltrane, McCoy [Tyner], Roy Haynes — they were al­ways in my mix or, I guess, al­ways on my tapes, on those days. And Jack was al­ways in there.” A 2009 en­gage­ment at New York’s Blue Note paired Glover on dif­fer­ent nights with pian­ists Tyner and Ed­die Palmieri and drum­mers Haynes and DeJohnette. Glover and DeJohnette teamed again in 2010, this time with sax­o­phon­ist Don By­ron, at an Albany, New York, club called The Egg. “This went re­ally well,” DeJohnette said. “We had an in­cred­i­ble rap­port mu­si­cally and rhyth­mi­cally, and it worked in a fan­tas­tic way. Savion later called me and sug­gested we take it out on tour.” DeJohnette, who re­called see­ing Gre­gory and his brother Mau­rice Hines, the Ni­cholas Broth­ers, Sammy Davis Jr., Brenda Bu­falino, and other tap­pers while liv­ing in Chicago, said Glover is “the Coltrane of tap.” “When we get to­gether we re­ally go at it. It’s to­tally im­pro­vised, not re­hearsed. We do some com­po­si­tions with the group, sure, but we mostly do our thing. It’s dif­fer­ent be­cause of what Savion brings to the ta­ble. He’s had lots of as­so­ci­a­tions with other drum­mers. He’s heard all of us play, and he’s taken some­thing from ev­ery­one. What he does is at the high­est level of cre­ativ­ity. It’s not just danc­ing. He’s very aware of his sound.”

Glover treats the floor like any am­pli­fied in­stru­ment, with mul­ti­ple mi­cro­phones be­neath its raised sur­face and an ear to its crisp­ness. “Yeah, I’m go­ing for the clean­est, stripped-down vi­bra­tion and sound,” Glover said. “I don’t want any ad­di­tions to the sound or any tech­ni­cal shenani­gans. I’m not in­ter­ested in mak­ing my floor sound like a syn­the­sizer or a pi­ano, but I imag­ine mak­ing those sounds, fit­ting them in, as I dance. I don’t want any­thing tak­ing away from the pu­rity of the dance.” The sound, he ex­plained, is cen­tral to ex­pres­sion and can of­ten com­mu­ni­cate emo­tion bet­ter than words. “From the be­gin­ning of time, we’ve re­acted to sound, the vi­bra­tions, the re­ver­ber­a­tions. We un­der­stand the sounds more deeply, how deep the ex­pres­sion it car­ries, what it sug­gests to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. Three peo­ple can hear a glass break and come away with three dif­fer­ent im­pres­sions. Sound al­lows it­self to be in­ter­preted. It’s def­i­nitely emo­tional.”

The ca­reers of both men, like their per­for­mances, move in many di­rec­tions at once. In ad­di­tion to his chore­og­ra­phy and per­for­mance work, Glover is ac­tive at the dance academy that he founded, the HooFeRzCLuB — School For Tap, in his home­town of Ne­wark. And he con­tin­ues to work with jazz mu­si­cians. “It all comes from my ea­ger­ness to be with th­ese cats and share space with them and learn from them, as long as I’m phys­i­cally able to do it and they are able to share.”

DeJohnette, in ad­di­tion to his ap­pear­ances with Glover, is tour­ing in sup­port of two other projects. The first is a new ECM re­lease, In Move­ment, with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Gar­ri­son. DeJohnette said the trio, with the sons of two mu­si­cians he worked with as a young man, has be­come even “cleaner” and more in­tu­itive since their 2014 ap­pear­ance in Santa Fe as part of the New Mex­ico Jazz Fes­ti­val. DeJohnette toured Europe ear­lier this month to pro­mote Re­turn, his new vinyl LP re­lease of solo pi­ano work — his first solo pi­ano re­lease. DeJohnette, who fre­quently takes a turn at pi­ano dur­ing his con­certs, said he’ll be tak­ing at least one with Glover. Most likely, they’ll tap into some­thing that’s never been heard be­fore.

Yeah, I’m a dancer who plays the music, I’m a mu­si­cian that dances. I like ex­plor­ing the melodies, the dif­fer­ent sounds. It’s that heard ver­sus seen thing. I’m go­ing for be­ing heard. — Savion Glover

Jack DeJonette; op­po­site page, Savion Glover

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