Considering that rhythm tap dance is really just jazz with your feet, and considering that the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap is a premiere jazz spot, then there's just one unanswered question about that venue's first tap dance night last weekend: "What took so long?"
And as the Dec. 5 performance showed, tap and the Deer Head were a perfect match, harking back sometimes to the days of vaudeville and the small club act. It was an intimate setting, perfect for the understated footwork of the evening's headliner, tap great Buster Brown. Brown toured with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and, at age 84, is still hoofing it with fast steps, some soft shoe and a body that glides along on top for the ride.
In between riffs, Brown would pause for jokes or to tease the band. While in the rhythm, he looked like the cabaret stage was life for him. If you've ever seen a ballerina in the wings, flat-footed and maybe slouched for a minute, you're struck by the contrast between on stage and off. But for Buster Brown, his "cool cat" demeanor is the same on stage and off. Those complex patterns coming out of his shoes are like breathing to him.
Joining Brown on the program were dancer Shelley Oliver, the Dave Leonhardt Trio and the Muhlenberg Jazz Tap Ensemble.
Oliver opened the program and showed a different kind of cool. A one time star student of great tap dancers like Charles "Cookie" Cooke, she is a hoofer through and through. But her style is more exuberant, more explosive and more expansive than the old style of tap. At the Deer Head, she showcased a more lyrical, soft-shoe style a well as some lightning-speed footwork. She was playful here and there, too.
During its debut, the Muhlenberg Jazz Tap Ensemble, a group made up largely of students at Muhlenberg College and directed by Oliver, performed a made-for-the-theater-type piece on the Deer Head's tiny cabaret stage and handled the space challenges like pros.
At the 7 p.m. show, I got the feeling the performers could have gone on all night. But alas, the 9 p.m. crowd was huddling outside the door.
-- Marty Munson The Morning Call