Friday, February 01, 2008

The Man- Sammy

Sammy Davis Jr was a born entertainer.
Don't believe me?
Here he is at 7 years of age.

Now, the first part of the clip is Sammy singing, but at the end he gives us a hint of what he was doing dance wise.

Already a seasoned pro.
Sammy's dad was partners with another tap dancer, Will Matsen. As Sammy grew, joined the act which would become the Will Masten Trio. He quickly became the star of the act. In this clip, you will see why.

Just a note, while Sammy's facial expressions may seem over the top, that was very much the style of the boogie woogie singers of the time, like Martha Raye and Betty Hutton. Even the Andrew Sisters have a shade of it in their performances.

Many people have referred to Sammy as the original triple threat. He could sing, dance and act. But that wasn't all, as this clip shows there didn't seem to be anything that Davis couldn't do.

But Davis had started as a dancer. And although he later became equally known as a song stylist, it is his dancing that is being praised here. In this clip from the Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), he sings and dances to a song made popular by another hoofer, Gene Kelly.

What is of note in this performance (and the Fascinating Rhythm clip), is the variety of rhythms he introduces us to. The invention. He constantly comes up with something that is a bit of a surprise to us. And keeps us interested. And look at the carriage of his upper body, he is so cool.

It should be remembered that tap dancers all once emulated this. When Gregory Hines came along later, he brought with him a more introverted style (a la Miles Davis) complete with hunched shoulders. Savion Glover took this to an even further level, where tappers suddenly became much more interested in sound and less in "dance."

The interesting thing is that for all the interest in sound, there is actually less variety of rhythm.

Sammy had a signature piece, Mr. Bojangles.

Davis mentioned in an interview that people often thought he was referencing the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson with the song. That was not quite the case. He said that he sang the song for ALL of the black hoofers who had danced in vaudeville and stages back in the day. This clip is from a TV special called Night of A Thousand Stars. It is interesting to note that in a two hour show (with commercials), where they were cramming as many stars into numbers and appearances, that Davis was given 6 minutes to sing his song... on stage... alone.

Softy that I am, I always cry when he talks about the dog in the song. I have never been fond of the way that he "acts" like an old man, when he sings the old man's verse. I know that people were probably reticent to tell him, "Sammy you don't have to act like a senior citizen, you are one." But I am willing to over look that, just to see him switch from pose to pose when he sings the Mr. Bojangles verse.

It also touches me that the song that early in his career was being sung about someone else, became biographical at the end of his career. Was there ever a moment where he caught the irony himself? I'm not sure he did, or he wouldn't have felt a need to change his voice when he "became" Mr. Bojangles.

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