For four nights, February 20-23, legendary choreographer Maurice Hines paid homage to Black History Month by premiering a jazz musical that celebrated the greats: Duke Ellington, Count Baise, Mario Bauza, Lucky Millinder, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith, Betty Carter, Big Maybelle, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, and the Apollo's chorus line, The Gorgeous Hot Steppers.
The 90-minute production recognizes the richness in jazz history during the mid 1930's to the early 1950's. The play rediscovered the glitz and glamour and magic during this era by taking it center-stage at music's biggest landmark: The Apollo Theater. These were the perfect dates to take a train ride to Harlem to 125th Street.
The theater was nicely decorated as a night-club venue with performers showing off their spectacular dance routines, ravishing costumes, a swingin' 16-piece big band, and Maurice Hines' dynamic solo tap-dance performance.
Hines, a dazzling 70- year-old, still showed his style, creativity, originality, and humor on stage. It was an extra boost for everyone to remain fully alert on what was to come on stage. The Apollo Theater was a valuable tool for Hines to recapture fondest memories of living in New York City and dancing with his younger brother, the late Gregory Hines.
"Gregory and I were raised right here in Harlem on 150th and Amsterdam; this is like coming home, being here at the Apollo," said Maurice.
The Harlem play was a history lesson for audience members, old and young because we must honor our early jazz musical roots. It is just necessary in order to keep R&B or any other element of music alive. Music has evolved tremendously since the 1950's when swing groups were disbanding; however, another genre stepped on the scene: Rhythm and Blues.
Jazz saxophonist, vocalist, and King of the Juke Box, Louis Jordan is known for being an innovator for R&B music. His multi-faceted talent and charismatic persona are still recognized today in the music world. He was the first African American recording artist that crossed over and produced the "wild and jumpy" side of jazz and blues. Jordan's contributions in music elevated R&B music to much greater heights.
Even with the latest trends and transitions in R&B, it is still considered to be the "Soul of American Culture," thanks to Jordan's previous party lyrics and up-tempo music. As music lovers, we should take the time to recognize jazz as an important milestone in music. In today's society, jazz has an active range of styles because every artist, whether of R&B, Hip-Hop, Pop, or Rock, have incorporated pieces of jazz in their work. Maurice Hines' message correlates with trombonist J.J Johnson’s statement about jazz when he says, "Jazz is restless. It won't stay put and it never will."