Odds 'n Ends
On a somber note, Jazz and music in general lost two outstanding performers within a twenty-four hour period in January. On January 23, drummer Sherman Ferguson, long a mainstay on the Los Angeles scene, died at age sixty-one. Only last year Ferguson, a native of Philadelphia (born October 31, 1944) who had lived in the Los Angeles area since 1976, released the debut CD with his group JazzUnion, Welcome to My Vision . . . Ferguson taught drumming at UCLA and UC-Irvine, was on the faculty at the Los Angeles Music Academy, and through the years had performed with a number of Jazz luminaries including Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Benny Carter, Bud Shank, Kenny Burrrell, Pharoah Sanders, Eddie Harris, Pat Martino, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Ahmad Jamal, Shorty Rogers, George Coleman, Kenny Barron, Gabor Szabo, Teddy Edwards and Buddy Collette. With pianist Tom Ranier and bassist John Heard, he was part of the trio Heard / Ranier / Ferguson. He was, most of all, a nice guy with a warm smile for everyone. I last saw Sherman here in Albuquerque in early '05 when he was in the rhythm section backing Flutology, a sextet featuring flutists Ali Ryerson, Holly Hofmann and the legendary Frank Wess. Later last year, he sent an e-mail saying he'd been in the hospital for a time but was home recuperating. I made a note to call him after the holiday season to see how he was getting along. Of course, I didn't. Sorry, Sherman. I hope that anyone reading this who's been meaning to phone or write to someone special will get busy and do it now. There are no guarantees. . . .
One day after Sherman's passing, Fayard Nicholas, one of the greatest dancers in Hollywood film history, died at age 91 at his home near Los Angeles. If the name doesn't immediately ring a bell, there are at least two reasons: first, Fayard was part of a dancing team, the Nicholas Brothers, with younger brother Harold (who died six years ago). Second, in spite of their enormous talents, the Nicholas Brothers were, frankly, the wrong color for Hollywood stardom in the '30s and '40s, and were relegated to the status of "novelty act in the more than thirty motion pictures in which they appeared. Still, when one sees those films today, the highlight of every one of them is the mind-boggling routine by a pair of acrobatic dancers who made the seemingly impossible look deceptively easy. Among the best-known of those films are "Down Argentine Way, "Stormy Weather, "The Pirate (in which they danced with Gene Kelly), "Sun Valley Serenade (dancing to Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo Choo ) and "Orchestra Wives (where they lit up the screen again dancing to "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo ). The brothers made their Broadway debut in the 1936 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies (with such stars as Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, Eve Arden and Josephine Baker), and appeared the following year in Rodgers and Hart's "Babes in Arms. In the play "St. Louis Woman (1946), Harold introduced the Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer classic, "Come Rain or Come Shine. Who's Who in Hollywood summed up their film career succinctly and accurately, noting that the Nicholas Brothers were "certainly the greatest dance team ever to work in the movies. The brothers were given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, received the Kennedy Center Honors, were among the first inductees into the Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame and Black Filmmakers' Hall of Fame, and received the American Black Lifetime Achievement Award. Among their tap-dancing students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson. The brothers were a headline act at Harlem's famed Cotton Club in 1932 and made their last appearance as a team in MGM's 1985 documentary, "That's Dancing! Among my more prized possessions is a copy of the award-winning retrospective of the Nicholas Brothers' career, "We Sing and We Dance. If you can find a copy grab it, as watching them dance is a mind-blowing experience to which the adage "we'll never see their like again certainly applies.