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Catching up with Pamela Hetherington

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Meet Pamela Hetherington:
Philadelphia native, jazz tap dancer, choreographer, dance educator; director of the tap and music collective Take It Away Dance.

Instrument(s):
Tap shoes, cajon, piano

Teachers and/or influences?
I grew up dancing with the best tap teachers in Philadelphia, including Rita Rue, Leon Evans, Delphine Mantz, LaVaughn Robinson and Robert F. Burden, Jr.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I started studying jazz tap dance with Heather Cornell, about five years ago. Everything I had learned technique-wise up until that point finally "clicked" into place, when I started to position myself in a band, not as a soloist, but as an ensemble musician.

Your sound and approach to music:
Tap shoes can't exactly mimic a melody, but we can get a lot of different accents and tones out of them. Finding the right accent and delivering just the right rhythm within the entire matrix of a jazz band is truly a pursuit that can take a lifetime to master. I am forever a student of jazz music, and I try to learn as much as I can from every musician I meet.

Your teaching approach:
I teach a great deal of tap dancing to students of all ages. Tap has a core set of technical moves that students need to master to become clear musicians. However, I also try to relay to students the importance of finding their own voice. The only way that tap dance will move forward is if we have dancers who have something to say.

Your dream band:
Tap dancers are often most linked to the drummer in the band, however, I find that I'm drawn to jazz pianists and how they play with melody and comping: Ahmad Jamal, Thelonious Monk, Jason Moran, Barry Harris and Herbie Hancock. Rounding out my dream rhythm section, Christian McBride would be on bass, and Philly Joe Jones would be on the drums.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
I rememeber any performance experience when people experience tap dance for the first time... and discover that they love it. When I was a teenager, I started performing with a Philly tap company called Tap Team Two. One of the first gigs we ever did was throwing down our tap boards and hitting at every terminal in the Philadelphia airport. By the end of a full day of dancing, we had a following of people who had trailed us through every terminal. Tap dance has this indescribable power to connect an audience and draw them in to the music. Seeing the joy it brings to people never gets old.

Favorite venue:
I love sitting in at the Sunday Sessions at LaRose Jazz Club in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
I haven't recorded anything yet in a studio... but that will hopefully happen soon!

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Dave Brubeck's Take Five.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I try to bring tap dancers and jazz musicians together, through the various dance projects that I produce throughout a year. I believe that the possibilities for collaboration are limitless, and that we have only begun to scratch the surface.

Did you know...
I have two degrees in English Literature, and I spent my twenties working a day job in publishing. Publishing a book is actually a very creative process which demands a lot of last-minute improvisation. Day jobs are kind of maligned in the art world, but I was lucky to have cool bosses, and I honed a lot of business skills working in my office job. Now that I run my own dance company, I'm grateful for every one!

CDs you are listening to now:
Jason Moran: Ten
Jason Moran: All Rise -The Music of Fats Waller
Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage
Robert Glasper: Black Radio
Radiohead: The Scotch Mist Sessions

Desert Island picks:
Prince: Purple Rain
Frank Sinatra: The Capitol Years
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme
Thelonious Monk: Monk's Mood
Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Tap dance has a fascinating history which parallels the changes in American music. Most people agree that tap really evolved during the bebop era; the innovations that tap dancers made during that period of time are still what we practice and study today. However, people always ask me, when is tap "coming back?" It's here! We are here! There are many jazz tappers in the world today who are working with jazz musicians -actually, all kinds of musicians for that matter -to make the art form new. There are vast opportunities for tap dancers and jazz musicians to join forces and collaborate on really cool and surprising projects.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
For me—venues with wood floors!

What is in the near future?
I'm working my annual tap and jazz music concert performance—Cross-Rhythms—which will be held in June 2015 at Levitt Hall, University of the Arts.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
Charlie Parker's "Cherokee"

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