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Miles Davis & Bob Dorough: Tappin'!


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There is no end, it seems, to the stream of posthumous Miles Davis releases, with this live recording coming hot on the heels of The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 That's What Happened 1982-1985. But this one is very different. In fact, it is safe to say that there has never been a Davis recording quite like this one. For twenty-nine minutes, Davis and singer/pianist Bob Dorough trade back and forth, ply intricate unison lines and push each other to ever greater virtuosic heights... with nothing more than their feet. Yep, this is that rarest of beasts, a tap-dancing album.

Now that you have picked your jaw up off the floor, just stop to consider the logic. Davis' love of boxing was well known. Boxing to Davis was rhythm. Tap dancing and boxing were just two different forms of dance. Dorough was no stranger to either. When boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson first retired from the ring in 1952, he embarked on a short-lived career in show business, singing and tap dancing. The champ hired Dorough as his pianist and singing coach. Dorough taught Robinson the art of scatting. Robinson, in turn, taught Dorough how to tap dance with the best of them.

Dorough came onto Davis' radar In 1956, the trumpeter digging Dorough's bebop-inspired debut album Devil May Care (Bethlehem, 1956). The stars aligned a few years later when Columbia Records persuaded Davis to contribute a song to an all-star Christmas compilation album, Jingle Bell Jazz (Columbia, 1962). Davis called Dorough for the session. Their song, "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)," which also featured Wayne Shorter, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, is a curio in Davis' discography. Davis himself was dismissive, though another song featuring Dorough recorded during that same session, "Nothing Like You," would wind up—rather incongruously—as the last track on Davis' album Sorcerer (Columbia, 1967). But that's another story.

On a personal level, Davis and Dorough hit it off. Davis never tired of Dorough's tales of life on the road with Sugar Ray Robinson, whom Davis had watched box from ringside many times. Davis was amazed to learn that Robinson was a very accomplished tap dancer. He was determined to follow suit. Dorough duly became Davis' tap teacher, an arrangement that would last several years. Most of their lessons unfolded during informal jam sessions held at a loft on 821 Sixth Avenue, where painter David X. Young, composer Hal Overton and photographer Eugene W. Smith lived.

Between 1957 and 1965, Smith made over 4,000 semi-professional recordings and took tens of thousands of photos of those loft jam sessions, frequented by most of the jazz greats of the time. The collection resides in Duke University. This recording of Davis and Dorough from 1958, however, languished in an attic for six decades, gathering dust, until one of Smith's granddaughters stumbled upon it while spring cleaning mid-pandemic.

The sound quality is good, and so is the tapping. It begins in fairly gentle unison, punctuated by Dorough's quip 'nothing could be grander than to be in Louisiana,' suggesting that their opening routine was inspired by "Good Morning" from Singin' In the Rain. Without pause, teacher and apprentice trade back and forth on what is clearly "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" until Davis fluffs a cramp roll in one of his rhythmically demanding turns, muttering 'mother fucker!' to himself before leaving Dorough to close out solo.

Davis was no quitter, taking a solo spot himself on "Thoroughly Modern Millie"—humming the tune all the while—and initiating what amounts to a cutting contest on "Choo Choo Honeymoon." For seven thrilling minutes Davis holds his own while the duo deals in jazz rhythms, pushing each other to ever faster tempi through some thrilling bebop passages, encouraged by the hoots and hollers of those in attendance. But when Dorough ups the ante with Broadway tap, slipping in a Cincinnati and a Maxie Ford in quick succession, Davis is all at sea and throws in the towel to howls of laughter. When the hubbub abates, Dorough taps out the rhythm to "Take It on The Chin," cracking up the assembled once again, and drawing some more choice profanities from Davis.

An insightful essay by contemporary tap-dancing king Savion Glover provides detailed technical analysis of Dorough and Davis' tap dancing, as well as bags of fascinating historical context, while previously unpublished photos by Smith capture an artistic side of Miles Davis known to very few. Recommended.

Track Listing

Good Morning (?); Top Hat, White Tie and Tails; Thoroughly Modern Millie; Choo Choo Honeymoon; Take it on The Chin.


Miles Davis: tap dancing, humming, obscenities; Bob Dorough: tap dancing, one-upmanship.

Album information

Title: Tappin'! | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Purple Kush Records

Gotcha! April Fools!

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Jazz article: Miles Davis & Bob Dorough: Tappin'!


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