There is a lot of history in this museum but it is not always alive. It was a different case last Friday, when Maurice Hines was here for a conversation and dance program that helped kick off Jazz Appreciation Month. The auditorium was very much alive, with tap legend Maurice Hines, teenage sensations John and Leo Manzari, and an audience of fans, young and old, anxious to learn more about Mr. Hines, his career, his upcoming revival of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” and about jazz and dance in general.
Maurice Hines, now 65, seemed like the most energetic person in the room. His enthusiasm was infectious, and he mesmerized the audience with his story of life as a performer. From a very young age he danced with his little brother Gregory. He shared how important his mother was as the boys’ first “agent.” And most importantly, he connected with the kids in the room and made them feel they could accomplish anything if they put their heart into it. I, always a dance fan but never a dancer, almost felt like I should go out and take some lessons. Maybe I will . . .
Back to jazz and dance. People think of jazz as music, but jazz is also a cultural phenomenon. The language of jazz is music and dance, and dance is another way to communicate the cultural history and legacy of the genre. This museum has a large collection of jazz-related artifacts—photos, sheet music, even Maurice’s first pair of tap shoes. Our visitors can learn a lot from that, but what they learned from watching and listening to Mr. Hines, a living legend, was so much more. Mr. Hines then went on to introduce John and Leo Manzari, teenage brothers from D.C. whom he discovered at an open audition held last year at the Duke Ellington School. With their brief tap performance, we were transported from history to the future. And when the Manzari boys connected with the even younger boys in the audience, I knew that the future of dance and jazz was in good shape for years to come.
Jazz Appreciation Month is just getting started. You can find a complete listing of programs taking place throughout April at www.smithsonianjazz.org. History is on stage for you to enjoy!
Kathy Sklar is the business program manager at the National Museum of American History.