RIP Bunny Briggs: Tap Dancer Extraordinaire

SKF NOTE: Tap dancers and drummers have always been connected. Drum history is scattered with musicians who excelled at both art forms. Buddy Rich, Fred Astaire, Steve Gadd are but a few.

I had never heard of Bunny Briggs before Will Friedwald’s Wall Street Journal obituary. What an astounding dancer, artist. It’s impossible for me to imagine any drummer not appreciating Bunny Briggs. Wow!

Wall Street Journal
Dec. 8, 2014 6:56 p.m. ET

In 1964, Duke Ellington approached Bunny Briggs, the great tap-dancer who died just before Thanksgiving at the age of 92, with an idea for a special project… [Ellington] described it as a “Concert of Sacred Music,” …a highly radical idea.

Fifty years ago, Ellington wanted to achieve the dual purpose of cleaning up [jazz]’s reputation and expressing his own ecumenical emotions. There was only one dancer…who could deliver that combination of reverence and joyful abandon.., who could fully represent the African-American vernacular dance form in the same way Ellington and his orchestra were representing jazz, who could simultaneously make religion fun and make fun into something undeniably spiritual.

Ellington, who introduces Briggs at the work’s premiere (…at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral on Sept. 16, 1965….) as “the most superleviathonic, rhythmaturgically-syncopated tapsthamaticianisamist,” could have never found a better dancer to portray David in his mythic offering to the Lord.

Briggs…dances without hesitation or pause for the entire nine minutes… improvising tirelessly without his energy and invention ever flagging.

In the mid- to late 1940s, the dancer—…born Bernard Briggs in Harlem in 1922 and nicknamed Bunny early on because of his impressive speed—became to tap-dancing roughly what Ella Fitzgerald was to scat singing.

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