Close Encounter with Gregory Hines

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gino-vannelliTwenty years ago, while I was recording “Yonder Tree”, I was stumped. I couldn’t decide what kind of solo was needed in one section of “Falling in Love”. I’d entertained the classic jazz drum solo, but it seemed terribly predictable. I was scratching my head, wondering one night, when suddenly, I saw Gregory Hines tapping away on some awards show.
“Man, that would be interesting, “ I thought, as it felt like somebody hit thelight switch in my head. His time, technique, and knowledge of rhythmic sub divisions were no less than any great drummer I’d had ever heard. A tap solo it had to be.
The next morning I got the wheels rolling to try and track Gregory down. Within a day or so I had his home number.
You never know what to expect in these situations. Some artists can be sweet as pie—some can be battery fluid.
“ This is Gregory,” a calm voice said, at the other end of the line.
“Gregory, I replied, as respectfully as I could, “This is Gino Vannelli.”
There was this terrible gaping, galactic emptiness on the line that widened with each split second. Too much time had lapsed. The gap was too long I fretted. I thought for sure he’d blow me off, slam the phone or spit nails my way.
But, to me delight I heard, “No shit!”
“No shit,” I confirmed.
We had a great conversation about life and music in general. Gregory loved the idea of the tap solo, but when it came time to discussing his fee he responded with another disquieting pause. All mutual flatteries and cordialities suddenly seemed to hang in the balance.
He might have said, “ No way,” or, “Hell, who do you think you’re talking to,” or, “Talk to my lawyer,” or, could have simply said, “Nice talking to you.” Instead, Gregory Hines responded in the kindest, most understanding way.
“Gimme an Habana, and I’m good,” he said unceremoniously. (Got him a box of twenty-four.)11351210_976436762375507_4441087633517373025_n
I think of Gregory now and then—his generosity for sure, but more so about his talent, incredible steel heels, and maniacal penchant for perfection.
Joe and I had built him an 8’X8’ platform made out of ¾” plywood. He danced for hours and hours and had gotten it right with every take. But he was looking for something that only he knew was the perfect performance.
Ten hours later, we sat down and relaxed. It seemed we touched upon everything under the sun—me, over a cup of coffee, and Gregory, over a Habana.
Thank you my friend, and keep dancing, wherever you may be.

6 Comments on “Close Encounter with Gregory Hines”

  1. very cool anecdote, I’ll have to check out that song. I am a long time fan up here in Canada.
    con affetto,

  2. To this day I cannot describe the feeling I had the first time I heard Fallen In Love. I’ve been tapping since the age of 4 and to have two of the most incredible people in the world come together… well, it was a dream come true. Pure bliss. I know there are other tap fans of Gino’s since I’ve read a few posts from people over the years and when I found out I wasn’t the only one tapping to Gino, I wasn’t surprised. The musicality of Gino’s music is what makes it pure joy to tap to. It’s the ultimate challenge. (Fellow tappers know exactly what I’m talking about.)
    I don’t think I could ever thank Gino for all that he’s given so many of us, especially in the most difficult of times. Every time I tap to a Gino song or hear Fallen In Love, I can’t get enough and am forever grateful for that brilliant collaboration… heaven on earth.

    1. Man, isn’t that the truth. I’m so glad Gino thought of this when seeing Hines. Must have been sheer divinity.
      I tapped when I was a young girl for a year. Nothing like what you must be like. I’m so glad this song gave validation to a now, what seems to be, a lost art. What goes away, will come again, soon, I hope.

  3. Gino,
    Thank you for this behind the scenes info. As a fellow drummer I can appreciate everything you mentioned. That had to be a great moment. So many great drummers were also tap dancers back in the day.
    Again, thanks for sharing.

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