NEW YORK >> When Maurice Hines tells a story about Sammy, he means Sammy Davis Jr. When he mentions Ella, that's Ella Fitzgerald. He grew up among the legends of show business, dancing with his late brother, Gregory.
Now he's come to New York with the story of his life: Through song, tap numbers and monologues, "Maurice Hines Tappin' Thru Life" at New World Stages is packed with memories. The Associated Press caught up with the 72-year-old performer to ask all about it.
Q: How did this show come about?
A: I was reading this article on tap — a whole big article — and they never mentioned my brother's name at all. And I was very upset about it because he certainly was a genius at what he did. I felt his name should have been recognized. So I just started including stories of Gregory and I in my nightclub act. It grew from there.
Q: How did you start dancing?
A: My uncle told my mother, 'Maurice is dancing around the house a lot. They have free dance classes on 125th Street. You should take him.' So she brought me and the teacher asked, 'What can you do?' I said, 'Well, I can turn around.' He said, 'Turn around for me.' I did seven pirouettes. I was 5.
Q: Gregory was 3 and too young to join you. But you would teach him what you'd learned. How did he do?
A: He didn't even have to practice. He would look at it and just do it. He had that ability for the rest of his life. Our teacher, Henry LeTang, said, 'They work great together because I will teach them a routine, Gregory will have forgotten it the next day, but Maurice remembers it forever.'
Q: What's some good advice you got early on?
A: When we did the Apollo Theater, our father told us, 'You're going to start to meet very talented and important people. When you meet Nat King Cole or you meet Lena Horne, you got nothing to say because you don't know nothing. You sit there and you listen.' I find the kids today got too much to say too early.
Q: Tap's richness isn't always explored, is it?
A: People think tap is all one thing. They don't think it has styles. They know there's a soft-shoe style, but there's all kinds of stuff — there's the Busby Berkeley style, which is very airy. There's the John Bubbles, which is closer to the floor. There's all kinds of styles, but they treat it like a stepchild.
Q: Is there a pet peeve you have as a dancer?
A: They always want us to tap in the morning. I don't tap in the morning. I try to be nice and explain there's metal on the bottom of my shoes so when you hit the floor the pain shoots up your leg and your hamstrings. It's very important you warm up. I remember I was doing 'Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee' and they wanted me to tap. I said, 'Would you ask Baryshnikov to come in here and do a ballet at 9 in the morning? He'd look at you like you were crazy.'
Q: Is it bittersweet to return to the past this way?
A: We were quite a close family. We traveled together all our lives. Without them, I was very, very lonely. So when I got a chance to do the show, I don't feel as lonely because I tell the stories and it brings them back to me.
Q: How are New Yorkers treating you?
A: I am having the best time. At the end of the show I go and shake people's hands in the front row and the other day I see, in the corner of my eye, this woman coming toward me with a walker. I said, 'Oh, no. I'll come to you, baby.' See, that's it. That makes my life — to please. And if I can please a woman in a walker, I'm set.