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Nakagawa Saburo | Tap on High, Tap Chic

Tap On High
Saburo Nakagawa

Mr. Saburo Nakagawa is one of Japan 's most famous tap masters. He was born in 1916. After studying with Japan 's first tap teacher, George Hori, Nakagawa traveled to America at age 17, around 1933. This gives us an idea of just how fast tap, clearly a very foreign cultural expression, had spread to Japan. Nakagawa eventually found his way to Radio City and to choreographer, Vaudevillian and “dance-teacher-to-the-stars”, John Mattison. Mattison is known for his choreography for the young Donald O'Connor in Private Buckaroo and three other 1940,s war-time musicals. While he was a choreographer at Radio City Music Hall , Mattison chose Nakagawa to tap with Franz von Suppe's Poet and Peasant Overture at the Winter Garden Theatre. Nakagawa gained considerable fame in New York and back in Japan with this performance. He returned to Japan in 1936 and become a tap teacher, choreographer, stage and movie performer and businessman. Like Arthur Murray in the US, Nakagawa opened ballroom dance studios all over Japan. Saburo Nakagawa died October 24th, 2003, at age 87.

Saburo Nakagawa, c. 1940
Saburo Nakagawa, c. 1975

This record is a 45RPM single, released in 1979 at the height of the Disco scene in Japan. Tap studios had to offer classes that taught tap routines backed by the popular tunes of the day. It didn't matter if the music and the beat didn't lend itself to tap; somehow you have to get those new kids through the door. Disco tap routines were very popular as the 80's began. I remember at one studio, they were tapping to Michael Jackson's Thriller This record offers typical disco beat music with the sound of tap added here and there. Nakagawa, already 63, is keeping up to date and tapping with that Disco beat. He calls this tap style “Tap Chic” and includes these comments on the record jacket: “I've put this old dance form from the 1930's into the modern Disco style and called it Tap Chic. So here is Tap Chic No.1. I'll be very happy if many Disco fans enjoy it.” Well, there is no Tap Chic No.2, but Nakagawa tried to keep up with the latest sound though he was in his 60's. Can't argue with that! He doesn't tap throughout each tune. During the 4 minutes of music there are only 4 moments of 8 bars with tapping, but they are very clear and they fit fine.

You can learn more by reading, Danshingu Oru Raifu, Nakagawa Saburo Monogatari, Dancing All Life: the History of Saburo Nakagawa (in Japanese only, sorry to say) written by Takao Norikoshi.

Information on the films of John Mattison
Private Buckaroo (1942) - Choreography
Broadway (1942) - Choreography
What's Cookin'? (1942) - Choreography
Give Out, Sisters (1942) - Choreography

— Shinichi Matsumoto