JIMMY SLYDE, an elegant, engaging performer with a sharp wit, was one of the giants of rhythm tap, known for his great musicality, his impeccable timing and his ability to glide across the stage effortlessly. Closely affiliated with jazz, he worked with musicians like Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong during the big-band era. His strongest musical affinity was bebop; for years he worked closely with the pianist Barry Harris.
Born James Titus Godbolt in Atlanta in 1927, Mr. Slyde started tap dancing as a child in Massachusetts, where his family had relocated. While taking violin lessons at the New England Conservatory, he became interested in tap and soon decamped to Stanley Brown’s tap studio, where he was introduced to luminaries like Bill (Bojangles) Robinson. As a young man, he began performing in clubs with Jimmy Mitchell (the self-proclaimed Sir Slyde), using the name the Slyde Brothers, and soon was reborn as Jimmy Slyde, much in demand as an added attraction for the major big bands. he then returned back in the 1980 to perform in television specials and to dance in films like “Round Midnight” and the “Cotton Club” He also recieved a Tony Award nomination for his debut on Broadway in a musical called “Black and Blue”. With the help of Steve Condos, the two developed a program at the Smithsonian Institution. The program was of jazz tap improvisation. James Slyde went on to recieve numerous honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography in 2003 , the Charles “Honi” Coles award, an honorary Doctorate of Performing Art from Oklahoma City University and others.
But as Mr. Slyde came into his own, opportunities for hoofers were drying up in America. In the 1970s he settled in Paris, where, with the help of Sarah Petronio, one of the pioneering women of tap, he helped introduce rhythm tap. He also appeared in the Paris production of the revue “Black and Blue,” . He returned to America in the 1980 to perform in television specials and to dance in films like “Round Midnight” and the “Cotton Club” He also recieved a Tony Award nomination for his Broadway debut in “Black and Blue”. With the help of Steve Condos, the two developed a program at the Smithsonian Institution. The program was of jazz tap improvisation. Jimmy Slyde went on to recieve numerous honors including a NEA grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography in 2003 , the Charles “Honi” Coles award, an honorary Doctorate of Performing Art from Oklahoma City University and a Dance Magazine award in 2005.
By many accounts a reluctant teacher, in the early 1990s Mr. Slyde was still one of several tap elders who presided over a series of legendary jam sessions at La Cave, a nightclub in Manhattan, which attracted an international array of dancers, including Savion Glover, Tamango, Max Pollak and Roxane Butterfly (the “Butterfly” came courtesy of Mr. Slyde). Tradition, lineage and community are highly prized among tap dancers; in interviews Mr. Glover and Mr. Slyde described each other as being like family.
“He’s the last of the Mohicans, or one of them, anyway,” said Jane Goldberg, a tap dancer and historian who recalled trekking to Massachusetts to study with him in 1982. She said she showed him all her hardest routines, only to have him tell her to do nothing but shuffles, a basic step, for the next three hours. “His timing was impeccable,” she said, describing his ability to make the audience hear every sound in a phrase. “He was a real purist.”
Jimmy Slyde, one of the last great tap dancers of the big-band era, whose smooth moves carried him from swing and bebop to Broadway and the movies. As Mr. Slyde’s health waned in recent years, he was increasingly absent from the tap festival circuit. But it was a rare tap event at which his name was not mentioned to warm applause.
He died at his home in Hanson, Mass. at age 80. after a period of declining health, said Pete Peterson, a retired drummer who was a friend of Mr. Slyde’s for 51 years. Mr. Slyde is survived by his wife, Donna, and a son, Daryl.