Sarah Reich grew up in Culver City and began studying tap dance at age 5 in the California Dance Center that was located at Sepulveda and Washington Boulevards. She was fortunate enough to have very supportive parents who built a small studio for her in their living room where, according to tap master Steve Zee, she practiced for hours every day.

Sarah Reich – Photo by Jeremy Jackson

We had a living room that was just meant to be a dance studio.” Reich said. It was equipped with a wood floor, mirrors, a drum set and a piano. She invited all her friends over and together they would watch clips of historical tap footage on their big screen TV. Reich said that they would “gawk over them and try to learn them.”

Reich went on to study with Alfred Desio, who was the main tap teacher at the Colburn School before he passed away. She studied with Jason Samuels Smith, Chloe Arnold, Steve Zee and is a “Kennedy Kid” from working with Paul and Arlene Kennedy. During her early teenage years, Reich was asked to join Lynn Dally’s youth group the Caravan Project. Dally was co-founder and Artistic Director/Choreographer of the Los Angeles based and world renown Jazz Tap Ensemble. At age 15 Reich was featured in Dance Spirit Magazine’s article, “20 Hot Tappers Under 20” and in 2017, Dance Magazine included Reich on its “25 to Watch” list. At age 16 she became a member and Dance Captain of Steven Zee’s company, LA Ironworks. Zee told me that she also choreographed for his company. Clearly, this dancer was someone headed in the right direction career-wise. “Sarah is very talented and she was one of the most driven students that I have ever known.” Zee said.

During her appearances in videos with Scott Bradlee’s YouTube famous band called Postmodern Jukebox, Reich has become well-known as a pop culture ambassador. She has performed in Bradlee’s group for five years, touring America, Asia, Australia, South American and three and a half months in Europe.

I mentioned how wonderful it is to travel the world as a dancer. Reich agreed but added. “The touring life is crazy too because you’re performing every night, traveling on a sleeper bus and waking up in a different city. But in Europe it’s ‘oh, now I’m in Zurich!” With Postmodern Jukebox she has been able to reach the masses and to create her own fan base, both online and through live performances.

Reich and I met at Cognoscenti Coffee on Washington Blvd. in Culver City for an interview to promote her debut Jazz Album titled New Change. The album is “originally produced, composed from percussive tap rhythms, and performed by a great selection of musicians to create a unique sound.”

With her large following, Reich feels that when the album is released on Friday, August 31, her fans will be ready to listen to and hear her work, and she will soon begin touring her company, Tap Music Project, to reach an even larger audience as she promotes New Change.

Reich said that Tap Music Project started off with the concept that “Tap dancers are musicians as well, that we can really dive into that realm with our art.” Yes, there are dancers who often perform to canned music, but she sees no reason not to “work with live musicians and write original music, stemming from what we already know musically.” There are, of course, other companies, mostly run by women, who always perform with live music. They include Jazz Tap Ensemble, Manhattan Tap, American Tap Dance Orchestra, and Brenda Bufalino.

During the 1930s and 1940, Reich explained, every big band orchestras such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford and Benny Goodman all had a tap dancer featured in their show.

Why not be a part of writing original music,” Reich said. “instead of always dancing to jazz standards which is traditional.” Reich wants to collaborate with composers. She wants to create a rhythm, have the musician learn it and then build a song together from there. “That is what all the songs on my album are!” She added.

Reich wrote her first song and collaborated with a composer four years ago and has been working on New Change ever since. All the songs started with tap rhythms and then transformed into jazz melodies. She wants audiences to understand that tap can be respected as a musical instrument and that tap has always been a large part of jazz history.

It was during the ‘20s, ’30s and ‘40s, and then there was a disconnect.” She explained. “And hasn’t really been reconnected since.” The women tap artists like Lynn Dally and Brenda Bufalino have helped greatly to bridge some of that gap over the past few decades. A friend and colleague of Reich’s, Heather Cornell, told her that she was working with jazz bassist legend Ray Brown and that he was very exited to be working with a tap dancer. “I can see my music!” Brown told Cornell.

With this album, Reich is striving to bring back the knowledge and history of tap dancing’s connection to jazz music.  On New Change, the music includes jazz, funk and Latin jazz. She has also included vocal interludes to include messages to her from her mentors.

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Sarah Reich - Photo by Jeremy Jackson

I want the audience to hear the voices of these mentors and legends that we still admire and respect.” One such example is a message is from Harold Cromer who often left messages on her voice mail.  Reich considered Cromer a mentor of hers for the last ten years before he passed away in 2013.

When listeners hear these voices, they will feel like they are a student, the way that I feel that I am always the student of these mentors.” Reich said. She explained that part of what tap dancers do is pass along the oral history of tap dance and its legends. “You will hear their support for the younger generation of tap dancers.”

The cover of New Change shows Reich sitting on the floor surrounded by her tap shoes, old CD albums, vinyl records, videos and photos of famous tap dance artists, including her favorite Baby Laurence. With this album Reich is helping to keep that history alive as she and other tap artists move forward into the future. One of the tracks on her album is titled The Groove, on which one hears vocal samples from two 1980s documentaries titled About Tap and No Maps On My Taps. Both documentaries were produced by Milestone Films, directed by George T. Nierenberg and featured tap artists Chuck Green, Bunny Briggs, Howard “Sandman” Sims, Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde, and Steve Condos. The Groove is the voices of some of these amazing artists and with the help of a producer friend who creates beats for major hip hop artists, “He created a killer groove with a hip hop beat and on top of it you hear these lovely messages from Jimmy Slyde and others.”

I told Reich that this sounded like an oral history, and after listening to the album I will say that, in an abbreviated way, it is just that.

What makes New Change unique for me and others is that all the music is original, with songs composed by Reich. It not only provides wonderful original music and the extraordinary tap dancing by Reich, but it is a loving tribute to her mentors who deserve mentioning again: Harold Cromer, Brenda Bufalino, Ted Louis Levy, Jason Samuels Smith, Arthur Duncan, Ivery Wheeler, Dianne Walker and Chance Taylor. Many of these great tap artists are heard speaking to Reich at the beginning of a song that pays homage to them. As I listened to the album, it was clear that they all had or have high regard for Reich and her talent as a tap artist.

On track one, Harold Cromer is heard saying “You are Sarah Reich. You have the right touch!” Ted Louis Levy says how proud he is to be a part of “the journey that is Sarah Reich.” He goes on to say. “You’re a pure, honest connection to rhythm; everything rhythm.”

After hearing the message from Arthur Duncan, for example, Reich hopes that listeners will go to Google, type in his name and find out more about this wonderful artist. Among his many accomplishments, Duncan appeared for many years on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Learning to tap dance is like learning a language. Over the years every great tap dancer learns to hear tap rhythms and then be able to recreate them. Reich is one such tap dance artist. She teaches her students that to be a tap musician one must approach it like a musician with a musical knowledge; not necessarily needing to study music, but to listen to jazz music and become aware of its phrasing and melodies. She asks them when they step do they know what count it is on? Are they aware of the music’s dynamics and punctuation? Are they speaking and expressing the song? Reich is therefore teaching them about music composition as well as how to tap dance.

I host an intensive called the Tap Music Project Intensive where students audition, they come in and I teach them how to read and write rhythm notation.” Reich said. It is a method that she learned from one of her teachers Denise Scheerer.

Reich wants listeners to learn and recognize what Sarah Reich sounds like. To know that jazz is an improvisational art form, and that all jazz musicians do not sound the same. She wants to inspire other tap dancers to create albums so that in the future someone might say, “Hey, have you checked out that new Lynn Dally tap album?”

Reich is not shy about proclaiming that she wants “to be the first tap dancer to win a Grammy Award!” I have a feeling that if anyone can make it happen, Sarah Reich will make it a reality. This is the first tap album with all original music, except for one cover song, and she knows that if tap dancing were recognized at the level of the Grammy Awards, that it would be a huge accomplishment and step forward for the art of tap dancing.

The Players on New Change include Sarah Reich, tap percussionist; Maiya Sykes, vocals, Lee How, Rap Verse, Danny Janklow, Sax; Mike Cottone, Trumpet; Jonathan Pinson, Drums’ Aaron McLendon, Drums; Sam Barsh, Piano; Scott Bradlee, Piano,; Alex Boneham, Bass; Brandon K. Brown, electric bass; Roland Gajate-Garcia, Percussion; Artyom Manukyan, Cello, Dave Yaden, Keyboard, Jonah Levine, Trombone; Regiment Horns: Leon Silva, Sax; Darwin Johnson, Bass; Kevin Williams, Trombone, Flute, Gorden Campbell, Drums; Sean Erick, Trumpet; and Sam Hirsch, Piano.

New Change releases on August 31, 2018 and can soon be purchased at Sarah Reich’s website, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Spotify.

To learn more about Sarah Reich, watch her videos and to purchase her original Jazz Tap Album New Change, click here.

Feature image: Cover of Sarah Reich’s new Jazz Tap Album New Change – Courtesy of the artist.