Getting to Know Max Pollak -- Part I

by Nicole Harris

I once had a lovely chat with Max Pollak that was intended for this blog.  Because Melissa Dollman is such an amazing Monkeyhouse supporter (and overall person) and took the time to type out the transcript of said chat for me, I am now (over a year later) happy to share some of the incredible things I learned with you.

Max Pollak is the creator of Rumba Tap, a style as well as a music/dance ensemble that encompasses his unique melding of body percussion, tap dance and intense rhythm making.  In his own words, Max talks a bit about his personal history and the creation of Rumba Tap.

OK, the idea of RumbaTap really started with me studying music at Mannes College.  (At that point, I was part of the jazz program at the New School, but we were taking classes at Mannes College.)  As such, I was studying drum set and composition and arrangement, but mainstream jazz from ’93 to ’95.  While I was in my first or second semester I heard people taking about the Afro-Cuban ensemble led by Bobby Sanabria. So I ended up taking that class, and that’s what really sort of changed my whole outlook. He’s a great teacher, an amazing musician, very well rounded, and really knowledgeable about Afro-Cuban and Latin music history, development, all that. He taught the class not only as an ensemble where we could play different styles of African music, but also as a history class. So, first of all, everybody, all the instrumentalists, had to learn percussion—even the saxophone players, the pianists, they all had the basic percussion patterns, because if you don’t know it, you can’t play the music. Because it’s all based on the drums. He also show us videos of the full court dancing and singing. The way it is practiced in Cuba, and that’s something that most jazz musicians have no idea about and no connection with. And that’s what really sort of changed my outlook on everything, because when I saw the way they move in Afro-Cuban folklore, it really struck a very deep chord in me that I had not really connected with in jazz. I had been dancing jazz dance and tap dance since I was eleven years old, and that had always interested me and attracted me a lot, but it never struck this deep spiritual chord. And that’s really the point, the root, off all this music, and the intensity, and that’s what I connected with I realize now. So I started studying the percussion, the songs, and the dancing over time. And I started transferring the drum patterns onto my feet, and eventually onto my body, because I wanted the polyrhythmic aspect of the music to come out sonically.  And when you’re only tap dancing, and you’re only using the sounds of your feet, you are using one, maybe two levels sonically, but when you start clapping on top of it, you’re opening up a whole new range of sound and feel. And then by adding this, you’re adding more melody instruments. And then by adding the voice, you’re adding a whole other dimension.  So all those other dimensions I could I hear in that music, and I wanted to translate, to essentially do that by myself without any instruments. So that’s the thought behind it, and I wanted to make sure that I move in an appropriate way that would look authentic with the music.

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