By Mark J. Cadigan
truly versatile entertainer exhibited many of his talents
on the stage of the Hogan Ballroom on Feb. 24. Reggie Walley,
a fixture in Worcester's arts community, sang, played the
drums, tap-danced, joked and reminisced, all with endearing
charm and vibrant style.
At 84, Walley has
more life in him than many people half his age. During his
with the Walley Quartet - which included bassist Bunny
Price, pianist Allan Mueller, and saxophonist Ken Sawyer
- he proved himself to still be agile on the drums, slipping
easily around the whole kit and displaying a finely honed
sense of dynamics. He crooned with feeling and later sang
a duet with Linda Dagnello during the Dagnello Sextet's
set, cracking up the large crowd with comical ad-libs.
Nattily dressed in
a black turtleneck, black slacks, and a white suit coat,
Walley earned a standing
ovation when he danced during the Haddad/Odgren Quintet's
set, impressing the audience with his taps, slides, shuffles,
"Then There Was Jazz:
A Tribute to Reggie Walley," sponsored by the College's
First-Year Program, interwove plenty of jazz with onstage conversations with
Walley, spoken tributes, and narratives concerning both the history of jazz
and Walley's life story.
Seated at a table, Walley told jazz DJ Carl Cooper about the many youthful
hours he spent at the Plymouth Theater, watching shows and hanging around. "I
didn't have sense enough to go home," he said.
Fortunately, Walley's passion for entertaining, which began with his
dancing in various outdoor spots around Worcester, never faded. Helen
of the Holy Cross First-Year program, and Judith Andre, secretary of
the Holy Cross Black Student Union, traced Walley's life verbally. They
pointed out his stints with various bands, a period in the Army's drum
school, an offer to join Duke Ellington's band (which he turned down),
and business/artistic ventures with his late wife, Mary: operating and
teaching at their own dance
studio for 20 years and running the Kitty Kat Lounge and then the Hottentott
Lounge, both of which achieved popularity because of their jam sessions.
Terri Priest of the
Fletcher/Priest Gallery, a former faculty member of the Holy
Cross Art Department, chatted with Walley about another
one of his talents:
painting portraits and landscapes.
Assistant Professor Bertram D. Ashe, acting director of Holy Cross's
African-American Studies Program, and Andrew Benoit, president of
Holy Cross' Class of 2001,
spoke of jazz's evolution, supplying a historical/cultural framework
to the evening.
Among those commending Walley were: Kenneth Richardson, president of the Black
Student Union, who read a letter from Sen. Edward Kennedy and a proclamation
about Walley that was entered into the Congressional Record; Dean Jacqueline
Peterson, Holy Cross vice president for student affairs, who called Walley, "a
major contributor to this art form"; and Raymond Mariano, mayor of the city
of Worcester, who presented Walley with a key to the city and heralded him
as, "a very special part of our city, our heritage."
Veteran trumpeter Emil Haddad, voicing the emotions of many, commented, "It's
all for Reggie, whom we love very much."