Words to live by

Published 12:51 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The summer of 1993, the Broadway hit, “Jelly’s Last Jam,” was in its final run on Broadway. The show had an allstar cast: Gregory Hines, Phylicia Rashad, Savion Glover, Ben Vereen, among others. It was the story of Jelly Roll Morton, the musician credited with the introduction of jazz in America, and a story of the African-American experience during the early part of the 20th century—a dark story, but the man known for his bright, broad grin, Ben Vereen, still managed to light up the stage.

What’s not readily apparent, even from that small distance, is that behind his ever-present grin is a man who radiates warmth and vibrates with optimism.

He refers to his performance in Jelly’s Last Jam as his “comeback.” In a single day the year before, he’d suffered a stroke and a car accident in which he broke his femur. He didn’t think he’d dance again.

“I’m a neon sign for the possibilities of faith and healing,” he laughs, which he does often.

He credits Hines with getting him back on his feet and says now he moves in a different way, but catches himself and says “But I’m also 65 now,” again, laughing. He has no fear of getting older, though, as he immediately plows on to his next positive thought: “Yay! I’m 65! Now is the time to live with dramatic tenacity!”

Words to live by. But Vereen, Hines, and Glover, tap dancing to ragtime mere feet away? Well, that was pure poetry.