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Reggie Walley Tribute Spotlights a Truly Versatile Entertainer

By Mark J. Cadigan

 

Reggie Walley       A 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 performance 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, and spins.

     "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 Whall, director 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." 

  

 

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