There are moments of quiet sadness as a journalist when you read of the death of someone you once interviewed.
It sounds like a funny thing to say, but when you sit down for a one-on-one interview with someone you can bond quite deeply, probing with your questions to unlock someone’s story, and then carefully attempting to recreate your impression of them with words. When you manage to connect with someone, it can be quite an intimate human experience.
And some imprint themselves on your memory more deeply than others.
You’ve probably never heard of Will Gaines. But you’ve heard of the people he routinely shared a stage with as the last of the true jazz hoofers – or tap dancers – who opened for big names and danced alongside them in the Thirties and Forties.
Sammy Davis Junior, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong are just a few – he really was a link to another age. And to sit down with him in a pub in Old Leigh, the small Essex fishing town where he lived for the last few years of his life, and hear his tales (of which there were plenty!), was one of the few jobs I count as a real privilege to have undertaken.
I read his obituary yesterday, and in my mind’s eye was the shuffling, stooped but still amazingly fast-footed hoofer that I met for a drink, a chat and some tap tips on a wintery day among the cobbles of Old Leigh. Dwarfed by his enormous leather jacket and still muttering fast in a strong Detroit accent, he was a character and a half, and I think he enjoyed spinning his tales as much as I enjoyed hearing about them.
I still need to dig out the paper version of the interview I did with him, which is tucked away in a box somewhere with other precious pieces, but I managed to find an online version to for anyone interested in a few memories of a man who once shared a stage with jazz royalty.