The Philly Pops will present a concert series this weekend, “Uptown Nights,” celebrating the big band nightclub music of the Harlem Renaissance.
For the first time in its 40-year history, the Pops will perform with a tap dancer: Leo Manzari, a 23-year-old triple-threat who can dance, sing, and act.
In addition to performing at the Lincoln Theater as a teenager with his brother John Manzari and Maurice Hines (half of the Hines Brothers act with his late brother, Gregory), Manzari fronts a neo-soul band and has appeared in the Showtime series “Homeland.”
“I studied a lot of the greats: Jimmy Slyde, Bunny Briggs, Sandman Sims, Buster Brown, Gregory Hines,” he said. “All these people come from New York and Harlem, the Cotton Club, the Apollo.”
For Uptown Nights, the Philly Pops tapped trumpeter Byron Stripling to put together a concert of mostly big band jazz from the ‘30s and ‘40s that evokes the Harlem Renaissance.
Tap dancing, especially in white tie and tails, was a show-stopping element of nightclub performances.
“It’s cool,” Manzari said. “There’s a whole debonair, a whole elegance that comes from this style of music.”
Philadelphia contributed the Nicholas Brothers — Fayard and Harold — who became tap dancing stars in New York and Hollywood during that golden era.
In addition to dancing, Manzari will sing “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile,” a song that was a hit for Sammy Davis Jr.
“The idea of a song and dance man, it’s a very traditional way of performing,” he said. “Sammy is one of my biggest idols.”