Meet Max Pollak
Max Pollak, a prestigious name on the international tap and world music scene, is the only non-Cuban member of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Cuba’s famous Rumba ambassadors. Critics and peers worldwide acknowledge his superior musicianship and his highly individual style called “RumbaTap” – a pioneering blend of Afro-Cuban song and dance with American tap and body music.
His innovative a cappella vocal arrangements received critical praise in The New York Times. Originator of Cuba’s first tap festival, he has been teaching and performing there since 1998. Among others, he worked with Gregory Hines, Buster Brown, Jimmy Slyde, Angela Lansbury, Chita Rivera, Chucho Valdés, Lila Downs, Ray Brown, Phil Woods, Paquito D’Rivera, Heather Cornell, Manhattan Tap, Tamango, Roxane Butterfly, Rod Ferrone.
He has performed as soloist with members of the Vienna, Berlin and New York Philharmonic, London and Montreal Symphony, St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, Les Violons Du Roy and more. Many internationally acclaimed composers have written orchestral works expressly for him. He is also a recording artist, published writer, Sarah Lawrence College faculty, artist-in-residence at American Tap Dance Foundation. He also makes a great Apfelstrudel… www.mxpllk.com
Max Pollak studied tap dance, jazz music, acting, singing and dancing in his native Vienna, Austria. Having been inspired by watching Fred Astaire on TV, he always felt that both playing music and expressing it through dancing and singing was as important to him as breathing. His first mentor Carnell Lyons, a rhythm tap legend and childhood friend of Charlie Parker’s, first made Max aware of the amazing artistry of black tap artists during the golden era of jazz. Max was immediately hooked to jazz music and groove-drenched tap dancing. After working for several years as a professional actor/singer/dancer on the European scene he was hired by Heather Cornell in New York to join Manhattan Tap, a top-level professional bebop tap dance ensemble. During this tenure Max got to collaborate as choreographer, tap soloist and conga drummer with legendary bassist Ray Brown.
A class with Latin jazz icon Bobby Sanabria changed his life. Pollak recalls, “I had to learn as many different instruments and rhythms as I could.” The class included videos of Afro-Cuban folklore. “I told Bobby I was a tap dancer and I wanted to tap dance to this music. He reached for the claves [the rhythmic base of Afro-Cuban music] and said, ‘If you want to TAP DANCE CUBAN MUSIC you have to play the claves while you dance.” Pollak practiced doing just that, drawing on his drummer’s ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. Eventually he mastered the approach and took it to the stage at the Nuyorican Poets Café. There, he had another life-changing encounter: he met the artists of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. Barbaro Ramos, one of Cuba’s finest rumba dancers, asked Pollak to teach him to tap. “We met in a studio, and I brought along an old pair of my tap shoes. I said ‘This is how you play the cata-rhythm with sticks. This is how you do it with your feet.’ He was immediately able to reproduce what I was doing. I taught him for a couple of hours, and then told him, Keep the shoes!” Many trips to Cuba followed. He produced the first Cuba Tap Festival, danced with Chucho Valdés, Paquito D’Rivera, Gregory Hines, Carol Channing, Lila Downs, and has performed as soloist with members of the Vienna, Berlin and New York Philharmonic, London and Montreal Symphony, St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra and more. Many internationally acclaimed composers have written orchestral works especially for him.
RumbaTap – an original concept created by Max Pollak, combines Afro-Cuban music and dance with body percussion and tap dance. Consisting of a saxophone, a vibraphone, and an explosive percussion section of two singing, body-drumming tap dancers, the multi-talented international cast captures the deep grooves and charged electricity of Afro-Latin Soul. RumbaTap tells stories from different cultures, creates explosive spontaneous moments and always actively involves the audience in their performances. They have toured in the U.S. and in Europe, Canada, Turkey, Japan, Cuba and Brazil, and in July 2015, released their music album – the first of its kind, with tap as the lead voice.