Daily Archives: September 24, 2009

PROFESSOR DAPOGNY TRIUMPHS AGAIN

For me, one of the many rare pleasures of Jazz at Chautauqua has been the opportunity to savor the playing of Professor James Dapogny*, known as Jim to his intimates. 

He is an unforced orchestral pianist — which means he hasn’t learned the Official Wallerisms from a book.  Rather, his romping style summons up Joe Sullivan and Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Jelly Roll Morton, and James P. Johnson.  And a close listener will notice that his chords are voiced imaginatively, his often advanced harmonies show that his listening doesn’t stop at 1935, and his left hand is a romping marvel.  Often he is part of wondrous rhythm section with Marty Grosz, Arnie Kinsella, and Vince Giordano — able to move mountains in the most engaging way — but Dapogny can rock the place all on his own.  And he has.  But I take particular pleasure in watching and listening to him as a band pianist — giving soloists and the ensemble just the right push with ringing chords and tremolos, rocking bass lines, without ever demanding that we pay attention to him instead of them.  He’s done this on records for some time now as leader of his own Chicago Jazz Band.  In addition, if that was not enough, he’s also responsible for the standard published edition of Jelly Roll Morton’s piano music and scholarly work that resulted in performances of the one-act opera created by Johnson and Langston Hughes (now there’s a collaboration!) called DE ORGANIZER. 

Dapogny is also a wonderful arranger; his versions of classic and obscure jazz songs have their own ebullient rock, no matter what the material or the tempo.  Two years ago at Jazz at Chautauqua, he and Marty Grosz co-led a set, alternating arrangements and songs.  The piece de resistance, as far as I was concerned, was their joint version of an otherwise unknown Fats Waller song, CAUGHT — Marty’s arrangement envisioned the composition as a bump-and-grind growl; Jim’s lifted the tempo into a jaunty rock.  The performance stretched out to ten minutes, and it was a marvel. 

At this year’s Chatauqua, Dapogny and Grosz again shared the stage: Marty began with a heartfelt tribute to singer Red McKenzie, featuring his HOT WINDS — a noble, nimble, and perhaps nubile quartet of Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Vince Giordano, and himself.  Then Dapogny took over, adding Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Andy Stein, and Arnie Kinsella, creating electrifying and life-affirming music.  It was, he said with a grin, fine material to begin with — every song written by a pianist!  All praise should go to the masterful professionals you will see below: each one of them reading charts he’d never seen before. 

They began with James P. Johnson’s version — in his own way — of Schubert’s An die Musik — a paean to the joyous powers that notes and tones have, AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?.  The churchy verse gives way to serious swinging (there’s a wonderful Thirties record of this by Henry “Red” Allen) with Marty preaching the sermon. 

Then, a mournful but rocking composition by Alex Hill, one of jazz’s nearly-forgotten heroes, dead before he had reached his middle thirties, DELTA BOUND.  I had never heard the verse — and could listen to that trio of Kellso (muted), Barrett (muted), and Block (commenting sweetly) all day.  In his brilliant solo, Dan Barrett summons up a whole Harlem trombone tradition, with a series of comments that reminded me so much of the Master, Vic Dickenson.  Andy Stein’s melody statement, front and back (on baritone) reminded me that Ellington had recorded this — with space for Harry Carney, of course.

I didn’t know that the next selection had been written by pianist J. Russell Robinson, who had links to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band; I associated it with Edythe Wright and Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven: SWING, MR. CHARLIE!  For this performance, Scott Robinson steps in — and instead of a vocal chorus, the band returns to the verse, in true Thirties style.  Although Scott stands in front of Marty during the latter’s chorus, you can see the action, reflected in the shiny side of the grand piano — an accidental bonus.  Then, there are glorious horn solos and a celestially rocking ensemble that suggests a Sunday afternoon jam session at Jimmy Ryan’s, circa 1942.  Charles Peterson would have loved this band!  I find myself watching these videos over and over, each time finding something new to appreciate.

*”Professor,” in Dapogny’s case, refers to his genuinely illustrious academic career in the Department of Music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  But, by a twist of linguistic fate, that was the title given to the New Orleans pianists who played rags and blues in the bordellos: Dapogny’s music would have impressed these low-down pioneers as well: he’s surely got music, as the lyrics say.

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PETRA VAN NUIS / ANDY BROWN, Chautauqua 2009

Petra and Andy are long-time sweethearts (now married) who make lovely intimate swinging sounds together.  I caught them at their two morning sets at Jazz at Chautauqua, and they kept a roomful of people (otherwise busily dropping their heavy silverware) rapt. 

Petra is a find: she has a delicate focused voice, doesn’t overact or emote, has beautiful lilting time and musical wit.  She honors the songs and their emotions.  And she’s no Imitation: when I first heard her, I didn’t instantly think, “Oh, she’s been listening to the Complete Recordings of _ _ _ _ _ ,” which is a relief. 

Andy impressed me immediately with his lovely chording, subtle melodies, and generous accompaniment.  Many guitar players spatter the room with notes, gangster-style: Andy makes music.  (In another posting, you’ll see him providing incredible drive and subtlety to a band.)  He has a lovely tone and a quiet pulse. 

And — even better — this duet shows just how well this pair of expert musicians listen to one another.  They are worth listening to!

Here’s a wistful SERENATA, a song I associate with big names (Sinatra and Nat Cole), but Petra makes its yearning her own as Andy chimes behind and around her:

A surprisingly jaunty BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU shows how well Mr. Waller’s melodies work at any tempo.  And Andy summons up George Van Eps, which is a real accomplishment:

The leaves were beginning to fall on the grounds of the Athenaeum Hotel, so Petra and Andy performed EARLY AUTUMN in honor of the impending equinox:

And, just to show that this couple has mischief in its collective soul, here’s RUNNIN’ WILD, a performance with a sweetly wicked glint in its eye, as Andy and Petra have enough rhythm in their souls to fill the room:

Petra and Andy give us hope.

“THE BEAUTY OF IT HOT”

This isn’t a legal notice — more a rumination.  My readers will know that I am transfixed by the possibilities of capturing not only sound but sight and motion when the band is playing.  So I have been bringing video recording equipment to gigs, concerts, and parties. 

The informal nature of this enterprise means that I have to take my camera angles as I find them, accept that people are drawn by unfathomable forces to stand in front of my lens, and that the result is sometimes rough-and-ready.  But I can’t ask musicians to pose for me, nor would I wish to.  And I am grateful for the opportunities and forbearance already offered me.  “You get the beauty of it hot,” as a line in The Waste Land goes.   

In the ideal world, I would ask everyone’s permission, provide releases for them to sign, and (not incidentally) offer generous payments for the privilege of holding my little camera in the air until my arm turns numb. 

But . . . .

All I can do is to say that my intentions are good — I want to share glorious music; I want to make notable players even more widely known so that audiences will travel to see them live, will fill the tip jar, will buy shelves of compact discs.  I choose the best performances, lasting work that would gladden the heart.  And JAZZ LIVES is, to put it mildly, a not-for-profit endeavor.   

But if any musician finds him or herself represented on this blog by something he or she dislikes, please email me and I will remove the clip.  I hope this doesn’t happen!  But I understand that it might. 

Your humble servant (and a servant of the Jazz Muse as well), I remain – – –