Daily Archives: December 20, 2011

DA CAPO AL FINE: JAMES DAPOGNY AND FRIENDS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 17, 2011)

That dark-haired fellow at the keyboard in the videos that follow is James E. Dapogny, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus and professor emeritus of music (theory) at the University of Michigan School of Music, where he taught from 1966 to 2006.  Professor Dapogny has done extensive scholarly work on Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson.  Professor Dapogny’s study of Johnson’s work, in particular, came to fruition in the large-scale reconstruction of DE ORGANIZER and THE DREAMY KID, two Johnson operas (the first with a libretto by Langston Hughes) once thought to be lost.

But the dark-haired fellow is also Jim Dapogny, a stomping pianist whose solo and ensemble playing are instantly identifiable — he is his own man whether tenderly exploring a ballad or stomping the blues.  And he is a peerless ensemble pianist — like Basie or Ellington, James P. or Fats, he knows just what to play to push the group without overpowering it.  (I hear the barrelhouse pianists of the Twenties and Thirties — think of the blues pianists and Frank Melrose, then add on the traceries of Hines and Stacy, the force of Sullivan, a deep-rooted stride with surprising harmonies.)

But Jim is also a delightful arranger and occasional composer.  The arrangements you’ll hear on the performances below are so splendid: you can hear them subliminally (horns humming behind a solo, playing a melodic line sweetly) or you can admire them out in the open.  But a Dapogny performance is never just a string of solos: he thinks orchestrally as a bandleader as well as a pianist.  You’ll also hear a sly exchange between Jim and Marty Grosz about the arrangements — not to be taken entirely seriously:  “I know every thing I know from Marty’s records,” says Jim.  “That explains it,” retorts Marty.

Both the man and the music are gratifying, full of surprises.  I never took a class with the Professor, but I’ve learned a great deal in his informal onstage seminars at Jazz at Chautauqua (to say nothing of his recordings — another post in itself).

This set was called TUNES FOR JOE in honor of the late Jazz at Chautauqua commander-in-chief Joe Boughton, who favored lovely and sometimes obscure repertoire in favor of a themeless blues, SATIN DOLL, or SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, which would make him horrified — he actually left the room when these things happened.

In this set, the players are Jim Dapogny, piano and arranger; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, Dan Block, reeds; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

The set begins with BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE, familiar but not often played.  Hear Jim’s comping behind Scott’s solo, Pete’s splashing cymbal behind Jon-Erik.  And the whole performance has a lovely shape and balance between the written passages — played with great swing — and the solos that explode out of them:

COUNTRY BOY (not COUNTRY BOY BLUES by Willard Robison), a paean to rural life, beautifully pastoral from its first notes.  What a pretty song!  (Composer credits, please, Professor D?)  And I hereby christen the trumpet player formerly known as “Jon-Erik” as “Bunny Kellso.”  Dapogny’s coda is worth waiting for, too — this band knows how to take its time:

THAT THING — courtesy of Roy Eldridge, a close relative of the Henderson band’s D NATURAL BLUES, brings what Jim calls “malice,” or what Dicky Wells called “fuzz” to the Chautauqua bandstand — so well.  The piano interlude is both climbing and musing, and the brass solos suggest Mister Cootie and Mister Vic — great accomplishments.  Hear the rock this band gets in the last ensemble chorus!:

Finally, a nod to Old Chicago — with a dance that’s easy to do / let me introduce it to you — SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE.  Memories of Tesch and Condon, of Frank Chace and Don Ewell, too.  If this is “Dixieland,” give me more, especially the overall texture of the band and the reed “conversation,” Kellso’s lead, Barrett’s commentaries.  Pete Siers plays that hi-hat behind a leaping Kellso in the best Catlett / Tough manner — blessings on his head:

Wonderful music — solos and ensembles that look back lovingly to the past but imbue it with energy and individualism.  Jazz, not nostalgia — very much alive, even if the repertoire is apparently “historical.”

Why the Italian title?  “At the end, go back to the head,” more or less — instructions to the player or singer to return to the opening when the piece is “over” once.  For me, those instructions have a special meaning.  These are the final video performances I will be posting from the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua: I know I’ll be returning to these and others for edification, spiritual uplift, and great fun.  What a swell-egant party it was!  And special thanks to pianist Jim and Professor James for yet another rocking seminar in lovely improvisation.

It might sound too close to THE GODFATHER, but I think of Jim as CAPO, too — in the old Italian sense of “head,” or “chief.”  He is someone special.

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