SWING SEMINAR, INDEPENDENT STUDY: PROFESSOR JAMES DAPOGNY AND HIS EAST COAST CHICAGOANS (November 16, 2012)

I’ve long since been too impatient to sit in a classroom . . . call it a restless spirit or attention-deficit disorder.  But there are a few Professors I know I can always learn from.  One of them is James Dapogny, that barrelhouse / lyrical pianist, who shows us new ways in and out of the music — always lighting the way to pleasure without a hint of scholarly tedium.  Professor Dapogny is Emeritus from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, so the only lessons I’ve gotten from him since 2004 have taken place in informal hot seminars held at the Jazz at Chautauqua party.

I know that to some readers of JAZZ LIVES, what is coming up might provoke a barely muffled sigh.  “Is that fellow telling us AGAIN that there’s something to buy, somewhere to go, someone to hear?  Doesn’t Michael know that the enterprises he urges us towards cost money, take time and effort.”

Yes, I know.  And I wouldn’t suggest that you water the children’s milk or pay the credit card bill late.  But the concert that is coming up on November 16, 2012, by James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans will be special.  If you buy a ticket online (see details here: DAPOGNY) it is $21.69.  I don’t think that’s an intimidating sum.  But, of course, the concert is held in Silver Spring, Maryland — which is out of reach for many people reading this post.  All I can tell you is that I admire the Professor’s deep feeling for the music that I am willing to drive a nine-hour roundtrip to get there . . . rather than say to myself in five or ten years, “It was inconvenient but I wish I had gone.”

Enough hocking, as my people say.  The concert is on a Friday; it begins at 7:30 and the site is the Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, 9545 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

And the Professor knows the value of collaborative learning, so this isn’t a solo lecture.  He’ll be bringing fellow scholars: Randy Reinhart, Anita Thomas, David Sager, Brooks Tegler, Tommy Cecil, Scott Silbert, Craig Gildner.  It’s open seating, so make your plans early — I believe the church is somewhat more cozy than Bill Graham’s Fillmore or Carnegie Hall.

I’ve bought my ticket.  Come join me!  And there’s no final exam: Professor Dapogny wants to elate us, not force us into little wooden desks.  And he’s got phenomenal ratings on that wicked Rate My Professor.  See for yourself.

May your happiness increase.

3 responses to “SWING SEMINAR, INDEPENDENT STUDY: PROFESSOR JAMES DAPOGNY AND HIS EAST COAST CHICAGOANS (November 16, 2012)

  1. One of my favorites…and Im far away from the festivities,,Thanks to the CDs you sent me Michael, I can still enjoy his music. Huge thanks NM

  2. Ross and Gail Firestone

    Vic, You might want to check this out, being that it’s back in your own back yard and all. Ross

  3. We are indebted to Jim for his rediscovery of the singing parts to Langston Hughes/ James P Johnson’s De Organizer, and subsequent reconstruction and performance of this and Eugene O’Neill’s, The Dreamy Kid:

    THE DREAMY KID/DE ORGANIZER

    The Dreamy Kid/De Organizer

    Music by James P. Johnson

    Libretti by Eugene O’Neill and Langston Hughes

    In repertory with Jackie O

    Conducted by Kenneth Kiesler

    March 23 & 25, 2006

    Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre

    UM School of Music

    Opera Theatre

    Overview Press Release Program Photos

    Presented as part of the theme semester Opera in the Americas — American Opera with support from the Institute for the Humanities.

    Overview

    Don’t miss these two rare one-act operas composed by jazz and blues great James P. Johnson. The Dreamy Kid is an early work by Eugene O’Neill which centers around a black man on the run from the law. Torn between the need to escape and the fear of being cursed if he doesn’t visit his dying grandmother, Dreamy ultimately must chose between comforting her at the end of her life and possibly getting caught. In Langston Hughes’ De Organizer, a union organizer tries to rally sharecroppers into forming a union. Written for a union convention, the opera played once at Carnegie Hall before dropping into obscurity and was presumed lost.

    African-American composer and pianist James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, was an important transitional artist between the age of ragtime and of jazz in the early 1920s, especially for jazz piano greats Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton who followed him. Johnson contributed greatly to the jazz library with such songs as “Charleston,” “If I Could Be With You,” and “Carolina Shout” as well as being the favorite accompanist of Bessie Smith. Classically trained, his works were not limited to jazz, but ranged into symphonies, chamber music, and operetta — many of which have unfortunately been lost. UM Professor of Jazz James Dapogny has painstakingly reconstructed these two gems, long forgotten and neglected, of this incredible musician.

    Press Release

    UM OPERA THEATRE CELEBRATES OPERA IN THE AMERICAS WITH THREE AMERICAN OPERAS IN REPERTORY

    Ann Arbor – The UM Opera Theatre presents two evenings of American opera in repertory March 22 – 26 in the Mendelssohn Theatre. Jackie O, a pop opera about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, plays March 22 at 7:30 PM, March 24 at 8 PM and March 26 at 2 PM. It will alternate with an evening of two one-act operas by jazz musician and composer James P. Johnson, The Dreamy Kid and De Organizer, which play March 23 at 7:30 PM and March 25 at 8 PM. Part of the School of Music’s 125th Celebration and in conjunction with a conference on Opera in the Americas at the Institute for the Humanities, all three operas are directed by guest artist Nicolette Molnár and conducted by School of Music Professor Kenneth Kiesler.

    The Dreamy Kid and De Organizer

    African-American composer and pianist James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, was an important transitional artist between the age of ragtime and of jazz in the early 1920s. Johnson contributed to the jazz library with such songs as “Charleston,” “If I Could Be With You,” and “Carolina Shout.” Classically trained in piano, his works were not limited to jazz, but ranged into symphonies, chamber music, and opera — many of which have been lost. Johnson wrote two operas, De Organizer with a libretto by Langston Hughes and The Dreamy Kid with a libretto by Eugene O’Neill.

    Johnson approached Langston Hughes in 1937 with an interest in collaborating on a play. A “blues opera” about union organization, De Organizer was performed only once in concert format on May 31, 1940, in Carnegie Hall, with Leonard DePaur conducting the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Negro Chorus and Symphony Orchestra. The opera was presented as an evening of entertainment at the twenty-sixth annual ILGWU convention. Although known to scholars and with a single song from De Organizer remaining, the musical material to the opera was thought to be lost.

    De Organizer was uncovered and restored by UM Professor of Music Theory James Dapogny. Dapogny found parts of the music in the UM’s Center for African and Afro-American Studies Music Collection. Eva Jessye, a professional choral director whose credits included preparing the chorus for the original performance of Porgy and Bess, gifted to UM a number of her papers at her death in 1992. Among the papers was the score (with performance notes) that Leonard DePaur used to prepare the chorus and soloists for the New York performance of De Organizer. However, Jessye’s score contained the vocal line only, no instrumentation.

    Using the Jessye score and all the existing materials for the opera found in the Johnson family archives with the help of Barry Glover, Johnson’s grandson and director of the James P. Johnson Foundation for Music and the Arts, Dapogny was able to reconstruct the opera. “The music ranges in style from a near-fold style to jazz,” stated Dapogny. “I used whatever Johnson material I had and selectively composed material wherever it was lacking, realizing the project as nearly as possible to what I think Johnson would have wanted.” The reconstructed opera was presented in concert version by the UM Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in November 2002.

    During his research in the Johnson archives for De Organizer, Dapogny stumbled across a score for another opera, The Dreamy Kid. Incomplete, the opera was close to being fully realized. Johnson’s materials included a complete first draft with the instrumental music represented in short score, a partial second draft of about a quarter of the opera, and an orchestral prelude. The first draft contained notations about orchestration and about planned alterations, including lengthening or reducing parts of the piece and interpolation of new elements. With the addition of the second draft, Dapogny had guidance on Johnson’s planned revisions for the rest of the opera to complete its reconstruction.

    The play The Dreamy Kid was originally written by Eugene O´Neill in 1918 for the Provincetown Players. It was not considered to be a success. The Dreamy Kid is named after its central character, a young man on the run from the law for killing a white man. Torn between freedom and love, Dreamy must choose between comforting his dying grandmother, who raised him, or almost certainly getting caught. Johnson set the play virtually word for word.

    Johnson had hoped and planned to perform these one-act operas on a single evening — The Dreamy Kid followed by De Organizer. The works each depict an important epoch in African-American history – De Organizer showing oppressed farmers in the rural South and The Dreamy Kid the result of Black migration to the industrial North where economic opportunities for African-Americans were not as great as hoped and crime became a path for some. The UM Opera Theatre performances will fulfill Johnson’s dream with the premiere staging of both operas.

    Joining Molnár and Kiesler on the artistic team are Vincent Mountain, scenic designer, and Christianne Myers as costume designer. Guest Michael Lincoln designs lights for Jackie O and Department of Theatre & Drama undergraduate student Andrew Fritsch designs lights for The Dreamy Kid and De Organizer. Also on the artistic staff for Jackie O are Kristin Fosdick, video designer and Melissa Beck Matjias, Jarel Waters, and Evan Faas, choreographers. Natalie Malotke choreographs for De Organizer.

    Ticket prices are $22 and $16 reserved seating with students only $9 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9 AM – 5 PM, Monday through Friday and 10 AM – 1 PM on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at http://www.music.umich.edu. The Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, located at 911 N. University, is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.

    http://www.music.umich.edu/performances_events/productions/dreamy/dreamyoverview.htm

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