Simple math: seven memorable songs, two deeply intuitive improvisers, one jazz criminal with a hidden recorder = lasting magic.
I’d like to explain how this all came to pass, but if you’d like to skip down to the music and (perhaps) read this later, I won’t blame you. That music is slightly under a half-hour of quiet splendor, casual mastery, great mutual warmth. And it’s just what the title says: an audio recording of two of my heroes, Rebecca Kilgore and James Dapogny, in duet, performing Irving Berlin songs at the 2006 Jazz at Chautauqua. I emphasize audio recording, although there is a still photograph of the Professor to please the eye, but this was before I had the courage to bring a camera to as many gigs as the law allowed.
Like Paul Muni, I confess to criminal acts. But you are being rewarded, I hope, by my illicit behavior.
I first came to Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2004, my gift to myself for no longer being legally connected to a woman who disliked jazz (yes, I ask myself that same question now). The party’s founder, Joe Boughton, had been friendly to me for a number of years and had been eager for me to come, to write about and publicize his weekend.
Ordinarily, I would have brought a recorder, but I knew that Joe was possessive about “his” music and very fierce about transgressions. However, by 2006, I’d gotten bolder, and was pained by all the music vanishing into the air, so I took my new Sony digital recorder, slightly longer than a pack of cigarettes, with me.
Chautauqua is a ninety-minute car ride from the Buffalo airport, and a seven-hour drive from where I live (at least) so I did not want to make it evident that it was recording what was, in some ways, Joe’s private party to which we were invited. I concealed the recorder in an outer pocket of my sportscoat, which will account for noise you hear as I moved slightly. Those offended by the noise can say to themselves, “Sit still, Michael!” if it is any consolation. There is crowd noise; someone says “Excuse me, Michael,” while stepping over me.
And then some of the most beautiful music I know begins. I was seated closer to the piano than to Becky, so initially you might hear an imbalance of volume, but your ears adapt quickly — and Jim is playing so marvelously.
The songs are ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / SHAKING THE BLUES AWAY / REACHING FOR THE MOON / ISN’T THIS A LOVELY DAY? / CHEEK TO CHEEK / COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS / IT’S A LOVELY DAY TODAY. They cover an astonishing range of emotions, from sorrow to elation to hymnlike serenity. And in case anyone has forgotten, every note and word is Berlin’s.
Please, enjoy this offering — blessings from Becky, Jim, and Irving:
Incidentally, this would have remained on a homemade compact disc if my Texas collector-friend Elbie, whom I told about this, hadn’t said, “Can’t you transfer audio to video?” and I found, to my surprise, that I could. There will be many more “audio only” delights and surprises.
I didn’t sing or play a note. But I am proud of my part in making this music permanent and accessible. I hope you will allow me that.
May your happiness increase!