Category Archives: Awful Sad

“LIKE THE RIPPLES ON A STREAM,” or IMPERMANENCE, by HARVEY SHAPIRO and by BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

For those of us who keep music in our hearts, this 1934 song is special.

Yes, it is a carpe diem love song, but it is also about how nothing lasts forever.  It inevitably leads me back to Harvey Shapiro’s poem about Charlie Shavers, reprinted here with apologies for copyright infringement:

That melancholy sharply-realized poem leads me back to these moments in time:

I don’t know the remedy for impermanence — but, as Doctors Holland, Coots, Caparone, Otto, and Pikal enact here: “Take your saddest song and make sure it swings.  You don’t have unlimited chances to swing your song.”

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY IN RECITAL (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2013)

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

During the annual jazz weekend that was once Jazz at Chautauqua, Friday afternoon sessions in the lobby of the Athenaeum Hotel were devoted to compact piano (and once, guitar) recitals.

Now that James Dapogny is no longer with us, this two-part serenade from 2013 is infinitely precious.  To be accurate, it was precious then, but our assumption that we would always have the Prof. with us, to entertain and enlighten, may have shaped our judgment.  Now we know.

Perhaps only those people who knew Jim, even slightly, will recognize what a treasure this video-capture is; for the rest, it will be another jazz pianist exploring the world of music in his own terms — which, in its own way, is also irreplaceable.

To the music.  Jim’s “fooling with an old tune” was an improvisation on LINGER AWHILE, that finally got written down as I CAN WAIT in late 2018 (Jim told my dear friend Laura Wyman that it had been percolating for a long time, and he wanted to get it down on paper before he died).  In my mind’s ear I hear I CAN WAIT arranged for Teddy Wilson-style small group — although no orchestra is needed here because Prof. Dapogny’s piano playing is so richly layered.

Then, an extended improvisation on William H. Tyers’ MAORI (which only Ellington and Soprano Summit ever performed: Tyers is famous as the composer of PANAMA).  This performance is hypnotic in the way some of Morton’s Library of Congress work is — subtly building layer upon layer:

Part Two is a beautiful omnibus tribute to Fats Waller, including meditations on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, MY HEART’S AT EASE, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLIN’, I’M NOT WORRYIN’, AIN’T CHA GLAD?, then a song whose title eludes me, Stephen Taylor, Mike Lipskin, and Louis Mazetier — but Laura Wyman pointed out that it was a Dapogny favorite, BABY, THOSE THINGS DON’T MATTER TO ME, by J. Lawrence Cook (not Waller), and then IF IT AIN’T LOVE:

This isn’t the usual Waller presentation — a pianist mingling MISBEHAVIN’, YOUR FEETS TOO BIG, and HANDFUL OF KEYS — it honors Fats as a composer of melodies, that once heard, stay.  Notice the rapt attention of the audience, broken only now and again by the creaking of our wicker chairs.

Jim could enthrall us, and he continues to do just that.  And I tell myself he isn’t dead as long as we can hear him.

May your happiness increase!

THE FURTHER GLORIOUS ADVENTURES OF OUR FRIEND FLIP: MARTY GROSZ, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, DUKE HEITGER, VINCE GIORDANO, JOHN VON OHLEN (Jazz at Chautauqua 2008)

We could begin here:

But I’d rather begin with Flip and come back to that song.  I would urge those unaware of the glory of Flip to visit here, with otherwise unknown and unrecorded hot jazz.  And here’s Flip, in case you’ve never met the little friend:

But this post is really about two heroes.  One is this deity:

another is this dear down-to-earth majestic presence (who would surely make a joke out of that appellation), James Dapogny:

And they come together in September 2008, at that wonderful weekend of music we were fortunate enough to call Jazz at Chautauqua.  Absolute joy, brought to us by the Flip video camera. Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal, dangerous badinage, offers one section of his HORACE GERLACH TRIBUTE MELODY MEMORIAL with Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Professor James Dapogny, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums. In the video, slow-moving cheerfully oblivious couples swim by. They know not what they do. But we do.

Thus:

To me, this song and this performance are extremely touching because of their heartfelt Louisness — please understand that when I hear Louis singing and playing (let us say LA VIE EN ROSE over a restaurant’s sound system) my eyes fill up and I have to prevent myself from standing up with my hand over my heart.  Because Joe Boughton would not — in 2008 — have allowed me to record this performance openly from a front-row seat, I chose to be near the piano and thus hear more of the Professor than I would have otherwise.  What a blessing!

Writing this post and hearing this song, I think of Jim, of Louis, and all the people I love who have moved on.  We can not meet again in the usual ways, and that is sorrowful.  But through music, we are instantly able to meet in the most inspiring ways; we are in touch with each other as soon as I hear a note or think of some moments we shared.  Perhaps you might, as I have done, watch and absorb this performance once for our own pleasure, then again in honor of those beloved individuals.

May your happiness increase!

HERE, BUT NOT HERE: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 29, 2014)

James Dapogny, in thought, at Jazz at Chautauqua. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

James Dapogny’s corporeal self left us six months ago, and we cannot dispute it, although his absence is painful, impossible to accept. But I tell myself he is still here with us in particularly odd and generous ways — appropriate to the man himself, surprising, unpredictable, warm, lively.

When an interviewer talked to Bobby Hackett after Louis’ death, Bobby said that Louis wasn’t dead because we could still hear him, and in some ways that is a consolation.  I will leave it to you whether a collection of recorded music adds up to the whole person or is simply a slice of the pie: I lean to the latter, although I treasure the evidence.  And I know I’ve drawn spiritual nourishment from immersing myself in the art of people who died before I was born.  Still, the loss of the Prof. is too much to rationalize.  So all I can do is offer you the following, Jim warming up the piano by playing his own blues, a video not seen or heard before:

Chris Smith, Jim’s deep friend and co-leader of the band PORK, says this of the video: As you can imagine, I heard Jim do this sort of playing countless times. Just playing the blues in many keys. There is a spiritual aspect to it, that is obvious. But he was also doing the real work of a musician that involves touching on those corners of the music that sometimes trip us up in performance (hitting the V/V, etc.). Playing the blues is good for us in so many ways. And yes, it is really funny that we don’t see him until the very last second.

I feel that Jim would be amused by this video, perhaps touched by how much I and others cherish it.  And him.  When the invisible pianist can make sounds that move us, does he remain invisible?  I don’t know.  And I must muse over Jim as he mused over the piano.  All he gave — and gives — us is precious.

I omit the usual closing.  It will reappear, but it’s not in the right key here.

DON’T BE A GOOP, PLEASE

When I was a boy, my father brought home books from the public library and perhaps in an anthology of verse for children, I encountered the simple poems by Gelett Burgess about the Goops stick in my mind decades later.  Here are two — didactic, but also witty and pointed.

Table Manners

The Goops they lick their fingers,
And the Goops they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth —
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I’m glad that I
Am not a Goop–are you?

and

The meanest trick I ever knew
Was one I know you never do.
I saw a Goop once try to do it,
And there was nothing funny to it.
He pulled a chair from under me
As I was sitting down; but he
Was sent to bed, and rightly, too.
It was a horrid thing to do!

This is not a post about table manners, and I think practical jokes of the latter kind are vanishing from the earth, or I hope so.

But it is about the people we know who are Goops.  Being a Goop in the twenty-first century, to me, is based in self-absorption, heedlessness, and the desire to make a splash, often through being unpleasant.

I have wanted to write about Goopish behavior as it intrudes on my sphere.  So here are a few examples, and you can add more.  I think mostly of the Video Goop, the Spectator Goop, and the Online Goop.

THE VIDEO GOOP holds his iPhone up in the air to catch a minute of his favorite band, never thinking for a minute that it is now in our line of sight.  Or he shines the light from his phone in the musicians’ eyes; perhaps he has a camera that clicks loudly or one whose strobe flash blinds everyone.  He doesn’t think to ask permission of the musicians he videos and is astonished when they object to hour-long sets of their work appearing immediately on YouTube.  The Video Goop has a cousin, the “Professional Photographer” Goop, who gets in the way of the audience because he is working — so that we see his back and his camera constantly.

THE SPECTATOR GOOP treats the music as background to their conversation.  Concert hall or dive bar, when someone who wants to hear the music asks for lowered voices (raised voices and alcohol go together) the answer is often a huffy “I’m just here to have fun with my friends.  What the hell is wrong with you?”  At jazz festivals, where the audience has sometimes been following bands for decades, the Spectator Goops start speaking immediately when the music begins, socializing, “Isn’t it a SHAME that Marcia couldn’t make it this year?  I hear her husband is VERY ILL!”  (I feel very sorry for Marcia and Mr. Marcia, but I came to listen.  Kindly go away.  Far away.)  The talkative Spectator Goop is often the first to whistle or yell at the end of a solo, to offer us loud whoops about music that they can’t possible have taken in.

I witnessed an amazing corollary to this some months back.  At a jazz venue distinguished by superb music and loud conversation, both were in evidence.  The latter got louder — imagine my pleasure at being able to write that sentence — and one of the apparent jazz fans got madder and madder, offering loud assertive shushing.  The AJF, in his righteous rage, even confronted the noisy group and “gave them what for,” as my grandparents might have said, which led to near-violence.  The talkers were escorted from the venue, and one would think that Right had prevailed.  Alas, no: the AJF spent the rest of the evening loudly congratulating himself on his virtue and how he had done the right thing, unaware that his talk was as loud as the people he had vanquished.

THE ONLINE GOOP is so prolific and energetic that I will not do him justice here.  (An attentive reader will note my conscious use of the male-gendered pronoun.  Women are often SPECTATOR GOOPS but rarely if ever VIDEO or ONLINE ones.  Draw the conclusions you will.)  For me, their sub-groups are MEAN and FOOLISH.  The MEAN ONLINE GOOP is the person who fires off a scathing critical comment, sometimes cloaked in a thin veneer of “comedy,” that offers his harsh opinion.  “Nothing worse than a bad _______ band.”  “X can’t play the violin.”  “This band sucks.”  “Y sucks.” Sometimes, this person is inarticulate but still derisive, hence the vomiting emoji.  This Goop finds fault, not only with the musicians (who play badly, who don’t perform as he thinks they should, who don’t smile) but with the person who records them, to him, imperfectly.

A word about such criticisms.  Not every musician is perfect; not every performance pleases.  And listeners have a right to say they like this and don’t like that.  But the prevailing anonymity has fostered astonishing meanness.  I have been guided in this not only by one of my professors, Mr. Sigman, now gone for decades, but by Sammut of Malta, who says quietly, “Would you go up to the musicians and say this to their face?  Does anyone really need to read how you disapprove of someone’s vibrato?”  I have strong opinions, but does it do the world good for me to put my disdain into print?  Is my subjective disapproval the same as criticism valid enough to share with everyone who has a lit screen?

Occasionally, all of these cardboard figures become one: my example is the anonymous commenter who is furious about the loud talkers in a 2011 video and says, “I’d like to kill those people who don’t shut up.”  I suppose I empathize in theory, but I have written back that wanting to kill people in a video from almost a decade ago seems a vain expenditure of energy.

THE FOOLISH GOOP is hardly malevolent but is still exhausting.  When I read a comment that asks a simple question, “Who wrote that song?” “Where can I get the chords for this tune?  What year was this done?” “Is he the same person as the one who did ______?” I sigh noisily, and think with no regret of decades of teaching where we — as faculty — were asked to swallow constant doses of this insipidity because our students “were young,” and perhaps because we knew that if they were intellectually curious, some of us wouldn’t have jobs.  But I want to say, “You have a computer.  Perhaps several.  You have a smartphone.  Have you ever heard of Google, and have you ever spent time looking up something before you launched your question into the world?”  There is also THE JOKESTER GOOP, one who has to make comedy out of everything, but he is not a serious threat to one’s emotional equilibrium.  And — this just in — THE SHOPLIFTER GOOP, who sees something (a photograph, a video, a piece of text) and presents it as his own without giving credit to the source.  I know this is presumably a democracy, but would you walk through the diner taking a fry or a cherry tomato off of the plates you pass?

My favorite collision of the various online Goops happened just recently.  I had posted a video of an excellent band playing a piece that required a great deal of virtuosity.  And someone with a YouTube name suggesting hysterical laughter commented, “Nice playing. Just felt it might have gone better without the [insert name of instrument here].”  It was a polite enough comment, but I felt as if I’d been standing in front of a Vermeer and heard someone say, “Those curtains should be green.”  I wrote back, with some irritation, “Why don’t you send the musicians a note with your opinion?” in hopes that he would recognize some slight disapproval, some irony.  Alas, he took the comment literally, “Thanks, I tried, but couldn’t find contact details. Anyway, it’s only one person’s opinion. They make great music, that’s the main thing.” I should have desisted but I was disarmed by his politeness, so I wrote back to say I had not been serious but that the band had a website.  And there it lies, I hope.

What does all of this mean?  Why have I expended my time and perhaps yours in what some will take simply as “Michael is complaining again.”?  I think it’s important to encourage people to be considerate, empathetic, kind, to know that each of us is not the only organism on the planet, that our pleasure might interfere with someone else’s, that we should be gentle rather than cruel.  Fewer Goops would be a good thing — I don’t mean they should be exterminated, but that they should be introspective enough to ask, perhaps in front of the mirror, “Is what I am doing something I would like done to me?”

And should you think that my words come from a position of unearned moral superiority, I hope that is not so: I have made serious mistakes in my life; I expect to make other ones, but my goal is to have them be smaller and less frequent — or at least to make new mistakes.  For variety’s sake.

But all the Goops in the world can’t take the shine off of this: joy and energy at the highest:

May your happiness increase!

FIRST AMONG EQUALS: BOB WILBER AND FRIENDS, 1975

Bob Wilber with the superb drummer Bernard Flegar, after their gig in Bülach, Switzerland, June 11th 2005.

Oh, when Bob Wilber moved on we lost a kind, intense, brilliant musical sparkplug, someone who —  like Sidney Catlett, Nat Cole, Milt Hinton, and Bobby Hackett among others — made everyone not only play better but want to play better.  a phenomenon I have witnessed for myself.  A true catalyst.

YouTube has a good deal of video evidence of Bob’s superpowers, but here are two instances especially dear to my heart.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a video camera for all the times I marveled at him in the Seventies and beyond.

Here is or are ten minutes from the Nice Jazz Festival of July 1975.  The session wouldn’t have been the same without Bob.

And here‘s more music from that same year, with two editions of The World’s Greatest Jazz Band.

Finally, here is the post I published on August 6 to say something about the large hole in the universe Bob left when he moved on.  I won’t say he left the temporal for the celestial, because he was always the latter: romantic, energized, surprising.

May your happiness increase!

MR. WILBER, THE SAGE

Days gone by: December 1946, Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Glasel, Charlie Trager, Eddie Phyfe. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Robert Sage Wilber, born in 1928, who never played an ugly or graceless note in his life, has left us.  I first heard him on recordings more than fifty years ago, and saw him in person first in 1970 with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  He was a magnificently consistent player — his time, his intonation, his creativity, his vital force, his melodic lyricism — and one of the world’s most versatile.  He didn’t care to be “innovative” in the best modern way, but kept refining his art, the art of Louis and Bechet and Teddy Wilson, every time he played.

People who didn’t quite understand his masteries (the plural is intentional) thought of him as derivative, whatever that means, but even when he was playing SONG OF SONGS in the Bechet manner or WARM VALLEY for the Rabbit, he was recognizably himself: passionate and exact at the same time, a model of how to do it.  And if you appreciate the jazz lineage, a man who performed with Baby Dodds, Tommy Benford, Kaiser Marshall, Joe Thomas, Sidney Catlett, Billy Strayhorn, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Leeman . . . so deeply connected to the past while remaining fiercely active, has moved to another neighborhood.  I send my condolences to his wife, the singer Pug Horton, and his family.

I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Bob — not only as an admiring spectator of Soprano Summit, where he and Kenny Davern were equally matched — but as an admiring jazz journalist and videographer.  He was not worried about what I captured: he was confident in himself and he trusted that the music would carry him.  Here are some glimpses of the Sage in action, in music and in speech.

Rare photographs and music from 1947 here.

A session with David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band (2010) and Daryl Sherman here.

Two parts of an intimate session at Smalls in 2012 with Ehud Asherie and Pug Horton as well here and here.

And a particular prize: a two-part 2015 interview session (thanks to Pug!) here and here.

More than a decade ago, when I began this blog, I worked hard to keep away from the temptations of necrology — my joke is that I didn’t want it to be JAZZ DIES — but if I didn’t write and post something about Robert Sage Wilber, I’d never forgive myself.  We will keep on admiring and missing him as long as there is music.

May your happiness increase!