Tag Archives: David Sager

JAMES. JIM. PROF.

James Dapogny died yesterday.  He was 78 and had been keeping cancer at bay for nine years until he could do it no longer.

Because the absence of people I love is deeply painful, I have embraced the notion that the dead don’t go away, that their temporal selves leave us but they merely move into other neighborhoods.  With Jim’s death, I cannot keep that illusion afloat.  There is a void much larger than his human form that will never be filled.  No parade of clicked-on Facebook sad emojis can express this.  And this sorrow isn’t unique to me: ask anyone who knew him, who learned from him, who savored his creativity and his company.

Prof. and still-active cellist Mike Karoub to Prof’s left. Photograph by Laura Beth Wyman, 2014.

An expansive, restlessly diligent and curious person, he had several names.  When I first met him (at Jazz at Chautauqua, 2004) I timidly called him “Mr. Dapogny,” and because I was shy, my voice was low and he referred to me — just once — as “soft-voiced Professor Steinman” while we were both leafing through Thirties sheet music.  Later, I bought all his records and CDs, where he was “James,” but I summoned up the courage to call him “Jim” to his face and — referring to him in the third person, I took on the affectionate coinage that Laura Beth Wyman, whom he called “my best student in thirty years,” and his dear friend, had created: “Prof.”

I will hand off to Prof.’s friend Kim Cusack for his memories:

Jim was puckish, never morose, so my first musical example is a jam-session rouser.  Keep your ears on the pianist, who explodes into a solo at 4:14:

Although he was characterized as a stride pianist and he loved the music of Fats Waller and Alex Hill, he dismissed that categorization, and told me that his mentors were Stacy, Sullivan, and Morton.  In the fashion of those three great individualists, his playing was full of spiky surprises — arresting commentaries that could woo and distract in the ensemble or when he accompanied a soloist.  I think he found stride conventions constricting, possibly monotonous, so I hear him as a Pee Wee Russell of the piano: going his own completely recognizable ways while uplifting all around him, creating bright-sounding treble lines but also providing solidly original harmonic support and rhythmic propulsion.  He was never predictable but always heroically satisfying.

But LADY BE GOOD, because it was impromptu (rain and wind made reading charts impossible) was not what Prof. liked best.  He delighted in “paper,” that is, arrangements — but they were charts with plenty of breathing room for the splendid soloists he hired and nurtured.  Here’s his powerfully blue version of the Ellington-Stewart MOBILE BAY, also from Evergreen 2014:

and another 2014 romper — this time, because the weather was better, the band could use Prof.’s charts:

Here is Prof. and a band in 2012 — note his dry whimsical introduction:

and a piano solo on one of the most familiar jazz ballads, uniquely Dapogny:

Jim (I have shifted to the non-academic because it feels warmer) was also terribly funny, in person and in print.  David Sager says he had “a sly and delicious wit,” which all of us experienced.  He was a wordsmith, a jester, a stand-up comedian, a sharp-edged deflater, a Michigan S.J. Perelman.  A deadpan improvising comedian, he didn’t mug and pander on the stand, preferring to let the heartfelt music speak.

He and I exchanged emails from 2011 to October 2018: a coda from one of his:

P.S. I don’t know if you ever read the columns of humorist Dave Barry, but I did because Wayne Jones used to send me bundles of them. The ones I liked best were those entitled “Ask Mr. Language Person,” in which Barry answered usage questions ostensibly sent in by readers. One asked about rules for the use of quotation marks in small-business signs. Barry answered that quotation marks
were to be used on words chosen at random. Then he gave three examples.
Try Our “Pies”
Try “Our” Pies
“Try” Our Pies
To me this is absolutely hilarious. It still makes me laugh.

My relationship with Jim grew and deepened.  When I first met him, I was intimidated by his comic rapier, and when I got to know him a little better, I asked him to put it down, which he did without fuss.  The more I encountered him, the more I admired him.  And finally I — like everyone else who knew him — loved him.

I took him on as one of my not-so-secret spiritual fathers, even though he was only a dozen years my senior.  The blend of humor and toughness (he could have shown up in a 1935 Warner Brothers picture, although not as the gangster lead) reminded me of my own father, so he was dear to me.  I originally wrote, “I hope I didn’t embarrass him too much with my direct affection,” but on second thought I hope I did embarrass him: that way I would know he had received the message I was sending.

He was extremely kind, superbly generous.  I had asked him to write a letter for me in support of a sabbatical I was hoping for, and I dare not read that letter now because I would not be able to write through tears.  And every so often he would praise something I’d written, which would make me feel like a peculiarly graceful colossus of words and insights.  (Of course, now and again, he corrected my wayward grammar, which made me wince and then rush to fix the lapse.)

Although he knew his own worth, he was infuriatingly modest.  I, and then Laura, shot videos of him in performance at Jazz at Chautauqua, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  The last email response I got from Jim — late October 2018 — concerned a trio video I had sent him to see if  he would agree to my posting it.  (Sometimes when I sent him videos, the answer was silence, which I could never tell whether it was “God, no!” or “I am too busy doing other things more important than considering my own performances.)  His response, the names redacted in true CIA fashion, was, “OK with me, but this doesn’t scream out for preservation except by being documentation that I once weaseled my way into the company of H- and R-.”

He was always busy transcribing charts for PORK, researching new old music, and more.  But I think his secret passion was in what we call, for want of a more gracious term, mentoring.  Ask any musician who played or sang with him: Jon-Erik Kellso to Dawn Giblin to Mike Karoub to Erin Morris to the members of his bands.  Like Ellington, he saw very clearly what strengths we had, and worked tirelessly to bolster us — offering the most gentle helping hand to make people more glorious versions of their natural selves.

One of my great pleasures, was my being able to visit him and Laura and Erin for a few days in 2016.  Yes, Jim was a scholar of all things musical — not just Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson’s operas — and his range was broad.  When I visited Ann Arbor, the plan was that I would stay in a quietly nondescript motel, and work on my blog over breakfast (instant oatmeal from paper envelopes, and coffee) and then Jim and I, sometimes Laura along as well, would eat deliriously good ethnic food in some restaurant that only Jim knew — Indian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese — and the conversation would become expertly culinary as well, because he could cook, away from the piano.  He was truly insightful but ready to applaud others’ insights.

I dreamed of visiting him again, but missed my chance, just as I missed the opportunity to help bring Jim’s band once again to the Evergreen Jazz Festival in Colorado.

It would please me immensely if others who knew Prof., or James, or Jim, would add their voices to this post.  I will close with one of the great beautiful moments captured by video.  I am particularly proud of this 2015 performance because of the lovely music and that it was recorded by my friend Laura Beth Wyman.  Jim’s own FIREFLY:

The moral that James Dapogny’s life and art and generous friendship offers us is very simple.  We are fireflies.  At our best, we are brilliant: we trace paths along the summer night sky.  But we are fragile.  What can we do but live our lives so that when we depart, we are irrevocably missed?  As he is.

I will eschew my usual closing — consider it here but unsaid — to send love and sorrow to Jim’s wife, Gail, to his family, to his friends, to all the people he touched.

Adieu, James.  Farewell, Prof.  We love you, Jim.

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WHY BE Regular WHEN YOU CAN BE EarRegular? (JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAVID SAGER, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA at THE EAR INN, August 13, 2017)

Some decades ago, when there were “public” and “private” subjects, people did not speak boldly of bodily functions.  But money was there to be made from people’s distress, so we had IRREGULARITY as a euphemism:

If your child was irregular:


The same problem for the grown-ups:

You understand.  As did Louis.  I’m a big fan of peristalsis.

But being EarRegular is a higher state of being, one we should all aspire to, and it has nothing to do with what has to be performed in private.  In fact, true EarRegularity is performed in public, generously, by the wonderful people who make music at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) every Sunday night from 8-11 PM.

Here are three beautiful examples from the evening of August 13, 2017 — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; David Sager (visiting from D.C.), trombone; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  (If you hear howling from somewhere in these videos, don’t be afeared: that’s only our friend Barry Foley getting ready for Halloween, several months early.)

Handy’s BEALE STREET BLUES — with gorgeous mutations from Jon and the sound you don’t always hear trombonists utilize, harking back to Jimmy Harrison and Benny Morton, from David.  And I can’t ignore the candid eloquence of Messrs. Gill and Nalepka, reminding us of what acoustic playing sounds like:

Another good old good one, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

And finally, a rousing SAN:

I’m afraid you cannot go to your friendly pharmacist and say, “What do you have to make me EarRegular?” because she may not know of the goal you aspire to.  But you can go to The Ear Inn on Sunday nights and get fixed right up — no co-pay, no need to show your insurance card.  Just put some good paper in the tip pumpkin (“Phillup deBucket”) and you’ll feel better.  Fast.

May your happiness increase!

MARA KAYE SINGS LADY DAY with JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAVID SAGER, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, SCOTT RICKETTS, EYAL VILNER at THE EAR INN (August 13, 2017)

Mara Kaye is one of New York’s great gifts to the world. Two years ago, she did a concert performance at Joe’s Pub, an evening of songs associated with Billie Holiday.  Here is some of what I wrote, that still rings true.

She is a substantial stage personality.  One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still.  It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place. Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open.  I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage. And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence.  On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true. The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay. But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing. . . . SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.

I’m always glad to see Mara, and when she showed up at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on Sunday, August 13, I had hopes she would be invited to sit in with the EarRegulars.  Leader and brass deity Jon-Erik Kellso has the same feelings about this young woman, so he invited her to join the band . . . and these two performances are the result. The EarRegulars, that night, were Jon-Erik; David Sager, trombone (making a guest appearance from his home in a southern town), John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass, with sitters-in Scott Ricketts, cornet and Eyal Vilner, to my left, alto saxophone.  The ghosts of Buck Clayton, Lester Young, and Benny Morton were there, and they approved.

Two gorgeous performances: FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (during the instrumental portion you’ll see Mara, ever the good jazz citizen, walking around with the tip jar — the tip pumpkin — to help the band:

Music like this, peerless and delicate, improves our world, for these musicians give us love and more.

May your happiness increase!

“DEFINITELY A TEAM SPORT”: A BIRTHDAY CARD FROM THE ORIGINAL CORNELL SYNCOPATORS

odjbcard

I’ve gotten into trouble for saying this, but I’m not always enthusiastic about note-for-note recreations of recordings.  But what follows — music and dance from the Original Cornell Syncopators — has such energy, wit, and life force that I just might have to change my mind.  The OCS, led by multi-instrumentalist and wizard Colin Hancock, is Noah Li, drums; Hannah Krall, clarinet; Amit Mizrahi, piano; Rishi Verma, trombone.  Their director is Joe Salzano; their “coaches” are Dan Levinson, Hal Smith, and David Sager, so you know — even before you hear a note — that they’re all on the right path.  And then there’s the splendidly mobile Crazeology Dance Troupe.  I might have to visit Ithaca, New York.

Incidentally, the detailed and articulate description underneath the first video answers all the questions you had and some you didn’t know you did but are glad they are answered.

DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL is often approached far too quickly: this version is both percussive and lyrical:

BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA has been worn to a nub, but this version allows us to hear it again, afresh (with a few of the original chord changes, which now sound unusual):

Most of us hear OSTRICH WALK through Bix and his Gang: this is what Bix and friends heard:

You’d better dig this JASS BAND BALL is what I say:

How deliciously heretical this music must have sounded a century ago; how refreshing it sounds today.  Thank you, Creative Youngbloods!  (And the OCS have other projects in mind — I suggest you subscribe to the appropriate YouTube channel for hours of satisfying and thought-provoking music.  You could dance to it, I’m told, as well.

May your happiness increase!

GET ON THE BUS! (July 22, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; July 20, New York City)

Goldkette bus

 

It’s a familiar sight.  But now it’s re-emerged for an even more exciting reason. Josh Duffee, drummer and bandleader who loves the hot / dance music of this period, especially admires drummer multi-instrumentalist Chauncey Morehouse.  And rightly so.

Josh’s dreams are substantial, and he energetically makes them take shape.  His newest venture will please up to 800 people on the evening of Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at the Capitol Theater in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

CAPITOL THEATRE

Chambersburg isn’t one of the most famous stops on the Official Jazz History tour, but it was the home town of Chauncey and of Jean Goldkette trumpeter Fuzzy Farrar.  In 1927, the Goldkette orchestra played a concert in this beautiful theatre; on July 22, a reconstituted tentet of some of the finest hot musicians worldwide will honor Chauncey and his music.  And it’s free.

Goldkette ad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out much more about the concert here and, should you be so inclined, you can make a donation to cover the expenses.

I asked Josh for more details about the music and the musicians.  First off, this ten-piece band will be primarily made up of the brilliant Hot Jazz Alliance, a sextet that is four-sixths Australian and two-sixths North American and six-sixths brilliant: From Oz, Michael McQuaid, reeds; Jason Downes, reeds; John Scurry, banjo / guitar; Leigh Barker, string bass.  From the US: Andy Schumm, cornet; Josh Duffee, drums.  Joining them for this concert will be Jay Rattman, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet; David Sager, trombone; Tom Roberts, piano.
If you’ve heard nothing of the Hot Jazz Alliance, feast your ears here:

GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER:

MILENBURG JOYS:

The second performance is particularly significant because it comes from the HJA’s debut CD — which is now issued, in gorgeous sound, ready for the eager multitudes.

But back to the Capitol Theatre concert.

The tentet will be playing a variety of songs that Chauncey played throughout his career. Josh says, “We’ll play the closest Goldkette recording to the date they played in 1927, Slow River. We’ll also be playing Congoland, which Chauncey co-wrote with Frank Guarente when they were with the Paul Specht Orchestra.  Audience members will hear music from the bands Chauncey played in throughout his career, like Paul Specht, Jean Goldkette, Russ Morgan, Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Howard Lanin’s Benjamin Franklin Dance Orchestra, Irving Mills’ Hotsy-Totsy Gang, and others.  This will be the very first time this music will have been heard in this acoustic form in this theatre! Here are some of the songs we’ll be playing: Slow River; Harvey; My Pretty Girl; Midnight Oil; Clarinet Marmalade; Don’t Wake Me Up, Let Me Dream; Stampede; Dinah; Idolizing; Three Blind Mice; Congoland; 
Singin’ The Blues . . . .”

I don’t like being in the car for more than ninety minutes at a time, but I’m driving out to Chambersburg for this one.

And two days earlier / closer to home in New York City, the Hot Jazz Alliance will be performing two shows on Monday, July 20, at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in Jazz at Lincoln Center:  details here.

As I write these words, it is ninety degrees and humid both inside and out.  But even more Hot — of the best sort — is coming.

May your happiness increase!

LOOKING AND LISTENING CLOSELY: “IN SEARCH OF RAG-A-JAZZ,” by ANDREW SAMMUT

One of the pleasures of the last few years has been that I have met a whole host of jazz people younger than myself — sometimes seriously younger.

The musicians I cherish and celebrate you all know, and I dare not start the list because a) it would be very long, and b) I surely would leave someone out and hurt her / his feelings.  I’m talking about people who write about this music.

I’ve recently reminded people of the fine heartfelt work Ricky Riccardi is doing — in print, in person, online, on the media — and he is someone I admire and trust, when he speaks about Louis Armstrong and about jazz in general.

You may not know the other young man I am about to celebrate, because he doesn’t have the ebullient public profile of our Mr. R.

But you should know him and his work.  He’s Andrew Jon Sammut, and he thinks deeply but not ponderously about a variety of “early musics,” Vivaldi as well as The Georgians, Locatelli and Larry Binyon. He admires Louis and Bix and the Masters whose names we all know, but he also writes intelligently and with feeling (with research, too) about the people who sometimes get ignored.

His blog is called THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY — Andrew is witty — and the most recent posting is wise and thoughtful, an investigation into that not-well-studied music that draws from ragtime and early ensemble jazz, dubbed later “rag-a-jazz.”  He’s done some serious homework here — in a modern vein — talking with jazz scholar-players Dan Levinson, Vince Giordano, Chris Tyle, Jon-Erik Kellso, David Sager, Hal Smith, and others.

I hope you can read Andrew’s piece: IN SEARCH OF RAG-A-JAZZ. He asks good questions, and invites others to add what they know: the hallmarks of an honest and humane scholar.  I read the piece with pleasure when it came out, and I am proud that he and I can discuss shared passions and questions.  (“What would Don Murray have been like at a dinner party?”  “Is this an important question?” and more.)

May your happiness increase! 

AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL (THE ARMISTICE BALL 2013: November 2, Madison, New Jersey)

On November 2, 2013, you have another chance to travel back to a time and place not easily reached: America around a century ago.  It’s the Armstice Ball, a yearly affair held in New Jersey, with authentic Twenties music and dancing (even a lesson in the afternoon).  The band will be led by Dan Levinson, with jazz scholar Sue Fischer on drums; Jay Rattman on reeds; David Sager on trombone; Matt Tolentino on tuba (he’s the leader of the Dallas band “Singapore Slingers”; Mike Kuehn, banjo.  The Ball goes from 8 – 11 PM at the historic Madison Community House, 25 Cook Avenue, Madison, New Jersey.  Tickets are $30 in advance, $15 with a student ID, and $35 at the door ($20 for students).  (So it pays not to wait till the last minute!)

For details — everything you’d need to know about lodging, food, and fashions, click here.

I asked Sue about the repertoire and she told me that it will include some Morton — FROGGIE MOORE, KING JOE, some hot Chicago tunes related to Noone, Dodds, Hines: FORTY AND TIGHT, MY MONDAY DATE, OH SISTER AIN’T THAT HOT, I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO, as well as waltzes I’M DRIFTING BACK TO DREAMLAND, and tangos CHALITA, ADIOS MUCHACHOS, and POR UNA CABEZA.  Among other surprises.  

Here’s a video from the 2011 Armistice Ball: different musicians, but you get the picture.  A classy affair, with one-steps for all!  (None of those artificially ripped jeans the youth of America now prefer, either.)  That’s David Boeddinghaus, piano; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Will Reardon Anderson, clarinet; Mike Kuehn, banjo; Johnny Peppers, bass sax; Sue Fischer, drums. And it looks like John Landry is ready to make sure there will be none of that indecent close-dancing here.  (I would be there, but I am going to be enjoying the Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay . . . too much distance from Newcastle to Madison, even for me.)

May your happiness increase!