Tag Archives: death

SO MUCH MISSING: JAMES DAPOGNY with JON-ERIK KELLSO, KURT KRAHNKE, PETE SIERS at KERRYTOWN (January 6, 2018)

James Dapogny, 2016, photograph by Laura Wyman. The show went on even with Prof’s injured hand.

I have a theory about death that even people who love me cock an eyebrow at its “sentimentality.”  I believe that the spirit continues . . . not a radical idea, but I envision it as those who “die” simply move to another cosmic neighborhood, where they can visit us when they choose to.  It’s a fiction, of course, but it comforts me as much as any fiction can.

The thought that I won’t see the people I love again is too painful otherwise.  That I can’t email James Dapogny, make plans for an ethnic meal with him, discuss piano and music and recordings and gigs with him — or even get corrected for some grammatical error — makes me catch my breath.  In two days, I will be on my way to the Evergreen Jazz Festival, where Jim and his Chicago Jazz Band played so gloriously in July 2014.  The joy of being there and the sadness that he won’t be are simultaneous in my mind.

But he lives . . . not even “lives on” in music, and in our dear thoughts of him and his absence in the temporal realm.

I am proud that I stood next to Jim on more than one occasion. Here, August 2016, captured by that same Laura Wyman.

Some of his finest music of his later years was captured by my and Jim’s dear friend Laura Wyman, sole proprietor of Wyman Video — pictured here at a Dawn Giblin Trio gig — Laura sitting in on flute with Jim and Mike Karoub.

Photograph by Jeff Dunn

And here’s some particularly inspired music from Jim, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Kurt Krahnke, string bass; Pete Siers, drums., at what was his last great concert.

HINDUSTAN, changing keys as the spirit moves everyone:

WHEN IN DOUBT, PLAY THE BLUES — a Dapogny rumination on deep things:

Some precious Thirties Ellingtonia, KISSIN’ MY BABY GOODNIGHT:

I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY:

Except for rare instances, Jim half-hid his sentimentality behind a mask of comedy, but I felt it come through several unforgettable times.  And it might be presumptuous to think of someone who’s departed reading this blogpost, but I believe that Jim knows how deeply we miss him. . . . which makes my customary closing line seem inappropriate.

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WHEREVER THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY

Let me begin with a jubilant piece of music from the 1929 McKinney’s Cotton Pickers — featuring a wistful vocal by Don Redman, rousing solos from Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller and beautiful ensemble playing from Joe Smith, Leonard Davis, Sidney De Paris, Claude Jones, Benny Carter, Ted McCord, Dave Wilborn, Billy Taylor, Kaiser Marshall:

That cheerful recording will seem an odd introduction to my topic, which is Death.

I think about that subject a great deal — not in a terrified way — because I am surrounded by reminders of those dear ones who have moved on (or away) and the Things that people leave behind.

When I go to an estate sale and I learn that the beautiful shirt I am wearing belonged to a man who is now dead, it is a spiritual lesson — intense and to the point.  When I go to Amoeba Music or the Down Home Music Store and find a dozen records all autographed to the same person — let us call him Dewey — I can safely guess that Dewey is no longer here, listening to those discs.

I feel grateful to be the recipient of objects that people cherished so when they were alive, yet sad that they are no longer here to enjoy them, and of course it makes me think of the finite shape of our lives.

So let us assume you have — as many jazz-lovers have — amassed a hoard, large or small, of objects related to the music you love.  Maybe they are records (cylinder to CD), autographs, photographs, ephemera (DOWN BEAT from 1939, a necktie that once belonged to _____): there are a thousand possibilities.

I wish no one of my readers of JAZZ LIVES to vanish, but I must ask them, collectively and singly, to imagine the possibility, and then to ask the question, “What will happen to my Treasures when I’m not here?”

For those who are prepared, the answer is easy.  “I’ve made a will.  I have an executor.  I have another name should that executor not be able to do what I’ve asked.  My executors have copies of the will; we have discussed what I have asked them to do. The will is recent; it was witnessed, notarized, and is properly done.  I do not like to think of my own death, but I have Taken Care of Business.”

Others say, “Oh, this is such a dreadful topic.  I don’t want to think about it today [this month, this year, ever, ever].  I know I should do something but I find it so depressing.  Besides, I have great plans for my collection of Tiny Parham Victors. And I think my infant grandchild Parham will want them when she grows up.  I’ll take care of it.”

I understand this.  It is very difficult for some of us to imagine the universe without us. But it will happen.

In my most kind voice, may I suggest that this pretending it will not happen is not wise. When the jazz collector dies, if (s)he dies without a will, the collection and all the deceased’s possessions have to be appraised — which costs money — before an item can be given away, disposed of, sold. This process isn’t quick, and establishing the value of anyone’s things — unless the dead person was a true minimalist — takes time and costs money.

If you have a partner or children, do you wish to add to their grief the burden of this legal and economic maze?  Or, if you have no one close to you, what will happen to your precious collection of deep-groove blue label Riversides?  My guess is that the landlord will haul them out to the curb or perhaps sell them to the local record store (not the worst thing).

Let me suggest an alternative, although I am not a lawyer nor do I pretend to be offering legal advice.  One can find an online form to create one’s own will.  Make it as specific as possible.  If you want your magazines to go to Clement, your 78s to go to Marjorie, and so on, put it in writing.  Such directions will not take the place of a will, but wills themselves need not be complicated, and I believe you can name someone (preferably somewhat younger and in good health) to be your executor, and then give that person a clear idea of what you would like.  “When I die, please check my email to see whom I have corresponded most frequently about the music.  Since we have spoken, you know the names of the people involved in jazz of whom I am most fond.  Invite them to the house; let them take home what they want.  Have a little party in my honor.  Save a thousand dollars from my savings.  Hire my favorite band.  Have they play FLEE AS A BIRD TO THE MOUNTAIN . . . and then DIDN’T HE RAMBLE.”

Of late, I am observing the partners of several friends who did not write wills, and their troubles are truly painful.  I am not talking about, “My goodness, I hear that all of Joe’s Paramounts went to Goodwill!  It was horrific!”  I am talking about the bereaved partner who not only has to deal with loss, but has to deal with The Stuff.

It is all too easy to say, “Oh, I think it should all go to this jazz institution or the other. They will want my Harry James and Benny Goodman 78s.”  Don’t be too sure. Libraries and institutions do not have infinitely expanding budgets, and to collect your beloved records, catalog them, store them in the proper fashion . . . all of this requires money and a staff.  Be sure to be sure — before saying, “I’d like my collection to go to ______,” that they really want it and will want it in some time in the future.

All this will sound too grim to some readers, and I apologize.

It was not easy for me to write a will, nor is it pleasant dinner conversation to discuss such things with the Beloved.

But benign neglect is a terrible — even a selfish — burden on the people who live on, and if you care about them, if you care about your Things, you might want to take what I am writing seriously.  (For me, my concern is with the people: once I am dead, I hope that my cherished objects go away in the most easy manner — ideally in to the hands of people I love and admire, but if my records go to Goodwill, it’s no disaster, since I bought many of them there.)

And I’m not just writing this to jazz collectors. Please pass this blogpost on to anyone you know who has more than a few of Anything — whether it’s copies of MARTHA STEWART LIVING in MSL binders or first editions or swizzle sticks.

Please do consider this yourself, though, and act on it, promptly.  I write these paternalistic nagging words with love.

May your happiness increase! 

THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO DIE

Jo Jones once told an interviewer that he was writing a book, THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO DIE, a chronicle of musicians he was devoted to who had died too young.  He recalled saxophonist Dick Wilson, hospitalized and on a no-salt diet,  — begging his friends to bring him salt.  Someone did and the thoughtless kindness hastened the saxophonist’s death.

But this post isn’t about excessive sodium.  Today is November 21, 2011, and because it is Coleman Hawkins’ birthday — even though he is no longer here to enjoy the attention — radio station WKCR-FM plays his music for 24 hours.

I always think of Hawkins as being aware of his purpose.  His playing reveals a strong, focused individual: neither tentative nor timorous.  He seems to have known he was meant to be the king of the tenor saxophonists, whether he was competing with Lester Young or Sonny Rollins.  Hawk was a gladiator, intolerant of limitations, a musician who would test others — asking a youthful Oscar Peterson to play IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — but in B natural.  In photographs, Hawkins has the amused swagger of the man who knows he can back up anything he says.  Yet late in his career he became indifferent to anything but his horn and cognac, the latter often taking precedence.  To say only that he “was an alcoholic” is the most limited judgmental of assessments.

His contemporary (and his equal) Lester Young seems a man with an almost unbearable sensitivity, deeply wounded, carrying a lifetime of hurt — from being exiled from the family band to his victimization in the US military, to hearing his music taken over by younger copyists.  I can see why Lester eventually did not care whether he lived or not.

But the mystery of Hawkins — a powerful man defeated — leads me to the question of why some musicians prevail and others succumb.  Some players seem to be — and I write this without moral condemnation — eternal children, deeply in love with play to the exclusion of all else.  Consider Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmie Blanton, Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker.  That sweetly intense focus is both their glory and their doom.  No one can say that they were meant to live to be middle-aged or more.

Some musicians, surrounded early on by situations where alcohol is the common bond, expected reward, the needed stimulus, lose their balance.  When once a drink or two was the impetus to be loose enough to improvise, to “get in the zone,” the servant becomes the master.  At the ends of their careers, both Hawkins and Young had no interest in food.  Too, some of these players seemed to cultivate relationships only with their instruments.  They had friends and colleagues on the bandstand, yes — but not spouses or lovers.  Monogamy has never been the universal panacea, but sympathetic intimate companionship can do a great deal to keep loneliness and despair at bay.

I cannot take Louis as my sole example (tempting as it is) but he was conscientious about his health, had a loving wife and a home, preferred marijuana to alcohol, and took joy in his existence and its simple pleasures.  Perhaps we all need these balances in our life: to be grateful for simple things, to keep our pleasures from overwhelming us, to cultivate a sunny disposition.  Then again, who knows what mixture of nurture and nature is at work?  Perhaps I wish only that both Hawkins and Lester had been happier in their twilights.  It is something I would wish for all of us, not just musicians.

MOURNING JOEL HELLENY (1956-2009)

The news of anyone’s death reminds us of how insufficient language really is.  I learned of trombonist Joel Helleny’s death last night at The Ear Inn. 

Helleny was one of those musicians I didn’t have the good fortune to hear in perfomance, which means I missed a thousand opportunities, because he performed with Dick Hyman, Buck Clayton, Randy Sandke, Frank Wess, Benny Goodman, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Roy Eldridge, Vince Giordano, Eddy Davis, Jon-Erik Kellso, Marty Grosz, and many other luminaries.  But I heard him subliminally on the soundtrack of two Woody Allen films, and I have a good number of CDs (Arbors, Concord, Ney York Jazz, Nagel-Heyer, and others) on which he shines.  This morning I was listening to his work on Kenny Davern’s EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (Arbors) and marveled once again: he could do it all: purr, shout, cajole, sweet-talk or say the nastiest things . . . all through his horn. 

He played beutifully; he had his own sound.  And he’s gone.  

Marty Elkins knew him well, and wrote to say this:

I got the news from Murray Wall. We were both old friends of Joel’s, and we are very sad about his death. Joel was a super smart, very talented guy, at the top of his field back in the 80’s and 90’s – doing gigs with Dick Hyman, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra (where he was a featured soloist), he was a member of George Wein’s New York All Stars and played on sound tracks for Woody Allen films, among other credits. He even toured with the OJays. He was a very loyal and devoted friend, also one of the only people who talked faster than I do!

He and I were really close around the deaths of our parents in the 90’s – providing a lot of support for one another. Joel was an only child and really attached to his folks.  He leaves a lot of saddened friends and an empty space in the jazz community. He will be remembered.

 But if you never heard Joel play, all this might seem only verbal gestures.  Here’s Joel in what I believe is a 1992 television appeance with clarinetist Walt Levinsky’s “Great American Swing Band,” including trumpeters Spanky Davis, Randy Sandke, Glenn Drewes, and Bob Millikan; trombonists Eddie Bert and Paul Faulise; reedmen Mike Migliore, Chuck Wilson, Frank Wess, Ted Nash, and Sol Schlinger;  pianist Marty Napoleon, bassist Murray Wall; drummer Butch Miles. 

Joel Helleny will be remembered. 

GOODBYE, LESLIE

Freud, among others, points out that we all need love and work in equal measure to make our lives fulfilling.  

Fortunate are the people who can work with all  with all their hearts at something they love and then share the work, the love, and the glorious results with us.  We all benefit beyond measure — not just because of  the results, but because of the inspiring examples these people offer us: models of how life should be lived. 

Leslie Johnson, who edited and published The Mississippi Rag for thirty-five years, was  just such a person.   

I’ve written about Leslie several times in this blog — most recently, LESLIE JOHNSON, JAZZ HERO (January 15), and yesterday I posted the news of her death.  

 Here is the email I received last night from her family:   

It breaks my heart to write this letter and I know how hard it will be for you to read it. Leslie passed away Saturday afternoon, January 17, 2009.
 
Leslie had five goals going into the end of 2008; completing 35 years of publishing the RAG with the December 2008 issue, enjoying Christmas with her family, sending a personal letter to the writers, writing a final letter to post on the website and sending the monthly email notification. Once all of the goals were completed to her satisfaction, she was able to let go of everything tying her down. Although we knew this day was coming, we were unprepared for how quickly it actually happened. Fortunately, the entire family was able to be there and the hospice staff made sure her time there was beautiful, peaceful and pain-free. For this we will be eternally grateful.
 
With warm regards,
Willard,
children Tony & Renee,
sisters Jody & Debbie
 
 Visitation: Wednesday, January 21st, 5-8 p.m., Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, 5000 W. 50th St., Edina, MN 55436
Funeral Mass: Thursday, January 22nd, Noon, St. Richard’s Catholic Church, 76th St. and Penn Ave. S., Richfield, MN