Tag Archives: Erin Morris

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.

FANTASY, IMPROMPTU: ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, LAURA WYMAN (January 21, 2017)

jon-erik-kellso-photo-by-aidan-grant

Jon-Erik by Aidan Grant

Sometimes your dreams do come true.

James Dapogny

James Dapogny

Here’s one of mine that did and does, in the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the night of January 21, 2017, during the after-party for the River Raisin Ragtime Review: Erin Morris dances while Jon-Erik Kellso and James Dapogny play.  And Laura Wyman recorded it on her hand-held camera.

Erin by Jerry Almonte

Erin by Jerry Almonte

I bless the four of them.

Three souls in harmony, reflecting motion and sound,  each telling Don Redman’s tale: James, seated; Jon-Erik, standing; Erin, mobile.  Individuals in community, coming together to create something that enthralls and cheers.

Watch and listen a few more times and go deep in to the splendors.  There’s a famous anecdote of Earl Hines at the Chicago Musicians’ Union in 1924, fooling around at the piano with a new pop tune by Isham Jones, THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — and a chubby young man formerly of New Orleans comes up, unpacks his cornet, and joins in.  No one who wasn’t in that room ever heard that music — although a few intrepid heartfelt souls have made their own variations on that duet.  And as far as I know, no one danced.

I wasn’t there, either, but I think this impromptu trio is at the same level: it gives me chills and then a rush of gratitude.  Thank you, Erin, James, Jon-Erik, Laura.

Laura and her magic camera

Laura and her magic camera

(An alternate take:  here you can see the video produced by William Pemberton, director of the RRRR, same time, same place.)

The skies are dark this afternoon, but we live amidst marvels.

May your happiness increase!

PLENTY RHYTHM! ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, ALEX BELHAJ, ROD McDONALD, BONNIE SMITH, CHRIS TABACZYNSKI, LAURA WYMAN: YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN (June 2016)

No, I didn’t hear any shouts in the night, “The British are coming!” (Or, for that matter, “The British are going!”)

paul-revere-statue

But if Paul Revere had been well and truly hip, he might have shouted, “Hot jazz in Ypsilanti!  Thursday nights!  Cultivate!” and that would have gotten me out of bed for sure.

Here are three truly entrancing performances recorded on June 16 and 23, 2016, by Laura Wyman of Wyman Video — yes, she deserves her own place in the personnel roster).  The leader of this morphing band of creators is Erin Morris, tuba.  Yes, I know you know Erin as a unique dancer and choreographer, but she is also a wonderful low-brass player, able to entrance us when she’s just sitting still.

I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING with Erin; James Dapogny, keyboard (“He makes that new piano sound exactly like old,” to paraphrase Johnny Mercer); Rod McDonald, guitar; Chris Tabaczynski, C-melody saxophone. Where?  Cultivate Coffee & Tap House, Ypsilanti, Michigan:

That’s the very definition of Mellow to me, what I think of as the music the great artists make for themselves when the lights aren’t shining in their faces.  Not morose nor a let’s-show-the-people-this-is-jazz romp, but pretty and moving.  And Erin plays the tuba with gentleness; at times in the ensemble it sounds like a sweet bass saxophone heard from far away.  And Chris Tabaczynski is my new Youngblood Hero.  Dapogny and McDonald have been Heroes of mine for years.

Now, let’s add a little Americana to the mix, as Bonnie Smith sings CARELESS LOVE in an unaffected, heartfelt way, with her father, Christopher, on trombone; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Erin and Jim:

Finally, what my dear friend Mike Burgevin used to call a “Bingie” — one of those songs that we hear through a sacred veil of Crosby — WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Christopher, Alex, Jim, and Erin:

All I can say about this scene is that it does my heart good to know that a small group of secular saints is bringing lyricism into the world.  Cultivate Joy.  And for my part, I’ve got my plane ticket to Ann Arbor.

May your happiness increase!

DANCE ME TO THE START OF SWING, 2016

Photograph by Doug Coombe

Photograph by Doug Coombe

How do you move your bodies to the rhythm in ways that are aesthetically delightful, that mirror the music without distracting from it, with no period caricature?  How do you make deep careful rehearsed expertise look as easy and casual as three young women prancing around the living room?  I don’t know, but Erin Morris and her Ragdolls not only have the answers but enact them in swingtime.

The soundtrack is Ellingtonia — a Johnny Hodges small band, I believe, but the real pleasure for me is watching the music made flesh, the sounds echoed by every caper and wiggle.  To learn more about Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls, you can easily do it at their Facebook page or here.

An exalted lovely funny nonchalance.

May your happiness increase! 

THIS TAKES THE CAKE: TORSTEIN KUBBAN, THOMAS WINTELER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, JACOB WINTELER, FRANS SJOSTROM (Victory Pub, November 5, 2015)

cake

This isn’t a recipe post, but who could resist this?  (Erin, who dislikes cake, can skip right to the music.)

CAKE GennettWhat follows is absolutely glorious — evoking Louis and Sidney ninety years later, in the Victory Pub, a place I am sure neither of them ever visited.  This after-hours session took place on November 5, 2015, as part of the revelry of the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.

CAKE Okeh

The people lighting up the darkness are Torstein Kubban, cornet; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, keyboard; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone.

CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME:

I know that the original recordings — and the tradition that follows — are somewhat pugnacious, with Bechet and Armstrong each trying to show dominance . . . but this 2015 version evokes the Hot Peaceable Kingdom, with the two lions treating the lambs to Newcastle brown ale after the set.  Mixing metaphors wildly, I know, but these wonderful virtuosic players seem more brotherly than combative, united in the great desire to bring light into the darkness.

Two other performances of equal splendor from this evening can be found here  and here.

See you at this year’s Party. Even more details to be savored here.

There’ll be cake.

May your happiness increase!

WYMAN VIDEO SWINGS OUT (Allegheny Jazz Party, September 2015)

Laura Wyman, completely focused on the task at hand

Laura Wyman, completely focused on the task at hand

WYMAN VIDEO is the new brainchild and business venture of Laura Wyman, whom you should know as the CEO and head videographer of JAZZ LIVES’ Michigan Bureau, headquartered in Ann Arbor.  She has taste and a dilligent perfectionism.

Before there was a WYMAN VIDEO, Laura was bringing us video of such wonders as this:

ST. LOUIS BLUES (W.C.Handy; arr James Dapogny) – Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray & Hayden Nickel (dancers). Tom Bogardus (cl), Paul Finkbeiner (tpt), Chris Smith (tbn), James Dapogny (pno), Shannon Wade (bass), Rod McDonald (bjo) & Van Hunsberger (drms). Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Mich. 6-21-15.

and this gorgeous interlude:

FIREFLY (James Dapogny) – The James Dapogny Quartet. James Dapogny (pno), Mike Karoub (cello), Rod McDonald (gtr) & Kurt Krahnke (bass). Kerrytown Concert House, Ann Arbor, Mich. 1-10-15.

But WYMAN VIDEO really came in to its own at the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party, with evidence right here:

CHERRY  (Don Redman) – Dan Block (cl & bass cl), Andy Stein (vln), Scott Robinson (bari sax & tarogato), James Dapogny (pno), Marty Grosz (gtr & leader) & Hal Smith (drms). Allegheny Jazz Party, Cleveland, Ohio. 9-11-15. Filmed by Laura Beth Wyman for Wyman Video.

I AIN’T GOT NOBODY from the same session:

All of this would suggest that WYMAN VIDEO is rather like JAZZ LIVES, and it is true that Laura is deeply involved in hot music and swing dance.  But her range is far broader than mine: Laura has been capturing speakers, readings, weddings, and other occasions.  I don’t think she goes to traffic court or other gloomy events, but I know she’s captured for posterity graduations, parties, swing dances, and other occasions where people gather happily.

So I urge you — if you live in or near Ann Arbor, Michigan, or if you want an expert videographer, contact Laura Wyman for videography that will help you have swinging memories.  And if you are not on Facebook, you can certainly contact her at wymanvideoa2@gmail.com.

May your happiness increase!

WITH A GOOD TEACHER, A STUDENT CAN DO ANYTHING!

I had to post this.  It’s so inspiring.  Watching Cammie (brave, willing, shy) try to shed her downy feathers on the dance floor — with the inspiring guidance of Erin Morris and the equally inspiring sounds of James Dapogny’s Jazz Band . . . well, anything is possible.  Even Peckin’:

For this occasion, June 21, 2015, at the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the JDJB is James Dapogny, piano; Tom Bogardus, clarinet;  Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; Shannon Wade, string bass; Rod McDonald, banjo; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Brought to us by the nimble lens, microphone, and tripod of Laura Beth Wyman (“Better living through cinematography.”)

Sing on!  Dance on!  Play on!

P.S.  A medical note.  Erin Morris and her Ragdolls now have over 500 “likes,” so I am sleeping better.  But have you done your part?  I haven’t verified this yet, but the thousandth person to “like” them, once verified, will receive a free lesson in Peckin’ from Erin herself.

May your happiness increase!