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!

MORRIS, MORTON, MOTION

RAGDOLLS in blue

Somehow I don’t think that a troupe of young women dancers should have gone into The Jungle dressed the way they are in the video below.  Do I worry too much?  No reflection on their handmade costumes, mind you, but they don’t strike me as adequate protection. Where are the machetes, first aid kits, tropical chocolate, water distilling gear, bug repellent?

But they braved The Jungle, they entranced their audience, and we can now see the results of Erin Morris and her Ragdolls, supported by James Dapogny’s Jazz Band, mutually creating something slithery to Jelly Roll Morton’s JUNGLE BLUES:

I especially like the way the quintet keeps subdividing into a trio and a duo: watch the most vivid embodiment of this at 2:58 and again at 3:16: music reflected in physical grace.

Thanks to Erin Morris and Her RagdollsErin Morris, Brittany Armstrong Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray, Hayden Nickel.

Thanks to James Dapogny and his Jazz Band: Tom Bogardus, clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; James Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Shannon Wade, string bass; Rod McDonald, banjo; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Thanks to Laura Beth Wyman, who filmed this delight at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Michigan on June 21, 2015.

We live amidst marvels.

May your happiness increase!

CATNIP FOR HUMANS! (June 21, 2015)

You don’t have to be a cat or have one.  Just get comfortable and watch this extraordinary offering — joy doubled and tripled, in sound and motion.  I’m so delighted that this exists:

Thanks to Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls*: Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray, Hayden Nickel.

Thanks to James Dapogny and his Jazz Band: Tom Bogardus, clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; James Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Shannon Wade, string bass; Rod McDonald, banjo; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Thanks to Laura Beth Wyman, who filmed this delight at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Michigan on June 21, 2015.

And a few muttering comments.  One refers to the asterisk above, which leads the righteous among us to the Facebook page of Ms. Morris and her Ragdolls.  I’ve done my best — leaving aside threats and whinging as unseemly — but so far only 495 people have “liked” the Ragdolls.  Is this what Bill Robinson would have us do?  Or Walter Page?  Knute Rockne?  Joan Blondell?  William Carlos Williams?  Reginald Marsh?

I ask you.  Please, so that I sleep longer and happier, “like” them tonight.  Now.

I spent several hours in a waiting room today — for boring reasons, nothing serious — where there was the inevitable cable television on, bolted to the wall above our heads.  The E! cable channel.  I despair, when I think that there is no Dapogny – Morris channel, yet the E! channel blathers on.  Well, instead of succumbing to darkness and bleakness, I will watch the video of ST. LOUIS BLUES again.  It occurs to me that this package — band and dancers — could be wooed out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for someone willing to uplift the rest of the country.  Anyone daring reading this post?

May your happiness increase!

EMOTION IN MOTION: ERIN MORRIS, NATHAN BUGH, JAMES DAPOGNY and FRIENDS (May 8, 2015)

The way they move moves me so.

I am not a student of the dance (ask my former ballroom dance instructor) so I cannot annotate the various gestures and motives that Erin Morris and Nathan Bugh so sweetly and nimbly offer us on their exploration of MY DADDY ROCKS ME — performed with the James Dapogny Quartet.

I know it’s hard work to look so casual.  But for me, while I am admiring their hilarious slinky grace, their obvious joy in movement, I see an entire emotional drama, the subtle shifts that take place within and through a pairing, the way two individuals become a couple, echoing, mimicking, mirroring, delighting.  This too-brief interlude seems a novel without pages, an opera without words.  A play about play.  Visual and mobile purring.

Details?  MY DADDY ROCKS ME (J. Bernie Barbour; arr James Dapogny) – Erin Morris (dance), Nathan Bugh (dance), Mike Karoub (cello), James Dapogny (piano), Rod McDonald (guitar), Joe Fee (bass). Improvised social dance from Erin Morris & Her Ragdolls’ JASSAFRASS show. College Theater, Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 8, 2015. Filmed by Laura Beth Wyman.

I find it also very touching that this dear interlude is described as “Improvised social dance,” for isn’t that what we are doing every moment of our lives on the planet?  If only we could perform our various curlicues with as much grace as Erin and Nathan do here, this world would blissfully swing, and grinning would be the rule rather than the exception.  I hail them — and James, Rod, Mike, and Joe — as uncredentialed spiritual teachers — the best ones, teaching us by example that existence is too gorgeously large to be put in to words.

Parenthetically, a friend affectionately needled me, “Hey, Michael, JAZZ LIVES is becoming the Official Erin Morris Lovefest Site, isn’t it?” And I immediately said, “Wow, you say the nicest things!”

As a postscript, a laginappe, an amuse-bouche or what you will, here’s everybody’s rollicking get-off-the-stage to music adapted liberally from a Fats Waller song:

The Felons of Swing, in addition to the Band, are Erin Morris (dance/choreography), Nathan Bugh, Brittany Armstrong-Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray, Hayden Nickel.

May your happiness increase!

“GLIDE, SLIDE, PRANCE, DANCE!”: ERIN MORRIS, BRITTANY ARMSTRONG, NATHAN BUGH (and the JAMES DAPOGNY QUARTET) DO THAT THING! (May 8, 2015)

To set the mood, Bessie Smith singing NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES, from where I take my title.  (It’s especially appropriate because of the welcome attention paid Miss Bessie, and this track counteracts the prevailing impression of her as an artist who lived in darkness and sadness.)

She sings most convincingly about the joys of gliding, sliding, prancing, dancing. But that’s only sound.  We need more.

Let’s have some thrilling audio-visual evidence here from Erin Morris and friends, performed and recorded on May 8, 2015.

AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? (by James P. Johnson) performed by Erin Morris and Brittany Armstrong with vocal by Nathan Bugh. Instrumental support by James Dapogny, piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Joe Fee, string bass. And they offer the verse:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, by Erin and Nathan, a performance that is clearly more about dancing love than making exits:

and EXACTLY LIKE YOU, by Nathan and the Quartet:

I think of these performances — aurally, visually — as happiness in its purest form embodied.  When I am sad ad I need an aural reassurance that the world is a generous place, I put on the music of Louis Armstrong and Gordon Jenkins.

When I want to look at something to remind me how joyously expansive life is, I look at the videos of Erin Morris and her Ragdolls / James Dapogny and friends. Works for me, and it can work for you too.  These three videos come from Erin Morris & Her Ragdolls’ JASSAFRASS show: recorded for us by Laura Beth Wyman.

If you feel the spirit, why not truck on down to Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls and click the button marked “Like.”  Costs nothing; no obligation; it makes these hard-working joy-spreaders happier. And you can see more life-affirming videos there as well.

May your happiness increase!

SPREADING MORE JOY IN MICHIGAN (May 8, 2015)

ERIN MORRIS AND HER RAGDOLLS

ERIN MORRIS AND HER RAGDOLLS

Has today been surprisingly rough, friend?  Did you turn away from the milk you were heating on the stove to find it had taken on new life as Vesuvius?  Are your ears still hurting from what someone said to you last night?  Did the Havanese puppy you bent down to pat on the street nip your hand?  Is your performance rating 10 . . . but the scale is now 1 to 100?  Are you being blamed for something you didn’t do?  Did someone siphon out all your emotional energy while you were sleeping?  Have all the treats been moved to a shelf higher than you can reach?  Have the rules of the board game been changed while you went to get the popcorn?

You know the feelings.  No over-the-counter cream has yet been invented to take away those stings.

But at JAZZ LIVES, we offer an infallible transfusion of joy.  Two, in fact. Created by skilled practitioners.  One tincture is in honor of an ancient dance; the other celebrates a noted explorer (and Chu Berry, let his name ne’er be forgot).

Healing tincture one:

And its counterpart:

Dancers:  Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong-Morton, Rachel Bomphray, Sarah Campbell.  (For more information about Erin Morris and her Ragdolls, visit here, and then, feeling the spirit, here.  JAZZ LIVES will soon be able to offer information for those wishing to form local chapters of the Erin Morris and her Ragdolls International Fan Club.

Those who feel properly moved are encouraged to “like” the Erin Morris and Her Ragdolls Facebook page. JAZZ LIVES readers who show proof of a properly completed “like” of this page will be entitled to a free lifetime subscription to JAZZ LIVES.

Musicians: , Mike Karoub (cello), James Dapogny (piano), Rod McDonald (guitar / banjo), and Joe Fee (bass). Nathan Bugh sings on BALLIN’.  College Theater, Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Michigan. May 8, 2015. Filmed by Laura Beth Wyman.

A first helping of joy can be experienced here.  And more is promised, which is indeed joyous news.

The instructions on the prescription are very simple: REPEAT AS NEEDED. ay

May your happiness increase!

SPREADING JOY IN MICHIGAN (May 8, 2015)

Any universe is a beautiful place that has such brightly-shining people in it, including the unseen woman behind the camera.

Here are the details . . . the song, the dancers, the musicians, the occasion.

ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM (Walter Jurmann, Gus Kahn, Bronisław Kaper; arranged by James Dapogny).

Dancers:  Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong-Morton, Rachel Bomphray, Sarah Campbell, Hayden Nickel, Nathan Bugh, Patrick Johnston, Chris Glasow, Ryan Morton, Bryant Stuckey.  (For more information about Erin Morris and her Ragdolls, visit here, and then, feeling the spirit, here.  JAZZ LIVES will soon be able to offer information for those wishing to form local chapters of the Erin Morris and her Ragdolls International Fan Club.

Musicians: , Mike Karoub (cello), James Dapogny (piano), Rod McDonald (guitar), and Joe Fee (bass). College Theater, Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Michigan. May 8, 2015. Filmed by Laura Beth Wyman.

Bless each of them . . . so generously blessing us with joy.  Tell your friends.

May your happiness increase!

COME TO “JASSAFRASS”! (Hint: AN ALL-GIRL VINTAGE JAZZ DANCE TROUPE and THE JAMES DAPOGNY QUARTET)

I’ve been around the world in a plane.  But I’ve never been to Ypsilanti, Michigan.  However, this event is exerting a powerful pull west for the evening of May 8, 2015, at 8 PM.

ERIN MORRIS RAGDOLLS May 8

Here is the Facebook event page.

This event is the Second Annual Ragdolls Revue.

No, it doesn’t feature Little Orphan Annie figurines or those most beloved, apparently boneless, felines.

Erin Morris and and her Ragdolls are a splendid improvisatory jazz dance group. And that requires some explanation.  For me, most “jazz dance” is either wildly unfettered — tap dancers rioting percussively — or stylized, sometimes stiffly choreographed exercises performed to jazz music but without much flexibility.

Erin and the Ragdolls (do I see a comic book series, syndication rights, and real money?  Any hip investors?) are quite different.  They create their own loose-limbed but precise world.  It is easy to imagine them as the twenty-first century reincarnation of sisters / friends jiving in the basement to the new blue-label Decca or OKeh, and to the casual eye they might look more like kids who are following similar impulses, but their choreography masterfully fools the eye: it looks as if it was just thought up on the spot, but anyone who’s ever done a right rock turn can tell that their routines are intelligently planned while appearing improvised.  Just like jazz music, as a matter of fact.  Roadmaps plus passion, if you know the lingo.

I delight in the idea of an “all-girl vintage jazz dance company.”  It gives me hope for our civilization.

Here’s a sample, and an inspiring one, of what JASSAFRASS will be all about. Cross-species, too, as the Ragdolls work it out to the ALLIGATOR CRAWL:

The clip is from 2014; the dancers are Erin Morris, Brittany Morton, Sarah Campbell, and Rachel Bomphray. The musicians in the James Dapogny Quartet are James Dapogny, Mike Karoub, Rod McDonald, and Joe Fee. Videography by Richard Peng.

JASSAFRASS features live hot jazz from the incomparable James Dapogny Quartet, in a full-length show that unveils fresh, exciting dance numbers from the Ragdolls and scintillates with special guest dancer Nathan Bugh, all the way from New York City. The College Theater at WCC provides amazing acoustics and cozy raked seating for your unfettered viewing enjoyment.

Tickets $15 in advance (see your local Ragdoll), $20 at the door.

In case you are confused by all this, here is a visual aid.  This is what the thing in itself — a ticket to the show — will look like.  Don’t you covet this paper and what it offers  you?

ERIN MORRIS ticket

To learn more about the Ragdolls, visit www.emragdolls.com

May your happiness increase!

ALEX BELHAJ’S CRESCENT CITY QUARTET: “SUGAR BLUES”

ALEX B playing

Photograph by Jocelyn Gotlib

You may not have heard of young guitarist / singer / composer Alex Belhaj, unless you live near Ann Arbor, Michigan.  And for some readers, “guitarist / singer / composer” may be slightly unsettling, suggesting a musician more like Leonard Cohen than Leonard “Ham” Davis. But these sounds should quell any anxieties:

and the same band, live in 2011:

Both of these performances were the work of Alex’s CRESCENT CITY QUARTET, which has released its debut CD, “SUGAR BLUES,” on the Raymond Street Records label.

The quartet is Alex Belhaj, guitar; Jordan Schug, string bass; Ray Heitger, clarinet; Dave Kosmyna, cornet — each of them adding “vocal refrain” or backgrounds as noted below.  Yes, the tunes are familiar, but these performances are deeply felt and vivid: WEARY BLUES / MY BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT [RH] / SUGAR BLUES [AB] / CARELESS LOVE / VIPER MAD [RH and the Quartet] / HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW [RH] / FOUR OR FIVE TIMES [AB / DK] / MY MAN ROCKS ME (WITH ONE STEADY ROLL) / TIGER RAG / SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD [AB] / YOU DON’T LOVE ME [DK] / TAKE MY HAND, PRECIOUS LORD [RH].

ALEX B cover

I confess that when I first saw this CD, I felt a mild skepticism: I admire Ray Heitger, but he was the only player I knew.  I had no idea that Alex had connections with a number of my heroes and friends, James Dapogny, Michael Karoub, Erin Morris, Laura Wyman among them.

But hearing the music was a wonderful conversion experience.  It’s not as if there aren’t other New Orleans-imbued small improvising jazz groups, and there are other versions of the songs on this disc.  But the CCQ understands and inhabits the music in the best way — not turning each song into a nearly violent joust in the fashion of the hallowed Spanier-Bechet sides, or choosing to offer only a series of solos . . . but making each selection its own entrancing emotional drama, with an emphasis on sweetly rocking ensemble interplay.  Each of the four players is a convincing instrumentalist (and singer) so I floated from track to track, from spiritual to swinging multi-strain instrumental, in a satisfying music-dream.

The disc is one of those rare creations that seems too brief.  I’ve heard new things every time I’ve played it.  SUGAR BLUES feels genuine: these musicians know and feel what this music is supposed to sound like, simultaneously rooted in tradition and as fresh as the moment.

SUGAR BLUES is also beautifully recorded, with liner notes by “arwulf arwulf,” an Ann Arbor music scholar and broadcaster, that I would have been pleased to have written myself.

In his closing lines, he refers to VIPER MAD as a defiantly hedonistic number premiered by Noble Sissle and Sidney Bechet in 1938.  The CCQ’s realization of this ode to Mezz Mezzrow’s favorite herbal analgesic features a spirited group vocal similar to what Ann Arborites have come to expect from Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings.  Impressionable souls may feel the need to stand up and strut around with one index finger in the air.

I’m impressionable and proud of it.  Here’s VIPER MAD:

Now, JAZZ LIVES does not officially espouse the use of such substances, but in the words of that song (slightly altered) I urge you to “wrap your chops / around this new CD.” Here is Alex’s site and his Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!