Tag Archives: James Dapogny

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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THEY KEEP ROLLING ON: DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER PLAY MORTON, BEAUTIFULLY

It’s one thing to have a bright idea, another to give that idea tangible shape.  But consistent unflagging creativity is dazzling.  The Complete Morton Project — Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, reeds, with occasional doubling and special guests — is a wonderful embodiment of all the principles above.

I have trouble keeping up with their weekly gifts, but here is another sustained offering of pleasure.

DON’T YOU LEAVE ME HERE was recorded in Morton’s last flourish, although I suspect he had had the composition in his repertoire for years.  With its melancholy title, it’s always a pleasing shock to hear it treated in this jauntily ambling fashion:

and a Morton line that used to be played more often — famous versions with Louis, Bechet, Red, Johnny Dodds — WILD MAN BLUES, with a delicious conversation-in-breaks created by Andrew and David:

GAN JAM (or GANJAM) was never recorded by Jelly, but was envisioned as an orchestral composition for a big band.  James Dapogny reimgined it as it might have been, and here the CMP envisions it as a duet — full of what might have been called “Oriental” touches but to our ears might simply be extended harmonies, quite fascinating.  I’d bet that someone hearing this for the first time would not think Morton its composer.  You can read Andrew’s observations on both tune and performance here:

Finally, a title that would not apply to what Andrew and David have been giving us so generously, THAT’LL NEVER DO (did Morton say that to one of his musicians at a rehearsal or run-through?).

I see a chorus line in my mind, high-kicking:

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part Two): MARCH 27, 2018

Here is the first part of the video interviews I did with the Esteemed Mister Cusack — a great deal of fun, good anecdotes, well-told, and new information about everyone from George Brunis to Phyllis Diller: a great honor and pleasure for me.  Here’s the second part.

The first six segments were moderately autobiographical, but Kim doesn’t revel in himself as the only subject.  So in the videos you will see below, my request had been for Kim to talk of people he’d encountered and played with whom we might otherwise not have known, although some of the players are well-known to those who relish the music: Barrett Deems, James Dapogny, Truck Parham, Little Brother Montgomery.  Good stories, seriously rewarding insights not only into people but also into “the business,” including the Chicago underworld.

I’ll let the videos speak for themselves, as Kim does so well.

Norm Murphy and Frank Chace:

Art Gronwald and Little Brother Montgomery (this is for Ethan Leinwand):

Bobby Ballard, Bob Skiver, Floyd Bean:

Smokey Stover and Truck Parham:

Bob Cousins, Wayne Jones, Barrett Deems:

and finally for that afternoon, Kim’s portrait of our hero Jim Dapogny:

I  hope to visit Delavan, Wisconsin, again — to delight in the company of Kim and Ailene Cusack and Lacey, too.  And who knows what treasures I might bring back for you?

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

TREMENDOUS NEW JELLY: FOUR FROM DAVID HORNIBLOW and ANDREW OLIVER

In the Nineteen-Forties, when “traditional jazz” was once again greeted with enthusiasm, small illicit record labels looked to make money off the demand for music not otherwise available, and many pirated music that the major labels were not reissuing.  Often the label names were official-sounding; sometimes hilarious.  I’ve included a few samples here.

One bootleg pressing of Jelly Roll Morton’s music (I believe on the “XX” label) had as artist credit TREMENDOUS OLD JELLY.  When I looked online for this artist credit, I was greeted with pictures of royal jelly, fruit preserves, and more.

It would have been a fine title for this blogpost, except for one thing: pianist Andrew Oliver and reedman David Horniblow, both tremendously talented, make new music, and they’ve been sharing their duets every week.  And here, on Andrew’s blog, all manner of delicious secrets will be revealed.  For one: what popular song, written two years after SWEET PETER, owes some of its melodic shape to Morton?  (Thanks to Professor James Dapogny for recognizing the lineage.)

David and Andrew plan to perform all 107 Morton compositions, and I have no doubt they will reach the summit of that wondrous mountain.  Here are the four most recent.

FREAKISH (no doubt named for its unusual harmonies):

SWEET PETER, rarely played but irresistible:

A truly joyous KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

Finally, a deliciously sauntering DEAD MAN BLUES:

These two young men are deliciously adept, aren’t they?  See and hear all twelve performances to date here.

May your happiness increase!

THE HORACE GERLACH FAN CLUB, or ANYTHING CAN SWING: THE ORIGINAL DOWNHOME JAZZ BAND (Toledo, Ohio, February 25, 2017)

On Benny Goodman’s “Camel Caravan” radio show — circa 1938 — there was a feature called ANYTHING CAN SWING, and what follows is a fine illustration.

Louis Armstrong followers like myself know the sacred and mysterious name of Horace Gerlach — co-composer with Louis of three masterpieces: SWING THAT MUSIC, I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  I’ve featured them on this blog as performed by Louis, Marty Grosz, Banu Gibson, and others.

But I’ve never had occasion to spotlight the fourth Gerlach opus, which probably made him the most money, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL.  In some traditional weddings, it is the song the bride and her father have their ceremonial dance to.  (I don’t know how this makes the groom feel, but leave that to you to ponder.)

Thanks to my friend and friend of JAZZ LIVES Laura Wyman — CEO of Wyman Video — we have this hot performance of DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL by the Original Downhome Jazz Band (February 25, 2017, Ye Olde Durty Bird, Toledo, Ohio) captured on video for everyone to enjoy, whether or not there is a daughter in the house.

The ODJB is Dave Kosmyna, leader, cornet, vocal; Chris Smith, trombone; Ray Heitger, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Pete Siers, drums, and do they beat it out:

Laura has also shared many fine hot videos on her YouTube channel.  Wyman Video (expert, discreet, and informed) can come and video your event: fee schedule available on request. Weddings, recitals, hot bands, basement jam sessions: you name it.

For now, I will muse upon the invisibility of Horace Gerlach: composer, arranger, friend of Louis.  Anyone have a portrait of the man to share?

May your happiness increase!

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA”: “I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER” (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2011)

Days gone by, but not days beyond recall — afternoons and evenings in September 2011 at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York — for the late Joe Boughton’s annual jazz weekend.  Because I am feeling more than a little melancholy at the news of the end of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I thought I’d share some music from the glory days — to ease the feelings.

Here is one stomping example of the goodness that I was privileged to witness from 2004 to 2017.  It comes from a Marty Grosz set devoted to songs associated with Bix Beiderbecke, performed in styles he wouldn’t necessarily have known.  (Marty’s opening interlude reminds me pleasantly of Alex Hill’s MADAM DYNAMITE, recorded two years after Bix’s death.)

The band includes Marty, guitar and inventive arrangements; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing a song I know from the Goldkette Victor — a song of romantic optimism that is perhaps now best known in the banjo-and-let’s-all-sing genre, but it gets up and moves around nicely, not only because of the hot solos, but because of the truly varied and rich arrangement:

“We’ll always have Chautauqua.  And Cleveland,” says some famous film actor.

May your happiness increase!