Jim Dapogny, September 2, 2018, photograph by Laura Beth Wyman (Wyman Video)
He answered to various names. Jim Dapogny, James Dapogny, Professor Dapogny, “American musicologist,” as an online source calls him. I prefer to think of him as admired artist, departed friend.
Jim would have turned eighty today, September 3, 2020. He didn’t make it that far, moving somewhere undefined and inaccessible on March 6, 2019. I have not gotten used to his absence, and I am not alone. Others knew him better, longer, at closer range, but his absence is something tangible.
I promised myself I would not write a post on the metaphysics of bereavement, but rather offer evidence so those who never heard Jim in person would understand more deeply why he is so missed.
I can’t reproduce here the pleasure of having him speak knowledgeably yet without pretension about the dishes of brightly-colored ethnic food spread in front of us. Nor can I convey to you his gleaming eyes as he spoke of a favorite dog or the mysterious voicings of a Thirties Ellington record. And it is beyond my powers to summon up the way he would nearly collapse into giggles while retelling a cherished interlude of stand-up comedy — not a joke, but a presentation — by someone none of us had heard of.
Those who were there will understand the serious yet easy pleasure of his company, the way he was always himself, wise but never insisting that we bow down to his wisdom. I can only write that he was was boyish in his joys but modest about his own accomplishments, and so gracious in his eager openness to different perspectives. Those who never had the good fortune of seeing him plain — counting off a tempo by clapping his hands in mid-air, crossing one leg over the other when particularly happy at the keyboard — should know that they missed someone extraordinary.
Jim and I communicated more by email than in any other way, but I did meet him once a year at Jazz at Chautauqua, then the Allegheny Jazz Party, then the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, from 2004 to 2016, with a year out when he couldn’t join us because of illness. I made a point of going from New York to Maryland to hear his “East Coast Chicagoans” in 2012, and visited him and dear friends in Ann Arbor a few years later. It is one of my greatest regrets, on a substantial list, that I never made it back for a return engagement.
Our remarkable friend Laura Beth Wyman caught Jim explaining something to me in the informal classroom of a parking lot at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival, and I treasure this moment:
But let us move out of the parking lot before darkness falls.
Here is Jim, with Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass, performing his own FIREFLY (blessedly captured by Wyman Video):
Jim loved the blues, and enjoyed window-shopping in their apparently austere structure, peering in at unusual angles, so what was expected — nothing more than three chords repeating over twelve bars — was all of a sudden a hand-knit tapestry, subtle but ornamented, full of dips and whorls.
I caught him “warming up the piano” at the 2014 Jazz at Chautauqua, in what I think of as full reverie, monarch of an emotional landscape where he and the blues were the only inhabitants, where he could ignore people walking by, and also ignore my camera. This, dear readers, is the quiet triumph of thought, of feeling, of beauty:
Here he and beloved colleagues create and recreate the TIN ROOF BLUES (al fresco, in rain or post-rain, at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival): Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Russ Whitman, tenor saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross, string bass; Pete Siers, drums:
Jim was thoughtful but not morose. He delighted in swing and stomp, so here’s COME EASY, GO EASY LOVE, from the same weekend:
One of his set pieces not only was a rousing jam on more austere themes but also a nod to his love of comic surprise, WASHINGTON POST MARCH:
There is much more that could be said, more that can be seen and heard.
But the important thing is this: he remains a model for me and others. Quietly and without affectation, Jim lived so deeply and generously that we will not forget him nor stop missing him.
May your happiness increase!