Tag Archives: Jess Stacy

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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MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE: “PIANO JAZZ – CHICAGO STYLE!” featuring RAY SKJELBRED

Like other jazz fans and collectors, I have had many dreams of music I would like to hear, and in my lifetime many of those dreams have come true: the alternate takes of the Jones-Smith, Inc. session; airshots of the Basie band at the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing; the Ellington Fargo concert; the Jerry Newman uptown recordings; more Louis and Big Sid, on and on.

Earl Hines and Ray Skjelbred

The pianist Ray Skjelbred — treasured courageous explorer of beauty — is part of this story of dreams taking lovely shape.  I heard him on recordings perhaps fifteen years ago, and I encountered him in videos perhaps eight years ago, first in those of Rae Ann Berry, then in my own attempts, having met him, to capture him with appropriate skill and reverence.

In whatever medium I found him, I was astonished by the spacious, emotionally dense worlds he invented at the keyboard.  I still am.  And although Ray allowed me to capture individual performances that he approved of, solo and in duet; Ray leading his own Cubs — I am proud of the results, but they are beautiful snapshots for the most part.  In my videos, the sound might be imperfect; the audience might be chatting or moving in and out; Ray would speak, memorably, but briefly.

I came to dream of a Skjelbred film, a recital-explanation that would help us capture his secrets and his deep essence, as much of his history and magic that he cared to reveal.  But it remained a dream until Ray’s friend John Ochs, with Ray, created a profound but never sententious portrait of Ray and the musical atmosphere he both swims in and has enriched for decades.  It exists, and it can be seen.

From the first pearly notes of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES to Ray’s reminiscences-with-music of Burt Bales, Johnny Wittwer, Earl Hines, Joe Sullivan, Art Hodes, Jess Stacy, stride piano, octaves, tenths, the blues, tremolos, a stomping LITTLE ROCK GETAWAY, anecdotes of Sullivan — among well-trained kindergarten children, or listening to Bob Zurke play GETAWAY, a  brilliantly meandering chorus of ROSETTA which reminds me of someone picking up glittering beach glass at the ocean’s edge, and a riotous BEAU KOO  JACK, and so much more — the film is a treasure.  It is both the chronicle of a questing artist and his interactions with Hines, Sullivan, Stacy, Hodes, and a series of casual lessons from a Master about other Masters.

I admire it tremendously.  Ray’s deadpan puckish humor animates all of his conversation with us, as when he describes a heart attack at the keyboard turning, for seconds, into stride piano . . .his description of a poor traditional band as “six people with shotguns.”  I encourage viewers to savor his after-midnight introduction to I FOUND A NEW BABY and the last minutes of MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY.

It isn’t a how-to film that entices the viewer with the kinds of promises historically made on matchbooks, “See, you can play _____ too if only you learn these sixteen gestures,” nor is it a chronological autobiography of gigs and encounters, but a warming combination of sounds, techniques, memories and music created right at the moment.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ray’s story of Jess Stacy’s summation of a visit from jazz acolytes, at first  unfamiliar to him, as “Those nice boys.”

The film is emotionally filling without being overwhelming: when I finished watching for the first (of several times) I felt as if I had spent a month with Ray, yet it felt like a seamless easy journey, over too soon.

Recorded in one sitting, at a fine piano, with subtle, telling editing, it is so far beyond my best videos that I am both thrilled it exists and slightly embarrassed by my own earnest amateur sallies.

I am not the only person to appreciate this film: it has been selected by the New York Jazz Film Festival and will receive an award for HISTORY / DOCUMENTARY at the end of August.

I am able to share the film with you — and frankly I would find it inexplicable if hundreds of people did not take advantage of the opportunity — but I do not know for how long this will be possible.  These things are mysterious, but Imight not be able to share this film indefinitely.

So I urge and beseech my viewers to be with Ray Skjelbred, man and artist of independent spirit, for one hour (and twenty-three minutes and fifty-eight seconds) tonight, or, if not tonight, then tomorrow night.

Early on in the film, Ray says, as if to himself, “All music is a narrative of some kind — it starts somewhere and it goes somewhere.”  He could have been describing this very fulfilling film as well.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU FOLKS HERE”: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2016) PART ONE

Ray Skjelbred, poet and explorer, at the piano, musing, feeling, sharing colorful worlds of his own invention.

PINKY ROSE, a blues rumination:

NO COMPLAINTS, a lilting homage to Jess Stacy:

SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD, a blues by the Mississippi Sheiks:

IT’S A RAMBLE, by the mysterious Oro “Tut” Soper, a pianist who once kissed the young Anita O’Day passionately before remembering he wasn’t [because of religious beliefs] supposed to:

HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA, celebrating Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Don Redman:

Rambles and saunters in worlds known and unknown: elegant, rough, always alive.

More to come from the Esteemed Mr. Skjelbred.  And this aural bouquet is in honor of Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.

May your happiness increase!

GLIMPSES OF MISS WILEY and COLLEAGUES (1934-1953)

A small pleasure. seen on eBay.

Here’s what it sounds like:

The facts are: Lee Wiley, vocal; Sterling Bose, Tommy Dorsey, Sid Stoneburn, others; Ernie White, Larry Gomar,  Justin Ring or Victor Young, directing. New York, August 13, 1934 38298-B.

And nearly twenty years later:

Lee’s voice had changed, predictably, as had the band, but I like the new, tougher approach just as much.

We enter the magical world of sheet music covers.  This song is familiar, with the distinct connection to Victor Young — with whom Lee enjoyed a long relationship.  I reprint the cover for comparison:

Although I can’t offer a recording of Lee singing LOVE ME, how about two versions by Jack Teagarden — the first with ornamentation by Sterling Bose, Jimmy Dorsey, Perry Botkin — again directed by Victor Young?  I knew you wouldn’t object:

This is, again, twenty years later, swinging as well as romantic — from the sextet that Jack led after he’d left Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars.  This 1953 band was a family affair, with brother Charlie on trumpet, sister Norma on piano:

Back to Lee.

This piece of sheet music is new to me, and I haven’t found any recordings of the song to offer you:

This song is known to me because Red Allen recorded it at the time, but no recording of Lee singing it exists.  Still, it’s pleasant to hear her voice in one’s mental recording studio:

and, in case you’ve never seen it, here is the justly famous film — silent but with a soundtrack added later, both thanks to Josh Rushton — of Lee and then-husband Jess Stacy, out and about.

May your happiness increase!

“Have one to sell? Sell now #D366 VINTAGE 1950S 8X10″ JAZZ ORCHESTRA NEGATIVE PHOTO Benny Goodman Big Band”

When I looked up “Benny Goodman” and “1938” in preparation for this blogpost, Google quite naturally led me to the Carnegie Hall concert of January 16.  But there was wonderful music made later in the year, by a band elevated by Dave Tough, drums, and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone.  Here’s a sample:

The link between that performance and my odd title might not be clear, so here’s the answer key: the title is the convoluted language of eBay, that odd treasure house.  And thanks to David J. Weiner, scholar and friend (pal of my childhood days, to be precise) I have the treasure below to share with you.  It’s a remarkable photograph — the negative of one — of the 1938 band, dressed up in performance garb, but not on the stand, and not holding instruments.  And even better, the normally somber-looking Dave Tough has just heard something funny or said something of the same kind (I think that Lionel made Dave laugh): a visage rarely if ever captured on film.

The bad news is that I did not win this photograph for my very own.  The good news is that someone who wanted it even more fervently did . . . to the tune of $105 and some change.  I hope (s)he enjoys it tremendously and hangs it in a place of honor.  For us, the magic of “Save image” means that we can hitch a ride for free, and moral questions aside, that is a great thing.

Now, I will confess ignorance and say that I cannot identify everyone in the picture, and I solicit the assistance of the readers of JAZZ LIVES who know more than I do — when they are irksome, I silently call them The Corrections Officials, but today I invite informed responses.

Here’s what and whom I know.

Front row left, unknown; Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; unknown woman who doesn’t look like Martha Tilton or, for that matter, Gladys Hampton, at all; Lionel Hampton, vibraphone; Dave Tough, drums; unknown (is that Chris Griffin, trumpet?)

Back row left, Vernon Brown, trombone; unknown; unknown; Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; unknown; Harry James, trumpet.

Where’s Benny?  Where’s Jess Stacy?  I assume some of the heroes I couldn’t identify are a second trombone, perhaps Noni Bernardi and Dave Matthews, guitarist Benny Heller.  Does anyone recognize the room?  The fireplace suggests a hotel rather than a recording studio, but that is a guess, nothing more.

And while you’re scrambling to prove your Benny-knowledge is just the best, here’s a soundtrack to inspire you, the deliciously loose rendition of SUGAR by Benny, Lionel, Teddy Wilson, and Dave:

This post is in honor of David Weiner, Kevin Dorn, and Richard Salvucci.  Of course!

May your happiness increase! 

HELEN’S DREAMS

I saw and heard Helen Humes in person only once, in 1975, but she made a lasting impression.  When Ed Polcer was leading the band at the last “Eddie Condon’s,” marvelous players and singers were invited to get up on the narrow bandstand and astonish us.  I was there because Ruby Braff was leading the group; Helen came up and sang IF I COULD BE WITH YOU and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and I have a clear memory of her beautiful smile, heartfelt delivery, and warm voice.

At the early peak of the Swing Era, John Hammond had yet another one of his good ideas: to feature Harry James (then in his first year as a star of the Goodman band) with a small group drawn from the Basie band.  There was a clear rapport, and these under-acknowledged records stand alongside the more heralded Wilson-Holiday sessions.  Helen had recorded a decade earlier, but she was then perceived as a classic blues singer, and those records show only one side of her considerable talent.  In these 1936-38 sides, we hear what made her memorable.  (On YouTube, you can hear the other sides from the James sessions.)

The first session (on December 1, 1937) had Harry, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones.  Helen sang several songs; here is I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:

On January 5, 1938, the same group reassembled, with Vernon Brown replacing Eddie Durham, and Helen sang IT’S THE DREAMER IN ME:

Other aspects of these recordings (of the two glorious sessions) are memorable: the warm sounds of Harry and Herschel, the beautiful distractions of Jess Stacy at the piano, joined by Walter Page and Jo Jones . . . but at this remove, Helen wins my heart — her deep sincerity, her vibrato, the way she delivers two love songs with complete conviction, even at the faster tempo of the first.  She’s been overshadowed for decades, but what a great artist she is.  In a few minutes, she invites us to live her dreams.

May your happiness increase!

“SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON”: TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JARED ENGEL, CRAIG VENTRESCO at the LOST CHURCH (June 8, 2013)

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, my apartment has slowly morphed into a combination library / computer workshop / recording studio / and who knows what, based in the living room, with various effusions of CDs, books, external hard drives, cassettes, photographs — generally confined to the living room.  To my left, cassettes from the late Seventies on; to my right, a four-speed phonograph with (as I write) a Jess Stacy Commodore 78 of RAMBLIN’ and COMPLAININ’ on the turntable, adjacent to a newer stereo system.  Also on my left, long-playing records and hard drives; to my right, a wall of CDs.

There are rules: a new CD will migrate to the kitchen counter, but it knows it shouldn’t be there and it tends to hide and look abashed when discovered.  The bathroom and bedroom are off limits to music-infestation.  No, don’t ask for photographs.

But having JAZZ LIVES since February 2008 is like living inside a giant multi-sensory photograph album.  Insubstantial in some ways, seriously substantial in others.  I’ve posted nearly six thousand videos on YouTube, which means I’ve been a busy tech-primate.  And some more videos haven’t been posted, so the bits of information are thick in this one-bedroom palace of sound and sight.

Photograph by Michael Steinman

Every so often I want to hear and see something that gave me pleasure several times: at the moment of experience and, later, in writing about it, posting it, and enjoying it.  One that came to mind today was a performance I witnessed and savored in California at San Francisco’s The Lost Church, almost four years ago: Tamar Korn, Craig Ventresco, Jared Engel, Gordon Au, and Dennis Lichtman — mellowly celebrating the lunar power of love with SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON:

Awfully sweet, this speaks of a world where young people could ask the cosmos for help in romance and receive it.  Life before phones.

I will indulge myself in this again, and I encourage you to do so also.  When I take a day off from blogging, the search bar on front page will lead you to treats.

May your happiness increase!