Tag Archives: Jim Dapogny

SO MUCH MISSING: JAMES DAPOGNY with JON-ERIK KELLSO, KURT KRAHNKE, PETE SIERS at KERRYTOWN (January 6, 2018)

James Dapogny, 2016, photograph by Laura Wyman. The show went on even with Prof’s injured hand.

I have a theory about death that even people who love me cock an eyebrow at its “sentimentality.”  I believe that the spirit continues . . . not a radical idea, but I envision it as those who “die” simply move to another cosmic neighborhood, where they can visit us when they choose to.  It’s a fiction, of course, but it comforts me as much as any fiction can.

The thought that I won’t see the people I love again is too painful otherwise.  That I can’t email James Dapogny, make plans for an ethnic meal with him, discuss piano and music and recordings and gigs with him — or even get corrected for some grammatical error — makes me catch my breath.  In two days, I will be on my way to the Evergreen Jazz Festival, where Jim and his Chicago Jazz Band played so gloriously in July 2014.  The joy of being there and the sadness that he won’t be are simultaneous in my mind.

But he lives . . . not even “lives on” in music, and in our dear thoughts of him and his absence in the temporal realm.

I am proud that I stood next to Jim on more than one occasion. Here, August 2016, captured by that same Laura Wyman.

Some of his finest music of his later years was captured by my and Jim’s dear friend Laura Wyman, sole proprietor of Wyman Video — pictured here at a Dawn Giblin Trio gig — Laura sitting in on flute with Jim and Mike Karoub.

Photograph by Jeff Dunn

And here’s some particularly inspired music from Jim, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Kurt Krahnke, string bass; Pete Siers, drums., at what was his last great concert.

HINDUSTAN, changing keys as the spirit moves everyone:

WHEN IN DOUBT, PLAY THE BLUES — a Dapogny rumination on deep things:

Some precious Thirties Ellingtonia, KISSIN’ MY BABY GOODNIGHT:

I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY:

Except for rare instances, Jim half-hid his sentimentality behind a mask of comedy, but I felt it come through several unforgettable times.  And it might be presumptuous to think of someone who’s departed reading this blogpost, but I believe that Jim knows how deeply we miss him. . . . which makes my customary closing line seem inappropriate.

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THE LAST TIME I SAW CONNIE

Although I grew up listening to recordings of people who had already moved on, I’ve tried hard to make this blog a chronicle of living music and musicians, so it isn’t JAZZ DIES.  But I am still reeling from the deaths of Jim Dapogny and Connie Jones, and I do not use that cliche lightly.  I will shine the spotlight more on Prof. in future, I guarantee you, but this post is all about Connie.

I was enthralled by the music Connie created so effortlessly, that I followed him when he appeared in California (2011, 2012, 2014) and once in New Orleans (2015).  Others saw him more often, to be sure, but if you search this blog for “Connie Jones,” you will find more than fifty postings, all with video-evidence.

But here is something you haven’t seen yet, Connie and friends on their own magic carpet, taking us along to places unimagined yet familiar.

It is a glorious and mournful memory both: the last time I had the privilege of seeing, hearing, and recording Connie, here captured among brilliant friends Bob Havens, trombone; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Banu Gibson, rhythm guitar instead of her usual wonderful singing. This performance took place below decks on the steamboat Natchez, at the final Steamboat Stomp based in New Orleans.  PERSIAN RUG is a song I associate with the Louisiana Sugar Babes but also with Jack Teagarden, with whom Connie worked at the end of Jack’s life.  It is a charming piece of “Orientalia,” complete with verse, and it swings in celestial ways here.

I offer this video with great reverence.  To some casual viewers, it may simply be “another live video”; to me, it is touching evidence of what Connie did so nobly and with such apparent ease.  He made magic.

Blessings on him, on Bob, David, and Banu also:

No one can replace Connie, although we should all try to create — whatever it is we create — as beautifully as he does here.

May your happiness increase!

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.

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!

“WOULDN’T HAVE A CHANGE OF HEART”: JAMES DAPOGNY, DAWN GIBLIN, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, GWEN MacPHEE, LAURA WYMAN at the ZAL GAZ GROTTO (August 20, 2017)

Dawn Giblin. Photograph by Jeff Dunn.

The song IF I WERE YOU, by Buddy Bernier and Robert Emmerich, might have vanished entirely if not for memorable recordings.  I feel it comes from that postage-stamp of inspiration where songwriters seized on a commonplace conversational phrase for a title and made a song out of it.  I’ve not been able to find out much about it, nor has sheet music surfaced online.  But it has a wonderful auditory lineage: it was recorded in quick succession — between April 29 and July 1, 1938 — by Nan Wynn with Teddy Wilson (featuring Johnny Hodges and Bobby Hackett), Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, and by Hot Lips Page’s band, although he left the vocal to one Dolores Payne.

In our time, it’s also been recorded by Dawn Lambeth and Rebecca Kilgore. Beautifully.

Now we can add warm-voiced Dawn Giblin to that list, as of August 20 of this year, where she and eminent friends performed the song at the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Dawn is accompanied by Mike Karoub, cello; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Gwen MacPhee, string bass.  And, fortunately for us, this and another performance was filmed by Laura Wyman for Wyman Video.

Before you plunge ahead to this latest delight, perhaps you’d like to hear other performances by Dawn Giblin: a gorgeous IF I HAD YOU from last January (no relation to the 1938 song), and a session from May, featuring GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE, ALL MY LIFE, and LOVER, COME BACK TO ME.

And now, the pleasures of August:

Here’s a swing instrumental, with neatly gliding dancers Robin and Lois, Grotto regulars who obviously love to dance and love music by Dapogny and friends:

The new Person in the band (to me, at least) is the admirable string bassist Gwen MacPhee, of whom Dawn says, “I met Gwen at Wayne State University.  She was in my ear training class and took me under her wing.  She was the first friend I made there.”  And now she’s a friend of ours.

I’m happy in New York, but I wish Ann Arbor were closer.  However, it’s delightful to have Wyman Video on the scene for all of us.  Laura, modestly, says she doesn’t deserve to be in the credit line with the musicians, but as a fellow videographer, I politely disagree.  We may not bake the cookies, but we make it possible for you to have a taste.

May your happiness increase!

“Variations on IF I HAD YOU”: TRIO SONATA FOR VOICE, PIANO, CELLO: DAWN GIBLIN, JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB (January 30, 2017)

How beautiful: a quietly impassioned reading of IF I HAD YOU by Dawn Giblin, voice; James Dapogny, pianoforte; Mike Karoub, violincello.  Recorded for us by Laura Beth Wyman of Wyman Video on January 30, 2017.  The sharp-eared will catch admiring echoes of WILLOW TREE and IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN, but these evocations are created with the most subtle art.

Beautifully in balance, in sound and emotion — this is one of those rare deeply egalitarian ensembles where the three players are supportive, emotive, and generous — no star turns here but sweet feeling shared and intensified.  You’ve already heard a good deal (although not enough) from Professors Dapogny and Karoub on this blog, but I predict you will hear more, and admire more, of the lovely singing of Ms. Giblin.

And serious gratitude to Laura Wyman of Wyman Video, videographer to the Stars.  Without her, this would have been a moving interlude, remembered only by the people performing and watching.  Now we have it to enjoy more than once.

May your happiness increase!