Tag Archives: Laura Beth Wyman

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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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.

THEY TAKE THE CAKE (ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, TOO): DAVE KOSMYNA, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, RAY HEITGER, JAMES DAPOGNY, PETE SIERS, NICOLE HEITGER, LAURA WYMAN (February 25 and 26, 2017)

My dear friend Laura Beth Wyman, Sole Proprietor of Wyman Video and head of the Michigan branch of JAZZ LIVES, has been busy capturing Hot for us these days.  In Ohio, no less.  Here are two versions of the same jazz classic for your perusal and pleasure.

CAKEWALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME is an invitation to rumble when most jazz bands play it, because of the early pugilism of young Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet on the two Clarence Williams recordings of the song.

On Saturday, February 25, 2017, Laura captured the Original Downhome Jass Band at “Ye Olde Durty Bird” in Toledo, Ohio.  For this performance, the ODJB (yes, you noticed!) was Dave Kosmyna, cornet and leader; Christopher Smith, trombone; Ray Heitger, clarinet and vocal; James Dapogny, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Nicole Heitger, vocal.  Hot and exuberant:

A day later, without Nicole, alas, the band had donned tuxedos (and an altered band name) to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the first jazz recordings in concert at Freed Auditorium, Ohio Northern University. Ada, Ohio.  In this version, the band rocks through many more ensemble interludes.  Better?  No, just different:

Unlike cake, hot music never gets stale.  Thanks to the players and to Laura for making these otherwise evanescent beauties permanent and accessible, even for those of us who have never visited Ada, Ohio.

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!

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!

RHYTHM AND MIRACLES

LOUIS and GORDON JENKINS larger

Since 1971, July 6 is always a mournful date for me, since Louis Armstrong departed this temporal neighborhood (“made the transition,” “passed into Spirit,” or what you will) on that day.

Because of the beautiful post Ricky Riccardi wrote about the last music Louis listened to before he died (here) I was ready to write about an emotional vortex that hit me hard.

On the last tape Louis made for himself, he led off with SATCHMO IN STYLE, the life-enhancing music he and Gordon Jenkins made from 1949-52).  That’s important to me, because eight of those performances are the music that made me absolutely devoted to Louis — this is more than a half-century ago.

But then I thought of the tradition where you rejoice at the funeral, and that Louis would not have wanted us to weep, but to hear good music with a strong lead and wonderful melodies.  I think he would also have approved of seeing buoyant young swing dancers move around, for this was the way (in a backwards fashion) that he fell in love with Lucille Wilson, his fourth wife.

So here we are,  rhythm and miracles conjoined, which is also appropriate.

I GOT RHYTHM:

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES (with the verse and at a gorgeous tempo):

These videos come to us through the generosity of the musicians and dancers, but also because of videographer Laura Beth Wyman of Wyman Video, who did a splendid job in capturing that most difficult situation: a room full of dancers with musicians playing for them.  The musicians!  James Dapogny, piano; Mike Jones, clarinet; Roderick McDonald, guitar; Joe Fee, string  bass. This performance took place during the properly named Plenty Rhythm Weekend.  Filmed at Gretchen’s House, Ann Arbor, Michigan, on December 5, 2015.  For more rhythmic miracles, visit here.

Good enough for Louis.  Good enough for us.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN THREE TIMES FOUR EQUALS PERFECT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK, JAMES DAPOGNY, NICKI PARROTT in CLEVELAND (September 12, 2015)

KELLSO

The delicious music that follows is thanks to Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, reeds; James Dapogny, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass.

BLOCK

It was recorded on September 12, 2015, at the Allegheny Jazz Party — now the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  (Prudent jazz types among us will want to know that this year’s party is happening from Sept. 15-18, 2016.)

marty_grosz_and_his_hot_puppies

I have a special fondness for small jazz groups that don’t follow anyone’s idea of “standard instrumentation,” which is often trumpet / trombone / clarinet / piano / string bass / drums — or other familiar permutations.   This is one of the happiest examples of quiet unorthodoxy.  I didn’t miss a trombone or a set of drums.

PARROTT

The warm videos that follow are thanks to Laura Wyman of Wyman Video. Together — sound and picture, invention and accuracy — they seem just perfect to me, and I hope to you, with some of the sweet joy and majesty I’d associate with a Ruby Braff group.

LAURA WYMAN w camera

“Something’s happening every minute,” a friend said while observing this band in action, and that was both correct and an understatement.

Here are the three leisurely performances, full of individual glory and ensemble cooperation — swing synergy at its best.  Instant classics, I think.

RUSSIAN LULLABY:

ON THE ALAMO:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

I attended this delightful jazz weekend (I’ve been a regular since September 2004) and those of you who have seen me from the back will notice that I am sitting center — or left of center, which suits me better.  The back of my head gleams; the little rectangle of my camera’s viewfinder gleams even more.

Why, then, aren’t you watching my videos?  Did an accident happen to my camera?  Did it fall into the salad (as it once did) or did I drop it?

No, Laura’s videos are much better than mine — especially in the sound, which is what counts — so I present them with friendly pride and pleasure.  (All of this has been verified through independent studies done at major universities.)

And I suggest to you that if you are in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area — or even if you aren’t — and you need first-rate videography, make a straight line to Wyman Video for truly superb work.  She doesn’t limit herself to jazz concerts, but has done remarkable documenting dance recitals, family gatherings, and other happy occasions.  I don’t think she does funerals, and she leaves divorce-case surveillance to others . . . but anything else you can think of she can accomplish.

And if it’s music you’r after, music that will remind you of life’s high-toned joys, I’ll see you at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party where such marvels blossom as easily as inhaling and exhaling.

May your happiness increase!