James Dapogny’s absence is painful to me, and I know I am not alone. The eight videos of him and the band he called PLENTY RHYTHM — thank you, Ferdinand — are joyous and poignant. I asked Laura Wyman, videographer and dear friend, to offer commentary, which she does beautifully.
Those Thursday nights were relaxed, fun, magical, and giddy while they lasted. It’s hard to believe a hundred people would cram into an old garage to talk, dance, drink, play, and listen to live music. Before Erin Morris moved, before Jim died, before Covid. But this life IS coming back – with most of the same players, carrying much of that music, adding new tunes, in re-opened and new venues.
Plenty Rhythm was started by Erin (on tuba, but you probably know her better as a dancer) and Jim Dapogny, about May 2016. Erin got them the weekly gig at Cultivate Coffeehouse (in Ypsilanti: Ann Arbor’s grittier, less-pretentious cousin, a few miles to the east). They dragged in Erin’s (or was it Jim’s?) upright piano, and Jim brought his music. He’d run a similar group several years earlier, and added more music to the books: 1920s-1940s standards, Dapogny originals, almost everything written in his distinctive handwriting.
The most important part: Jim said Cultivate was his most enjoyable gig – this as a “retired” professor who still had at least 2 gigs every week, and often 4 or 5. (Karoub said it was his MEG also) No setlists, no complicated choreography. Just calling tunes, setting the tempo by starting in, and playing with talented and inventive players, making things happen – and often getting fiery and/or pretty results. Regardless of money or listeners. (Though we see Jim, at times, looking out into the room with a “do you people realize what’s going on up here?!” )
(On that note, I like watching JD and MK work out stuff mid-tune, or Jim pointing to Rod or Shannon: “You’re up!”)
The group was always 4 people. After Erin moved to St Louis, Jim led the group, usually with Mike Karoub on cello, sometimes Chris Smith on trombone, or Chris Tabaczynski on sax/clar. In addition to the official 4, people always sat in – Dawn Giblin on vocals, and Chris T on reeds. It became a laboratory, where the band could try new (or new-old) tunes, in front of a noisy oblivious forgiving audience. All the players loved learning and playing together. There were always dancers in that tiny crowded space.
Cultivate paid the band $100 (a whopping $25 each!) and they divided the tip-jar. CTabs remembers Jim slipping him $5 for sitting in.
I guess that band is extinct now, though Chris S. still uses Jim’s black folders, and continues to add to the library.
I went every Thursday for a few years, but because it was so noisy, filmed only a handful of times. Jim suggested I put an Elizabethan collar around the video camera’s microphone.
I’d help Jim and Rod set up, then get a couple orders of toast (turkey/pear/honey, or PBJ), dark coffee, Chicago popcorn, beer and stout. The music ran from 7-10pm. The building was a former truck repair garage, converted into a community gathering place. The band played inside in cold weather, and outside in their beautiful flower & vegetable garden in warm and hot weather.
Plenty Rhythm stopped playing there in 2017. Cultivate didn’t survive the pandemic and is currently closed indefinitely.
Laura pointed out that the room was noisy. True. On one visit to Cultivate, in August 2016, I also shot video but the results were unusable. So these are a blessing. If you find the chatter intrusive, I understand, but I will bet that the crowd listening to Basie at the Savoy (insert your favorite band and time-travel site) was not hushed, even when Pres was soloing. Savor the music: this band will not come again.
For those making notes: the band performed twenty-five songs in three sets that night, and these are presented in performance order.
TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:
CHEEK TO CHEEK:
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:
IF I HAD YOU, vocal by Dawn Giblin:
MY BLUE HEAVEN:
SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:
I think you can understand why both Jim and Mike Karoub said that this was their most enjoyable gig. These sounds are precious. Bless Prof, Mike, Shannon, Rod, and Dawn — and a special bow and hug to Laura, videographer, archivist, and friend-of-the-music, without whom this gig would only be something talked about in “Wow, you should have been there!” reverent tones.
May your happiness increase!