Tag Archives: Rod McDonald

IF YOU DON’T HAVE A GONG, DON’T EVEN TRY: “JUNGLE BLUES” P.O.R.K in Ann Arbor (April 5, 2015)

You’ve heard the expression countless times, “Don’t try this at home”? I suppose you could attempt to play Jelly Roll Morton’s JUNGLE BLUES at home, but if you don’t have the proper equipment, I suggest you stick to your iPod.

Here’s the evidence.  THE JUNGLE BLUES (Jelly Roll Morton; arr Doc Cook) – Phil Ogilvie’s Rhythm Kings aka PORK. Andrew Bishop (alto sax / clarinet), Chris Tabaczynski (tenor sax / clarinet), Bobby Streng (alto sax), Paul Finkbeiner (trumpet), Justin Walter (trumpet), Gene Bartley (trombone), James Dapogny (piano / co-leader), Chris Smith (sousaphone / co-leader), Rod McDonald (guitar), Van Hunsberger (drums and miscellaneous percussion):

This was recorded for our listening and dancing pleasure at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 5, 2015, by JAZZ LIVES’ Michigan Bureau Chief, Laura Beth Wyman, and her well-trained staff.

I think such things are best left to the professionals. Even if, by chance, you did have a gong in your basement, the rest of the ensemble is not easy to assemble and train.  But the gong is paramount here.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPINESS, PLURAL: JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, KURT KRAHNKE (Ann Arbor, January 10, 2015)

I wrote elsewhere on this blog recently that so many of the songs in what we call the Great American Songbook are about the desolation of lost love, love unsuccessfully yearned for, love that has been broken past repair.

As a corrective, I offer two chamber-music improvisations on happier themes, created by James Dapogny and Strings at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 10, 2015.  This quartet — formal in aspect but lively in spirit — is Dapogny at the piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.  No amplification requested or applied, and the lovely videos are the work of Laura Beth Wyman.

I am sure it is only a narrative I have created out of my essential romanticism and optimism, but the two songs below describe a brief play of risk-taking that is sure to bring deep rewards, and the delight of fulfillment.  May it be so for those listening as well!

Vernon Duke’s cheerful TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE (impossible for me to hear this song without hearing Ethel Waters singing it as well):

And the full quartet returns for the Jimmy McHugh – Dorothy Fields EXACTLY LIKE YOU, a song that so epitomizes the most elated feelings of lovers at their most rapturous: “YOU are the only person I have ever wanted to be with, and our connection has been pre-ordained by both the cosmos and my Mother!”:

I have listened to these performances many times, and find them delightfully contradictory: on one hand, there is a priceless translucency, all of the component parts shining and apparently weightless — yet these performances are musically dense, and each time I listen I have the epiphanies, “Did you hear what he did there, how he responded?”  Playful brilliance at every turn, never showy or self-referential.  Thank you so much, James, Rod, Mike, Kurt, and Laura.

I have posted other performances from this gig, and here is an uplifting place to begin.

May your happiness increase!

I ASKED THE TRANSLATOR, AND SHE SAID, “IT MEANS THAT YOU’RE GRAND”

Here are James Dapogny’s Jazz Band (a singular assemblage)  performing BEI MIR BIST DU SCHOEN at the Hillsdale College Swing Club Dance in Hillsdale, Michigan, on January 30, 2015.  The JDJB for this occasion is Professor Dapogny, piano; Mike Jones, clarinet / saxophone; Andrew Bishop, tenor saxophone; Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; Joe Fee, string bass; Rod McDonald, guitar; Pete Siers, drums:

I could say, “Bella, bella,” or even “Wunderbar,” but I’ll leave those encomia to you.  We owe the record of this exalted phenomenon to our own Laura Beth Wyman — whose YouTube channel you might choose to subscribe to, so you don’t miss a swinging four-bar phrase.

May your happiness increase!

INCANDESCENCE: JAMES DAPOGNY WITH STRINGS (January 10, 2015)

James Dapogny of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is properly known as a pianist, arranger, bandleader, jazz scholar, culinary explorer, and wit, among other things.

But from the performance you are about to see, it’s clear that he is insufficiently recognized as a composer.  FIREFLY is a haunting melody with harmonies that never seem formulaic.  It seems new yet instantly familiar, going its own ways without being consciously and distractingly innovative.  I think of a three-way conversation between Professor Dapogny, Brahms, and Alec Wilder — sweet lyricism that’s never sentimental and continues to swing in its own gentle fashion:

This performance comes from a magical concert of January 10, 2015, at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, blessedly captured by Laura Beth Wyman.  The superb players are Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.  For more from this concert, click here for uplifting performances of THAT OLD FEELING, RUSSIAN LULLABY, and MY DADDY ROCKS ME.  And there is more to come.

May your happiness increase! 

DEEP FEELING WITHOUT WORDS: JAMES DAPOGNY WITH STRINGS (Ann Arbor, January 10, 2015)

Here’s another gem — the rueful Thirties novella of love, that although ended, is undying — THAT OLD FEELING.  This performance, which I find so moving, comes from the appearance of the James Dapogny Quartet at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 10, 2015 — captured for us by Laura Beth Wyman.

The Quartet is, for this occasion, Professor Dapogny on piano, arrangements, and moral guidance; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.

I love this performance for many reasons — not the least of which is the opportunity to hear Mister Karoub, unequalled in swing lyricism, play at length. There’s also the sweet but practical exchange of whispered instructions and commentary at the beginning, as the Professor kindly shows the way.  But what pleases me most is the emotional complexity of the performance.  In other hands, THAT OLD FEELING might be merely sad or wistful.

That emotion isn’t neglected in this rendition, but the Quartet beautifully evokes the Thirties tradition of playing ballads just a bit faster — perhaps to distinguish them from sweetly gelatinous readings by more staid orchestras, or perhaps to give the players an extra chorus for improvising.  I think of Billie’s TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE and Mildred’s WHEN DAY IS DONE as two vocal exemplars — but even though no words are uttered, listeners of a certain age will hear the story of the lyrics unfold as the band plays.

Old feelings made new:

Two other delights from this session can be found here.  And there is the promise of more from this concert.

May your happiness increase!

ROCKING BEAUTIES: JAMES DAPOGNY WITH STRINGS (Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jan. 10, 2015)

JAZZ LIVES is very fortunate to have Laura Beth Wyman as head of its Michigan Division.  An acclaimed musician, Laura recently added the video camera to her gig bag (which usually carries flute and piccolo) and we are the happy recipients of her latest work, recorded on January 10, 2015, at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The James Dapogny Quartet was, for this occasion, Professor Dapogny on piano, arrangements, and spiritual leadership; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.  Here are two transcendent performances from that evening: beautiful and stirring music.

Here is a performance of MY DADDY ROCKS ME that reminds me of a 1939 Basie small group.  Is there higher praise?

On RUSSIAN LULLABY, the Quartet becomes a Quintet (all things are possible), with the rewarding addition of violinist Priscilla Johnson:

So, although I am now ensconced in chilly in New York, and I don’t have the energy to fly back and forth to Ann Arbor, Michigan, I can enjoy the best seat in the house, thanks to Laura.  You come, too.

Is there a Jazz Angel in the house who will underwrite a DVD of Dapogny With Strings?  I’d buy multiple copies.

May your happiness increase! 

EASY SWING in ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN

Pianist / arranger / composer James Dapogny and trombonist Christopher Smith co-lead a hot band called PORK (ask them to explain when you get to Ann Arbor, Michigan) and my friend Laura Beth Wyman took her video camera to capture this hot band playing an Archie Bleyer arrangement of ST. LOUIS BLUES at the Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, on December 7, 2014.

In this performance, PORK has the authentic sound of a Thirties hot dance chart down just right — nothing tense, no rushing.  And the Dapogny-plus rhythm section interlude in the middle has only one thing wrong with it: it ends too soon:

PORK is Eddie Goodman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Mark Kieme, tenor and clarinet; Mike Jones, alto and clarinet; Paul Finkbeiner, Justin Walter, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; James Dapogny, piano; Jordan Schug, string bass; Rod McDonald, guitar; Van Hunsberger, drums.

Thank you, PORK!  Thank you, dancers.  Thank you, Ms. Wyman.

May we have some more?

May your happiness increase! 

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Four)

One of my great pleasures of 2014 was the opportunity to see, hear, and admire James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band — in their sets at the Evergreen Jazz Festival. I can’t think of another band playing now that so beautifully balances thoughtful arrangements and eloquent solos.

Here you can see three other mini-sets by this band at Evergreen.

The CJB is or are James Dapogny, piano and arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Denver native Dean Ross, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

Gershwin’s expression of pleasure, even without Ira’s words, ‘S’WONDERFUL:

Elmer Schoebel’s clever / hot praise of swinging royalty, PRINCE OF WAILS:

What other song do you know that takes its name from a popular chewing tobacco?  Only COPENHAGEN:

Another favorite from the dawn of jazz, the TIN ROOF BLUES:

I think of the Boswell Sisters when I hear SENTIMENTAL GENTLEMAN FROM GEORGIA:

And the official set-closer of the Chicago Jazz Band, WASHINGTON POST MARCH:

The CJB played much more at Evergreen, so you can expect even more delights.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Three)

Rainbow Two

The opportunities to hear James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band at the July 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were delightful — a high point of the year for me.

That band neatly balances thoughtful arrangements and solos, and the result is hot, sweet,  eloquent, satisfying.

They are James Dapogny, piano and arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Denver native Dean Ross, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

For those who might have missed the earlier posts in this happily extended series, here is the first part and here is the second.

And here are five more delights.

A serenade to a beloved Irish lass (with a tempo change, in honor of the 1944 Commodore recording featuring Miff Mole), PEG O’MY HEART:

The very optimistic paean to the Golden State, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME:

A 1936 romper, SWING MISTER CHARLIE (recorded by, among others, a youthful Judy Garland backed by the Bob Crosby band):

“Another show tune,” this one from a Dick Powell film — more memorable in Fats Waller’s recording — here warbled by Mr. Cusack, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN:

And a mournful revenge song, JUNK MAN (1934, with unheard lyrics by Frank Loesser):

More to come — all equally rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Two)

James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band is one of my favorite groups — whether they are expertly navigating through their leader’s compact, evocative arrangements or going for themselves. The noble fellows on the stand at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross (a Denver native), string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
The CJB was one of the absolute high points of Evergreen (which I documented here) and I offer five more tasty main dishes:
DON’T BE THAT WAY was one of Edgar Sampson’s great compositions, most often known through Benny Goodman’s rather brisk performances (it worked even better at  slow glide, as Lester Young proved) but one of the most memorable recordings of this song was done by a Teddy Wilson small group in 1938 — featuring those Commodoreans Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell.  The CJB pays tribute to both the song and the performance here (although I point out that the CJB is not copying the solos from the record).  Tell the children not to be afraid: Mr. Kellso growls but he doesn’t bite:
 
IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? is a deep question, whether or not Louis Jordan was asking it.  Here Professor Dapogny and the Chicago Jazz Chorus make the same inquiry with renewed curiosity:
She just got here yesterday, and already she made an impression (I hear Ethel Waters pointing out these facts) — that’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:
I know that pianist / composer Alex Hill, who died far too young, is one of Dapogny’s heroes — mine too — someone responsible for memorable melodies and arrangements as well as fine piano.  DELTA BOUND is (for those who know the lyrics) one of those “I can’t wait to get home down South” songs both created and thrust upon African-Americans in the Twenties and Thirties, but its simple melody is deeply haunting — especially in this evocative performance, as arranged by Dapogny:
Valve trombonist Juan Tizol’s CARAVAN has been made in to material for percussion explosions for some time (perhaps beginning with Jo Jones in the Fifties) but here it is a beautifully-realized bit of faux-exotica (camels not required) harking back to the late-Thirties Ellington small groups:
Splendid playing and arrangements. And more to come.
May your happiness increase!

RAINBOWS ‘ROUND OUR SHOULDERS at THE EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 25-27, 2014) with JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND

I visited Evergreen, Colorado, for the first time on July 25-27, 2014, and I had “the Evergreen experience” three ways. I was there for the Evergreen Jazz Festival — a weekend of delights.

First, this wonderful celestial manifestation:

Rainbow Twoand another attempt at capturing it with my phone:

Rainbow OneThe name EVERGREEN is no hyperbole, either:

PineThe second “Evergreen experience” escaped my camera because I was utterly unprepared. After a night of music at the EJF, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot — a very dark night — talking to the Beloved to tell her of the day’s events — and twenty or more immature elk trotted past the hood of the car. Of course it was the parking lot of the Elks’ Lodge, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I felt as if I’d witnessed a small Nature show for my benefit.

The true “experiences” of that weekend (aside from lovely gracious new friends) were musical, provided generously by James Dapogny and the Chicago Jazz Band: Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross (a Denver native), string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

Here they are — “asking the musical question,” twice. Gloriously.

AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? is by James P. Johnson, a show tune from 1932 — memorably played and sung by Henry “Red” Allen and a small group in the next year. Here, a swinging arrangement by Dapogny and a fervent vocal by Chris Smith:

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? asks the eternal (perhaps wobegone) question in a rocking performance at odds with its sad title. The song, from 1920, was composed by Earl Burnett with lyrics by Harry D. Kerr and John Cooper:

doyoueverthinkofme

Thanks to Jeannie and Ted Mann and Jim Reiners for making it possible for me to have these inspiring experiences, musical and otherwise! I will have more musical delights to share with you — but I hope to be back amidst elk, rainbows, and wonderful music in 2015. And perhaps you will join me at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, where rainbows proliferate, outdoors and in.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!

EVER GREEN! (July 25-27, 2014)

I know I am a very fortunate mortal, and am reminded of this every moment. One of the more tangible reminders for me is the Evergreen Jazz Festival in the Colorado city of the same name, happening very soon — July 25-27, in fact. Here is the link which tells you all the exciting necessary details. Tickets are still available.  Plane flights are still possible.  There is going to be so much lovely hot and sweet music that I know I won’t get to more than a small percentage of it.

The Festival is arranged so that each band plays eight sets over three days in five venues (is there a math major in the house?) ranging from intimate to large, with room for energetic swing dancing.

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing artists whose music I admire greatly:

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Kim Cusack, Russ Whitman, Chris Smith, Rod McDonald, Pete Siers)

“IVORY & GOLD”: JEFF and ANNE BARNHART

BIG MAMA SUE (I know her as Sue Kroninger, and she’ll be joined by Eddie Erickson,, and Chris Calabrese)

PETER ECKLUND TRIO

and some bands new to me that come highly recommended:

AFTER MIDNIGHT (reminiscent of the Goodman Sextet)

QUEEN CITY JAZZ BAND with Wende Harston

BOGALUSA STRUTTERS

JONI JANAK and CENTERPIECE JAZZ

HOT TOMATOES DANCE ORCHESTRA

YOUR FATHER’S MUSTACHE BAND

If we’ve never met or if we have, come say hello!  I love meeting my readers in person.  I will be wearing brightly colored clothing; I will be intent and silent and beaming behind a video camera . . . while the music is playing. Otherwise I admit to a great deal of speech. Anyway, it would be lovely to meet more JAZZ LIVES friends in the mountains of Colorado.

May your happiness increase!

MOUNTAIN AIRS: THE 2014 EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (July 25-27, 2014)

EVERGREEN

I’m very excited to be going to the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival — that’s Evergreen, Colorado, near the end of July. The last time I visited that state was also for rewarding jazz — I have fond memories of Sunnie Sutton’s Rocky Mountain Jazz Party — so my mind automatically associates Colorado with good music and new friends.   

The Festival is arranged so that each band plays eight sets over three days in five venues (I can’t do the math; perhaps some of you can) ranging from intimate to large, with room for energetic swing dancing. 

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing some artists whose music I admire greatly:

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Kim Cusack, Russ Whitman, Chris Smith, Rod McDonald, Pete Siers)

“IVORY & GOLD”: JEFF AND ANNE BARNHART

BIG MAMA SUE (I know her as Sue Kroninger, and she’ll be joined by Eddie Erickson, Chris Calabrese, and Clint Baker)

PETER ECKLUND TRIO

and some bands new to me that come highly recommended:

AFTER MIDNIGHT (reminiscent of the Goodman Sextet)

QUEEN CITY JAZZ BAND with Wende Harston

BOGALUSA STRUTTERS

JONI JANAK and CENTERPIECE JAZZ

HOT TOMATOES DANCE ORCHESTRA

YOUR FATHER’S MUSTACHE BAND

Filmmaker Franklin Clay made a very expert video of the 2012 Festival that you can see here. Although the 2014 lineup is different, the video shows what the Festival feels like better than ten thousand words would.

And here’s Jenney Coberly’s film of the 2011 festival: 

Elsewhere on the Festival site, there is appealing news for those people trying to hold on to their dollars until the eagle grins: discounts apply to tickets ordered before May 31, so the race is indeed to the swift.  (You need not be swift to attend the Festival: I see there is a shuttle between venues.)

I will say more about this as the calendar pages fall off the wall, but I wanted to tell JAZZ LIVES readers about good times sure to come.

May your happiness increase!

MEET THE ROYAL GARDEN TRIO

The Royal Garden Trio's new CD (2010)

I have to come out with it: the seventy-five minute span of a compact disc is often too much for me.  So when I loaded the first of three discs by the Royal Garden Trio into the car player, I expected the outcome to be the same: restlessness halfway through.  No, the Beloved and I (she’s a stern critic herself) played the three discs nonstop during a six-hour drive.

They’re that good.

On these CDs, the RGT is made up of Mike Karoub (cello and string bass); Tom Bogardus (tenor guitar and clarinet), Brian Delaney (acoustic and electric 6-string guitars).  And they have eminent guest stars: Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); James Dapogny (piano); Bess Bonnier (piano, heard on JITTERBUG WALTZ below); Chris Smith (sousaphone), Louis Caponecchia (ukulele / vocal); Jo Serrapere, Paul King, Melissa Brady (vocals); Gian Paulo (string bass), Rod McDonald (guitar), Donn Deniston (drums). 

What makes the Royal Garden Trio so delightful is their own restrained eloquence.  The world is full of enthusiastic Hot Club spinoffs — very capable musicians, inspired by Django and Stephane.  But often the result is “note for note,” which is amazing technically but less so aesthetically, or an overabundance . . . many notes, many choruses, fast tempos, dalling string virtuosity.  One part of the brain admires; the other portion asks (in Lester Young’s words) to be told a story. 

The members of the RGT have beautiful stories to tell.  They are virtuosic as well, but they know that too much is not a good thing.  So their solos are thoughtful speech, not diatribes; their notes ring and resound in the air.  Each player creates compelling melodies, and they work together like a swing version of the Budapest Quartet. 

Since I often find the heirs to Grappelli are given to excessive sweetness and high drama, I am thrilled by Karoub’s cello: earnest, dark yet lithe.  Mike’s conception is never overblown, but his solos can be majestic.  Delaney’s guitar is part Lang, part Lonnie Johnson.  Bogardus romps on his guitar and his clarinet playing is easy, fervent, balancing Dodds and klezmer.  And the trio works together to create something beautiful, varied, and cheering.  Their performances are marvelous vignettes, the guitarists switching lead and rhythm, Bogardus playing a chorus on clarinet; Karoub bowing and then plucking in a propulsive manner (across bar lines) that recalls Steve Brown.

And they swing — without even trying hard. 

Although much of the repertoire is familiar, the trio’s approach lifts it up: I never found myself saying, “Oh, another ST. LOUIS BLUES,” but was excited by what this band can do.  And the CDs offer some less-played material as well: Ellington’s SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE (for the home-improvement minded among us, but this time with the verse), THERE’LL COME A TIME, RAGGIN’ THE SCALE, I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES, GO INTO YOUR DANCE, a hidden track of APRIL KISSES, and some winding originals that sound like theme music for mid-Thirties screwball comedy films.

The RGT's debut CD, 2002

But you can hear and see the Trio for yourself courtesy of YouTube:   

HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (which Mike Karoub informs me was Moe Howard’s favorite song, a valuable fact):

JITTERBUG WALTZ (with the legendary Bess Bonnier on piano):

The RGT's second CD, 2005

To find out more, visit the Trio’s website: http://www.theroyalgardentrio.com/sched.html.  And if you feel moved to purchase all three discs (I recommend this) ask for the JAZZ LIVES discount.  These players (and their nimble friends) will bring joy, in or out of the car.

SWING OUT WITH PAYPAL!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS:

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