Tag Archives: Schubert

THOU HOLY ART

Food sustains us.  We can get excited by the first tomato of late summer or a slice of ripe peach. But imagine  a landscape where one could not escape it: the air scented everywhere with frying potatoes; fresh-baked bread; tomatoes, oregano, and garlic.  On every street corner, young people offering organic corn, salad greens, the best coffee and tea.  Free and magically non-caloric, no threat to the arteries or the blood sugar.

How soon would we run from the cornucopia, trying to reclaim the body’s peaceful state?

My dystopian parable is not subtle, nor are the ideas that follow new.  Substitute MUSIC for FOOD.

One hundred and more years ago, people sang or played instruments at home (parlor or porch) or in concerts and clubs.  Music was created rather than a product to be consumed.

Then, the phonograph in the late 1800s, the radio forty years later.  The transistor radio in the Fifties; the Walkman a few decades later, the iPod and smartphones.  Earbuds.  Muzak — piped-in anonymous music (in elevators, stores, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals) is nearly ninety years old.

We love music.  But we might be in danger of choking on it. I don’t simply refer to the techno-pop that drives me out of an otherwise promising restaurant (I have been known to ask the waitperson to turn the music down and say, “The lower the music, the higher the tip”), but to the proliferation of sound.

I walk past students where I teach, waiting for a class to start or for one to end, the music audible from their earbuds.  If I am feeling kindly, paternalistic, or didactic, I may motion to the student (who reluctantly un-buds) to point to my hearing aids and say, “Loud music did this to me.  Do you want to walk around saying ‘Excuse me?’ to someone you love in ten years?”  At best, the response is a sheepish grin — an Old Stranger Telling Me What To Do — but rarely does the volume go down.

Because music is thrust on us without our consent, or it is purveyed for free, audiences rarely think to honor living performers with silence and attention. Trained by television in their living rooms, they chatter obliviously and glare at someone who asks them not to speak.

I am deeply connected to music.  It makes me feel glad to be alive; it makes me weep with joy.  But I don’t want to hear it — even the music I treasure — all the time, just as I would not want to be eating constantly.

What if we treated music as deep art, a holy phenomenon to be approached with love, awe, and reverence?  We wouldn’t put our earbuds in upon waking and fall asleep with them in at night.  We wouldn’t expect to eat in the thrum of an artificial let’s-have-a-party ruckus.

And we would take in what was offered to us with the deepest appreciation, rather than requiring that we be stuffed full of sounds at every waking moment.

Could this exalted state come to pass?  I dream of it, but I have my doubts.

May your happiness increase!

PROFESSOR DAPOGNY TRIUMPHS AGAIN

For me, one of the many rare pleasures of Jazz at Chautauqua has been the opportunity to savor the playing of Professor James Dapogny*, known as Jim to his intimates. 

He is an unforced orchestral pianist — which means he hasn’t learned the Official Wallerisms from a book.  Rather, his romping style summons up Joe Sullivan and Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Jelly Roll Morton, and James P. Johnson.  And a close listener will notice that his chords are voiced imaginatively, his often advanced harmonies show that his listening doesn’t stop at 1935, and his left hand is a romping marvel.  Often he is part of wondrous rhythm section with Marty Grosz, Arnie Kinsella, and Vince Giordano — able to move mountains in the most engaging way — but Dapogny can rock the place all on his own.  And he has.  But I take particular pleasure in watching and listening to him as a band pianist — giving soloists and the ensemble just the right push with ringing chords and tremolos, rocking bass lines, without ever demanding that we pay attention to him instead of them.  He’s done this on records for some time now as leader of his own Chicago Jazz Band.  In addition, if that was not enough, he’s also responsible for the standard published edition of Jelly Roll Morton’s piano music and scholarly work that resulted in performances of the one-act opera created by Johnson and Langston Hughes (now there’s a collaboration!) called DE ORGANIZER. 

Dapogny is also a wonderful arranger; his versions of classic and obscure jazz songs have their own ebullient rock, no matter what the material or the tempo.  Two years ago at Jazz at Chautauqua, he and Marty Grosz co-led a set, alternating arrangements and songs.  The piece de resistance, as far as I was concerned, was their joint version of an otherwise unknown Fats Waller song, CAUGHT — Marty’s arrangement envisioned the composition as a bump-and-grind growl; Jim’s lifted the tempo into a jaunty rock.  The performance stretched out to ten minutes, and it was a marvel. 

At this year’s Chatauqua, Dapogny and Grosz again shared the stage: Marty began with a heartfelt tribute to singer Red McKenzie, featuring his HOT WINDS — a noble, nimble, and perhaps nubile quartet of Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Vince Giordano, and himself.  Then Dapogny took over, adding Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Andy Stein, and Arnie Kinsella, creating electrifying and life-affirming music.  It was, he said with a grin, fine material to begin with — every song written by a pianist!  All praise should go to the masterful professionals you will see below: each one of them reading charts he’d never seen before. 

They began with James P. Johnson’s version — in his own way — of Schubert’s An die Musik — a paean to the joyous powers that notes and tones have, AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?.  The churchy verse gives way to serious swinging (there’s a wonderful Thirties record of this by Henry “Red” Allen) with Marty preaching the sermon. 

Then, a mournful but rocking composition by Alex Hill, one of jazz’s nearly-forgotten heroes, dead before he had reached his middle thirties, DELTA BOUND.  I had never heard the verse — and could listen to that trio of Kellso (muted), Barrett (muted), and Block (commenting sweetly) all day.  In his brilliant solo, Dan Barrett summons up a whole Harlem trombone tradition, with a series of comments that reminded me so much of the Master, Vic Dickenson.  Andy Stein’s melody statement, front and back (on baritone) reminded me that Ellington had recorded this — with space for Harry Carney, of course.

I didn’t know that the next selection had been written by pianist J. Russell Robinson, who had links to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band; I associated it with Edythe Wright and Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven: SWING, MR. CHARLIE!  For this performance, Scott Robinson steps in — and instead of a vocal chorus, the band returns to the verse, in true Thirties style.  Although Scott stands in front of Marty during the latter’s chorus, you can see the action, reflected in the shiny side of the grand piano — an accidental bonus.  Then, there are glorious horn solos and a celestially rocking ensemble that suggests a Sunday afternoon jam session at Jimmy Ryan’s, circa 1942.  Charles Peterson would have loved this band!  I find myself watching these videos over and over, each time finding something new to appreciate.

*”Professor,” in Dapogny’s case, refers to his genuinely illustrious academic career in the Department of Music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  But, by a twist of linguistic fate, that was the title given to the New Orleans pianists who played rags and blues in the bordellos: Dapogny’s music would have impressed these low-down pioneers as well: he’s surely got music, as the lyrics say.