Tag Archives: solo piano

JAMES DAPOGNY IN RECITAL (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2013)

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

During the annual jazz weekend that was once Jazz at Chautauqua, Friday afternoon sessions in the lobby of the Athenaeum Hotel were devoted to compact piano (and once, guitar) recitals.

Now that James Dapogny is no longer with us, this two-part serenade from 2013 is infinitely precious.  To be accurate, it was precious then, but our assumption that we would always have the Prof. with us, to entertain and enlighten, may have shaped our judgment.  Now we know.

Perhaps only those people who knew Jim, even slightly, will recognize what a treasure this video-capture is; for the rest, it will be another jazz pianist exploring the world of music in his own terms — which, in its own way, is also irreplaceable.

To the music.  Jim’s “fooling with an old tune” was an improvisation on LINGER AWHILE, that finally got written down as I CAN WAIT in late 2018 (Jim told my dear friend Laura Wyman that it had been percolating for a long time, and he wanted to get it down on paper before he died).  In my mind’s ear I hear I CAN WAIT arranged for Teddy Wilson-style small group — although no orchestra is needed here because Prof. Dapogny’s piano playing is so richly layered.

Then, an extended improvisation on William H. Tyers’ MAORI (which only Ellington and Soprano Summit ever performed: Tyers is famous as the composer of PANAMA).  This performance is hypnotic in the way some of Morton’s Library of Congress work is — subtly building layer upon layer:

Part Two is a beautiful omnibus tribute to Fats Waller, including meditations on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, MY HEART’S AT EASE, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLIN’, I’M NOT WORRYIN’, AIN’T CHA GLAD?, then a song whose title eludes me, Stephen Taylor, Mike Lipskin, and Louis Mazetier — but Laura Wyman pointed out that it was a Dapogny favorite, BABY, THOSE THINGS DON’T MATTER TO ME, by J. Lawrence Cook (not Waller), and then IF IT AIN’T LOVE:

This isn’t the usual Waller presentation — a pianist mingling MISBEHAVIN’, YOUR FEETS TOO BIG, and HANDFUL OF KEYS — it honors Fats as a composer of melodies, that once heard, stay.  Notice the rapt attention of the audience, broken only now and again by the creaking of our wicker chairs.

Jim could enthrall us, and he continues to do just that.  And I tell myself he isn’t dead as long as we can hear him.

May your happiness increase!

HERE, BUT NOT HERE: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 29, 2014)

James Dapogny, in thought, at Jazz at Chautauqua. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

James Dapogny’s corporeal self left us six months ago, and we cannot dispute it, although his absence is painful, impossible to accept. But I tell myself he is still here with us in particularly odd and generous ways — appropriate to the man himself, surprising, unpredictable, warm, lively.

When an interviewer talked to Bobby Hackett after Louis’ death, Bobby said that Louis wasn’t dead because we could still hear him, and in some ways that is a consolation.  I will leave it to you whether a collection of recorded music adds up to the whole person or is simply a slice of the pie: I lean to the latter, although I treasure the evidence.  And I know I’ve drawn spiritual nourishment from immersing myself in the art of people who died before I was born.  Still, the loss of the Prof. is too much to rationalize.  So all I can do is offer you the following, Jim warming up the piano by playing his own blues, a video not seen or heard before:

Chris Smith, Jim’s deep friend and co-leader of the band PORK, says this of the video: As you can imagine, I heard Jim do this sort of playing countless times. Just playing the blues in many keys. There is a spiritual aspect to it, that is obvious. But he was also doing the real work of a musician that involves touching on those corners of the music that sometimes trip us up in performance (hitting the V/V, etc.). Playing the blues is good for us in so many ways. And yes, it is really funny that we don’t see him until the very last second.

I feel that Jim would be amused by this video, perhaps touched by how much I and others cherish it.  And him.  When the invisible pianist can make sounds that move us, does he remain invisible?  I don’t know.  And I must muse over Jim as he mused over the piano.  All he gave — and gives — us is precious.

I omit the usual closing.  It will reappear, but it’s not in the right key here.

ZIGZAG BEAUTIES: RAY SKJELBRED at the PIANO (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 27, 2016)

Ralph Waldo Emerson would have admired Ray Skjelbred, who trusts himself, listens to his own heart, knows the sources and honors them but goes his own beautiful zigzag ways.  Soulful, whimsical, making the piano sing songs it didn’t know it could sing.

Here are four solo transformations created by Ray at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  How lovely and how surprising they — and he — are!

K.M.H. DRAG, in honor of Max Kaminsky, Freddie Moore, and Art Hodes:

You may call it MUSKRAT RAMBLE or SAVOYAGER’S STOMP.  Either will receive full credit:

Ellington’s 1933 BUNDLE OF BLUES (“from the motion picture of the same name”) — melodic and quixotic both:

I don’t think that there’s an alternate title for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, but please notice the cheerful subversions Ray works on it from the inside . . . laproscopically, perhaps?

When Ray sits down to the piano, beautiful memorable surprises spring up.

May your happiness increase!

LOVE NOTES FROM RAY SKJELBRED (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 27, 2016)

First, Ray makes friends with the piano, then says quietly, “Well, I’m not going anywhere, so I’ll play something I like,” or words to that effect.

He does and we do.

THE ONE I LOVE is not only a memorably catchy Isham Jones tune, but it’s famous in jazz history as the first song Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines improvised on together, at their first meeting at the musicians’ union.  I hear their approving phantasmal selves in Ray’s version:

Like AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN has become victim to people who race through it and make its lovely contours mechanical.  Knowing, as I do, the memorable versions by Bing Crosby (1936) and Louis (1947), who treated it as a rhythm ballad, I’ve come to dread it in performance.  But Ray’s tender version, starting with the verse, is what the song is all about: gently swinging optimism, a view of the world where wonderful surprises are still possible:

Here’s James P. Johnson’s hymn of praise to the gentle loving ways that we all might recall and even enact, OLD FASHIONED LOVE:

Finally, a reminder that even when love affairs implode, the subject is still good for beautiful music: I COVER THE WATERFRONT (“We like it!  We like it!”):

Ray Skjelbred doesn’t cater to his audiences; he doesn’t woo us.  But he continues to delight, to amaze, with his love for the piano, the songs, and the great traditions.

This post is for my faraway and well-remembered friend Donna Courtney.

May your happiness increase!

DALTON RIDENHOUR, POET-NAVIGATOR (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

I’ve heard the splendid pianist Dalton Ridenhour several times in New York City, although most often as a member of an ensemble — where, Hines-like, he glitters and surprises.  But this year’s Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (in Sedalia, Missouri) offered more opportunities to savor his exceptional solo and duo playing — both deeply rewarding.

I said to him that he reminded me, at the keyboard, of a man who had built his own idiosyncratic, beautiful house, and was gently exploring it in the dark.  And, of course, inviting us along for the journeys.  He said the metaphor was about right.

Dalton can frolic and stomp, but he can also muse, and his playing is always animated by wonderful rhythmic impulses.  He takes familiar repertoire and through slight shifts — he’s never cliched — we visit old songs and hear them, tenderly liberated from decades of routine.  He doesn’t covet “innovation” for its own sake, but his performances reflect his deep self, no matter what the tempo.  Here he guides us, gently but with swinging intent, through four compositions either by or associated with Fats Waller.

I find it so reassuring to know that he and his music exist, and hope you share my delight.

Here’s MARTINIQUE, from Fats’ last show, EARLY TO BED.  I envision it as a hip-swinging chorus line dance: admire how Dalton’s variations within the form expand and extend it without ever undermining it:

SWEET SAVANNAH SUE begins close to the 1929 Waller version, but becomes even more spirited and playful as it goes along:

Another kind of sweetness, the Harry Warren SWEET AND SLOW, as a change of pace.  I love this song dearly, and hear Al Dubin’s always-clever lyrics in my head:

Finally, the Waller classic so often obliterated into a series of chords — but not here — HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which Dalton turns into a stroll through familiar fields yet with surprising vistas.  And his shift into Uptown tempo halfway through still makes me feel uplifted:

How that young fellow can play!  And his imagination is broad and unfettered.

May your happiness increase!

DALTON RIDENHOUR PLAYS THE BLUES, or “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN,” (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, June 1, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Dalton Ridenhour is a genuine improvising musician, but someone whose subtleties might get taken for granted because he is so good at so many things.  And he doesn’t self-congratulate as he plays, as some do, turning their head to the audience as if to say, “See how impressively I played that last little thing there?  Time to break into spontaneous applause!”

He has the confidence and steadiness to go his own way within a song or a performance, creating structures of sound that aren’t flashy but that are terribly moving.  I came away from Dalton’s solo performances at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival feeling that I’d witnessed someone brave and patient, balancing the familiar and the inherently personal.  I told him after one set that I thought he had built his own house and was roaming around inside it, and the metaphor seemed to please him.

His SEDALIA BLUES pleased us so much more.

Around the three-minute mark in this leisurely performance, a while city sanitation truck came to a stop on the street (out of camera range but nearby) and began doing what such trucks do.  It had “Keep Our City Clean” painted in green letters on its side, and for a moment I thought of titling this improvisation “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN BLUES,” but it isn’t my place to do so.  My place is to celebrate Dalton Ridenhour, splendid quiet explorer of heartfelt music.

Here’s SEDALIA BLUES.  Underestimate it, and Dalton, at your peril.

I will post more from Dalton, in solo and duo, for certain.

May your happiness increase!

CINEMA FORRESTER: JOEL FORRESTER at JULES (May 6, 2018)

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

Pianist, composer, writer Joel Forrester invents scores for silent films and has done so for decades.  But we don’t associate him with the megaphone and director’s chair, nor does he have credits as a producer or director.  Yet I’ve come to think of some of Joel’s more evocative compositions and performances as the scores for films that have not made it to the screen.  Soundtracks to our own imaginings.

Here are three such cinema-without-cinema creations, invented and re-invented on Sunday, May 6, at the delightful French bistro / jazz club JULES (65 Saint Marks Place, an easy walk from several subways).  Joel is playing at Jules every Sunday this summer from 4-6:30, sometimes solo, sometimes with guests / friends: a day ago, he had a trio of himself, David Hofstra, string bass; Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone.  JULES is lovely, by the way — good food, interesting wines, and a truly friendly staff.  And the latter means more to people like me than I can say.

From May 6.  Close your eyes and imagine the film — this one is easy, because it is Joel’s idea of music to be played while the credits roll:

This Middle Eastern sound-portrait is named for Joel and Mary’s son, the illustrious Max.  I met him — not in the desert — and he deserves this song:

Finally, one of Forrester’s many selves, among them the swing pianist, the eccentric / novelty / stride pianist, the Powell-and-Monk through a bright prism, and the 1933 Chicago blues pianist, half in the dark, a half-finished beer on top of the piano which is of course a little assertive in the upper octaves:

Did you like Cinema Forrester?  More to come.  And come visit Joel at Jules.

May your happiness increase!