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James Dapogny

Early Jazz for Moderns

The James Dapogny Quartet

by Piotr Michalowski

From the January, 2015 issue

As musical forms go, jazz is not that old. In just a few years we will be celebrating the hundred-year anniversary of what is generally considered to be the first official jazz recording, made in New York on February 26, 1917, by the Original Dixieland Jass Band. This was followed by an avalanche of recordings, variously labeled as jazz, stomps, rags, and more. Clubs, restaurants, cafes, and ballrooms featured live bands, and radio broadcast many of these performances across the country.

Today this music is much less popular, and most of its fans and players focus on the latter part of its history, on what is, in broadest terms, considered "modern jazz." But many of us still love the early, pre-World War II varieties of jazz, and there is a small coterie of musicians who perform it in an authentic manner, rescuing it from the cold shellac of the recordings and making it live on stage.

One such musician is pianist, arranger, composer, bandleader, and scholar James Dapagny. Dapogny spent most of his career teaching at the U-M school of music, but throughout his years as a professor he was a working musician, leading bands, making records, and writing about early jazz.

Although he has played in many different contexts, he is perhaps best known for his Chicago Jazz Band that he has led since 1975 and more recently for Phil Ogilvie's Rhythm Kings, co-led with Chris Smith, which performs most Sundays at the Zal Gaz Grotto social club. The ten-piece P.O.R.K. serves as a laboratory for Dapogny's loving research of twenties and thirties dance bands. He searches out stock arrangements of tunes long forgotten or transcribes them from recordings and every now and then adds an idiomatic composition of his own. His great musicological work is a massive book of annotated transcriptions of the compositions and solos of the first great jazz pianist and composer, Jelly Roll Morton.

Dapogny focused on Morton's work early in his career in part

...continued below...

because he is himself a wonderful pianist. I have always loved his solo work, often dedicated to the exploration of the music and style of a specific early jazz musician. His piano playing also comes to the fore in small group contexts such as the quartet he will bring to the Kerrytown Concert House on January 10.

This is Dapogny's string band, made up of his longtime collaborators Mike Karoub on cello, bassist Kurt Krahnke, and guitarist Rod McDonald. The unusual instrumentation provides an opportunity for Dapogny to present original compositions and interpretations of older material in his own arrangements, providing new perspectives on early jazz.     (end of article)

[Originally published in January, 2015.]


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