James Dapogny, who has led the Chicago Jazz Band since 1976 died in the early morning hours of March 6th, 2019 after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.
While growing up in the Chicago area he heard and in a few cases played with musicians from the first two great generations of Chicago Jazz among them, Muggsy Spanier, Jimmy McPartland, Mike McKendrick, Bud Freeman, Eddie Condon, and Gene Krupa.
He was a pianist, composer, arranger, musicologist, and multi-instrumentalist. He began teaching music courses at the University of Michigan in 1966.
He was an expert on Jelly Roll Morton and the premiere interpreter of his music. He wrote the liner notes for the release of the Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress Recordings and released a solo piano album of Morton’s music on Smithsonian Folkways.
As a writer he contributed chapters on ragtime, early New Orleans jazz, and Chicago jazz to the Smithsonian History of Jazz. He was also editor of the Jazz Masterworks Editions, a collaboration between Oberlin College and the Smithsonian Institution.
The Chicago Jazz Band in addition to recording several albums appeared on Sippie Wallace’s comeback album in the mid-80s. They also appeared with the Chenille Sisters and were frequent guests on Prarie Home Companion. Their performances at traditional jazz festivals were noteworthy for Dapogny’s excellent arrangements and the depth he brought to the material.
Asked why he played the type of music he did he told the Chicago Tribune (in 1987), “I play it because I really like playing, I don’t know that I have any special sense of mission about it, although I think the style of music I play still has something to contribute to American life. It isn’t as though this was a totally outmoded style that doesn’t relate to people at all.”