What might the results have been had Jelly Roll Morton recorded "King Porter Stomp" and "Milenberg Joys" with his seven-piece band, Red Hot Peppers, instead of alone or in other contexts? That was one of the more intriguing questions raised when James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band and pianist Alex Hassan celebrated Morton's legacy at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater Saturday night.
By the time the topic surfaced, however, the audience had more than an inkling of what to expect, having already witnessed Dapogny's ensemble vibrantly resurrect and neatly embellish upon Red Hot Pepper versions of "Black Bottom Stomp," "Dead Man Blues" and "Georgia Swing." Those richly polyphonic arrangements, like the ones that followed, were built around clarinet, trumpet and trombone, allowed for plenty of room for improvisation, and were dotted with stop-time breaks, shifting themes, riffs and rhythms. Yet Dapogny's band was also mindful of the strong, even trademark emphasis Morton the composer placed on introductions, codas and woven ensemble passages.
In addition to devoting time to the Red Hot Peppers' arrangements, both real and imagined, the Dapogny ensemble distinguished itself in pared-down settings while reviving Morton's landmark trio arrangement of "Wolverine Blues" and the four-piece King Oliver-influenced lament, "Mournful Serenade." Taking turns at the keyboard, Dapogny and Hassan also demonstrated a keen appreciation for both the spirit and the nuance in Morton's piano music.
The concert, with informative and often amusing commentary by jazz scholar Martin Williams, launched a new and welcome series of jazz concerts at the Terrace Theater.