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Dorothy Donegan

Dorothy Donegan is an NEA Jazz Master

Dorothy Donegan - piano

More than fifteen years have passed since the flamboyant jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan died. Sadly, few jazz fans, either then or now, are aware of what enormous orchestral capacity she had at the keyboard (1).

Dorothy was born in Chicago in 1924. Heeding her mother’s encouragement, she studied classical music at the Chicago Conservatory and the Chicago Music College. At eighteen, she became the first African-American to be asked to perform at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. The event created enough interest to lead to some work in a film (Sensations of 1945) (2).

At the age of fourteen and studying classical piano she was also beginning her own jazz career, playing for a dollar a night at the city’s South Side bars (1) During a performance at the Hi-Jinx Club one evening, she met up with Art Tatum, who was so impressed with her abilities he became one of her champions. Despite her accomplishments in playing blues and boogie-woogie piano and making a recording for the Bluebird label, her love was for classical music and she hoped to be a classical concert pianist.

Dorothy never forgot her love of classical music so she continued her classical studies at the University of Southern California and taking Master Classes at the University of Maryland when performing in the Washington DC area. Her perseverance in both genre made her an exceptional pianist with a rich harmonic sense (2).

Dorothy’s career spanned over sixty years of performing throughout the U.S. and abroad. The late 1950’s was the period during which she developed her performance style (2). The end result was a flamboyant style that tended to get in the way of her extraordinary piano playing, John. S. Wilson’s coverage of one of her performances sometime later, compared her technical virtuosity to that of Art Tatum (2).

Finding she was more comfortable in a live setting rather than the studio her career was centered on nightclub engagements. As a result she didn’t make many recordings. Scott Albin suggests there is a compilation CD, “Dorothy Romps: A Piano Retrospective (1953-1979) that provides a sample of her many abilities (See Dorothy Donegan’s store on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Dorothy-Donegan/e/B000AQ153K/ref=ac_dtp_sa_link ) (3,4).

To quote Scott Albin: “She was best appreciated live, in lengthy well-attended engagements at night clubs like the Embers in New York and the London House in Chicago, where she offered kaleidoscopic sets that mixed her singing, dancing, and off-color jokes with piano excursions technically comparable to those of an Art Tatum or a world-class pianist.” Despite all this talent, in jazz circles she is scarcely thought of as a jazz pianist but thought of as a lounge entertainer. This is partly because much of her appeal was based on her visual antics (2).

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Radio & Podcasts

21 Standards on Tap

Read "21 Standards on Tap" reviewed by David Brown

What makes a song a standard? How does a tune enter the commonly shared repertoire that jazz musicians have been expected to know at any moment? Tonight, we spin a variety of well-worn standards for your listening pleasure. Sonny Rollins once said, “Jazz and standards are forever locked in loving embrace." Some commentary in this episode is inspired by Ted Gioia's Book, The Jazz Standards, A Guide to the Repertoire.Playlist The Delfonics “La-La-Means I love You" from single ...

Radio & Podcasts

Piano Inside And Out: You Have To Be Modernistic

Read "Piano Inside And Out: You Have To Be Modernistic" reviewed by David Brown

Today, a survey of piano approaches from James P. Johnson to Dorothy Donegan to Satoko Fujii and lots of folks in between. This is piano jazz.Playlist King Fleming Trio “Junction City Blues" from Stand By (Argo) 0:00:30 Randy Weston “Boram Xam Xam" from Khepera (Verve) 0:04:01 Earl “Fatha" Hines “Blues in Thirds" from The Father of modern Jazz Piano, Earl “Fatha" Hines (M.F. Distribution) 0:08:25 James P. Johnson “You've Got To Be Modernistic" from Piano Jazz vol. 2 ...

Radio & Podcasts

Yonder Come the Blues - Happy Birthday to Dorothy Donegan, Ma Rainey and Ella Fitzgerald

Read "Yonder Come the Blues - Happy Birthday to Dorothy Donegan, Ma Rainey and Ella Fitzgerald" reviewed by Mary Foster Conklin

The final broadcast of Jazz Appreciation Month includes new releases from vocalist Lauren Henderson and the JC Hopkins Biggish Band, with birthday shout-outs to pianist Dorothy Donegan (pictured), Mother of the Blues Ma Rainey and legendary vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. Thanks for your continued support and please support these artists and their music. Playlist Dorothy Donegan “I Just Want to Sing" from The Explosive Dorothy Donegan (Audiophile) 00:00 Duchess “Joseph, Joseph" from Live at Jazz Standard (Anzic) 03:53 Lauren ...

Album Review

Dorothy Donegan: Strength, Energy, Imagination

Read "Strength, Energy, Imagination" reviewed by Chris Mosey

With this double album, Storyville Records--surely the greatest Danish invention since pastry--tells the story of a legend that never was. Dorothy Donegan, born in Chicago in 1924, trained as a classical pianist before switching to jazz and being hailed as “the female Art Tatum." She made her recording debut when she was 18 and three years later appeared in the movie “Sensations of 1945," sitting in with Cab Calloway's orchestra (see attached video). The ...

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Release Of Previously Unknown Live Performance By Dorothy Donegan

Release Of Previously Unknown Live Performance By Dorothy Donegan

Source: Allegro Media

The music on this CD Dorothy Donegan Live at the King of France Tavern, is being released for the very first time. It was recorded live at the King Of France Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland in 1978. Bassist Bill Nelson and drummer Bill Reichenbach, two sidemen who were well aware that they had to be very alert when playing with the unique pianist, join Donegan. This King Of France Tavern performance is full of life, giving today’s listeners a strong ...





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