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Reply #20: DAMMIT! Dorothy Donegan's not in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz!!! [View All]

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Swamp Rat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-26-06 10:29 PM
Response to Reply #18
20. DAMMIT! Dorothy Donegan's not in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz!!!


Interestingly, though, Times jazz scribe Ben Ratliff quoted his noted jazz predecessor, John S. Wilson's coverage of a Town Hall appearance in 1971 citing that '"Ms. Donegan showed a technical virtuosity that could be compared only to that of Art Tatum and a swinging drive that might be equaled by Mary Lou Williams." Oddly omitted was the Wilson quote that Donegan carried ever closest to her heart, ". . . She is potentially the greatest jazz pianist playing today." A reflection on this comment comes into focus with Chip Deffaa recalling in his obit, "She was probably the only jazz artist who, in the 1990's, could somehow satisfy the very different audiences of the Village Vanguard (the high temple of jazz purism) and the Tavern on the Green (the glitzy tourist nightspot) - both of which she loved."

The gutty truth, though, despite these admiring tributes at her death, is that never was Dorothy Donegan given due recognition for her artistry by the sacred cows of jazz, the critics, during her more than sixty years of performing throughout the U.S. and abroad. Wilson brought this to readers' attention: "In fact, in jazz circles she is scarcely even thought of as a jazz pianist. . . . Her reputation as a lounge entertainer has virtually buried the fact that she is potentially the greatest jazz pianist playing today." Leonard Feather, in his Encyclopedia of Jazz in the 1960s, lends support to this observation in his listing of Donegan with the closing comment, "Much of her appeal, however, is based on her visual antics." In a later edition Feather omits the pianist, as did John Chilton in his Who's Who Of Jazz and, more recently, both The Guiness Who's Who of Jazz and The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.


Following any planned program was never meant to be for the flamboyant Dorothy. She frequently reminded her interviewers, "The artistry is always uppermost in my mind. It's not a matter what anyone says about me. I like audiences, I like people, and I like having fun with them." "Having fun" went something like this, Dorothy went on to explain: "Maybe somebody calls out, 'Play Melancholy Baby!' Okay, I have fun and play it like a Bach fugue." And, indeed, the pianist would enthrall her audience performing the classic with amazing authenticity but never denying them a whopping climatic jazz finale.

At age six, Dorothy began classical music studies in Chicago, where she grew up, receiving instruction at the Chicago Conservatory and the Chicago Music College. By age eight her teachers knew they had an exceptional student on hand who enjoyed her studies and hours of practice. "I hated housework," is how Dorothy would impishly explain her abiding love for studying, practicing, and composing at the piano until her death. "You can always keep learning - we all know there's no such thing as knowing it all," she later told interviewers as she diligently pursued studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at the University of Maryland, where she would enroll for two-week-long master classes when visiting and performing in the Washington, D.C., area.


I found this great photo:

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