Review from The Ann Arbor Observer, 2006
Phil Ogilvie's Rhythm Kings
At the start of every show that Phil Ogilvie's Rhythm Kings play, a small glass piggy bank hangs from pianist and music director James Dapogny's mic stand. Many jazz bands of the 1920s and 1930s displayed a similar pig. The idea, Dapogny explains, is that "whoever made the last mistake had to ask for the pig, put some money into it, and have it hanging from his or her music stand as a badge of shame and dishonor, for having besmirched an otherwise perfect sound."
It's a small touch, but it indicates the lengths to which P.O.R.K. will go for authenticity. More significant, the ten-piece band duplicates the standard instrumentation of the early jazz big bands, plays mostly unamplified as they did, and even reads the same arrangements those bands played in ballrooms and on recordings.
But authenticity is not all P.O.R.K. is after. Sure, these musicians play with scholarly accuracy, but this was exuberant, lighthearted dance music, and P.O.R.K. really swings with that spirit. Formed four years ago, with a steady gig early Sunday evenings at the Firefly Club and concerts at many other venues and festivals, P.O.R.K. is finally releasing its first CD. We'll now be able to enjoy, whenever we want, the sounds to which our great-grandparents danced the fox-trot and the Charleston in the Roaring Twenties.
The CD kicks off with the title track, "Rhythm Club," the only tune not from the period. It's a Dapogny original, but I defy anyone who isn't a musicologist to distinguish it from the standards of the day. Dapogny's expert hands — playing and arranging — are evident throughout the recording, as is his encyclopedic knowledge of the music of this era.
There are numerous inventive, inspired solos here, and even some wonderful singing: check out Gene Bartley's velvet vocal on "If I Had You" or Dapogny's convincing blues gospel shouting on "Lawd, Lawd." But what stands out is the impeccable ensemble work. The reed trio of Andrew Bishop, Tom Bogardus, and Mike Jones, each playing clarinet and saxes, combined with the brass trio of Paul Finkbeiner and Ingrid Racine on trumpet and Gene Bartley on trombone, gives P.O.R.K. an enormous range of tonal colors and an ever-changing yet unified sound.
Chris Smith on tuba and Rod McDonald on guitar and banjo solo on only one cut — highlighting both how good they are and how perfectly they play their roles in the rhythm section the rest of the time. And Steve Fentriss, who is not yet old enough to buy a drink in any of the clubs in which P.O.R.K. appears, plays his kit like the reincarnation of Gene Krupa.
Until recently, most of this music has been available only on scratchy old seventy-eights. It always was great music, but the old recordings didn't sound like it. P.O.R.K., on Rhythm Club, sounds like it.
Phil Ogilvie's Rhythm Kings were formed in late 2000 when Phil Ogilvie, Florida musician and enterpreneur, approached Chris Smith and James Dapogny about creating a 1920s-style jazz and dance band in the Ann Arbor area (similar to Ogilvie's other band in Coral Gables).
Dapogny and Smith recruited the very best musicians they could find for the job, and were surprised to find how easy it was to get them to sign on to the project.
Fast forward six years and the band has performed just about every Sunday at the Firefly Club in Ann Arbor. Other engagements include the Warren Jazz Festival, Ann Arbor Summer Festivals Top of the Park, the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors 2003 Convention and are the main attraction at the Grand Traditions Vintage Dance Academys Annual Hot Jazz Ball. In addition the band has performed at the University of Michigan Leagues 75th Anniversary Celebration 2004 , Providence Hospitals 2004 Gala, Catholic Social Services Fall Festival of Music 2004, Windsor, Ontarios Capital Theatre 2004 Jazz Concert Series, the Oberlin (Ohio) Swing Societys Jazz Dance Festival (headliner) and return engagements for many of the above events. The band released its first album Rhythm Club in 2006, having recorded this 21-tune C.D. in two days. Music from the C.D. is being used as the soundtrack for a video history presentation playing in the lobby of the newly restored and reopened Guardian Building in downtown Detroit, long known as "one of the most exuberant Art Deco skyscrapers in America". In February 2006 they provided music for a week-long production of the Jazz Age play Gold Diggers, in association with the University of Michigans Theater Dept.
The press has taken note of the group as well- Already the band has been reviewed or had an article devoted to them in the Detroit Free Press, the Metro Times, the Ann Arbor News (twice), the Ann Arbor Observer (twice), and the South East Michigan Jazz Association Newsletter. In addition, P.O.R.K. were recently the subject of a group of University of Michigan M.B.A. students study on High Performance Organizations!
In addition to their normal 10-piece early big band configuaration, the band will sometimes expand into a 13-piece swing orchestra or shrink to a Dixieland-style small group of 4 to 6 musicians. In these 3 different setups they can perform virtually any piece of music from the beginnings of jazz through World War II with complete authenticity and authority.
Music Director James Dapogny needs little introduction in the jazz world. Professor of Music at the University of Michigan for over 30 years, he has led his Grammy-nominated Chicago Jazz Band for over 25 years, touring across North America and releasing numerous acclaimed albums, including a new project backing up the legendary Maria Muldaur in an album of early blues classics. He is the author of Jelly Roll Morton- The Collected Piano Music and in late 2002 took on the task of reconstructing the great jazz pianist James P. Johnsons lost opera, De Organizer, which was given packed performances in Ann Arbor at the Power Center and in Detroit at Orchestra Hall. Dapogny was voted Ann Arbor Current Entertainment Monthlys 2004, 2005 and 2006 Jazz Artist of the Year.
Band manager Chris Smith, originally a trombonist, learned to play Sousaphone (and cornet) just to give the Rhythm Kings the proper instrumentation and sound. He has performed as a trombonist fluent in all styles of jazz for 13 years all over the state of Michigan, throughout the U.S. and Canada, and in Europe. He has recorded numerous albums with Michigans top musicians and performs regularly with Marcus Belgrave, Paul Keller and James Dapogny. In 2005 he held one note on a trombone for 60 minutes, 3 seconds to raise money for charity!
The other members of the Rhythm Kings are the top musicians performing their type of jazz and dance music in the state. All highly skilled jazz soloists, they relish the opportunity to be a part of something bigger as a group. Collectively they are an organization of gifted, dedicated, disciplined and fun-loving musicians who bring vast experience and huge talents to every performance.