Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Dorothy Donegan

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True story. I'm video-grazing a couple years ago and I come across a mid-40s film clip: big production number with a jazz orchestra on an overdesigned set, and this unbelievable ladypianist in an elegant gown. The camera angle, from above, lets us see a pair of flying hands as they combine Art Tatum, Rachmaninoff, and the frantic energy of Kansas City swing into a mesmerizing display of jazz virtuosity--but not her face. "Who is this?" The camera finally, swoops down as she turns to smile: a broad, slightly lopsided, seriously mischievous smile--and of course, it's Dorothy Donegan, whose astonishing technique remains intact to this day. Even at 70 Donegan stands with the greatest pianists ever to play jazz, thanks in large part to her irrepressible personality; that same quality grabs for the spotlight throughout her performances, leading to dizzying medleys (as tune after tune intrudes on whatever song she actually began with) and hilarious interpolations, both pianistic and vocal. Like a highly skilled circus clown, she takes liberties undreamed of by lesser players, not all of them welcome; but her three-ring sets almost always provide more exhilaration than exasperation. Tuesday though next Sunday, September 27, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lauren Deutsch.

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