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Chapter One – Dolly Rappaport Chronicles, by Jonnie Harris Kates (2014)
This was a good day. One Saturday afternoon in San Diego and the PB bar crowds oozed onto the street, balancing the range of expected beach town cocktails, and soon a crowd pushed onto Garnet Avenue from Balboa. The festival –sized bandstand whined and pulsed the requisite sound check tones and drum hits etc. Dolly Rappaport, so beautiful , her long blond curls pulled back, sang the first two verses and chorus, nodded to the background singers, hoisted her golden alto saxophone, and filled the long boulevard with a syncopated blues scale. Later during the concert, she brandished that saxophone, demanding it manufacture and bend a magic combination of notes, some riding high and light above the controlled but relentless rhythm section below. This was certainly a good day. But before we get to what happened next….
For those of us who did- or didn’t personally witness some portion of Dolly’s life, it still probably makes sense to go through a short history of Dolly Rappaport. This history – and it’s not her resume, which by the way, is quite impressive – is NOT a tour of academia or the arts. It is neither the cities she visited, nor the venues she played. Not even the truest tales of visitors and congregants at her beloved Kentfield, the old stucco estate where she would spend nearly twenty years, affixed to spiritual invention and artistic pursuit. Rather, her history can be described more easily by acknowledging the molecular level of just about everything, the spirit of her core, the voices of her guides, the smells and sounds of brief and distant memories, the anxiety and fear and the joy of confidence.
Long before there was joy and confidence, there was fear, caused by war in Europe. Dolly’s maternal grandmother, an assignee of the European High Cross, invented a device and design which later became the automatic ice maker. The ice was now colder and more reliable but there was no cold hard cash to pay a young diplomat with misplaced technical skills. So she sang opera in Vienna and orchestrated fables and fantasy for her audiences. Her husband was, or was not, a Gestapo double agent, who was, or was not, working for the Allies in WWII. When the family arrived in America, reportedly having brought eighty instruments, hauled on the ocean liner Aquitania, it left them no further capacity for clothing or furniture. Family diaries openly discuss the trading of polished plywood violins and shiny trumpets as payment to hardened landlords threatening eviction. Once the family settled into rural America, their last names were cut to American size by over-zealous school Principals and bored bureaucrats at the Office of Naturalization. But they were grateful and only spoke elegant English, sometimes peppered with the flavor of their past languages. Far from assimilation, the family’s heritage and music traditions thrived, embracing the slick 1950s and mind-expanding 1960s, channeling the retro Euro beats and the wholly American jazzy solos, and building on the pervasive funky grooves of the Old World – and this was just the old people!
As for the new generation, Dolly attended high school with red white and blue flags, football mania, apple pie and yes, even mantras for their beloved Chevrolets. A new century was about to unfold, and, aside from her father’s pristine Lincoln Continental, which was always, reliably and without fail, the latest year’s model, the molecules had begun to shift in unexpected directions and would create, or at least influence Dolly’s experience.
As for what happened during my visit to San Diego and my chance encounter with Dolly, here’s the story. It was at first professional, as my music journalism hopes and dreams were in pure coexistence with being an all-consumed fan of so many different types of music. I certainly didn’t consider myself a critic, just a chronicler of exiting and evolutionary events in music. My boss unquestionably was happy I was working for free, and I was quite sure I would deliver an expose worthy of a Rolling Stone cover, at least someday. When the sun set that evening, I made my way to see Dolly, and within twenty minutes, I concluded that we were perhaps fast friends. I was fascinated with Dolly’s view of the world and her smile. She showed me a painting she had done, backstage!!,. The little canvas on an old wood frame was a fortress of color and light, and I wondered to myself where she bought her paint. When I shared a few details of my move to the west coast, she listened to me with intensity, and then lit up a strong smelling joint which invited about twelve people to join us. The bandstand was now motionless and the only light remaining was due west along the beach. The band and the small but mighty entourage walked slowly, almost backwards it felt, until we reached the sand. Ahhhh California.
In Chapter 2, I meet Dolly’s family, her Hollywood producers and her business manager.
About the Author:
Jonnie Harris Kates (2014)