Champion Jack Dupree - Pieces of the Puzzle

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The story of New Orleans boogie-woogie piano player Champion Jack Dupree is hard to track down – there’s no biography, and the twists and turns of his life took him all over the world. Orphaned as an infant, he taught himself piano in the Waif’s Home, and went on to play barrelhouse piano alongside some of the greats of the 1920s and 1930s. And then he became a championship boxer. And then he was a prisoner of war in the Pacific for two years. And only then did he became a successful recording artist — but he then left America for Europe, not returning for over thirty years. The facts of his life are scattered — in archived papers and recordings, and in the memories of those who knew him or saw him perform. In this episode, part one of this special two-part program of New Orleans Calling, we go searching for pieces of the puzzle, to try to figure out who Champion Jack Dupree really was.

In part two, Champion Jack Dupree: Freedom we hear the story of his return to America, why he left, and what his legacy is today.

Our interest in producing a program about Champion Jack Dupree goes back even before NEW ORLEANS CALLING existed. Over ten years ago, host George Ingmire listened to recordings of Jack’s 1990 and 1991 Jazz Fest appearances at the Archive of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, and he immediately wanted to share them, and tell Jack’s story.

When NEW ORLEANS CALLING was launched in 2014, Jack’s story was one of the very first ideas we wanted to pursue. It eventually took two years to bring to fruition, though — there was research to do, there were individuals and recordings to track down, and much more.

The Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University was a resource for many old articles and clippings about Jack, as well as a 1990 interview with him conducted by Allison Miner.

We found recordings of Swedish radio host Olle Helander interviewing Jack in the studio in 1964.

Former WWOZ show host Ready Teddy McQuiston interviewed Champion Jack Dupree in 1990.

Piano player Henry Butler attended Champion Jack Dupree’s Jazz Fest performance in 1990, and was interviewed by George Ingmire for this program.

Piano player Tom McDermott, who specializes in the post-World War II New Orleans piano tradition, also saw Jack perform at Jazz Fest, and was interviewed at his piano for this program.

The recording excerpted in this show is from May 6, 1990, at the Music Heritage Stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and features Allen Toussaint as an interviewer. The Music and Heritage Stage featured mostly interviews with some performance — Jack also did another longer performance at the Lagniappe Stage later that day. Danish guitarist Kenn Lending performed alongside Jack at both sets.

Champion Jack Dupree – “Rattlesnake Boogie”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Improvisation and Interview”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Drive ’em Down Special”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Improvisation and Interview”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Angola Blues”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Walkin’ the Blues”
Henry Butler – “Jump to the Music”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Mother in-Law Blues”
John Lee Hooker – “Sittin’ Here Thinkin”
Robert Pete Williams – “My Mind Wandering Around”
Champion Jack Dupree – “My Baby’s Coming Home”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Junker Blues”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Gamblin’ Man Blues”
James Booker – “Junco Partner”
Champion Jack Dupree – “I Haven’t Done No One No Harm”
Tom McDermott – interview and demonstration (recorded live for New Orleans Calling)
Champion Jack Dupree – “Improvisation and Interview”
Champion Jack Dupree – “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” (live at Jazz Fest Music Heritage Stage, 1990)
Champion Jack Dupree – “Bring Me Flowers While I’m Living” (live at Jazz Fest Music Heritage Stage, 1990)
Champion Jack Dupree with Allen Toussaint – “Shake The Boogie” (live at Jazz Fest Music Heritage Stage, 1990)
Champion Jack Dupree – “Broken Hearted”

NEW ORLEANS CALLING is a production of WWOZ, listener-supported community radio in the Crescent City.

George Ingmire is the host, writer, editor, interviewer, audio engineer, intrepid field recorder, and co-producer.
Dave Ankers is the producer.
Melanie Merz is the supervising producer.

Special thanks to:

Margaret Kosanke, Dick Waterman, Kenn Lending, Kalamu ya Salaam, and David Freedman;
to Sally Young for her voice talents;
and to Rachel Lyons and Dolores Hooper of the Archive of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

Tell us what you think — send email to!

Air time: 
Monday, January 9, 2017 - 2:00pm

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