Five nights a week at the Balcony Club, the gleaming black baby grand piano and the man playing it take center stage.
Al Dupree, seated with his back nearly touching the Lakewood nightclub’s front window, brings to life the romantic, nostalgic and classy tunes from the first half of the 20th century.
Patrons seated in the long, narrow, second-floor club, located above the Lakewood Theatre, imagine themselves transported to the 1930s, ‘40s or ‘50s by Dupree’s sure-fingered keyboard work and round, mellow vocals.
Dupree plays and sings the oldies as if he were born performing them. And he very nearly was.
The son of a music teacher, Dupree was born in Dallas in 1923, took his first piano lesson at age 5, and received his first saxophone at age 12.
Soon after in 1937, a teen-age Al Dupree began playing the sax in local bands, eventually spending three years as a member of Davis and His Dallas Dandies, a group that played at Café Drugs near Thomas Avenue and Hall Street. In those days, Dupree’s neighborhood near downtown was called North Dallas; today, it is the historic State-Thomas area.
After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, Dupree continued to study music and in 1948 earned a degree from Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans after taking time out to serve in the Army.
He taught music briefly in Dallas elementary schools before switching to the U.S. Postal Service, where he spent 28 years as a clerk. But music always remained his first love, and he continued to play sax and piano alone and in groups.
“Music is an outlet,” Dupree says.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Dupree performs as part of a trio at the Balcony Club. Many tunes may be popular classics, but in the hands of the trio (including Charles Peace on drums and Charles Nugent on bass guitar), improvisation transforms the music.
“If people have the knowledge of the song itself, they can find the original melody in the improvised version if they listen,” Dupree says.
Dupree joined the Balcony Club in 1993 after the death of friend G.T. Reed, who had been the pianist since the club opened in 1988. Club owner Tom Stanco says Dupree has helped continue the tradition Reed started.
While most people his age are slowing down, Dupree continues to hit new high points, Stanco says.
In 1995, Dupree recorded a compact disc titled “Big Al Dupree Swings the Blues,” which actually includes more than the blues and is sold nationally.
And a few months ago, Dupree was one of three artists who took a two-week performing tour of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany organized by the Dallas Blues Society.
He typically plays solo at the Balcony Club, 1825 Abrams, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights beginning at 8:30 p.m. The trio performs from 9 p.m.-1 a.m. on its three nights. Call 214-826-8104 for information.
News & Notes
Review of Texas History: “True Women,” a book about early Texas settlers, will be reviewed by Jimmie Kennedy at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Lakewood Library as part of the free 1997 book review series sponsored by Lakewood Library Friends, a group that raises money and organizes special events for our branch at 6121 Worth. A mini-series based on the book is being filmed in Austin. Call 214-670-1376.
Dancing to Reggae and Jazz: The newly formed Purple Tangerine Dance Theatre performs an originally choreographed recital of modern and jazz dance pieces with guest Dallas reggae singer Leroy Shakespeare and his Ship of Vibes band at 2 p.m. Feb. 9 at I Dance 2 Studio, 5706 E. Mockingbird, Suite 250. Cost is $6. The group, which emphasizes cultural unity, is managed and directed by Alison Bonham. Call 214-824-4269.
Chamber Music Concert: Chamber Music International, managed by Forest Hills resident Anita Schmidt, presents a concert with violinist David Kim, violist Paul Coletti, cellist Anthony Elliott, pianist Robert Moeling and flutist Mary Karen Clardy at 8 p.m. Feb. 8 at St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church, 1220 W. Beltline in Richardson. Cost is $16 for adults, $13 for seniors and $10 for students. Call 972-385-7267.
Seafood, Pasta Restaurant Opens: Watel’s has opened a second location at 1915 Greenville in addition to its McKinney Avenue location. The new restaurant, called What Else, serves seafood, pastas and grilled items with a Provence and Mediterranean taste. Proprietor Rene Peeters, the former executive chef of the Grand Kempinski who opened the Monte Carlo restaurant, is the executive chef. Call 214-874-9428.
Appointed to Artfest: Lakewood resident Jeff Strater has been appointed to serve on the executive committee of Artfest 1997. The 27th annual event, produced by The 500 Inc., will take place Memorial Day weekend at Fair Park. Strater served on committees for the Gala for the Arts and for the Montage festival.
Painted for the SPCA: Neighborhood resident Connie Connally, a contemporary artist who paints pets and their owners, recently raised $1,125 to benefit the SPCA of Texas during an art show at her gallery. Actress Loretta Swit, of the television series MASH, attended. Connally plans to donate additional money from commissioned portraits. Call Connally at 800-408-3647 for information.
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