Les “Coach” Fernandez R.I.P.

Foreword written on Saturday:
What a pathetic excuse for a writer I must be if words fail me at a time when it means the most. Instead of tears, I’m wading in a puddle of platitudes….”I’m so very sorry for your loss.” Clichés run amok in my brain – my heart is heavy (as lead), my heart goes out to you — out where? And why is loss such a palpable ache? I am constantly searching for the universality in a story, so why do I seize up when universality smacks me in the gut?
Perhaps because I am human.
Yes, but I am a writer. I refuse to be pathetic. Ass in chair, open a vein, write!

A good man died yesterday morning. Admittedly lots of good men died yesterday. Some died in the line of duty, while others simply reached the end of their line. Some died heroically, and others died horrifically. Some died before their time, others finally expended the borrowed time they had been given. The good man whose loss saddens me today was a friend to me for 40 years.


lesfernandezsml.jpgApril 30, 1991 was declared “Les Fernandez Day” in Westchester County. Now, sixteen years to the day, Les “Coach” Fernandez is laid to rest. He died Friday morning from congestive heart failure, one week after celebrating his 80th birthday with family and friends.

I spoke to him the night before the big party and I told him how very much I wanted to be there, as I had been for so many of the milestones though the years – The Cage 25th Anniversary, Les’ wedding (Coach’s oldest son and namesake), a 50th birthday party or two, even an occasional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, Coach’s 70th birthday bash, the renewal of Coach & Nat’s wedding vows on their 50th anniversary….. and some scary times too, Coach’s car crash, Les’ heart surgery…. I won’t call it a premonition, but I somehow knew this party would be Coach’s last big event, but I could not go, not this time. He knew that I was there in spirit, just as I know that his spirit lives on in all of us whose lives he touched.

Coach held many jobs ranging from boxing coach to psychotherapist, but what he was, always, was a youth worker. From his undergrad days as a “street gang worker” for the Police Athletic League back in the late 1940s, until the day he retired in 1991 after 29 years with The Cage Teen Center (26 as its Executive Director), his focus and his gift was in helping young people to cope and excel.

He believed that school dropouts, drug abusers, runaways, youthful offenders, outcasts and young adults with family, social or even police problems do not have to be alienated from society’s mainstream forever. He recognized that these kids, who came from all walks of life — all races, socioeconomic strata, educational levels, from all parts of town – had one thing in common: their basic psychological needs, to love and be loved and to feel worthwhile to themselves and to others, had not been fulfilled. So one-on-one, one at a time, sometimes in a boxing ring or on a basketball court, sometimes folding his 6-foot-plus frame into a desk chair in a classroom on the top floor of the rectory of Grace Church, he touched the lives of many.

dropincenter1963.jpgWhen Coach first started working at the Cage Teen Center in 1962, it was little more than a deserted basement bowling alley used as a drop-in center. Teen strife caused problems and the adults in charge, not being professionals, were unable to control the situation. They hired Coach as a part time group worker, then, in 1965, they appointed him to the full time position of Executive Director.

boxing.jpgThe following year The Cage Teen Center youth made a film entitled “Tell It Like It Is” which not only gave them a voice, but helped the various community agencies to better understand their problems. That was also the year that Henry Jeter, 175 lbs., Light Heavyweight, became the first member of The Cage Teen Center Boxing Program to win a Golden Gloves Championship at the old Madison Square Garden.

In 1967, Coach used a $25,000 Federal Government grant to launch EduCage, an Alternative High School Program, that included academic subjects, arts, and job skills ranging from typing to automotive training. A year later he established the first in-school Infant Care Center in New York State, offering parenting skills to young mothers and fathers, and daycare services for Educage students with babies. Another new program to emerge that year was The Cage Drug Prevention Center, the first official drug treatment program in Westchester County. Whenever an obstacle arose to prevent a young person from achieving more, Coach sought and fought for solutions.

He was one of the most dedicated men I have ever known, seemingly tireless, always on the go. He served on city and county boards and committees too numerous to mention, lectured and consulted with organizations, schools and agencies interested in the problems of young people, and even testified before the House Sub-Committee on Crime. Throughout the years he maintained his State Certification as an Industrial Arts Teacher, Guidance Counselor, Secondary School Principal and School Administrator and Supervisor, but that was not enough; at a time when most would be planning to retire, he went back to school and earned his Doctorate Degree in Counseling and Human Development a Post Graduate Certificate in Psychotherapy.

ny-008.jpgSomehow, on top of all that he did for others, he and his wife Natalie, raised a family — Les, Richie, Don, and Lanette — four remarkable, strong, and loving people who shared their dad with so many other young people who who grew up and remembered Coach with love and appreciation. They wrote to him and his files are overflowing with notes like this one:

Educage was the only school I had ever been to where I felt I really belonged, and that the teachers and faculty really cared what happened to me… A lot of us kids lives would’ve gone down the drain if we didn’t get help, and I’ll always remember the dedicated people who were there when we needed them.

One of the many plaques and awards given to Coach bears this quotation from Henry B. Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” A thought echoed in the letters he treasured, like this one:

You started Educage, in which you have helped hundreds of people like me to get their high school diploma, and furthering their education. Your love and caring have rubbed off on most of us you touch. Because of the love and dedication you showed the youths in past and present, a lot of your ex youths are now in the field of youth counselors…

As a WWII vet, the funeral service will include the flag ceremony and taps. As a beloved leader of the community, the funeral cortege will be accompanied by the White Plains Police Force. Though it may sound hyperbolic, the fact is that over the years Coach touched thousands of lives. He will be honored by many and missed by all.

Win-Win Is My New Mantra

This morning, over coffee, I was reading an article about Google and Viacom and copyright in New York magazine. Once upon a time (not so long ago) I was a staunch defender of copyright and even thought that it should exist in perpetuity — why shouldn’t I have the right to pass future profits on to my heirs? Why should anyone other than myself and my assigns reap the benefits from my own work? But I’m beginning to change my mind, or perhaps more specifically, my focus.

What is important to me? I’d like to be able to work at my craft and earn an honest wage doing so. I’d even like a little recognition for my efforts. I want to be able to pay my bills, and afford a few luxuries. (Health insurance should not be a luxury, but that’s another discussion). The image of others using my work to turn a profit without compensating me still doesn’t feel fair, but does that really matter? If I have what I need, and maybe a little more, and if am relatively healthy and able to enjoy family and friends, that should be enough. And if someone else also benefits from my work, either monetarily or emotionally, mightn’t that be a good thing?

I’m growing weary of the whole argument and found myself skimming large parts of the article, but one statement stuck with me — the writer described the Google mindset as in favor of win-win situations while Viacom’s game was a strictly “I win/you lose” scenario. I don’t know whether or not the characterization of either company is accurate, but I do believe that the world would be a better place if “we” weren’t so darned greedy. Eating a whole pie alone causes more than indigestion.

Presidential Candidates – Online Town Hall

Tomorrow, April 10th at 7:15pm Eastern, MoveOn is using the Internet to connect presidential candidates directly to the people.

Join MoveOn.org's Virtual Town Hall: Iraq

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Joe Biden will answer questions from MoveOn.org’s 3.2 million members in the first of three unprecedented virtual town hall meetings. The topic: Iraq.

MoveOn members are asking candidates the tough questions about their Iraq plans, and gathering in living rooms from coast to coast to hear the answers directly. The mass media won’t be filtering our questions or filtering the answers—-MoveOn will be connecting candidates directly to the people. You can sign up to attend a local house party and experience the virtual town hall with others by going here then plug in your zip code and click search to see what’s nearest you.

Right after the virtual town hall meeting, MoveOn will survey our members to see which candidate they believe will do the best job of leading us out of the war in Iraq. We will also let MoveOn members know how they can get involved with the candidate of their choice.

When Worlds Collide

As I may have mentioned, in an effort to generate a little more income to sustain me while I work on three books, two of which are artistshare projects at SnapSizzleBop, I have been spending some time designing websites for clients who happen to be in the psychoanalytic field. So here I am, immersed in Freud and issues of ego identity, transference and such, missing my jazz, feeling guilty about time not spent at SnapSizzleBop, when the worlds suddenly collide in a delightul and unexpected way.

I just received notice that soprano saxophonist/composer Jane Ira Bloom‘s musical composition based on Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams has garnered her a Guggenheim Fellowship. Actually, I don’t know if that composition directly resulted in the award, but the press release mentioned it. These awards are given “to further the development of scholars and artists by assisting them to engage in research in any field of knowledge and creation in any of the arts, under the freest possible conditions and irrespective of race, color, or creed.”

Jane, who has already won many awards and been distinguished by having an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union (asteroid 6083), is also receiving a 2007 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award for lifetime service to jazz. And guess what. She’s got an ArtistShare project too.
Here’s my favorite quote from her web site:

“Sometimes I throw sound around the band like paint and other times I play and feel as if I was carving silence like a sculptor.”


I’m a sucker for a big band. The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra remains a personal favorite, but I have a fondness for the Airmen of Note, perhaps a residual attachment from the days of Joe Williams — Joe was Basie’s #1 son, but Joe spread his love around and liked this band a lot. So, if I were to be in DC later this month — I’m not, but if I were — you’d find me front and center at the Airmen of Note’s free concert — Blues Alley at 8 PM on April 25th.

I’ve Got More Mail

I received an email from Edgar at WGBH radio 89.7 FM in Massachsetts. I get a lot of pitches and press releases, but as DevraDoWrite is my personal platform, and I make no pretense to be an unbiased journalist when writing here, I feel free to ignore everything that is of no personal interest to me; that includes all “smooth jazz.” A lot of people waste their time pitching me because they do not take the time to do the research, but Edgar clearly knows that I am a extreme fan of Sonny Rollins, and he didn’t push. Here’s what he wrote:

I thought this might be of interest, either for your blog or just for your own personal enjoyment. The legendary Sonny Rollins–who has played and recorded with the likes of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Art Blakey–will be a guest on Open Source with Christopher Lydon, this Thursday, April 5 at 7pm. The show airs on WGBH 89.7 FM in New England and streams live worldwide at wgbh.org/listen. Tune in and hear the insights of the one and only Saxophone Colossus.

That’s this Thursday, 7 PM Eastern time — I’ll be tuned in via computer here.

I’ve Got Mail

Just heard from long-time friend Dick McGarvin. You may know him as a drummer and/or radio deejay. He refers to himself in this email as a bloggee, as in reader of my blog, me being the bloggER. He was writing to say that even though my posts are sporadic these days, he continues to check in– for which I thank him mightily, as I do Bill Crow who recently chimed in with a comment, and you too, whoever you are reading this now. Dick went on to say:

Anyway, what prompted me to write now was this from your blog:

I face many challenges in writing the Luther Henderson biography not the least of which wll be how to make the reader understand just what it is that a musical arranger does, where the lines between arranging and composing blur, and why these people are seemingly invisible when their role is so crucial to the success of the people we all recognize as stars.

It reminded me of a quote I like. Composer/Arranger John LaBarbera said, “Arranging is composing without the royalties.” If you go to his website and click on ‘Arranging’, you’ll see it’s listed first in his ‘Arranging Tips’.

Thanks, Dick. LaBarbera has provided a treasure chest full of little gems. (And while I am not prone to liking movies and such on home pages, I really like the animation on his front page.)

I mentioned Bill Crow’s comment above. If you didn’t see it, he was writing to tell us about Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz and Literature and I must say it looks fascinating. It comes out twice a year ($12 for 1 year) and the journal is also available at Barnes and Noble or Borders Bookstores. They don’t share any excerpts online but they do post a list of books from which pieces that were originally published in the journal. Definately worth a stop at the bookstore! Thanks, Bill.