Welcome SloaneViewers

If you are new to DevraDoWrite, welcome! I hope you’ll stay awhile and scroll around a lot. Some of you may have found me by way of Sloaneview as my most gracious friend and songstress supreme, Carol Sloane, recently commented on the sad state of jazz and linked to a piece on my blog. If you’re looking for that particular post, click here.

You’ll find that the subjects I talk most about are writing (narrative nonfiction and biography, especially) and jazz. Lately, politics has been creeping in a bit as well, and, of course, being a blog, lots of my opinions about this and that and the other.

Hope you enjoy, and come back often.

Debate Debacle

I’m so glad I missed the Hillary/Obama debate last night. John and I went to see Bill Cosby and for two hours we laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. From what I read about the supposed debate, and from the snippets I’ve heard on television, the debate was no laughing matter. I think the only good thing that came out of it is that it elicited people’s outrage. Yes, the people were pissed off at the “moderators” for wasting time on ridiculousness and never really getting to any substantive matters. How do I know what the people thought. They posted their outrage in the form of online comments. Here are some excerpts from the abc news web site

hey george and charlie, i cant wait to narrate a debate between you two. Im going to talk to you about your mothers for two hours and half hours. …what does it feel like to have sons that are so far removed from the american mainstream consciousness, a body of people who are literally bleeding for change, that they go on national televison and put on a clown show debate like that one. … Charlie and George whats it feel like to hate america? Do your mothers approve? Posted by: abchatesamerica1 12:50 PM

What a farce! Gibson, Stephanapoulos, and everyone associated with ABC should hang their heads in shame. … Instead of spending all their time dreaming up trivial, demeaning gotcha questions, [they] might make an effort to actually learn something about, you know, issues and might make some small effort to contribute to an informed, rather than a distracted public. Shame on you bozos. Sean McCann

I thought that last night’s debate was the best debate ever held in U.S. history. I thought the lapel pin question was the best question ever asked. You all should be proud of the excellent job you’ve done. Thanks to you, America now has a clearer picture of how these two candidates would make life-affecting descisions if elected. Those soldiers who gave theirs lives so that you have your first amendment rights certainly got their lives’ worth last night! I especially liked Gibson’s question about Capital Gains tax cuts. During the horrible Clinton adminstration, Clinton did these 2 things. 1. Cut Captial Gains Taxes (collected less revenue) and 2. raised taxes (collected more revenue) You don’t have to be an economist to figure that collecting less revenue brought in more revenue that collecting more revenue would EVER bring in. Gahh! My only complaint is that you all neglected the most important issue facing American voters: Obama’s Middle Name. For God’s sake don’t you love America? What were you thinking? His middle name is Hussein! He’s probably murdering your wife right now! Keep up the good work. You should check in with your journalism professors from school, just to give them a chance to congratulate you and take credit for their excellent work. Posted by: Ted Koppel 12:50 PM

And, well, you decide, was this in praise, or in sarcasm? Ted Koppel?

…No more ABC for me. What a joke! Charlie and George need new professions. They were ridiculous. No wonder we can’t get anything meaningful accomplished in this country.

It took me about twenty minutes to realize that what I saw last night was the total meltdown of impartial media moderation of a debate. At 53 years of age, I’ve been around for some time, and watched a fair number of them. … I really wish ABC was running for something, so I could vote against you. Perhaps a total protest boycott is in order. Nightline and This Week? I will never watch them again. How’s that for starters?

You owe America an apology. As a side note, Fox welcomes you to the “we’re a complete joke” club.

Columnists have not been silent, either. Washington Post columnist Tom Shales wrote:

“It was another step downward for network news — in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.”

On the other side, The New York Times ran an opinion piece supporting the ‘moderators’ (“No Whining About the Media” by David Brooks), but the readers are not agreeing. The opinion begins:

“Three quick points on the Democratic debate tonight:
“First, Democrats, and especially Obama supporters, are going to jump all over ABC for the choice of topics: too many gaffe questions, not enough policy questions.
“I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that’s their own fault.)”

And The NY Times readers are not buying it. Their comments include:

Are you kidding? The media’s job is not to make politicians uncomfortable — it is to provide substantive information to help citizens make good decisions. Focusing on tabloid-type issues such as whether one of the tens of thousands of people a candidate has associated with has ever said something improper, or on an occasional bungled line, is not what should be happening. ABC’s moderation tonight was disgraceful. — Posted by Nick Berning

David, the job of a journalist is to report the truth, not to “make politicians uncomfortable.” Star magazine does that. — Posted by daniel Kessler

So at least I can be happy that the people are speaking out. Now I will pray that we all take a stand with our checkbooks and make our votes count!

Jazz Org Lament

Come birthday time people often look in the rear-view mirror, and my husband is no exception. John Levy is just a few days shy of celebrating his 96th birthday. Happy as he is to awake each day, to drive about town (and out of town, too), to listen to live music (Sonny Rollins at Cerritos Center this past Saturday was especially wonderful), I am aware that it must be fairly depressing for him to consider the vast numbers of people he has outlived, including one son and almost all of his best friends, Joe Williams and Cannonball Adderley among them. The collection of obituaries that we cut out from the newspaper grows way too quickly. Yet I think there is something that saddens him even more — having lived all these years hoping to see some change, when little if any change has occurred.

I can think of two interrelated areas of concern, things about which he might even have prayed for change. The first is racism, inextricably linked to the social class-ism from which our culture suffers as we watch the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class all but disappear. The second cause for lament is the state of jazz – which maybe alive, but is not well. The music survives almost against the odds. The media prefers “smooth jazz” and supports amateur contests in lieu of paying talented professionals who have honed their craft. And let’s not even discuss the launch of white pop singers under the guise of jazz . (We call them ‘chanteusees’.) Jazz clubs that once existed all across the country have vanished, jazz promoters have limited budgets requiring artists to fly around the country on multi-leg journeys, and even the jazz organizations want the artists to appear for nominal sums, if not for free — “it’s good exposure” or “you’ll sell your CDs” being the all-to-familiar pitch. Even worse is the pay-to-play syndrome, which is pretty much the scenario even at the IAJE convention (International Association of Jazz Educators). And speaking of that particular organization, today we read a piece online (Woe is IAJE) about what appears to be the organization’s demise. After reading it, John shook his head and said, “Nothing’s changed.”

Both issues are rooted in struggles over race, power, and money. Here’s an account of one of John’s many attempts to “organize” the jazz people; this particular episode (excerpted from “Men, Women, and Girl Singers”) took place 33 years ago this month.


On April 6, 1975, the World Jazz Association met for the first time. Our goal was to promote jazz music and musicians on a global scale. Jazz seemed to be the only genre without a national organization. The first bone of contention was who would run such an organization—the businessmen or the musicians? A compromise was reached with the selection of Paul Tanner as president. He had been a professional musician and was now a jazz educator at UCLA. I too fit the description of both musician and businessman and I was officially elected as chairman of the board.

The next challenge was to build alliances with other existing organizations. I can’t speak for any other WJA members, but it was never my plan to actually merge with any other group on an operational level, or even to take over a function that another organization was fulfilling. On a trip to New York the following month I met with some New York jazz organizers. It was a fiasco. They were convinced we were trying to upstage them and get our hands on whatever funding sources they had. They had fought hard to build their organizations and raise the funds to support their salaries and programs. The fear of losing their positions blinded them to the possibilities that might be afforded to a larger coalition, a coalition whose size would command recognition. When I left that meeting I had serious doubts about our prospects for success, but it was too soon to give up.

Not so much because I was the chairman of the board but because of my experience working with artists and producing shows, it was up to me to supervise the arrangements for WJA’s first in what was supposed to be a series of national fund-raising projects. The first major event was the November 14 concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I was the hands-on producer of this concert that featured Stan Getz, Les McCann, Bob James, Quincy Jones’ Big Band, and Randy Crawford singing “Everything Must Change,” a song written by Benard Ighner with an arrangement by Quincy. Joe Williams was supposed to appear as well but got snowbound in London. The show was recorded live and paid for by Bob Krasnow at Warner Brothers.

The proceeds from the recording were to go to WJA, but during the sound check on the day of the concert Stan Getz and Bob James reneged on their agreement. They refused to sign the recording contract, and the record couldn’t be released. Sometimes that’s what you get when you trust someone’s word. I probably could have taken them to court and won because they had “received consideration,” from our verbal contract. By that I mean that we had already paid for them to fly to Los Angeles to participate in the project. But I didn’t think the fight would be worth the cost or effort. Luckily, the box-office receipts alone spelled success for the concert itself, and the fund-raiser came out ahead on the financial balance sheet.

Unfortunately the WJA, as an organization, was not a success. For some reason, the jazz community has never been able to pull together for a common goal. There are a multitude of little jazz societies sprinkled across the country that advance the status of jazz, but they are mostly at a local level. True jazz lovers run them, but these people lack any real industry experience outside their own local landscape. Then there are a few more professional organizations, such as the International Association of Jazz Educators that helps preserve the history and perpetuate the jazz art form. But to this day, what doesn’t exist is a professionally run national organization to promote jazz, jazz musicians, jazz education, and jazz awareness on a national if not global level—something on a par with the Country Music Association.

Throughout the years there have been a few serious attempts to form an organization, and WJA was one attempt. But these groups fail continually. Why is it that other genres—country music, classical music, even gospel music—have been able to get it together and we haven’t? Sadly, I think the answer is a matter of racial conflict and power. Country and classical performers are mostly white and gospel musicians are mostly black; consensus is easier to come by. The world of jazz artists, on the other hand, is completely mixed. Add to that difficulty the fact that the business of jazz—the record companies, radio stations, distribution companies and the like—is controlled by whites. Those that have the money have the power, and they aren’t going to share it. Even among smaller organizations that enjoy some degree of success, black or white, you won’t find much cooperation for fear they’ll lose whatever it is (usually funding) that they’ve gained to this point.