Missing In Action

Action being the operative word, it was a very busy week and included my second foray on horseback (more about that next week) and fending off a gazillion phone calls asking if it is true that John and I got together when I was 11 years old — ha ha — no, it is not true.

What could have been a lovely feature story in Friday’s Pasadena Star News was, sadly, full of factual errors, and worse, it was woefully short on substance. Errors included my age — I am 50 years old, 44 years younger than John, not 55 years younger than John which would make me 39 (and no, I don’t wish it were so); and we won’t even mention that there is no jazz musician I know of named Jim Hail. Okay those are two errors that are personal to me and I’m feeling snarky, but there are many others errors and a few misquotes as well. Whether due to shoddy/sloppy journalism practices or lack of experience I can’t say for a fact, but I do have an opinion.

Even though the reporter did request (and receive) a free copy of “Men, Women and Girl Singers,” John’s life story written entirely by yours truly (as John himself told her), I guess she didn’t have time to read it or any of the materials on the web site. However, she did interview John for two hours, consulted twice at length with his publicist, even called me with questions, and there is so much she could have written about.

Yes, he was the first African-American manager of jazz artists, but more importantly he was the first to encourage musicians to retain the publishing rights to their own compositions and he went so far as to set up the publishing companies that were fully owned by his clients. When gigs were not abundant, he produced his own shows at venues such as the Apollo, featuring his clients. He even produced records for his clients. He was a forerunner in his field. His years of success in all of these areas earned him an impeccable reputation in the entertainment industry, where he is both respected and admired by other managers, booking agents, concert promoters, entertainment lawyers and accountants, record company executives, and last but not least, the artists themselves. There a million people from whom she could have gotten a quick quote. He has been a role model for many in the business because of his integrity, business acumen and his unselfish dedication to the world of jazz, and that is why he was given the NEA Jazz Master Award, not because he happened to be the first Black manager in the jazz/pop field.

So what did she write about? She mentions his jewelry (how can someone describe a sapphire pinky ring, plain gold wedding band and zodiac pendant as “bling”), talks about his being home in Brooklyn for only 3 or 4 months out of each year and implies that it caused three divorces (he traveled a lot for a few years between 1949 and 1953 and it had nothing to do with any of his divorces, all of which came later), says he used to smoke but doesn’t anymore and has a drink every so often (is this important?) and can walk for several hours at a time (not true unless you count window shopping in New York City once every couple of years), claims he doesn’t have any aches or pains from old age (maybe in his dreams — she wasn’t paying attention)…need I continue?

Longtime DevraDoWrite readers know that I look up to writers such as Walt Harrington, Gay Talese, and Truman Capote, journalists who bring people to life by using what Harrington calls “intimate details,” but such details should not be gratuitous and must do more than suggest that the writer was there to see them, they are supposed to reveal character within the context of the story being told. (When teaching writing workshops I always use these stellar examples of detail in description.)

They ran a very lovely and extremely large photo of John — too bad they didn’t use some of that space to educate their readers with more substance.

So now that I’ve vented, and hopefully in the process corrected a few facts, do you want to know what else kept me busy this past week? Two pilates workouts with my trainer, two interviews for the Luther Henderson biography, two long distance phone conferences with six people dialing in for each, lunch with a girlfriend at a wonderful dumpling house in Arcadia, coffee with my publicist at my favorite neighborhood bakery, a visit from the Sears repairman, and oh yes, a glorious two and a half hours atop a horse named Flicka, riding down the streets of Altadena and onto the trail that surrounds JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab.) I plan to write more about horses and other things later in the week.
Addendum: I have just found that the online version of the Pasadena Star News article is a little different. It does have a little more information, mostly in the form of lifting quotes from the book, so at least the reporter skimmed through the pages. Unfortunately, more info also brings with it more mistakes. John’s office is not mahogany-lined (maybe she is referring to the hardwood floor, but that’s not mahogany) and he no longer has his old bass, a beautiful full-bodied upright, having given it away decades ago. The bass in the corner gathering dust is a body-less electric bass that I bought for John in a fruitless effort to get him playing again. Some of you may know that years ago I used to be a publicist – “all press is good as long as they spell your name right” – and I couldn’t understand why it was like pulling teeth to get clients to agree to do interviews, especially with smaller publications. Now I get it.