Postscript: Tempus is Fugiting

For those of you looking to read about Gerald Wiggins, the bio/obit is just below this brief postscript (or click here).

There’s no more powerful reminder of the fleetingness of life, than the death of someone close to you. Well, maybe a brush with death yourself, but my own firsthand experience proves even that message can wear off over time.  DevraDoWrite has been silent for nearly three months, and perhaps it would amuse Wig that his death has spurred me back into action. We became close friends almost 38 years ago; he was on the road playing for Helen Humes and we met in Nice, France at Le Grand Parade du Jazz.  We continued our friendship in New York where Helen would play long engagements at The Cookery in Greenwich Village. In those early years that followed, Wig was a long-term house guest in the apartment I shared with our mutual friend, Ernie who also played piano and worked for the Musicians’ Union. We had two pianos in the apartment and many wonderful parties populated with friends and neighbors including Helen Humes, Tommy Flanagan, Norman Simmons, Richard Wyands, Jerry Dodgion… wonderful music and memories that I will always cherish.

Wig taught me a lot of cool chord changes back when I was still playing piano, but more important was what I learned from his example through the years:

“My name is Joe and I don’t know.” — never speak ill of anyone;

“My name is Jess, it’s not my mess.” — never meddle in someone else’s business;

“My name is Sam, don’t give a damn” — don’t let anyone get you down.

And I watched Wig fight his own demons and win.

Plagued by health problems, these last few years were really hard on him, but he kept rebounding, returning time and again to his family, his friends, and to the piano to create more live and recorded musical memories for his fans. He was well loved and will be sorely missed.

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.


The end is near?

For many years now I’ve heard and read of the imminent death of jazz, and this video of Giant Steps played by a robot notwithstanding, I don’t think jazz is ill, let alone dying. However, I do think that the end of the world could come first. John keeps telling me that there’s going to be a real revolution, with average folks taking to the streets, and he may be right. But before that happens, people will have to open their eyes and admit what’s happening. They will have to stop blaming THEM, and take stock of what WE have done, what WE have allowed, and what WE can do about it.

For Love or Money?

Seldom is it that artisans, whatever their metier, choose their career path expecting to earn goo-gobs of cash; fame perhaps, but not fortune. Of course there are those who find fortune…

“I’d rather play Chiquita Banana tonight and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” — Xavier Cugat, “Personality” in Time, July 29, 1946

“Only sick music makes money today.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Fall Wagner, Section 5

Now some might argue that Cugat is no artisan, but it is interesting to note that those who are dismissed at one time, may later become admired. The Quotations Page reports that the complete Nietzsche quotation is “Only sick music makes money today; our big theaters subsist on Wagner.” Does that put Wagner in Cugat’s boat? Had Mark Twain been around back then he might have quipped:

“Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

The line is usually attributed to Twain, but it is not his. Twain uses the line in his Autobiography (1924), but he attributes the quote to popular humorist Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye. The Quote Verifier, a book by Ralph Keyes, agrees and then cites other sources who quote Nye similarly. Still, the mistaken attribution proliferates exponentially thanks to the Internet.

So, is any of this attribution consternation important? Perhaps…or perhaps not. Whether innocent errors or lack of care, it can be the edge of a slippery slope. Who would have thought that lessons would not be learned after Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair debacles. And after Goddess Oprah flayed James Frey for his fabricated memoir, how is it that a suburban white girl could write a “memoir” about her life as a ghetto gang banger/drug runner and pass it off as true? Hello, is anybody awake out there? Or am I the one who is asleep? They all get lots of publicity and that leads to new book deals or the speakers circuit or maybe even a movie of the week. (Here’s what The New York Times says.)

As for the love or money quandary, I’m still aiming for both — provided I don’t have to slide down the slippery slope.


If you thought, as I did, that we live in a real democracy, think again.

Democracy is defined as “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” Also “a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.”

Well, we have elected officials but I wonder if the elections are fair and I have serious doubts as to whether most of the officials are representing the wishes and beliefs of their constituents. As for equity of rights and privileges, forget it. Have you heard of super delegates?

“Superdelegates were first appointed in the 1970s, after control of the nomination process in the Democratic Party effectively moved out of the hands of party officials into the primary and caucus process. The aim was to grant some say in the process to people who had been playing roles in the party before the election year.” — Wikipedia

Their ranks include Clinton, Carter, Mondale and Gore. Also Hillary and Obama (guess they’ll cancel each other out) with senators Daschle and Kennedy, Kerry, Feinstein and Schumer to name just a few, lots of House Representatives (wonder whether they will represent our houses or be beholden to their own backroom deals and debts) and DNC committee members too. Bottom line is that it’s not up to US.

Richard L. Hasen, in an article for explains Whatever Happened to “One Person, One Vote”? Why the crazy caucus and primary rules are legal.

“The reason for the different treatment is the hybrid nature of our electoral system. Party primaries and caucuses have elements that are public (the state often pays to run them, and they lead to choices on the public general election ballot) and elements that are private (political parties are not government entities, they are private associations). Private associations have a First Amendment right to exclude those who disagree with them, and to structure their internal affairs as they see fit. Presidential primaries straddle this public-private divide because presidential nominations are ultimately made at party-run conventions.”

(Here are the Democratic National Committee’s Delegate Selection Rules)

I haven’t looked into the machinations of the other parties. In fact, I am basically against the party system as it seems to prevent our elected officials from voting on the merits of the individual issues at hand. I’m sure there was good reason for the party system way back when, but the benefits have been lost amidst the layers of wheeling, dealing, and debt.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t know of another country that does it any better, and many that do a lot worse. Still, our system seems to be seriously broken. What are YOU WE going to do about it?

A New Year’s Meditation

Beginnings, or the oft-used redundant phrase “new beginnings” holds the promise of the future, or so we’d like to think. We all fall prey. For many it takes the form of New Year resolutions. For me, the craziness crescendos in December when I catalog all those things that I’ve been meaning to do and now ‘must do’ before the year ends. I spend most of the last month in a mad rush trying to tie-up all of all those loose ends and never succeed. It’s not that I’m disorganized, I do have lists, and they are highly categorized and prioritized. But, as the saying goes, “life gets in the way.” And it strikes me, year after year, that there is something profoundly wrong with the very notion that ‘life gets in the way.”

Life is the way, or so the magnet on my refrigerator tells me:

Every day is a gift. That’s why it’s called the Present.

Perhaps it’s paraphrase from the quote attributed to Babatunde Olatunjia the Nigerian drummer, educator, social activist and recording artist:

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.

Anyway, here is a sampling of some of the things that I did not get done in he past:

* put away my summer clothes

* finish the blog journal of November’s cruise

* write reviews (or, more accurately for me, my impressions) of the pile of CDs sent to me, unsolicited, by hopeful publicists and artists seeking exposure

* work those the Linked-In connections

* follow-up on pitch letters to agents and publishers

* send out Christmas cards

* enter writing contests and submit pieces to literary journals

We all know that we are powerless. How do we know? Well there’s that old, supposedly Yiddish, proverb, “We Plan, God Laughs.” I say supposedly because I’ve seen evidence of it’s multicultural and multidenominational use — by a Baptist minister and a female reverend’s easter sermon to name just two. It’s derivation is likely the Biblical verse found in Psalm 33:10:

“The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”

But, nevertheless. we continue to make plans.

These are not new thoughts to me, and I’ve said as much before. On October 3rd in my Now, In A Million Years post I mentioned an interest in Zen or Buddhist philosophy. I have yet to find time to take a class, but I have done a little more research and my six New Year resolutions are based on the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism (“the way to the cessation of suffering”)

1. To speak truthfully, without exaggerations, and never hurtfully.

2. Avoid any and all harmful actions

3. Ensure that my livelihood does no harm, to myself or to others; directly or indirectly.

4. Make an effort to improve

5. Focus on seeing things for what they are and with clear consciousness

6. Be more aware of the present, internal and external, and accept it. (No more wishing it were otherwise.)

If you’re wondering why six and not all eight, it’s because the last two (Right Understanding and Right Thoughts) are still too abstract for me. Here’s a Wikipedia link for those who are curious.

To quote another refrigerator magnet, “Life’s a journey. not a destination.” Perhaps you recognize that thought from your own refrigerator magnet collection, or from Aerosmith’s lyrics to Amazing. Or maybe you recall the words of Aldous Huxley:

The spiritual journey does not consist in arriving at a new destination where a person gains what he did not have, or becomes what he is not. It consists in the dissipation of one’s own ignorance concerning one’s self and life, and the gradual growth of that understanding which begins the spiritual awakening.

I came across a number of other apropos quotations; here are a few:

If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. ~Senegalese Proverb

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. ~Dale Carnegie

We are always getting ready to live but never living. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. ~James Thurber

So today I begin my quest. I can’t bring peace to the world, but I can bring peace to myself. It’s too late to send out Christmas cards and there’s no point in putting those clothes away when I’ll just have to take them out again in a couple of months. I’ll start this year by simply deleting items from the list. Hmmm, maybe I can just delete the list itself.

Wishing you all peace and serenity in the New Year.


party_animals_e0.gifI share today with Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, Duchess of York (1959), chef Emeril Lagasse (1959), director Penny Marshall (1942, and yes, I remember when she was an actress), Linda Lavin (1937, also an actress), businessman Lee Iacocca (1924), novelist Mario Puzo (1920), Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. historian (1917), economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908), writer PG Wodehouse (1881), philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844), and poet Virgil (read The Aeneid in high school; 70 BC – Virgil’s dob, not my year in high-school), to name just a few.

According to Cafe Astrology the ruler of our Sun is Venus. Secondary rulers of our decanate and quadrant signs are Mercury and Mars, respectively. We are determined and responsible persons with good heads on our shoulders and a great attachment to the place (and the people) we call “home”. We possess charm and our personal popularity helps us in life–although not as much as our own strength of mind. Partnership is important to us, and we value our personal relationships more than most.

Now, in a million years

I was talking with a friend about my interest in Zen philosophy and my inability to meditate (‘monkey brain’ swings from thought to thought and won’t turn off). I remember attending a seminar about spirituality and illness where a Zen master spoke of pain and discomfort as existing only due to a lack of acceptance. You want something other than what is, i.e. don’t accept what is, then that dissatisfaction is the root of the pain – physical or mental.   He seemed to be saying that if you accept the pain, or illness, or whatever, then it no longer hurts. No doubt I am oversimplifying, perhaps completely distorting what I think I heard, but it is an interesting line of thought, particularly when applied to life as a whole.

An old song is replaying in my head — I can’t get no satisfaction. I have too many things on my to-do list and not enough time to do them. Then I question the importance of these tasks, try to prioritize my time and weigh the benefits. What I am doing wrong? Why can I never reach “the goal” – Where’s the brass ring? Why can’t I find the key? Maybe I am at the wrong door? So I go back to the drawing board, trying, trying, trying, to get somewhere, but the truth is that I am no longer sure where that somewhere is. I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I am already there. That there, the somewhere, is here…and now.

There are oodles of apt sayings and aphorisms, the one that springs most readily to mind being life is a journey, not a destination. At one time or another, most of us question the meaning of our lives — this happens most often to those who survive life-threatening events or illnesses. Why were we spared? Were we so deserving or given a proverbial second chance to get it right this time?  “What now?” I remember asking myself in October 1996. I didn’t know it then, and perhaps I am still clueless, but I suspect that the key lies within the question itself, specifically in the three-letter word NOW.

These thoughts are nothing new — to me or to you I imagine. Be they philosophers or just plain folks, people have pondered these questions throughout history. Alan Alda may not qualify as either plain or philosopher, but his latest book tackles the issue head on. According to NPR’s morning Edition, “Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself” is about the meaning of life.

Wondering if his life has had meaning, Alda concludes, “It’s really a crazy question to worry yourself over. Meaning has come to mean to me a lasting sense of satisfaction, a feeling when you get to the end of it that you haven’t wasted your time. And, for me, it’s noticing it while it’s happening.

WHILE IT’S HAPPENING. That would be now.

Reminds me of a joke. This one is in a book titled “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes” by Cathcart & Klein — I haven’t read it, but I saw Nancy Yanes Hoffman’s review on Writing Doctor’s Blog

“A man is praying to God…’Lord, is it true that a millions years to you is but a second?’
‘Yes, that is true.’
‘Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?’
‘A million dollars to me is but a penny.’
‘Ah, then, Lord,’ says the man, ‘may I have a penny?’
‘Sure,’ says the Lord. ‘Just a second.’”

I guess NOW is a relative term.

The Influence of Music

I wish I had written this. The following is an excerpt from Jazz Messenger, an essay by Haruki Murakami in The New York Times Book Review (July 8, 2007).

…Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.

Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but if I had not been so obsessed with music, I might not have become a novelist. Even now, almost 30 years later, I continue to learn a great deal about writing from good music. My style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker’s repeated freewheeling riffs, say, as by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegantly flowing prose. And I still take the quality of continual self-renewal in Miles Davis’s music as a literary model. One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: “It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!”

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.

Haruki Murakami’s most recent book is a novel, “After Dark.” This essay was translated by Jay Rubin.

Who would have thunk?!

I can’t believe I bought an iPhone. I am not an Apple person. I am strongly rooted in the DOS and Windows world, but that is only because that’s the bulk of my experience, not because I am pro Bill Gates. On the other hand, I am anti Apple. My Apple aversion is not so much because I don’t like using a Mac as it is because I don’t care for Apple’s policies. Way back in the dark ages, Apple blew their opportunity to carve a larger slice of the pie. They kept their operating system so close to the vest that third-party developers couldn’t code their programs for Mac use. That’s why there were so many programs and cool tools for PCs and so few for Macs. At that time, Macs may have had the better programs for graphic artists, but that’s pretty much the only edge they had, and that’s why, or how, Windows gained dominance.

Of course that’s old history. Today Apple tics me off by trying to control what I can do with my peripherals and music. I say “my” because “it” belongs to me. The first “it” was an iPod given to me as a gift on my 50th birthday. Within a year, the screen died, and when John bought a new iPod, Apple iTunes would not talk to it, nor would it allow us to un-install the old one or re-install the software. After several wasted hours, calls to tech support, and even a visit from a tech guru to try to erase the registry entry, we gave up. John returned his iPod to the store and I bought him a SanDisk Rhapsody mp3 player. And when it comes to music, if I buy it (download or disc), and decide I want to burn a CD for my car, or put it on my laptop, or share it with my husband, that’s my business. It’s not that I believe in file-sharing or copyright infringement, but I do believe in personal responsibility; I don’t want Big Brother on my computer determining how many copies I can make.

With this in mind, it was shocking to me when I found myself in the AT&T store fondling an iPhone, and then actually bought it. (No, I did not stand on line the day they went on sale.) I have to admit that I love using it and that it is just as easy as it appears on the television commercial. Having said that, I have heard that there is more to it, some surprising complexities to be discovered. So I now await receipt of my copy of the Pocket Idiot’s Guide to the iPhone, written by my friend Damon Brown who will undoubtedly be shocked to hear that, oh my god, I bought an iPhone.