Influential People

I spent several hours yesterday pouring over archival records at The Juilliard School of Music. Among the papers from the 1937-38 academic year I found a flyer announcing a series of six lectures by Mlle. Nadia Boulanger. The price to attend all six 3 PM lectures (February 9, 16, 23, March 9, 23 and 30) was $15, or $7.50 for students.

Is it a coincidence of that I recently received an email from my friend Phil mentioning Mlle. B? The proud father wrote:

So, until this evening, I didn’t know that Nadia Boulanger taught Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones…courtesy of a PowerPoint report that Robin is organizing for her 6th Grade class.

Now that’s an interesting legacy. Makes me wonder how you and John will be credited as teachers and/or influences when Robin’s children write their 6th Grade reports.


John gets letters now and then mentioning the day he said this or did that and how they never forgot it, whatever it was. Back then, Mlle. Boulanger probably didn’t know just how influential she was. You never know what effect your words and actions may have on someone else, whether at the time or much later.

Victor Borge In And On The Air

Around the time that Terry Teachout was watching Victor Borge on an old What’s My Line? episode (read TT’s reminiscence here ), I was perusing Luther Henderson’s papers and came across…Victor Borge.

One Wednesday evening, February 19, 1958 at 9 PM to be exact, CBS-TV broadcast “Victor Borge’s Comedy and Music.” This one-hour show was “Presented by the Big Bold Pontiac and your authorized Pontiac Dealer.” I know this because among Luther’s papers was a program, and I am guessing that there was a live TV audience. (Why else would there be a program for a television show?)

The opening number was described as follows:

Liechtensteiner Polka . . . . . . . VICTOR BORGE and the Orchestra
Mr. Popp’s arrangement of Mr. Borge’s conception of SHAMPOO MUSIC for the 16-piece orchestra under the baton of LUTHER HENDERSON, JR., Conductor and Arranger for the Polly Bergen TV show, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Andre Kostelanetz, and other top names in American music.

Pontiac got their monies worth as the program included several “commercial” numbers including:

Mr. Borge performs variations on the themes of Pontiac greatness: style, performance and handling…and reaches an impressive conclusion. Narrated by Milton Cross.

There are a number of old television programs I’d like to view as part of my research for “Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson.” Thanks to the Museum of Television & Radio , I should be able to see this show, the Polly Bergen show, and a number of other programs for which Luther composed, arranged, and/or conducted music. Bea Arthur tells me that Luther even made an on-camera appearance in an episode of Maude, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that!

Some Jazzy Birthdays This Week and Next

Celebrating those who are here as well as though who are gone —
November 21: Coleman Hawkins would have been 101.
November 22: Happy 80th to Gunther Schuller; Jimmy Knepper would have been 78.
November 23: Happy 80th to Johnny Mandel; Willie The Lion Smith would have been 108.
November 24: Al Cohn would have been 80; Teddy Wison would have been 93.
November 25: Nat Adderley would have been 74 and Paul Desmond would have been 81.
By the end of the month, Ed Bickert and Jack Sheldon will be celebrating their 73rd and 74th birthdays, respectively; violinist Eddie South, Billy Strayhorn, and Gigi Gryce, would have been 101, 90, and 80 respectively.

John Levy Remembers Shirley Horn

Shirley Horn died last night; her daughter called us this morning. We hadn’t seen Shirley since she appeared in Las Vegas at the Johnny Pate 80th Birthday concert and celebration, playing in public for the first time with her then new prosthesis, but earlier this year she called several times, more often than in years past. I wonder now if she knew then how ill she was, but just didn’t say.

I have posted an excerpt from chapter thirteen of Men, Women, and Girl Singers ; John was Shirley’s manager way back when and they remained close friends throughout her life.

When I first heard her, I did not know the full extent of her musical genius. But I did know that she was special. Actually I didn’t even know whose voice I was listening to on the radio in my office. And I was even more intrigued by the sound of the piano accompaniment.

Here is the complete excerpt.

More Jazz Masters Links

In this post, Rifftides directed readers to some nifty info on the NEA web site. One of his links takes you to the Jazz Masters for 2006 (of which my husband is one), and another link to the Jazz Masters Features page where you will find links to a photo gallery (Images), a couple of interviews (Conversations), as well as the great group picture that was shot at the luncheon at the Hilton Hotel in NYC in January 2004. Only 23 of the 73 Jazz Masters at that time are in that photo. If you’d like to see the complete list of all the Jazz Masters with links to bios and various other goodies for each person (sometimes video clips, discographies, interview clips…), visit the IAJE web site, here for the first 73, here for the seven awarded in 2005.

P.S. For those of you in the Los Angeles area, soon-to-be Jazz Master John Levy will be the guest Friday evening (October 21th – 8 PM) at the World Stage for the second of this Fall’s World Stage Stories events in Leimert Park (4344 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90008 | one block east of Crenshaw, north of Vernon between 43rd Place and 43rd Street |

P.P.S. New Yorkers, save the date Thursday, November 10th, 6:30 pm-8:00 pm — John will be he guest of the Jazz Museum in Harlem for one of their Harlem Speaks events (104 E. 126th Street
New York, N.Y. 10035 | admission is free, for reservations call the museum at 212.348.8300).

Here’s To Life

Call it coincidence, or the work of spirits, but a few hours after I posted yesterday’s blog entry, Shirley Horn’s husband had his California friend to call John again. Shirley is indeed conscious, aware of what she sees and hears, even though she is unable to speak. John was able to call and speak to her while her husband held the phone to her ear; “she smiled when she heard your voice,” he told John.

The voice, whether used in speech or song, is a powerful instrument. When I was in the hospital with a breathing tube that rendered me speechless, the voices of friends calling from the opposite coast were comforting, but the most uplifting call of all was Joe Williams singing Here’s To Life a capella over the phone. I wish Joe were still here to sing it to Shirley.

Here’s To Life is a beautiful song by Artie Butler* who originally intended the song for Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes passed on it, so Artie gave it to Joe, who performed it many times in concert, especially when accompanied by an orchestra. Joe wanted to record it, but only if he could do so with strings. The record company didn’t want the expense and so when Gitane came up with the money for Shirley to record with strings, Shirley called Artie, Artie called John who then called Joe, who, being his gracious self said, “but of course Shirley can record it.” Shirley’s CD, “Here’s To Life” was released by Polygram in 1992. Two years later, Joe recorded in England with Robert Farnon’s orchestra, and his “Here’s To Life” CD was released by Telarc.

Shirley is a fighter, and your prayers and well-wishes will give her strength. Cards and flowers may be sent to her at:

Gladys Spellman Specialty Hospital and Nursing Center
2900 Mercy Lane
Cheverly, MD 20785

*lyrics were written by Phyllis Molinary

Joyce Alexander Wein: October 21, 1928 – August 15, 2005

The following announcement was released today and I share it with you courtesy of publicist Sue Auclair:

Joyce Wein, wife and business partner of jazz impresario George Wein, passed away quietly Monday, August 15, at New York Presbyterian Hospital following a battle with cancer. She was 76.

Joyce Alexander Wein was born in October 21, 1928, in Boston, Massachusetts, the sixth of seven children of Columbia and Hayes Alexander. Her mother was the youngest of thirteen children, two of whom were born into slavery. Joyce attended Girls Latin School and at the age of 15, entered Simmons College, where she graduated with a major in chemistry in 1948 at the age of 19. After graduation, she started her career as a biochemist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and later in New York at Columbia Medical School.

In 1959, Joyce Alexander married George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, and gave up her career in biochemistry. Mr. Wein, an internationally known impresario, leaned heavily on her advice and partnership in the Newport Opera Festival and Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Hampton Jazz Festival, and the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. In 1963, Mrs. Wein joined her husband and Pete and Toshi Seeger in founding the Newport Folk Festival, a major engine of the 1960s folk revival; her tireless work behind the scenes was critical to that event’s success.

A woman of great intelligence and tremendous dignity, she was a renowned art collector, extraordinary hostess, devoted friend and avid supporter of the arts.

A founder of the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women, the forerunner of coalitions around the nation, Mrs. Wein has been deeply involved with philanthropy and the arts. She was responsible for establishing the Joyce and George Wein Professorship Fund in African-American Studies at Boston University, and recently set up the Alexander Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at Simmons College. She has served on the Board of the Studio Museum in Harlem for ten years, and has partnered with her husband in amassing an important collection of paintings and drawings by African-American artists. (The George and Joyce Wein Collection of African-American Art will be shown at an exhibition at the Boston University Art Gallery from November 18, 2005 through January 22, 2006.) For the past ten years, she and her husband have partnered with Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, the CEO of American Express and his wife, to host an annual dinner for Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, raising over $500,000.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Wein leaves two sisters, Eugenia Manning of San Francisco, California and Theodora McLaurin of Hingham, Massachusetts and many nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews.

Funeral Services will be held on Friday, August 19, at 11:30 a.m. at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, 81st & Madison. Interment following service at Woodlawn Cemetery. Donations can be made in her name to Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, NY 10027.

Frank E. Campbell The Funeral Chapel
1076 Madison Avenue at 81st Street
New York, NY 10028
Telephone: 212 288 3500
Toll Free: 800 423 5928

[Photo of Joyce & George Wein in Newport, 2004 copyright Sue Auclair]

Why him?

Luther Henderson is not a household name, not even a B-list celebrity in the eyes of the general public. Finding a publisher for his biography has been a lengthy and difficult process, but I am pleased to say that I have been offered a contract, am in negotiations right now, and hope to announce the signing very soon. Meanwhile, people are asking me “Luther who?” and “Why him?”

I was unaware of Luther’s accomplishments when I first met him. I do not remember how that first meeting came to be. He was close to many people who are, or were, important in my own life. Still, I don’t recall any one of them making the introduction. My earliest recollection is of a planning meeting in the mid-1970s for the annual Jackie Robinson fundraiser, “An Afternoon of Jazz,” held outdoors on the grounds of Robinson’s home in Connecticut. Someone had recommended me to assist jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor with booking the artists, and I was in Marion Logan’s living room with Rachael Robinson, Luther Henderson, Billie Allen, and a few others. I may have grown up as a liberal, supported Rev. Martin Luther King’s work, and taken part in the March on Washington, but back then, I was unaware that Mrs. Logan was married to Arthur Logan, Duke Ellington’s doctor, and that they were close to Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I knew that Mrs. Robinson’s husband was a famous baseball player, but I did not know that it was he who broke the league’s color barrier. (Not being a sports fan, and not yet born when it happened, I guess that was understandable, but they really should have taught us about it in school.) There was no reason for me to know that Ms. Allen was an actress and stage director, or that Mr. Henderson had graduated from Julliard in 1942, but had he been properly credited on recordings, being a jazz fan, I might have known that he had written orchestrations for Duke Ellington. They didn’t seem to mind my ignorance; I was just a college kid there to do a job.

Over the following years, I would return on several occasions to the annual summer concert at the Robinsons’, no longer as naive booker, but as guest. One year I went with saxophonist Jerome Richardson, who I was dating at the time. Jerome and Luther were great friends, and Luther hired Jerome to work on his projects whenever possible. While living in New York City, I got to know Luther’s third wife, Margo, and we would occasionally shop together or have lunch at Café Des Artistes. I soon moved to California with Jerome, and we saw Luther on many occasions, most often during the productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ in California and France when Jerome was in the band. After a lengthy run close to our home in Los Angeles, the show ran for six months in Paris, where I joined Jerome for a month that included Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Margo had died two years earlier, and Billie Allen flew to Paris to spend the holidays with Luther; just after New Year’s they announced their plans to marry.

By the time they married, Jerome and I had split up. The new man in my life was John Levy, later to become my husband. John’s client, jazz singer Joe Williams, introduced us, and both Joe and John were old and dear friends of Luther’s. I was to return again several times to the Robinsons’ with John and with Joe (by then I was Joe’s publicist), and there, while the crowd enjoyed the music outside, we would always steal a moment in the gracious Robinson living room to catch up on the latest Henderson news.

Distance makes it difficult to stay connected, and we lived on opposite coasts, but whenever John or I went to New York, or whenever Luther or Billie would come to Los Angeles, we would get together. I had been in New York to see Black and Blue when it opened on Broadway, and John and I both saw Jelly’s Last Jam, first in Los Angeles and later in New York. We knew that Luther was ill; we knew that he had cancer, but we thought he had beaten it. We would hear that Luther was very sick, and then we would talk to him and he’d tell us about a new project he was working on. This happened more than once. When the end finally came, we were blindsided, and unable to get to New York in time to see him. At least John was able to say a few words to him on the telephone during that last week when he was in hospice.
Later we learned that just a few weeks before Luther went into hospice care, Billie told him that he was to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship, an honor that pleased him greatly. She said that he responded with just one word: “Recognition.” He had little energy to say more, and died not long thereafter. John and I were not able to attend the New York memorial service, but we were there in 2004 when Billie Allen Henderson, accompanied onstage by Luther’s son, Luther Henderson III, and his daughter, Melanie Henderson, accepted the NEA Jazz Master Award in his memory.

As I watched the video montage of Luther’s life, I realized not only how little I really knew about this man and his legacy, but also how few of the three thousand people sitting around me in the immense ballroom of the Hilton hotel had even heard of him. I knew it was a situation I wanted to change.

Missed Basses

When you get to be a certain age the number of entries in your address book across which you scribble “deceased” begins to increase. I know this, and given that my husband knows more dead people than live ones, I really shouldn’t be the one to comment. Still, I can’t help but notice that six world-class jazz bassists, five of whom I knew personally, have died in the last three-and-a-half months, starting with former Ellington bassist, Jimmy Woode, who passed away on April 22nd, and ending with Keter Betts who died this past weekend. In between, we lost Percy Heath (April), Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (May), Pierre Michelot, and Al McKibbon (July). If I’ve forgotten anyone, let me know.

I first met Jimmy Woode in a recording studio in Berlin. It was June of 1969. We (Mom, me, and my best friend Daisy) were with Dad on one of his whirlwind tours – Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Berlin all in two weeks. For some reason, we flew into East Berlin where Dad’s amplifier did not appear with the rest of our baggage. Thankfully, the bus stopped at an outer building where the amplifier was found, and then took us on to West Berlin. Of course the ride included the obligatory stop at Checkpoint Charlie, where, against explicit instructions, we took snapshots and got away with it. It was a trio recording (Daniel Humair on drums), and as producer Joachim E. Berendt pointed out, it was Dad’s first recording of his own in more than ten years. “It’s Nice To Be With You” was a family album, if you will, in that Mom wrote the title tune and I am on the cover. I wasn’t too thrilled with the cover back then – at thirteen I would have preferred something more glamorous than eating a bockwurst out of my father’s hand at the Berlin Zoo – but that was then, and today I wish I had a copy of the original photo.

It was Dad who first introduced me to Percy Heath. Percy was playing with The Modern Jazz Quartet – I think it was the 1966 concert at Carnegie Hall. Listening to my Dad, I was familiar with a tune called Bags’ Groove, and the MJQ played it that night; it was probably the only tune I recognized. In recent years, my husband, John, and I have had the pleasure of hanging out with all three Heath Brothers at annual events like Monterey and IAJE conventions. I especially enjoy it as Beverly and Mona (Mrs. Tootie and Mrs. Jimmy, respectively) often travel with them; seeing Percy’s wife, June, was a much rarer treat. It’s funny that we always see them on the road and seldom at home, even though Tootie & Beverly are neighbors. John had breakfast with Jimmy and Tootie at the Heritage Festival in New Orleans the day after Percy died.

I never knew Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen personally, but you can’t be a jazz lover and not know his playing, especially his work with Oscar Peterson. Ray Brown, who left us three years ago (it doesn’t seem like that long) recommended him to Peterson, reportedly saying, “He’s the only one I know that might keep up with you.” The word virtuoso is often over-used, but NHOP was one, and I’ve read that he can be heard on more than 400 recordings. Of the many Pedersen-Peterson recordings, The Paris Concert, recorded live in October of 1978, is often singled out.

Pierre was not so well-known in the U.S., save by those who recognized him as the unnamed bassist in the movie, ‘Round Midnight or knew his work with Miles Davis on Louis Malle’s 1957 film, Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud. Serious jazz fans, of course, knew him from recordings with Bud Powell, Coleman Hawkins and Buck Clayton, Django Reinhardt, Dizzy Gillespie, and Clifford Brown, among others. I was in my early twenties when I met him in Paris. He, along with pianist George Arvanitas, was working in the tiny cave (basement) of a little nightclub called Le petit Opportun’ (15, rue des Lavandières-Ste-Opportune) with saxophonist Jerome Richardson. I remember Pierre as always swinging and smiling, and I was sad to learn that during the last few years of his life he suffered with Alzheimers.

Al McKibbon I’ve written about recently (here and here). I am not sure when I first met Keter, but I think it was in Nice, France, at Le Grande Parade du Jazz (the festival produce by George Wein). I was an impressionable sixteen-year-old on a summer excursion, and he was on tour with Ella Fitzgerald. I saw him many times over the years, usually with Ella, sometimes with Joe Williams, later with Etta Jones, and at recording sessions with everyone who was anyone. At home, he was active in the Washington, D.C.-area schools and music programs, taught at Howard University, and coordinated jazz programming for Black Entertainment Television.

The beat will go on without them, or perhaps, because of them.