Happy birthday my darling!

I love you yesterday, today, forever… just like it said on our wedding cake.

I know that some little part of you wished to make it to the 100th birthday milestone, not because you reveled in rituals or awards – everyone who knew you knows better than that – but I know you wanted that centennial happy birthday letter from Obama! Again, all who knew you are keenly aware that the value of that letter lies not in it’s Presidential nature, you have letters of thanks and commendations from prior Presidents, but because Obama is America’s first African-American President.

I will never forget inauguration day – a day you thought would never come. We hosted a small breakfast party in our living room. You, your son Michael, and friends Washington Rucker and John Mitchell – representing three generations of Black men – partaking of scrambled eggs with grits, bacon, and biscuits while talking about history and watching it unfold.

When the swearing in ceremony was to begin, plates were left behind and you four moved to straight-backed chairs much closer to the television. You could have heard the proverbial pin-drop and if someone had been able to gather up the tears of joy that were shed around the world when Obama was sworn in, mankind would never fear another drought.

During the hours we were glued to the television I saw other emotions as well — concern for Obama’s well-being, fear for his life, and fury when he and Michele got out of their car and walked down The Avenue…and oh yes, a great deal of pride. I am so glad you lived to see that day.

I am glad, too, that you lived to see some more personal milestones, growing closer to your children and grandchildren, and holding in your arms your one and only Levy great-grandson who will carry the Levy name forward.

Before you left, you got to read the many 100th birthday messages that people sent, and I saw how touched you were by their words. The only message I really wish you could have seen was a condolence letter I received from a total stranger — Sally, now an older woman and a jazz fan for decades, wrote “Mr. Levy was a great man (not only as an artist himself) but for his recognition of all these great jazz artists!”

You see, my darling, your legacy lives on in oh so many ways….

[here’s a link to the memorial card and letter to friends posted on Lushlife.com]


It’s 6 AM
and John’s asleep,
the house is quiet,
not nary a peep.

I’m awake,
or so I think,
is that an oven?
No, that’s the sink.

Bread’s a rising,
turkey’s roasting,
pie’s a baking,
we’re here, left-coasting.

Composing at my desk,
with java in a mug,
I send to friends and family
much love and lots of hugs.

Happy Thanksgiving!

p.s. Rifftides resurrected one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories in honor of Paul Desmond’s birthday. If you haven’t read it yet, click here.

Jazz For Obama – October 1 in New York City

This just in from JazzCorner

Just as we were about to give a shout out for jazz musicians and jazz fans to get more involved in the November election, we get this notice about this incredible line-up of jazz musicians performing for one night only to present Jazz For Obama, a concert event to benefit Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama:

  • Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Dianne Reeves
  • Brad Mehldau
  • Joe Lovano
  • Roy Hargrove
  • Christian McBride
  • Stanley Jordan
  • Hank Jones
  • The Charlie Hunter/Doug Wamble Duo
  • Bilal/Robert Glasper
  • Stefon Harris
  • Roberta Gambarini
    …and special guests

The concert takes place at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall on Wednesday, October 1 at 7:30 PM. The Kaufmann Concert Hall is located at Lexington Avenue at East 92nd Street. Tickets are $100 and available now at Jazz For Obama. A limited number of student tickets are available for $50. VIP tickets are $250 and include reserved seating and a post-concert reception. The concert is produced by Jazz for America’s Future. All proceeds benefit the Obama For America Presidential Campaign. Wednesday, October 1 at 7:30 PM at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall New York, NY. You can only purchase tickets through Jazz For Obama

Free Admission – Excellent Music – 9/23/08

For those of you in New York City or the vicinity, I share with you an invitation to hear Bill Kirchner (soprano saxophone) and Marc Copland (piano) In Concert at The New School Jazz Performance Space on Tuesday, September 23, 8 p.m. [55 West 13th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, 5th floor]

In Bill’s own words:

Marc Copland and I have been friends and musical colleagues for 30 years, and we’ve played together many times in a variety of groups and settings.  Some of the best musical moments of my career have involved Marc, who is one of the most gifted and original musicians I know.

An example:  some years ago we played a duo concert, in which we did a free improvisation that went so well that I was able to transcribe it from a recording and orchestrate it.  It turned out as a very nice piece for jazz quartet and string quartet.  Once in a while, you get lucky.

I have every reason to think that we’ll be lucky at this concert as well.  I hope you can join us.

Brick Fleagel and Luther Henderson

I received an email this morning from Ed Danielson reminding me that today is Brick Fleagel’s 102nd birhday. Happy Birthday Brick. If you don’t know about Brick Fleagel, read what I wrote about him three years ago today  (drat! tempus is fugiting faster than I’d like!) and this email response from Bill Crow.

And if you don’t know who Ed Danielson is, he’s the host of The Morning Beat, KUVO’s weekday morning drive-time program. (You can listen to KUVO online here.) Ed’s been hosting the Denver program since June of 2001 and I have just learned that he regularly makes note of the birthdays of jazz musicians, both living and departed. In his email Ed asked if I knew when Brick died and while I once thought that date was circa 1981, I now think it was more like 1992 because Billie Henderson (Luther’s widow) remember’s Brick’s death as being shortly before the Broadway opening of Jelly’s Last Jam. Memories are suspect, however, so as a biographer I will have to keep looking for a verifiable date.

And speaking of Billie Allen Henderson, a respected actress and director in her own right, I want to tell you that she has established a Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund within the Juilliard School. A smashing evening benefit gala entitled “Spreadin’ the Rhythm Around” will be held on October 6th at Juilliard’s Jay Sharp Theatre. (Read more about the scholarship and gala here on the LHSF site and  here in JazzTimes magazine.)

Gerald Wiggins Memorial Tribute

To read Gerald Wiggins’ bio/obit, click here.

The Memorial tribute for Gerry Wiggins will be

Monday, July 28, 2008
6:30 P.M. – doors open
7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. program
reception to follow on site

@ the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center

Theatre Address:
4718 West Washington Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA 90016

Click here for directions to the theatre>

Conveniently located 1- block east of the theatre, complimentary parking is available at one of our two lots, located on the corner of Washington and Vineyard. Click here for a map>

Tenor and Brass on TV

On Sunday, November 11, 2007 beginning at 8:00 p.m. Public Television will air The USAF 60th Anniversary: A Musical Celebration featuring The United States Air Force Band with special guests “The Tenors – Cook, Dixon, & Young” and “Empire Brass”. The brass quintet is noted for presenting works from Bach and Handel to jazz and Broadway. Similarly, the tenors are well versed in both the European and American musical traditions, so it’s no surprise that the broadcast will include American classics such as American Salute, Ain’t Misbehavin’, America the Beautiful, and a rousing full-cast finale of God Bless America.

I’m not familiar with the brass players but have read that all five have held leading positions with major American orchestras and that the ensemble plays over 100 concerts a year in major cities throughout the world. I am more familiar with the tenors. Victor Trent Cook received a Tony Award nomination for “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” Rodrick Dixon has been a featured performer in several roles with the Los Angeles and Michigan Opera companies, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and in Broadway’s “Ragtime.” Grammy Award-winning vocalist Thomas Young has appeared as a soloist in major concert halls around the world; he’s also created operatic roles for contemporary composers like John Adams and Anthony Davis. Their talents encompass jazz and blues (here’s a video clip) as well as the classics (here’s a video clip of Roderick)

I know of Cook, Dixon, and Young as “Three Mo’ Tenors,” so I wondered why the billing changed to read “The Tenors.” In an online Variety article published 9/27/07 I learned that

“The “Three Mo'” franchise was started by [Director Marion J.] Caffey with singers Victor Trent Cook, Rodrick Dixon and Thomas Young in the title roles. Producer Willette Murphy Klausner soon joined up, and the group received much exposure courtesy of a 2001 PBS showing. Performers and management thereafter split acrimoniously, leaving Klausner and Caffey with rights to the title; Cook, Dixon and Young still perform together in the three tenor format, presumably with more star power than any of the six tenors alternating at the Little Shubert.”

I have never been in favor of spin-offs, musical franchises and/or ghost bands, and while I’m sure that all of the tenors currently performing on Broadway and elsewhere as “Three Mo'” are very talented, I’ll stick with the originals of whom I’ve been fond ever since their debut in the summer of 2000.

Of course I also love the original originals – Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras – The Three Tenors with three capital Ts. Ay, Ay, Ay.

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.

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.