The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The letters here do not necessarily express the views of Local 802. E-mail letters to Allegro@Local802afm.org or write to Allegro, Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036. Letters must be no more than 300 words.
IS JAZZ A ‘RELIC?’ NO WAY!
Last November, Benjamin Schwarz of The Atlantic magazine wrote a review of Ted Gioia’s new book “The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire”. In his review, Schwarz wrote “…there is no reason to believe that jazz can be a living, evolving art form decades after its major source…has dried up. Jazz, like the [Great American] Songbook, is a relic…”
I strongly disagree. While the popular song form is in my opinion at a low point, jazz musicians over the past five decades have become more prolific and skilled as composers in their own right, creating a wealth of new jazz “standards.” And this emergence of the jazz idiom as a compositional form as well as an improvisational styling has also resulted in an increased cross-pollination with several other genres.
While the widespread popularity of and familiarity with jazz is diminished from its earlier heyday, the same can be said for any quality enterprise these days. The mass commercial appeal to the lowest common denominator of entertainment is at its strongest level ever. We live in an inelegant age. And to be fair, jazz musicians often sabotage their own efforts by being aloof and less than fully engaged with their audiences.
Despite all the obvious drawbacks, however, people given the opportunity to hear jazz and see it performed live almost always have a strong personal reaction to it. This music is able to more directly move people emotionally and immediately touch their hearts. And at the deepest level of one’s physical being, the human heartbeat, everyone innately digs swinging.
Thus, in my view, far from being a relic of the past, jazz continues to evolve while still remaining an important musical life force and a uniquely significant American art form. And it’s here to stay!
HONORING BARRY FINCLAIR
This is a tribute to Barry Finclair (1945-2012). Before emerging on the musical scene as an outstanding violinist and violist, Barry studied at Juilliard, Mannes and USC, and was one of the select few chosen by Jascha Heifetz for his small class of students. Here in New York City, Barry was active in the field of recordings and jingles. Appearing at age 13 as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic on the Young People’s Concerts Series, Barry later played as a member of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and, more recently, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
Central to his long and distinguished career as a concert violinist and violist were Barry’s activities with L’Ensemble, a chamber music organization created by his wife, the soprano Ida Faiella, and which he joined in running in 1973. L’Ensemble was devoted to presenting concerts at the highest professional level throughout much of the United States. I was happy to perform some concerts for L’Ensemble here in New York and to have joined Barry in duos for two violins and for violin and viola. Barry’s chamber music performances with me were of such a high caliber that I decided to have them released on CDs by the recording company C’Embal d’amour.
In closing, let me mention that I, and all those privileged to have known him, always valued Barry for his exceptional warmth, humor, intelligence and creativity. He was a wonderful friend and colleague, one whom all of us shall greatly miss.
[Editor’s note: see our obituary for Barry Finclair on page 39.]
I REMEMBER EDDIE
I’d like to pay tribute to trombonist Eddie Bert (1922-2012). I started lessons with Eddie when I was 11 or 12 years old. The lessons were always great and always the same: warm-ups, traditional studies, famous jazz tunes, and sight-reading. If Eddie had time, the lessons would go on for up to two hours! Now, believe me, Eddie didn’t need the $1.50 I was paying, but he was truly paying it forward. If there were eight days in a week, Eddie would have been working all of them. Eddie was always running from gig to gig – TV shows, Broadway shows, jingles, record dates and rehearsal bands – but he always made time to give me my lesson.
Finally, I was ready to gig. Every time Eddie thought I was ready, he would send me in to cover for a guy who was late or didn’t show. I was scared, but I went. I ended up sitting next to every famous trombonist you could think of, including Wayne Andre, Sonny Russo, Alan Raph, Bill Watrous, Jimmy Cleveland, Harry D’Vito, Bill Tole, Benny Powell, Carl Fontana, Bill Elton, Dick Hixon, Bob Brookmeyer, Buddy Morrow, Jim Dahl, Frank Rehak, Tony Studd, Kai Winding, Will Bradley and Urbie Green. I know I’ve left out many of the players, forgive me. But I learned from them all.
In 1966, when Eddie eased me into Urbie’s band, I was set. Once Urbie gave his stamp of approval, I was working all the time. None of this could have happened without Eddie Bert. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for trombonists today to equal a career like Eddie’s. For just the amount of individual record dates, Eddie’s up there with Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Ellington, and Armstrong. A true great is gone.
[Editor’s note: we published Eddie Bert’s obituary in our November 2012 issue.]
TRIBUTES TO JON FROMER
After a long struggle with illness, Jon Fromer (1946-2013), died at home in Mill Valley, Calif. on Jan. 2. Dedicated to the movement for social justice and peace, Jon lived his life as an artist, a musician and a cultural worker. His deep voice and booming guitar were well known in the San Francisco Bay Area progressive community. On the picket line and at rallies Jon Fromer was an inspiration. He was a proud member of AFM Local 1000 and also of SAG/AFTRA. Jon helped found the Freedom Song Network in San Francisco, singing out for civil rights, immigrant rights and human rights.
He wrote songs about labor history and heritage and he always encouraged others to join in the chorus.
In 2011, Jon received the Joe Hill Award as well as the Labor Arts Award. For many years he was a powerful presence at the Western Workers Heritage Festival and the Great Labor Arts Exchange.
Always imploring us to “keep singing and keep fighting,” Jon believed that “music can capture the beauty and power of a struggle.”
He joins Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Malvina Reynolds and other great singers and songwriters whose music helped change the world. Wherever people raise their voices in songs of protest, the spirit of Jon Fromer will abound. Jon is survived by his wife Mary, brother David, sister Ann, stepson Mark, grandson Shay, nephew Reed and other friends and family. Condolences may be sent to Mary Fromer, P.O. Box 1912, Mill Valley, CA 94942.
My friend and union brother Jon Fromer passed away after a long and valiant battle with stomach cancer. And cancer never knew a more valiant battler. I’m reminded of the announcement of Teddy Roosevelt’s passing, “Death took him in his sleep for, were he awake, there would have been a fight.”
Jon was a teenager when he marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Thus began a life of walking the walk. He was a gifted producer, helping create over 1,000 award-winning television shows in his “day job” in the Bay Area. His great anthem “We Do the Work” was a theme song for one of them. But his Work was raising his voice, raising our spirits, and raising our hopes through his powerful voice and music. All the while he was, as was once noted, “radically modest.” Jon was an organizer of the music at the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) demonstrations at Fort Benning, Georgia each November and a longtime attendee of the Great Labor Arts Exchange, where we met many years ago.
Jon was not a “star.” His name is probably new to most of you. But he was one of those musicians who understood what music was for and what it could do…what we could do and become with the right song to sing. Visit www.JonFromer.com and find out what you’ve been missing. Like his spirit, his music will go on, sung and celebrated by the many he loved and fought alongside.
As Jon sang:
My feet are tired
My feet are tired
My feet are tired
But my soul is rested
Jon Fromer was a musician, songwriter, storyteller, filmmaker, father, husband and good friend of unionists everywhere. I’m going to miss his humor, soulful singing and dedication to social justice and fixing what’s broke.
He helped spread songs that have become classics at rallies the world over: “Soon and Very Soon,” “All of Us Are Members,” “I Cannot Sleep.”
He grew up in the Bay Area and learned some of his craft at the feet of Malvina Reynolds. There’s a story Jon loved to tell: He was 18, frequenting the coffeehouses, and had just written a love song. Malvina pulled him aside after hearing that song and said, “Jon, why don’t you stick to things you know about.” (In fairness to Jon, the love songs he wrote for his wife Mary, especially the tender and sweet “In the Middle of the Night,” would probably have gotten Malvina’s O.K.)
Performing on acoustic guitar, he spent too much time around R&B and rock-and-roll to just play the folk strums. His percussive style mesmerized audiences.
Jon would occasionally ask me to back him up on keyboards. His favorite keyboard player was his nephew Reed, but since Reed didn’t travel a lot, I got to play with Jon when he played the Right Coast.
He began touring as an opening act for Henry Mancini in the late 1960s. In New York City, Jon could be counted on to fill the People’s Voice Cafe at 40 East 35th.
Other memorable gigs included the Festa Do Avant in Portugal, the workers’ music festival that draws a half million visitors. One of Jon’s best-known songs was “My Feet Are Tired,” about Rosa Parks, which he co-wrote with Bernie Gilbert. He made sure international audiences heard positive stories of our country. Wherever Jon performed, he “told the victory.”