The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CI, No. 1January, 2001


To the Editor:

I am compelled to write to you in response to John Glasel’s rather vicious review of my book “Trumpet Blues – The Life of Harry James.” Mr. Glasel’s unfavorable remarks certainly stood out, especially since I have received 62 either excellent or good reviews; the only other unfavorable review I received mentioned that I had focused too much on James’s personal life and not enough on his music. This was a justifiable criticism and something l have kept in mind while preparing my forthcoming biography of Nelson Riddle.

I also might point out that Nat Hentoff in Jazz Times, Gary Giddins in the Washington Post, and Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal all are without question considerably more renowned than Mr. Glasel as observers of the jazz scene. Hentoff wrote, “One of the very few biographies of a musician I have read that not only told me much more than I thought I knew but compelled me to listen to the music again.” Giddins referred to my book as “The surprise page-turner of the year.” I might add that Ralph Novak of People magazine called it a “model celebrity biography.” Teachout wrote, “Harry James was a jazz master. If you doubt it, read ‘Trumpet Blues.'”

In addition, I am pleased to say that the following James musicians and friends all called me to tell me how well I had captured Harry James’s story: Joe Cabot, Buddy Combine, Les DeMerle, Art Depew, Buddy DiVito, Chris Griffin, Neal Hefti, E.C. Holland, Red Kelly, Jack Lawrence, Billy May, Dick McQuarry, Mike Millar, Jackie Mills, Jack Perciful, Tommy Porello, Dean Pratt, Fred Radke, Bill Richmond, the late Arnold Ross, Jerry Roy, Tony Scodwell, Doc Severinsen and Ira Westley.

Mr. Glasel was correct in citing the error about the Valley Forge Music Fair. This and other such errors have been since corrected in the four printings my book has received thus far in exactly a year’s time. He was wrong, however, in taking exception to the fact that a gold record was given James for six more appearances on Spotlight Bands within a two-month period. This was not “sloppy, sloppy!” but rather a written report from the actual radio show. This particular gold record had nothing to do with record sales.

I can recall the fact that Gene Lees, who is certainly another highly qualified jazz critic, referred to swipes such as these as examples of “nitpicking.” Indeed!

For Mr. Glasel’s further edification, I have written over 40 national magazine articles and over 30 liner notes for record albums. I know Mr. Glasel is respected as a trumpet player and as the former president of Local 802. As a “volunteer reviewer,” however, he is completely out of line in his judgment.

–Peter Levinson

Editor’s note: John Glasel’s knowledge of music and his skills as a writer and critic are well known to readers of Allegro; they need no defense in these pages. However, we must take exception to the characterization of his somewhat critical review as a “vicious” one. And given the long list of authorities Peter Levinson cites as taking a very positive view of his book, it seems fair to point out that the two members of Allegro’s editorial board who have read the book were in full agreement with Glasel’s critique.


To the Editor:

In a recent letter to Allegro I discussed how, as a hotel pianist, I had managed to keep my job intact through the many comings and goings of hotel management teams and f&b directors, scandals, bankruptcies and corporate takeovers. Well, let me say that I have now been unequivocally stung and am gainfully unemployed.

The hotel where I worked as a full-time pianist (not to be mentioned here, as numerous grievances are pending) got themselves a new GM and Food and Beverage Director, immediately installed a new high-tech Muzak system that plays droning and abhorrent Baroque top 10, and made me – as well as the trio that was there for 15 years – pack our bags.

Somehow, somewhere, a law should be enacted prohibiting a mechanical device from being able to take the place of a live musician. I can understand it if they start out with mechanical devices, but not if the establishment has a long history of live music. How would the Muzak industry like it if live musicians came in and took their place?

Also, why is it that the Food and Beverage director is always in charge of hiring the musicians? They are food and beverage, not food and music. These people know absolutely nothing about music and musicians, other than the personal biases they bring to the table.

And lastly, the last respite a tenured musican has is his six weeks’ pay. This hotel was stupid enough to give me the option of working the last six weeks or taking off with pay. Of course, the choice is obvious. However, since I took off, the hotel bundled my six weeks into one check. Consequently, Uncle Sam took 50 percent instead of his usual 33 percent. On six weeks’ pay, that is a lot of money.

Most musicians who have worked at this hotel in the past have eventually been terminated through unfair labor practices and, every time, legal charges have been brought against the corporation. Every musician, to my knowledge, has won. So I guess I may have something to look forward to.

–Rich Atkins