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Word has reached JAZZ INSIGHTS that Alan Bergman –the lawyer not the songwriter– has passed away.  He had undergone surgery for cancer but he told me that doctors told him that they “got it all.”  Does anyone really know?

Alan was one of the good guy lawyers.  His clients were mostly, if not all, jazz oriented.  He was knowledgeable about the music biz and its foibles.  Dr. Billy Taylor was one and when I was doing Dr. T’s publicity for Peter Levinson Communications and beyond we conferred constantly.  Both Billy and his wife Teddy loved him.  Bergman was Taylor’s guiding light as to legal matters, and sometimes musically as well.  Bergman was an accomplished, and recorded, drummer.  Their relationship made Billy very comfortable on many levels.

We met formally when I was asked to  join a team representing Dreyfus Jazz Records.  The French label had a stable of superlative musicians: Michel Petrucciani, Richard Galliano and Birelli Legrene among them.  The last two were unknown in the U.S. while Petrucciani was already star quality.

Dreyfus owner, Francis Dreyfus, treated Petrucciani, who had an affliction called “glass bones,” as if he was his son.  The pianist did his best work for Dreyfus Jazz.  Accordionist Galliano and guitarist Legrene had to be handled differently.  The former a fabulous player from a French discipline called musette, had his own way of doing things and didn’t know quite how to handle the record industry publicity machine.  On the other hand, the latter was pure gypsy guitar, young, raw, fleet, right out of the Django tradition and extremely cooperative who did not read music well, if at all.  Between his broken English and my petit peu Français we made it work.  Need I mention that Birelli learned English and how to read music in very short order?

Alan Bergman handled it all in stride.  He juggled keeping that one ball in the air.  The erudite M. Dreyfus was kept away from we crude Americans as much as possible. We were, after all, just hired hands while Alan was a sophisticated confidante.  The current Dreyfus PR Don Lucoff has fared better.

The personable Billy Taylor was another story altogether.  I am proud to have called him mentor prior to my Levinson affiliation and when it became formalized we remained friends.  We spoke a great deal.  Dined and entertained together.  Teddy confided in me about the relationships with Levinson and Bergman.  The latter always warm; the former not so.

Alan Bergman had another side in addition to lawyer-ing and drumming; he was an art collector and he hipped me to one of his faves, a woman who painted watercolors of Cape Cod scenes.  Myself and a then girl friend from the Cape were year-rounders in Provincetown for a minute so we searched her out.  I bought a print of hers which still hangs in my bedroom.

After my friend Billy Taylor left us Alan asked me to do some PR for another client, also a pianist.  When I demurred he asked, “You just wanted to do publicity for Billy, didn’t you?”  We remained friends.

© arnold jay smith March 2014

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