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PHOEBE JACOBS: AN APPRECIATION ; NARAS REINSTATES LATIN JAZZ

WONDER WOMAN

she didn’t have an invisible airplane, yet she flew.  no bulletproof bracelets, yet she fended off any brickbats thrown at her clients.  her couture, while always fashionable, was her disguise, as was her smile and demeanor.  but her magical powers were seemingly endless.  there will be no comic books, movies, radio shows, television series about Phoebe Jacobs.  she was a publicist.  having been there, done that, i know we are supposed to stay in the shadows and let our clients shine through.

but Phoebe got involved.  she was old school the likes of which will never be seen again.  her métier was jazz and her clients were legendary with household nicknames such as Satchmo & Duke & Eubie.  she made them so famous that we got to know them by their first names such as Ella & Benny.  they were welcome in our homes as friends whether on the radio and television, in the press, or, most prominently, recordings.

Phoebe Jacobs passed away in April 2012 aged 93 having led a full and productive life till her last public appearance.  she was in the audience when the Duke Ellington Society presented Duke’s granddaughter Mercedes Ellington in a program of reminiscences.

Mercedes Ellington, Marilyn Lester, Earl Wilson, Jr., Louise Michelle, Georgette Gittens, Phoebe Jacobs @ Dule Ellingotn Society April 2012

a memorial was given in Phoebe’s honor at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theatre.  i have been to (too) many of these to be impressed by them any longer no matter how loving the deceased –i’m planning on eating those words– but this one was, indeed, special.  it had to  be as Phoebe was such an exemplary personage.

[obituaries appeared in the world's press.  so i won't recount here.]

i met Phoebe ca. 1974.  i can’t quite put my finger on the exact event at which Phoebe and i got together.  i know that her late husband Dr. Lew Jacobs, was still with us; we bonded almost immediately.

EUBIE

Phoebe had earlier introduced me to the then 86 year old Eubie Blake and his wife Marian. Eubie had recently received his BA from N.Y.U.  notice i did not say “honorary” degree.  the great composer was having a resurgence and i was writing somethings about him.

at his 99th Birthday party at a recording studio on the Lower East Side Eubie was seated talking with another legend, blues singer Alberta Hunter, with me being a fly-on-the-wall nearby when in walked pianist McCoy Tyner and his then wife.  McCoy shyly beckoned me over to him and asked in an impressive whisper, “is that Eubie Blake you were talking to?  you think you could introduce us?”  i asked for only one thing, a photo of them, with me, of course.   no Phoebe, no intros, no photo, no memories.  it hangs on my wall to this day.

 

Eubie Blake, McCoy Tyner, Arnold Jay Smith @ Carl Selzer Studio, Feb. 1982 (photo Carl Hultburg)

a year later Phoebe organized a centenary tribute to him at the Town Hall which was broadcast via closed circuit to his home in Brooklyn.  Eubie Blake died the next day.  he was 100,

LOUIS & LUCILLE

Phoebe’s favorite client, and closest friends, were Louis and Lucille Armstrong.  she helped him get his manager, Joe Glaser, and worked with them until their passing.   afterwards she developed what is now the landmarked Louis Armstrong House and Musuem in Corona, Queens, Louis last residence.  she also got a Queens, N.Y. Middle School named after him and, oh yes, the N.O.LA airport!

in 1979, when developing my New School course entitled Jazz Insights ©, the first topic was Louis Armstrong.  my guests were pianist and historian Dick Hyman and Lucille.  (Phoebe always refused to be a guest.  probably for the same reason she never wrote a book. “i’m too busy living it,” i heard her once say.)

 the format of Jazz Insights was live interviews with audio and visual aids.  i called Lucille, who called Phoebe, who told Lucille, in effect, “he’s ok; loved Louis; knows a lot.”  having had my way paved with such verbal rose petals i was greeted warmly at the Armstrong home by the lady of the house, who made  sandwiches.  we ate and talked, Lucille running up and down stairs bringing more LPs with her each time.  afternoon turned to evening ending with me on the living room floor an island surrounded by records.

Arnold Jay Smith, Lucille Armstrong, Dick Hyman @ Jazz Insights, New School 1979 (photo Marty Smith from AJS Archives)

amongst those records was a boxed set of Louis narrating his Musical Autobiography in between recorded performances,  Lucille told me she had one left and wanted me to  have it.  ”i know you will take care of it,” she said.  i bet she passed it through Phoebe first.  as you can imagine, there were tears.  she endorsed it to me. (below)   it is now housed in the Armstrong Archives.  i presented it to Phoebe during a fundraiser for the House.

not long after the interview with Lucille, but well before the fundraiser i got a long distance call from Phoebe.  she was touring Europe with Lucille when Lucille suddenly  suffered a heart attack and died.  Phoebe, on her way home with Lucille’s remains, asked, “could  you write something, please?”  need she have asked?

Cover & endorsement Louis Armstrong Box Set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAKING CONNECTIONS

as i said, without Phoebe…  if you were in her zone she was there for you.  she would introduce someone to me, then turn to him/her and say, “see, i told you he would know [you.]”  she was proud that she had picked the right person for an introduction to make the perhaps neophyte subject feel comfortable.

DUKE

over the years relationships developed between the Ellington family and myself: sister Ruth. son Mercer, grandchildren Gaye, Mercedes and Edward II.  in retrospect the warmth among us was at least initially due to Phoebe’s giving her clearance, again.  Mercedes speaking at the JALC memorial mentioned that Phoebe was “up there with my father and grandfather [Mercer and Duke] giving them hell to pay.”  (interesting dichotomy there.)  Phoebe could be admonishing at times especially when she felt she was right.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER CELEBRATION 

after opening remarks from writer Stanley Crouch in the guise of President of the Jacobs-founded Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, the LCJO led by its Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, began with What A Wonderful World, Lew Soloff as special guest soloist.  Soloff handed off to Jon Faddis, another guest, who out high-C-ed Louis. both remained in the band creating a powerhouse trumpet section with Wynton not heard since Alan Rubin, Randy Becker, Soloff and Faddis sat n the N.Y. studio bands of the 1970s. and ’80s.

Impresario George Wein said that Phoebe defined New York.  ”she was Queen Mother” [of jazz], he said.  Jimmy Heath played and conducted Billy Strayhorn’s  A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing.  Bobby Sanabria burst on stage clapping clavé and got the audience into it on Juan Tizlol’s Caravan.

Jimmy Heath conducts LCJO (photo Frank Stewart. courtesy Jazz At Lincoln Center)

after Robert O’Meally informed us that Phoebe formed the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University with Louis’s money the band played the Gordon Jenkins-penned  Goodbye.  (mis-announced as the theme for the Benny Goodman Band, it was the band’s closing tune.  Let’s Dance was the band’s well-known theme.)  Victor Goines’ clarinet made it work just fine.

other highlights: Dream A Little Dream of Me had Brianna Thomas singing alongside trombonist Vincent Gardner subbing for Louis in a straight take a la Satch and Velma Middleton.  Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Struttin’ With Some Barbecue featured young pianist Courtney Bryan re-harmonizing an introduction.  Wynton played Louis on Spencer Williams’  Mahogany Hall Stomp.

then out they marched leading a second-line-like procession into the foyer of Rose Hall.

The Second Line @ Rose Hall (photo Frank Stewart. courtesy Jazz At Lincoln Center)

AFTER-WORDS

family and friends repaired uptown to the National Black Theatre in Harlem for reminiscences organized by Phoebe’s friend and assistant Jackie Harris, who produced the entire day’s events.  prior to that Phoebe’s daughter told the JALC audince that “she had money, but gave it away,”  at the Harlem gathering speakers such as Michael Cogswell, Director of the House and Museum, told how she got them started then watched over them.  vocalist/percussionist Fran McIntyre thanked the family for “letting us borrow Phoebe.”

if you weren’t smiling you wandered into the wrong place.

LONG LIVE THE QUEEN! (photo Grayson Dantzic. courtesy Jazz At Lincoln Center)

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: NARAS REINSTATES LATIN JAZZ 

as we went to post word reached us via e-mail, then in the print media, that NARAS, the Grammys ® people, has reinstated the Latin Jazz Category.  congratulations to Bobby Sanabria and kudos to the rest of us [see my blog] who stuck to our resolve and for screaming loudly enough.  now i can exhale and pay my dues again, with a clearer conscience.  Phoebe would have qvelled –Yiddish term meaning to shake with joy– over this.

sometimes it works.  we didn’t even have to picket, use a blow-up rat, or camp out.  just persevere.  read all about it: www.nytimes.com

next up in the box to reinstate is the Jazz Journalists Association.  come to our Awards Gala June 20 @ the Blue Note and find out:  www.jjajazzawards.org

let there be descarga dancing in the streets!

- © arnold jay smith

June 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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