Sunday, February 3, 2008

VAL MADE ME BELIEVE


I’m asked often, Ms. Wilmer, to name the jazz journalist who influenced me. I always answer Valerie Wilmer. I read your book Jazz People religiously. Your sentences were music, and it revealed you cultivated a she’s-one-of-the-fellows trust with the musicians you interviewed.

As an admirer of you work, I’m ashamed to admit I’m not familiar with every inch of your life as I should be. I do know, however, you’re from England, you interviewed your first jazz musician, Herbie Lovelle, at 18, you’re an accomplished jazz photographer, and you also wrote As Serious As your Life, and Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This.

Last Thursday, I took the first step toward learning more about what made you tick as a jazz journalist. I ordered a copy of Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This. The book should arrive by the end of the month. I hope there’s a chapter or two about how you got the musicians to talk candidly.

Reading Jazz People--particularly the chapters on alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, drummer Billy Higgins, tenor saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and vocalist Babs Gonzales—I felt as if they were sitting across from me at a neighborhood bar discussing their lives. Ms. Wilmer, you never came across as a critic or judgmental. You let the musicians explain themselves.

Billy Higgins described his style of playing as making love to the drums instead of attacking them. Ms. Wilmer you explored other angles, too. For example, you chartered Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis',” tenure as a booking agent. I bet most of his fans didn’t know he quit blowing to work as a booking agent.

You set the record straight in the chapter about alto saxophonist Jackie McLean's relationship with Charlie Parker. I got the impression McLean was never really aware he was copying Bird.

Ms. Wilmer, it saddens me you're not as popular among jazz enthusiasts as your peers Martin Williams, Amiri Baraka, Francis Davis, Nate Hentoff, AB Spellman, Gary Giddins, and Whitney Balliett. You were just as knowledgeable. I read there books and articles. Save for Balliett, they seem to only have a peripheral connection to the musicians they wrote about. The musicians you befriended valued you like a brother cherishes and respected his sister. For what it’s worth, you’re the one jazz writer who made me believe being a jazz journalist is a worthwhile occupation.
Post a Comment