Donald's Blog

  This old house was only a few blocks from the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. All the neighborhood cats lived in the basement during the winter. The house has long since been torn down, but in 1972 there were AR2ax speakers in the front room, and a lot of good music was heard there.

«Mar 2018»

In the 21st century I am just as opinionated as ever, and I now have an outlet. I shall pontificate here about anything that catches my fancy; I hope I will not make too great a fool of myself. You may comment yea or nay about anything on the site; I may quote you here, or I may not. Send brickbats etc. to:


March 10, 2018

A New Lees on Life

A habitué of this blog, if any there are, will have noticed some changes lately. I have restored two of my books to be read here, since they were not making much money as downloads, and I would rather have them here for free. And there are now well over 4000 entries in the Encyclopedia (I could be adding more entries every week if it were not for all the interruptions: two surgeries on my back in the last five months, among other things).

But the most dramatic change is no doubt the addition of Gene Lees' Jazzletter. This is more than 300 issues of the private publication of the long-time writer and editor who knew everybody, and was an expert at backing into the limelight. His reminiscences, anecdotes and interviews (and contributions from other writers) were looked forward to by subscribers from 1981 to 2008, but were lost when he passed away, except for those of us who had collected them. My partner in this crime has been Claude Neuman, a translator of poetry who lives in France and was also a friend of Gene's; you can find out more by clicking on "Gene Lee's Jazzletter", where there is a blurb, and a disclaimer: "We have been unable to make contact with Gene’s family, but should they wish to upload or publish the Jazzletter themselves, we would gladly pass the torch to them."

Hundreds of people have been notified of the resurrection of the Jazzletter, and I have also received a message from a Canadian gentleman who thought that my disclaimer was 'presumptuous' (is that a Canadian word?).

Well, copyright can be a problem. My wife and I have published 20 or more books between us, depending on how you count them, and every one of them contains a similar disclaimer: "We have tried to find the owner of [this or that photo or whatever]; if you will kindly let us know..." I know people who have had to sue people to get their own work back! I nursed an idea for a TV version of The RIse And Fall of Popular Music -- I even had a good time writing some scenes in my head -- until a successful producer of TV films told me that he commissions original music for his works because licensing music costs too much. I wonder how many worthwhile projects never see the light of day for that reason. I myself am ashamed of American copyright law, driven by corporate types on behalf of the Mickey Mouse estate.

It is of course all about money. I belong to a group that shares broadcasts and out-of-print records of classical music; nobody bothers us because classical music isn’t seen to be worth anything. And maybe my disclaimer about the Jazzletter is similar to that: there is no money here. Claude put up quite a sum to have the pages turned into pdfs; now that I am buying extra protection from GoDaddy against scammers, malware etc, it costs me several hundred a year just to keep the site up. In ten years the site hadn’t earned me a dime (the donate button is new this month.). People have been cribbing my stuff for over 30 years, and I don’t mind because that’s what it’s for. When Cab Calloway died, there was a mistake in an obit in a national British paper that came from my Encyclopedia entry!

There is some irony and some comedy here. Gene was sore at me when he died; he was sore at a lot of people from time to time. (I was also corresponding with Max Harrison; they were a pair of loveable cranks: they each warned me about the other.) We tried to get in touch with those relatives of Gene's that we knew about and nobody seemed to be interested. Gene is on record as worrying that after he died he would be forgotten; we are trying to prevent that, for a while at least. But if I get any threatening letters from lawyers I’ll just yank the Jazzletter and Claude can do what he likes with it.

Meanwhile, the chap in Canada says that there have been proposals to put the jazz magazine Coda online, which always founder because it changed hands three times. So they do nothing, and Coda remains in limbo.