RIP Mike!! (1930-2010)
Here are some thoughts and stories from people who got to know and love Mike.
I will keep adding new ones as they come in.
There are currently many articles you can find abut him and his life if you google his name.
Thanks a million to anyone who has read him, written to him, listened to him...!
It meant so much to him!! Any message he ever got about his writing or playing was always an uplift!
Mike is too hip to die as Robert Wyatt said in his homage…
Mike, as my not quite ex husband and certainly my best friend, let me talk to you one last time in franglais which has been our mean of dialogue during the 40 years that we spend ensemble ensemble et ensemble un peu séparé... tu as été l’homme d’une grande partie de ma vie, nous ne nous sommes jamais lachés, nous avons été là l’un pour l’autre et je sais que tu as senti ma présence près de toi jusqu’à ta dernière nuit.. You were a greater person that you thought you were and it made you a very fréquentable fellow. If you could read all the homages made to you since Friday, you would be amazed, so am I, as a matter of a fact. Je suppose que j’ai n’ai jamais tout à fait réalisé l’importance que tu avais et que tu continueras d’avoir dans le monde de la musique et du journalisme, because you never realized it either or at least never acknowledged it. Ca te permettait d’alimenter une certaine réalité, je dirais meme une certaine parano que tu t’étais faite sur le monde... Nobody loves me, tout le monde s’en fout, je fais une meilleure impression quand je ne suis pas là …etc…
Who is going to call me every day for nothing, who is going to come to my concerts as a connaisseur and tell me that it was a pleasure to hear Mozart, Monteverdi, even thought the seats were so bloody uncomfortable?
As you used to say with your unusual humor : don’t worry, life isn’t everything....
Salut Mike, we love you.
Mike was one of the coolest peeps ever. I sometimes imagine him sitting in the back on the room when I play. As he would sneak into my shows (especially in Sunset) and sit there and listen. I am sad to hear about his passing away I have only fond memories of him
Your dad was a living hero to me for 30 years. You know what I mean about living heroes? They're alive, so you accept that they're human, but what they do best is a revelation, even as you imagine yourself discerning enough to appreciate it.
"As the songs says: he was a friend of mine. For, let's see, the past 23 years. We hung out together in Paris and New York; we played together in Paris in a trio with bassist Peter Giron; I crashed at his place when he was there and when he wasn't; I got to know some of his family and became close, too, with his wife (later ex-wife but still close friend) Martine, and their son Ben (now touring with Claudia Acuna, even playing a gig with her in Paris Friday night; of course Mike would not only have understood but approved); and once he complained that I was drinking too much of his whiskey (hey, I was having an allergic cat-reaction and wanted to breathe); and I kept my drums and cymbals in his basement for years until they had to rebuild the place; and we talked about Bird, Bach, Miles, Trane, Mozart, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Elmore Leonard, Robert Stone, Don DeLillo, Mingus, Monk, love, life, age, death, fun, food and wine and good coffee, drugs, opera, women, taste in general, and writing (which I liked to do long and he liked to do short), the price of baguettes, where to get the best couscous, dope, how good his time was on the horn even when his chops were off, the hip chord changes he wrote for Eleanor Rigby (especially the bridge), what a bitch it is to play Chelsea Bridge, why I didn't feel like playing fours, and okay, sure, I can play brushes on that, and why Peter was late again or suddenly couldn't make it; and how terrific Martine was, even after the breakup and certainly during his last illness; and how when he found me an apartment on the Ile St. Louis I came over with Margaux '83 and La Mission Haut Brion '82 and we four (including my girlfriend Carol) roasted a duck and drank both bottles and thought the wine was pretty damn good . . . and he was a friend of mine. Hey Mike, happy landings. I'll miss you when you're not here, should that ever happen.
I was very fond of Mike and didn't know he was ill. I keep forgetting how old we are all getting. Mike and I always got together for a drink and conversation and sometimes dinner, either in Paris or New York, and he would come hear the Mingus bands when he was here. In fact he once played trombone with us in Paris when Jimmy Knepper decided he needed to conduct the band and couldn't both conduct and play bone at the same time!
We can be sure that Mike didn't leave a bunch of unused credit on his personal metro-card. He lived a thousand lives, played a thousand gigs, wrote a thousand pieces, nursed a thousand hangovers (with the holistic remedy of Irish whiskey and cigarettes), watched a thousand movies, and if there's a social order in heaven, he already has a thousand admirers. Here on the ground, I will always admire him, and I will always love you.
He was someone I felt very close to from the moment I met him, nearly 30 years ago, drawn initially to his emotional candor & his zero tolerance of bullshit, but later to the warmth beneath his gruff-old-cuss exterior. He also made me laugh more than practically anyone else I can think of, often about entirely unsuitable things (a perfect example: he once teased me about my righteous indignation concerning Catholic priests' abuse of school friend contemporaries by pointing out that I probably wouldn't feel quite so indignant if the priests had all looked like Montgomery Clift in "I Confess" - typical of him because the apparently outrageous cynicism concealed a slightly uncomfortable truth). I suppose I shouldn't be bringing up such things in this context, but then, as I say, the reason I'm going to miss him so much is precisely this: whatever was exercising me, I knew I could always count on him for a pungent, honest, no-holds-barred reaction if I e-mailed or talked to him about it; nothing was off-limits - the Latin tag 'nothing human is alien to me' might have been specially written to apply to his outlook - the only thing he was really intolerant of was pretentiousness or hypocrisy, bullshit, in a word.
Mike Zwerin was a myth come to life for me. Mike joined Arnie Lawrence and me for the 1st International Artists Conclave in Jerusalem just after 9/11. He wrote his stay up for the Herald Tribune in a memorable story called "Through the Looking Glass." Knowing Mike was like looking through that glass. Some time before I met Mike, I read his tribute to Michel Pettruciani in the Herald Tribune. Mike's evocation of Michel's triumph of the spirit was a triumph of the spirit in itself. I interrupted breakfast and read the story aloud to my children. Mike loved the salutory, not cautionary, tale. At around the same time, Arnie lent me his copy of "Close Enough for Jazz." The writing, and the life, dazzled me. Honest, American, and in Paris, a horn-playing Henry Miller, written in a way that defined great writing. Never a gratuitous note or word - and the storyline! What director could do Mike justice?
A man with a musical gift so great Mike was compelled to repay it with the greatness of his "Swing Under the Nazis". Both his playing and his writing were expressions of the language of freedom at its coolest. It was a privilege knowing Mike, and I like to think I always told him so.
I feel a cold lonely wind across the room knowing Mike isn't somewhere on the end of a telephone—
He was ALWAYS there. A wise and acidically funny friend. I know vaguely that old people die. But this one is Scandalous.
Mike's too hip to die. Surely?
What an enormous loss----my goodness, I known him so long, he was right there rooting for us in our musical infancy He was a very good and loyal friend, it's true, but this goes way beyond my little world: this is like the fall of a giant redwood.......... [oh--and he took me to dinner with Paul Desmond once ! An awe inspiring unforgettable moment....]
Now here's a thing: not so long ago, a fairly extensive conversation with Mike about the name of a drummer with Count Basie's band during the fifties. Neither of us could nail it. Another call ten minutes later. It’s Mike , he's figured it out: "Gus Johnson !" Yes ! that's right! Relief all round etc
Now, who the hell am I ever going to be able to have THAT conversation with again.
That's why I could weep.
Mike Zwerin was really one of my favorite people. When I decided to stay in France in 1980, Mike was one of the first persons that I contacted. I didn't know Mike personally but I knew who he was, since 1964 when I discovered Jazz. I read about and of him in Downbeat etc....and I bought the MACK THE KNIFE/SEXTET ORCHESTRA USA record and the record he recorded with Archie Shepp as well. I knew Mike was living in Paris and so I called him up one day. And that was the beginning of our 30 year friendship. Not only did we play together and hang out together from time to time but Mike really was an incredible supporter of me as an jazz artist-trombonist. He wrote about me and voted for me and was always so generous with his words. And Mike was surely blessed with the gift of the word. What a great writer he was. Not only in his articles about jazzmen and other artists but with his books as well. Sometimes I would ask Mike to send me weeks of articles he wrote for the International Herald Tribune, one's that I hadn't yet read and he would. I loved reading his books as well. Mike didn't play to often in the last few years but please check out his discography and you will hear some great soulful bone-bass trumpet playing. The man was definitely talented. Anyway, So I thank all the gods who blessed me to have had Mike as a friend. See you around Mike.
I met Mike when I first came to NY to start my music career in the early 70s. This was before he moved to Paris. He loaned me many jazz LPs and I took a long while to return them, but he didn’t seem to mind. I looked on him as my mentor. He wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, played music and took me to the clubs to hear the happening artists. He was a very perceptive and polished writer and always told the truth the way he saw it. He was selfless and very giving and I’ll always remember that and I thank him very much.
Devastated. Even not seeing Mike, I felt him part of that very small world that understood and felt right, that knew the score. i met him in 1948 just after his marriage to Norma. I stayed at his parents' house in Forest hills--we went to the tennis matches there. He took me to 52nd Street and we heard Charlie Parker at the Onyx Club--only a few of us in the house. We went downtown to hear Thelonious and Mike succinctly and brilliantly showed me what was going on. I watched him rehearse with the band that went to Russia. I saw him in Chicago, I saw him in Paris. I was the square, Mike was always the coolest of cats, but we were deep friends. (He claimed I taught him how to write his brilliant criticism.) I saw him with you, Martine, down in the south of France, and then again in Paris.
It's beautiful that he died stoned, listening to jazz and with two of those he loved by his side.
A fuerte abrazo to you and a farewell to my dear old friend.
Your father was a major player in my life, Ben. Nico (Floris Bunink) intro'd me to him in 1987, I believe, and I liked him from the get-go; all the praise Nico offered beforehand still proved to be less than what Mike deserved. Gradually, I came to see his near-constant kvetching as highly personal expression from a hard-core hipster. At a particularly hard time for me in 1990, he was really there for me in every sense of the phrase, offering a sympathetic—or more properly, an empathetic—ear to my problems. While we had our disagreements over time, so much of what he said and did—and more importantly, wrote—was a constant eye-opener for me. Sometimes, I felt that he was misinterpreting my love and respect for him as some kinda overblown fan-worship. Admittedly, that element was present to a degree, but again largely because of his extraordinary insights and the talent to express them. But mainly I valued him as a true friend, and will forever cherish the time we spent together ... which of course will never have been enough.
I miss your father, and will always feel some part of him in me...especially when listening to music. And—I like to think—what might have pleased him more? Perhaps that's what's meant by the term, "a living legacy." Knowing Mike, I suspect he'd no doubt scoff at such a syrupy, sentimental remark, while secretly being somewhat pleased by the intended compliment. One can only assume...for, as a friend once said, "Everything that's not a mystery is guesswork."
I can't remember a time when I didn’t know Mike. I wouldn't see him for 6 months or a year, and then there he'd be, at the Pause Café or at one of those awful places on the Bastille in his hat and black jacket, newspaper in hand, just back from Sardinia or Rome or a festival in Finland. I’d often have one or two of my dogs with me, and he would look at them with a mixture of disbelief and disdain. They are all pugs, they are all badly behaved and not one of them has the slightest interest in Coleman Hawkins. Mike and I would gossip about Rafi or Jerome, or various writers and editors we know; and we'd tell tales about bass players or promoters or two bit hustlers. He had enormous affection for the pirates of the music world, the ones who show up at MIDEM with parrots on their shoulders. And then the conversation would shift as, one after another, tall blonde models would stop by our table and drop to their knees and proceed to pet the ever-willing dogs. “Ahhh," they would sigh. “Si mignon! So cute. Ahhh. Ahhhh. Ahhhhh." And Mike would look on disbelievingly. “Could I borrow one of them for an afternoon?" he'd whisper. “Maybe rent one?"
Mike Zwerin (center) seen here at the Hotel du Nord with his "future ex-wife" Martine and old buddy Bob Neuwirth passed away in the early hours of April 2nd in the Hopital St. Antoine. Mike who many of you will have seen him at concerts or comedy shows got out of his father's New York steel business and into the horn (trombone) in the late 1940's – he played with Maynard Ferguson, Miles Davis Claude Thornhill and others before moving to Europe in the mid 1960's where he was London correspondent for the Village Voice until he moved to France in the early '70s. In Paris he continued to play music and wrote for Paris Metro, the Free Voice and above all the International Herald Tribune. His weekly columns on a wide range of musical styles and personalities were read enthusiastically throughout the world. More recently he was music correspondent for Bloomberg news a post that gave him great satisfaction, freedom of expression and an expense account. He also authored a string of illuminating books. Without Mike Paris will be a different place because he's been witness to so many movements (not all musical) and he was part of our past and an important factor in the present.
I'll miss his well-tempered grumpiness, his host of anecdotes and his
Hat's off to you Michael.
I was a great reader of Mike Zwerin's columns in the IHT from the moment I moved to Europe 30-odd years ago. The great radio jazz program on late-night Voice of America went off the air around then when its magical voiceman died ("House of Sound" was the name of the program, I believe.) Zwerin filled in my nostalgia for jazz and interest in what was going on beyond the walls of Milan.
Furthermore, my college roommate at Columbia University, Barnard College, was a certain Kate Zwerin, whose room was lined with photographs of her now late-father on the lap of Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, and the like. He was a mythic figure to us all, in our early 20's.
Membre de l'académie du jazz et habitué des lieux où la musique improvisée se donne sans compter, j'avais en de nombreuses occasions rencontré et devisé avec Mike. c'était toujours un plaisir et il témoignait d'une élégance dans le propos et l'attitude qui semblent appartenir à une époque un peu révolue. et dans le même temps, son expression musicale et son jugement révélaient une ouverture sans frontières. j'ai encore en mémoire notre dernière rencontre lors du vernissage de l'expo Miles à la Cité de la Musique où son sourire éclairait la nuit tombée sous son feutre.
je voulais simplement vous apporter ce témoignage en vous assurant de ma sympathie.
Mike was sweeter, kinder than he knew. I knew him in London in the late sixties, early seventies when he was European editor for the Village Voice. We were friends and for a while we were lovers. I've written a lot about him in my memoir, “Off The Kings Road, Lost and Found in London". He was important to me, introduced me to his friends Jay and Fran Landesman and took me on my first (and only) acid trip. My husband had walked out on me, leaving me in a country not my own with three kids and one afternoon the youngest swallowed something poisonous at nursery school and had to be taken to the emergency room. Mike and I had spent the night before together and he was the first person I thought of. I called and asked him to come with me and he did. He was all over town in those years, writing his column, handsome and exciting, and I wouldn't have thought of him as the kind of person who would take the time to do this kind of thing... but he was. He sat with me in the emergency room for hours while I waited to see if they'd have to pump her stomach.(they didn't) and when it was over he took us home in a taxi.
We were all freeing ourselves of middle class restraints in those years. To not be bourgeois was the ultimate goal and Mike was no exception although I thought he'd done a pretty good escape job by then. He focused on his watch. If only he could lose his obsession with time. It was December when we dropped the acid. London was lit for Christmas. In the window of a Knightsbridge art gallery a painting of Christ was juxtaposed against the parking meter on the street outside. On acid such juxtapositions take on meaning. (“Heavy"?) After we'd marveled at the sight Mike checked his watch. He put his arm around me. “6.30" he said. “But only for the rest of the world, not for us, Baby". The last time I saw Mike was in New York, a few years ago... He remembered the acid trip very well - but not the trip to the emergency room. Wherever he is I'm sure it's not 6.30.
Back in the 1980s I wanted Mike to write for the magazine I was editing here in Paris, but he didn't want to jeopardize his regular gig with the Herald Tribune. So we decided he would write under a pseudonym — Johnny Staccato — and I was sworn to secrecy. Every month when he handed in his column, Mike/Johnny would ask if his secret was safe, and every month I asssured him it was. I think he was genuinely worried someone would learn of his moonlighting but I also think he enjoying writing under cover. Johnny Staccato (no relation to the character played by John Cassavetes in the 1959 TV series) developed into a tough-talking Parisian horn player who saw "ghosts on every corner". Thanks for Johnny, Mike. Thanks for the music. Thanks for everything.
I was an American living in Paris from the late 70s to the year 2000. In the mid-eighties, a friend introduced me to jazz and after that I became a regular and avid reader of Mike's articles on jazz in the International Herald Tribune. That buddy and I saw Chet Baker's last jazz performance at the New Morning and shared a few beers with him at about 4 AM, when the music was over. I was touched to learn only a few months later that Baker had fallen from a window in Amsterdam, so what did I do? I called a man I had never met, Mike Zwerin at the IHT. He had written a beautiful story about Chet Baker, less an obit or a eulogy than an elegy and song of praise. So, Mike talked with me for about half an hour and he was perfectly friendly, natural and wise. I liked him instantly. One thing more, he was a journalist of the pre-Internet age, when taking your time to find the perfect word was akin to hitting the right note. His words sung.
One of my favourite Mike stories is about pickles. I made some bread & butter pickles and gave Mike a large jar, which, even in our house, usually lasts several months. He told me a short time later that he'd eaten the whole jar like candy! For me, it was an enormous compliment. And it also showed that even if he'd lived here for over 20 years, he could still appreciate some American staples. He was a very special person and will be much missed by everyone who had the good luck to know him.
I always thought Mike’s greatest talent was to be able to nail the CEO in the Marriott in Frankfurt or Shanghai with a piece in the IHT about some jazz player of no interest whatsoever to his hapless reader and make it impossible not to lap up every last detail. A weekly victory for our side I always reveled in. Such was the immediacy of his writing, all the more poignant in his autobiographical work.
He said to me quite recently that if ever he had doubts about why he lived in Paris, a walk over the Pont Neuf on a spring evening would instantly dispel them. I took the walk last night and it still works. But a very significant something is now missing.
There are people you meet in life that will offer you a perspective and a feel to things, so real so unique so genuine that it will leave an imprint on you for the rest of your life. For me Mike was one of those people. Hanging with Mike was like a portal to a different time; a time when things mattered. It always left me with a very satisfied happy feeling; A great learning experience that always inspired me to think and move forward, that redefined my priorities, duties, commitments and judgements, that shaped who I became and will always affect who I will be.
I hope there is good music were you are right now cos it dont mean a thing if it aint got that swing.
Thank you Mike.
with love and respect
RAED EL KHAZEN
I respected his music, his writing, and his rare attitude towards life. I had been working on a project about his writing, and became deeply immersed in the worlds he described.
I'm just so sorry for your loss and for the loss of the world at large.
Just as Jean Seberg walking down the Champs Elysées with that latest edition under her arm was an icon for the International Herald Tribune so for many was Mike Zwerin. For those of us interested in music and musicians his articles were the reason why we’d buy the newspaper at least once a week eager to find out who or what he’d be writing about in this issue. His pieces appeared in the IHT from 1979 to 2005 after which he was commandeered by Bloomberg Press. But behind the writing there was a musician who in his late teens had played trombone in New York with Miles Davis when he was giving birth to the cool. Stints with Maynard Ferguson, Claude Thornhill amongst other eminent band leaders followed before he went to the helm of his late father’s steel business. But if Mike was made of steel he wasn’t made for it and by the late ‘60s he’d blown his horn to London where he served as correspondent for the Village Voice and Rolling Stone. In the ‘70s he’d moved to France married his “future (and not to be) ex-wife" Martine and fathered Ben, who like Mike would grow up to be a musician (bass). Ever present on the Parisian music seen he was ever demanding about what he considered to be worthwhile and honest music, be it Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones or Wynton Marsalis. He continued to play live and record during his Paris years, was author of several books and even wrote one of the first internationally published pieces on Eddie Izzard, proving that his pen could point in non musical directions. A delightfully cantankerous character, when what was to be a long and frustrating illness set in, he had every reason to display his no nonsense grumpiness but accepted it stoically. He died in the early hours of 3rd April listening to jazz with a morphine drip in his arm. A most appropriate departure for an irreplaceable “personage" who will be much missed on the Paris scene.
Mike Zwerin : Death of the Cool ?
Dernière lettre de l’alphabet : en classe, il pouvait voir venir. Quel luxe d’attendre que votre nom arrive derrière celui des autres sur les lèvres du professeur ! Un peu de temps volé au temps : « You’ve got good time for a white cat ! », lui dit un jour Miles Davis, admiratif… Mike Zwerin était dans notre métier la personne que je connaissais mal le mieux. J’aimais qu’il en soit ainsi car le copinage avec l’une des plumes du *Trib’ finit fatalement par un malentendu. Or Mike entendait très bien et il avait les mots pour le dire. Dans ce quotidien planétaire et pourtant apatride, sa demi-page passait parfois en quatrième de couverture et il savait alors que Julio Iglesias ou Lee Konitz seraient les rois du pétrole pendant une journée. Ce pouvoir l’amusait. Pour ceux qui aiment l’écrit en anglais, son style était tout un art : il y avait l’angle, l’humour qui désarme, la formule qui rafle la mise. Il fut l’un des premiers à mettre le jazz sur le divan sociologique. D’une certaine façon il a décomplexé ceux qui se piquaient d’écrire sur la musique. « Pas besoin d’être musicien », m’avait-il affirmé un jour, « c’est soi-même qu’il faut savoir projeter pour que le lecteur -cet oiseau volage et impatient- aille au bout du papier ». Miles, avec lequel il **fit innocemment les débuts du « Birth of the Cool » et qui lui vouait une belle sympathie (il se voyaient lors de ses passages parisiens) aurait pu être la grande affaire de sa vie. Même après toutes ces années, il y a cette poussière d’étoile qui s’est déposée sur votre épaule, cette onction invisible que les autres ressentent confusément lorsqu’ils s’adressent à vous. Il me vient à l’esprit que ce style cool si rétif à la définition musicale avait trouvé en Mike Zwerin un héraut que Kerouac aurait aimé : il y avait dans sa silhouette haute, vaguement texane, et sous son chapeau bien plus naturellement porté que le cow-boy Marlboro, une sorte de distance concernée, un œil plissé d’humour, une culture sans étiquette mais qui n’avait pas de prix. Comme Miles, il jouait de la trompette. Trompette basse, autant dire une curiosité statistique. Ainsi qu’au trombone (son autre instrument), il lui avait donné un caquet élégant, une dimension narrative qu’une justesse qui se dérobe n’arrivait jamais à entamer : quand Mike soufflait, souvent entouré de compatriotes américains vivant à Paris, il y avait une part de cette vérité conversationnelle qui suintait au bout de son pavillon. Mais le personnage avait mis du hip dans son cool : j’étais incrédule lorsqu’il est parti en tournée avec le groupe Téléphone ; et davantage encore lorsqu’il me remit début 90 les à-plats d’un groupe qu’il baptisa : ZiP. De l’ « acid swing », un pavé dans la mare, à demi sérieux, croyais-je. Presque vingt ans plus tard, j’entends la même chose sur les ondes. En moins bien. Mike ne s’est trompé qu’une fois : alors qu’au retour d’un concert en banlieue nous parlions des balbutiements du web, il s’effrayait de la longueur invraisemblable des adresses internet (les achetétépé-slash-slash-woua-woua-woua) qui se profilaient alors pour l’utilisateur : « Ça ne marchera jamais ! »
Parfois je me dis qu’il avait raison d’avoir eu tort : lui était plutôt dans la vraie vie et c’est pour ça que sa mort sonne faux. Cool never dies.
With lot of chutzpa I called Mike up in Paris, it was autumn 1997, and proposed that he comes over to Belgium to make an article about the jazz scene.
To my great surprise he agreed. I put him up during his 3 days stay and we hit the clubs, went to visit & interview musicians, interview of Mike at the national radio and I invited everybody over for a drink to come and meet with him.
We hit it fine since the moment he stepped off the train and we had long conversations, stories and memories about his stint in Israel, Haifa that is also my home town.
The highlight of his visit was our visit to Toots Thielemans, while Mike was chatting Toots I went to help in the kitchen preparing lunch.
Then I drove him to the station, we talked and he was running his recorder. I asked why and he said he wants to do a feature about me as central figure.
I begged him not to and he sharply retorted « don’t tell me how to do my job ! » We parted on that sharp note.
Later on he told me that the IHT editor rejected the feature saying « Belgium, it’s a small story, nobody is interested »
Nevertheless, sometime later, on the occasion of Toots’ 75th birthday he did publish a big article with the interview he did at Toots place.
Meeting and hosting Mike was a thrilling event.
Dear UGJPM Board members:
It is with deep regrets, sadness and sorrow that we have lost a very dear colleague’s physical presence.
The recent passing of Mike Zwerin is a significant void in the Jazz/music/arts coterie of indefatigable people whose dedicated efforts to support, inform and enlighten the world about music, the arts and Jazz in particular, leaves an empty space.
Mike’s writings, critiques, ideology and philosophy will certainly take it’s rightful place in the legacy and history of music along with establishing a platform for it’s future perpetuations of quality.
In my last visit to Paris in 2009, I spoke with him and even though illness was upon him and we could not get together, he still expressed with fervor and enthusiasm his alignment, respect and appreciation for the music he loved so dearly.
Farewell, Michael, but not goodbye forever.
Mike wrote a story about problems I had getting paid on a film production when I was living in Paris in the early 1980s. The story gave me credibility with the international media and enabled me to put some pressure on the producer (although I still never got paid). However, what marked me most was Mike's paternal interest in my case. He spent a lot of time talking to me, hashing out the details and following up. All that for a piece of just a few hundred words.
Mike's sensitivity left a strong impression on me and years later, I found him on the Internet and thanked him. He responded with a warm note.
Paris has already lost most of the ex-pat Americans, stretching back before Hemingway, who redefined the City of Light in the 20th century. Mike was one of the last in this mold.
Although I have not spoken with him in almost 30 years, his death makes me very sad.
Mike Zwerin, who has died in Paris aged 79 after a long illness, liked to say that he had had "three lives". The first, and dearest to him, was as a jazz trombonist. Mike, the only son of well-off New York parents, played a two-week stint with a Miles Davis band in 1949, when he was 19 and still a student at the University of Miami. In 1966, he toured the Soviet Union with Earl Hines, and at one time or another played with Eric Dolphy, John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Maynard Ferguson and the beat saxophonist and painter Larry Rivers.
From being a hipster, Mike became a businessman – president of his father's steel-making business, in fact. In his zany autobiography, Close Enough for Jazz (1983), he lampooned this period of his life, which lasted four years (1960-64), by turning the usual biographical note on its head: "In his spare time, Mike Zwerin is president of Dome Steel Corporation."
The third life was as a writer. In 1977, Mike became the popular-music correspondent of the International Herald Tribune, producing back-page articles on everything from Monk to Motown, a post which sustained him for a quarter of a century. Often, the assignment involved an interview. I saw him shortly after he had met Bob Dylan in a Paris cafe, prior to a concert in the city. Was there a detail he could convey about Dylan which would seem fresh to readers of the Trib? "Yes. He paid for the coffee."
Mike was born in Queens, New York, and studied at the High School of Music and Art before going on to university, where he was "smart enough to get through without learning anything". This was untrue, of course. One of the many attractive things about Mike was his knowledge and curiosity. During his time in business, he married, fathered a daughter, learned the business-friendly skill of golf ("golf does not swing"), and began a lifelong interest in drugs – first as something to do, then as a topic for study (his first book, about addiction, was The Silent Sound of Needles, 1969), and eventually as something to try hard not to do. Mike was fascinated by the link between drugs and popular music. He talked of writing another book on the subject, but his talent for writing was best displayed on a short-haul ride.
In that sense, his job at the Herald Tribune suited him, though he was apt to complain about the paper's editing methods, which involved such quaint practices as inserting extraneous material into an author's copy, without consultation, which appeared in square brackets. It was from Mike's lips that I first heard the phrase about journalism, "wrapping tomorrow's fish", uttered with that tinge of self-deprecation he would use in discussion of each of his three lives. "A Jewish businessman behind steel bars" was how he characterised his life as what would now be called a CEO. Another example was his description of himself as "a footnote to jazz history", usually in reference to his time with Davis.
Mike was spotted by Davis at Minton's in Harlem, while sitting in with Art Blakey. The great man's approach is sometimes stated as "I like your sound", but Mike's hipper version was: "You keep pretty good time ... for a white cat". He was immediately drafted into the rehearsal band for what become known as The Birth of the Cool, while the regular trombonist Kai Winding was indisposed. Also present were Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach and Lee Konitz.
Miles was not "salty", Mike wrote, referring to the trumpeter's notorious moodiness, but "as sweet as his sound". As for the occasion, it was "a good jazz gig", but didn't seem legendary. When the nonet went into the recording studio, however, Mike was thanked for his work and Winding returned. Mike's contribution, in particular his solo on the track "Move", can be heard on The Complete Birth of the Cool. Among his other recordings are Getting Xperimental over U, and Mack the Knife, an album of Kurt Weill songs that he produced and arranged himself.
Mike always mixed writing with playing. Before moving permanently to Paris in 1969, he was jazz critic for the Village Voice. The most ambitious of his books is La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing Under the Nazis (1985). It included the story of the Kille Dillers and the Ghetto Swingers, two bands that played in concentration camps. He also translated the jazz writings of Boris Vian (Round About Close to Midnight, 1988), who was, like Mike, both writer and musician. Disappointment with the reception of his books led him to stick to journalism, but in 2005, he published an "improvisatory memoir", The Parisian Jazz Chronicles.
Jazz was his passion. His knowledge was vast, and it might have been his greatest regret that he could not make a living simply by playing. In 1983, he wrote: "Had I committed myself to jazz at that point" – after his stint with Davis – "I think that today I would be one of the 10 best trombonists in the world. It was an unforgivable crime and I'm still paying for it."
I was fortunate enough to accompany him to a gig in Montmartre one evening, and recall not only the fluency of his playing (it was bass trumpet that night), but the way the musicians blended their skills without rehearsal. Between each number the jazz musician's habitual question could be heard: "Do you know ... ?" Mike knew them all. He was – a Zwerin coinage – jazzistical.
In 1974, he married Martine Halphen. They separated in the mid-1980s, but remained close ever after, and she sustained him through his illness. He is survived by Martine, their son Ben, also a musician, and a daughter from his first marriage.
JAMES CAMPBELL (the Guardian)
I have to say that Mike scared me a bit at my first visit to his house in Paris...
I thought I wasn't cool enough, smart enough, hip enough for him.
It took me sometime and it probably took him sometime too, but we did get to be close in a very nice way.
I guess we shared a little bit of the same doubts and life anx sometimes...
We enjoyed few dinners and drinks together at the corner bar when Ben was not around.
Interesting man he was...
I will never forget our "photo shooting day" around Williamsburg.
Suddenly, I'm the one who got a gig!
Not sure if it was Ben or Raed who made him laugh that way at the edge of the East River.
I'm glad I was camera ready to catch such a great smile.
Hope you are smiling up there...
You are certainly being missed down here...
RIP Mike!! (1930-2010)