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Memoirs: Mike Zwerin and Charles Cochran

Nick Catalano By

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Two septuagenarian memoirs—a book by a Paris based jazz writer and a CD by a Palm Beach singer/pianist occupy us this month. Their retrospectives on American jazz and standards offer us much food for thought.

Mike Zwerin gave up his status as CEO of a steel company to play jazz trombone, winding up in Europe eventually earning his living as the jazz writer for the International Herald Tribune. His book The Parisian Jazz Chronicles (Yale University Press, 2005) offers unique glimpses into the lives of such luminaries as Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Wayne Shorter and Dexter Gordon. Actually, Zwerin has chosen to write his "improvisational memoir in a manner which interfuses his own life in Europe (he recounts love affairs, substance episodes, and expatriate alienation) with chapters in the careers of his interviewees. His writing style contains abrupt segues and changes (he describes these as "interludes, modulations, codas... ) from planned outlines to improvisatory notes in a sort of journalistic stream-of-consciousness. It represents a writing adventure that many who plod along with their have-to-do-it-to-make-a-living newspaper writing would love to try.



Zwerin began at the "Trib in 1979 and was able to trace the development of European jazz innovators like Michel Petrucciani and Burhan Ocal. He reviewed them and many others in the context of festivals at Siena, Viennes, Agadir as well larger ones like Nice and Montreux (better known to Americans) and recorded their accomplishments. The sum total of his experiences leads him to recognize that jazz, long ago, evolved into a world music or "musica franca - a development that has been largely ignored by his colleagues of the press here in the U.S.A.



Jazz has always had an enormous following of knowledgeable fans all over Europe. Actually, the French wish they had invented the music and often claim that they established it, through their critics, as a true art form. There is much truth in this latter statement. As far back as the early 20's, French writers were hailing the music's praises and extolling Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and others with insight that eluded many early American critics. It is in this context that Mike Zwerin's book is so valuable. He is the best kind of commentator—a successful musician in his own right—and his comments are uttered in an adventurous style which should delight even readers who aren't jazz aficionados.



Charles Cochran's "memoirs" were delivered at Danny's Skylight Room last week in a performance of often esoteric but totally satisfying works by composers such as Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Cy Coleman and Leonard Bernstein. Cochran is one of that unique breed who grew up in the company of Café Society and followed its aesthetics out to Hollywood in the 40's. As a singer/pianist he collected and performed a repertoire reflecting the music of both coasts. He was associated with performers as disparate as Nina Simone (sharing a bill with her at Gotham's Playroom in 1958) and Fred Astaire ( the great dancer invited Cochran to record on Ava records—a label he created in 1962). The innovative jazz stylist Jeri Southern wrote liner notes for Cochran on a recording he made in 1982 dubbed Haunted Heart.



Leaving his comfortable digs in Palm Beach Florida where he has been living for the past 19 years, Cochran collected some of his favorite songs and composers and came north for his stint at Danny's—a show he titled "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" from the song by Buddy Bernier and Jerry Brainin. The list included "On the Other Side of the Tracks (Cy Coleman), "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song (Irving Berlin) and "In Love in Vain (Jerome Kern)—songs that have virtually disappeared from cabaret repertoire. Others like "Autumn in New York (Vernon Duke) and "Dream Dancing (Cole Porter) are performed with more frequency but not with more ardor. Indeed, Cochrane has managed to interfuse the music with memories of his own life and woven all the elements into a tapestry of rare beauty.



With the redoubtable David Finck on bass, "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes managed to evoke a general audience "Memoir atmosphere and had patrons clamoring for more.


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