[JPL] Grande Dame Of Jazz Keeps Music Alive

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Wed Oct 24 08:58:29 EDT 2007


Grande Dame Of Jazz Keeps Music Alive

October 23, 2007

If there's good jazz playing somewhere in the city, there's a good chance
Phoebe Jacobs is there and had something to do with it. NY1's Stephanie
Simon filed the following report on the music business pioneer as part of
Jazz Lives Here. 

Phoebe Jacobs does not sing, does not play an instrument, and does not
compost, but she is still one of the great women of jazz.

³She's a big force because, first, she loves the music and she's dedicated
her life to working in the music,² said musician Wynton Marsalis.

³Well, Phoebe Jacobs is one of the great people of jazz,² said jazz writer
Will Friedwald. 

³She does a lot of things that are sort of unheralded,² said trumpeter Jon

Jacobs started as a hat-check girl in her family's nightclub Basin Street.
She later became Louis Armstrong's publicist. Over the years, she knew and
worked with jazz legends like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny
Goodman, and Sarah Vaughn.

³Well, you know my uncle owned a night club and when I worked in the night
club, Sarah would say, ŒGee, do you know where I can get my dressed
shortened or my nails done?¹² recounted Jacobs. ³They use to ask me things
and I would do it for them. Then, over the years, they began to count on

³When phoebe was getting started, there was nobody else doing that,² said
Friedwald. ³She was a contractor and she booked clubs and concerts, and she
put together all kinds of stuff way back in the beginning.²

Still very busy, Jacobs is hard to catch up with. But given the chance, she
will tell you all about the time she and Ella Fitzgerald stopped for hot
dogs near Rockefeller Center.

³The hot dog in one hand, the 7-Up in the other, and she starts munching on
it and says Œthis is delicious and you were gonna have it without me?¹² said
Jacobs. ³And with that, a man stops and says, ŒPardon me lady, but you know
you look just like Ella Fitzgerald?¹ and she continues and says, ŒYou know
everybody tells me that,¹ and continues to eat.²

Jacobs has stories of all the jazz legends of her day. Not only is she
featured in Ken Burns' PBS documentary ³Jazz,² but she is also part of the
contemporary jazz scene. NY1 caught up with Phoebe at Dizzy Gillespie¹s club
Coca Cola to hear pianist Eric Reed.

³You can¹t say Œpeople like Phoebe¹ because there is no one like Phoebe
Jacobs,² said Reed.

For Jacobs, her musicians are like family.

³[Eric Reed] is like one of my children and I'm watching him grow and
develop,² she said. ³And I must tell you he plays a few things I don't dig,
and sometimes he goes out someplace and I wonder when he's coming back, but
he gets back in and gives me melody, and man, I dig it!²

The jazz world certainly digs her. In June, she was honored on her 89th
birthday with a very special tribute concert at the Danny Kaye Playhouse.

³Well, I tell you, I don't really feel like the things I'm hearing are about
me,² said Jacobs. ³Because the things I hear are so wonderful I don't feel
that wonderful. I feel good; I'd like to improve a lot of things about me.
For example, I can be very bitchy.²

Don't try telling that to Mercedes Ellington, who says she inherited Jacobs
from her grandfather, Duke Ellington.

³It's her birthday and this is like a version of her life story that someone
should be writing down,² said Mercedes Ellington. ³She has so much
information to give and all these people here tonight are like pieces out of
her life.² 

The performances were in the spirit of the stars she worked with: Jon Faddis
conjured Satchmo, who left Phoebe in charge of his legacy. She runs the
Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation and helped turn his Queens home into
a museum. 

Guitar great and longtime friend Bucky Pizzarelli was joined by Jay Leonhart
on bass and his daughter Carolyn Leonhart for a song by Peggy Lee.

For Phoebe Jacobs, having this many friends in the music business means
every once in a while she can call in a favor.

³I asked Jon Faddis to play to play West End Blues because he's
extraordinary and he's the next best thing to Louis Armstrong,² she said.

Jacob's Upper East Side apartment is a shrine to the music and musicians
she's worked with. 

³[I have] a picture taken on Louis Armstrong's birthday with Lionel Hampton,
Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong.²

There is also a photo of Jacobs with her late husband, Louis, and
Armstrong's wife, Lucille.

³[I also have a picture of] Lucille and Louis in front of Jack Dempsey's
restaurant on Broadway for the opening of ŒHello Dolly,¹ [one of] Ella and
Chick Webb, [and another of] Wynton Marsalis and Diana Ross.²

Jacobs is, of course, home wherever there is music. She still goes out a few
nights a week to hear live music, sometimes hitting the late set.

³Anytime there's a show going on that I dig, I'll be there,² she said. ³I
don't care about the time.²

So she continues to help keep the music alive without playing a note.

- Stephanie Simon
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