To bastardize an old credit card advertisement:
Entry fee for the L.A. Press Club’s National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards: $50
Finding out you took First Place for an “Entertainment Blog by an Individual Not Tied to an Organization” while listening to the virtual awards ceremony on your phone while shopping at Costco: Priceless.
It is heartening that my interview with the incomparable Gene Cipriano (known to everyone as “Cip”) was recognized tonight for what it was:
“Harmon’s interviews with a little-known. octogenarian jazz musician who has played on many famous film and TV soundtrack themes for decades are a delightful surprise, making her blog a fascinating read.”
A friend who was an executive speech writer, asked if I would be giving a speech if I won tonight. I told her I wouldn’t be – even the pre-pandemic awards ceremony didn’t afford time for any but the really big award recipients to say a few words. All the same, she said I should think about what I would say if I did have to give a speech. So here goes:
First and foremost, I’d like to thank Doug McCarthy, without whom I never would have known that this history of jazz was unfolding right in my South Bay backyard and during the hours of television that I watched as a kid. I’d like to thank Ken Poston, general manager of 88.3 KSDS and founder and director of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, for all that he has done for the last 20 years to bring the story of West Coast Jazz to life with his always entertaining, enlightening, and above all, swinging jazz festivals that came to an abrupt end in 2020 because of the pandemic, but that I fervently hope will return someday in the not-too-distant future. At these events, I was privileged to meet musicians that you would only read about in the history books. I learned about not only the music and talent behind it but the small but devoted community of fans, scholars, and even visual artists – like Michelle Bolden and Merryl Jaye, who are inspired to create their own original works because of their love of the music, and with whom I shared great times at the festivals as a respite from the “boys club” that these events can be – that’s not really a bad thing though! A third talented “she-ro” is my friend and honorary sister Shiho Nakaza, whose bebopin’ sketch of musicians playing at a tribute to saxophonist Dave Pell at the former location of the Musicians Union of Los Angeles, graces this blog, garnering exclamations of delight and admiration for her talents from everyone who sees it.
Warmest thanks and virtual embraces to my friends and family who have believed in this project and in me, especially my 101-and-a-half-year-old friend John McNeil. A UCLA professor of education and WWII veteran, he would always ask how the blog was going and shared his own stories of the power of music, most notably how sailors on board his ships, having previously having counted the minutes to their final discharge, would invariably end up reenlisting for another tour, buoyed by the martial strains of John Philip Sousa.
Massive kudos go to my “sister from another mister,” Shiho Nakaza, whose art graces the header of this blog and my business card. People who have absolutely no interest in jazz or the blog exclaim in awe and delight when they see her sketch, which evokes a timeless hipness, although it does suggest a mid-century vibe. For more of her amazing art, check this out.
Special thanks go to the kindred spirits, my friends who actually are writers: my UCLA gal pals Cyndy, Wendy, Meg, and Karen. The greatest silver lining of the pandemic was that I get to see them and catch up every week, instead of waiting a month or two when our busy schedules would allow us to enjoy a meal or a museum excursion together (although I really miss those times too!). Retired from their careers as journalists and communicators, their encouragement means the world because we speak the same language. Thanks also belong to my friend Matt, the next great American novelist, and my “writing buddy,” Marcus, who has a public affairs position like mine, but within whom beats the heart of a great sportswriter. It’s been cathartic to share our respective travails and triumphs, and I am learning a great deal from him about the inner workings of newsrooms, military communications protocols, and professional basketball.
I want to thank the total strangers who permitted me to ask questions about their work and present their stories to the world. Some of the funniest, surprising, and most touching moments of my life have occurred when these talented and giving individuals generously shared their experiences. Most kids my age remember the “Schoolhouse Rock” multiplication song, “Elementary, My Dear.” But I am probably the only one who got to have the incomparable Bob Dorough sing it to me, over the phone several years ago, from his home in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania.
Last and by no means least, my hearty thanks to the Los Angeles Press Club. I feel less like a usurper who left the kids’ table to sneak into where the grown-ups sit – this probably has to do more with not attending the usual in-person event at the elegant and historic Biltmore Hotel – and more like a professional who has managed to parlay what my journalism teacher at Redondo Union High would call a career as a PR whore into a fulfilling life as a real, honest to G-d writer. The LAPC serves an important role in keeping the core values of journalism alive, and the moral support that it gives to its members – we who are part of a constantly changing but resilient profession – is invaluable.
As I said the other day in my Toastmasters meeting, I have no business writing Making Life Swing. I’m not a musician or related to one, nor am I a male between the ages of 45-70. But it’s amazing what a leap of faith – fueled by a mixture of unjaded ignorance, a deep love of any music that speaks to the most human in all of us, and sheer chutzpah – can get you.
Click here to read the winning MLS post, “Gene Cipriano: Hired “Gunn” Looks Back at Some Very Good Years.”
To watch a clip of the 13th National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards, visit the Los Angeles Press Club website.