Who was your childhood hero? Page 2

April 5th, 2009

Childhood Heroes —  We all had them

Excerpted from exclusive Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, our guests talk of theirs.

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Amy Albany

Alfred Appel

Joshua Berrett

Ralph Blumenthal

A’lelia Bundles

Francis Davis

Jeroen de Valk

Michael Dregni

Matt Glaser

Gary Glazner

Farah Griffin

Sam Hamill

Nat Hentoff

Ashley Kahn

Arthur Kempton

Avon Kirkland

John Leland

Diane McWhorter

Diane Wood Middlebrook

Max Morath

Dan Morgenstern

Gerald Nachman

Joshua Prager

Ben Ratliff

Joshua Redman

Ishmael Reed

David Robertson

Scott Simon

David Skover

Penny Von Eschen

Emily Yellin

William Zinsser

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Heroes
Index

Heroes Page
1
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Mitchell and Ruff biographer

William
Zinsser

JJM Who was your childhood hero?

WZ Everybody on the New York Giants during the early 1930’s. Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell were among them. My other first heroes were the sportswriters, mainly the baseball writers for the New York Herald-Tribune and the New York Times. Also, the New York Sun, a paper that was obsessed with baseball.

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JJM Who was your childhood hero?

JDV I admired Ben Webster, who was living in Amsterdam then, as I did. I wanted to play the saxophone as sensual as he did. My second book (just published in the USA by Berkeley Hills Books) is about Ben and contains interviews with dozens of people who knew him.

Chet Baker biographer

Jeroen de Valk

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Ken Burns advisor

Matt Glaser

JJM Matt, who was your childhood hero?

MG Einstein. I’m not sure why but I had a poster of him in my room while I was growing up. I like the idea of the eccentric genius, revolutionizing something about the human experience. He was a guy who was loved and had a kindly face, but was obviously into esoteric secrets.

JJM Wouldn’t it make sense that a musician has a mathematician for a hero?

MG Oh, absolutely. In fact, I often draw parallels between Louis Armstrong and Albert Einstein. Both men were warm, avuncular figures who were known and loved the world over, and both men had deep aspects to their work that hardly anyone appreciated. Both men were working at the same time and revolutionized the human understanding of time – Einstein in the scientific sense and Armstrong changing the human experience of time through his music.

 

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JJM Who was your childhood hero?

DWM  Wonderwoman!

JJM  No!…Why was Wonderwoman your hero?

DWM  I think because I was really smitten by the idea of goddesses and gods. I used to have one of those childhood fantasies where I was really a goddess. My mother named me very fancifully – my middle name is Helen, my first name is Diane. She was thinking of the moon goddess. I was a first child too, so I was an indulged, contented child with a certain sense of entitlement, so I used to have this fantasy that I was actually a goddess. Wonderwoman came about as close as they got. I used to buy those thick Wonderwoman comic books…

Billy Tipton biographer

Diane Wood Middlebrook

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Making of Kind of Blue author

Ashley Kahn

JJM Who was your childhood hero?

AK That would be a tie between Willie Mays and Tom Seaver.

JJM Was there a particular biography you read as a child that provoked your interest in writing?

AK Not really any biography – I think where I began to consider taking up the pen (typewriter or whatever) was actually the science fiction bag: from short stories to classics like H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, and later Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert and my all-time fave – Phillip K. Dick. When I got to college I was turned on to the razor-sharp elites of New York storytelling (S. J. Perelman, Dorothy Parker, A. J. Liebling) and still blame them with convincing me that a thesaurus is for reading as well as writing.

 

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JJM Who was your hero, Joshua?

JR My musical hero?

JJM Well, that or your boyhood hero…

JR I think my mom was my hero. My mom took great care of me and she was a person I looked up to. I didn’t really have heroes like clear role models, like people or figures that I idolized…I think the first record I ever bought was a Sonny Rollins record, Saxophone Colossus, and from that point on Sonny Rollins became a hero of mine. I was nine or ten or so at the time, and my mom paid for the record…

 

 

Saxophonist

Joshua Redman

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Critic, writer

Francis Davis

JJM Who was your childhood hero?

FD  It wasn’t a writer during childhood, it probably would have been Bobby Darin. I used to sing when I was a kid. When “Mack the Knife” and all those great songs came out, I was at my most impressionable stage. I sang in the high school choir, and I wanted to be Bobby Darin. I think when you are 14 or so, you don’t always want to be like somebody, you want to be them. I knew Bobby Darin through songs like “Splish Splash” and “Queen of the Hop,” and thought of him as rock and roll. He was also singing standards, and I think even now there is some department store chain that uses Bobby Darin’s recording of “More” in the background. Bobby Darin really swung!

JJM “Beyond the Sea” is one of my favorites too…

FD He sung with such fabulous momentum, and even though I wasn’t listening to jazz yet, at that time there wasn’t as much distinction between pop and jazz as there is now, and maybe I was picking up on the tail end of that. Even though I hadn’t heard any jazz, I think I responded to the jazz like qualities of Bobby Darin, his phrasing, his rhythm…

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JJM Who was your childhood hero?

AK As a very young child, no one, other than people I would see in the movies, which tended to be cowboys. Later on, Jackie Robinson became a hero, because I am old enough, at age 65, to remember when he broke into baseball. Joe Louis preceded him, whose fights I could hear in Jacksonville, Florida. His victories were a source of great pride.

 

 

Filmmaker

Avon Kirkland

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New York Times writer, author of The Stork Club, Ralph Blumenthal

JJM Who was your childhood hero?

RB I guess I grew up, like most boys my age, with sports and war heroes. My sports heroes were Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle. The Dodgers were my first favorite team until the disastrous 1953 pennant race.

JJM You stopped liking them then?

RB I was a fair weather fan. I immediately deserted the Dodgers and gave up and went to the Yankees. I was born in 1941, and I grew up sensing the war all around me.  Even though I was little, I had heroes like MacArthur, Patton, Roosevelt – people who were doing great things for the country. Those were the people I looked up to when I was young.

JJM When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

RB I guess in college. I went to City College of New York. I wandered into the newspaper office one day, and joined the paper, The Campus. That was it. I was smitten. I just loved the idea of knowing things before other people, getting under the skin of the administration, and being looked up to. It was fun feeling the power of a writer, of a journalist. Before that I had been an English major and always liked writing, but once I joined the paper that was it for me.

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JM Who was your childhood hero?

GG My childhood hero was the character that wore PF Flyers, who could run and jump and save people. As a child I believed that was true, and I tried to jump over a brick wall in New York. Of course, I smashed into it and the reality of the world became apparent.

JJM Why do you suppose he was your hero?

GG I just thought it was so cool that you could put on these shoes – sneakers as we called them – and go save people and jump over buildings.  It was fun to see all the great things they showed this kid doing.

Beat poet

Gary Glazner

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Musician, critic

Max Morath

JJM Who was your boyhood hero?

MM I had several heroes of different stripes. My musical hero when I was a kid was Art Tatum, and of course along with Tatum, my piano playing heroes were Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Billy Kyle, and by the time I was a teenager, Nat Cole. Because I started out as a physics, math and science maven, I was interested in people like Thomas Edison and Marconi, the founder of radio. That was one of the directions I was going until I got into this business.

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JJM Who was your childhood hero?

FG  It changed a lot. I don’t know if I had just one hero. My dad is probably my most consistent hero more so than any number of the more well known people who came in and out. So, I would have to say my father.

Billie Holiday historian

Farah Griffin

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Pulitzer Prize winning author

Diane McWhorter

JJM Who was your childhood hero, Diane?

DM This may seem rather unbelievable. It was J. Edgar Hoover. In junior high and high school, I wanted to be an FBI agent. I wanted to break into that “boys club” because they didn’t allow women agents at that point. Hoover was a big hero in the south. I remember we had a family ritual every Sunday night, where we would all sit down together and watch the TV show The FBI, with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

JJM Your choice is especially amazing after having read so much about him in your book, it is hard to imagine why anyone would consider him a hero!

DM I guess the scales fell from my eyes!

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JJM One last question, David. Who was your childhood hero?

DS   I am really not sure that I had a childhood hero as such. I recall that, at a very young age (around six years old), I was asked by one of my parents’ adult friends whom or what I wanted to be when I grew up, and that I replied: “A judge.” As I remember the scenario, my questioner responded with some great surprise: “Not Superman? Not a fireman?” “No,” I reiterated, “a judge.” “And, why would you want to become a judge?” “Because,” I said, “judges are wise, and I want to be wise.” Who knows how I had obtained that idea? But I held onto it for a very long time. It never occurred to me until much later that I might be exercising my jurisprudential creativity as a constitutional law scholar and author on America’s free speech culture. Still, surely my current roles take no less wisdom — and no less intelligence and compassion, as well — than the judicial image that inspired my earliest aspirations.

 

 

 

Lenny Bruce biographer

David Skover

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JJM  Who was your childhood hero?

EY   I would have to say it was Eudora Welty. I grew up in the South, and in high school I began reading her short stories and absolutely loved them. I ended up going to the University of Wisconsin, and only discovered later that she also went there and majored in English, just as I did. Another hero of mine was Catwoman. When I was a little bitty kid, I wanted to be her. I think I ended up somewhere between the two.

Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II author Emily Yellin

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Joshua Berrett, author of Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz

JJM  Who was your childhood hero?

JB  My childhood hero? Wow. I suppose this is a time for honored confessions. I would say that it might have been Beethoven. I was born in South Africa, and was very much nurtured by the “dead white European male’s” tradition. When I began teaching in this country, and woke up to the realities of a more global, cosmopolitan world, I embraced jazz in many ways.

Also, I grew up during the waning years of apartheid in South Africa, and I was very beholden to the United Party — which was the diametric opposite of the Nationalist Party. One of the United Party figures who affected my very early life was Jan Christian Smuts.

 

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JJM  Who was your childhood hero?

JL  I loved sports as a kid, and I grew up in the late sixties/early seventies, which was really an anti-hero period. The players I liked were the anti-hero athletes like Joe Namath, Joe Pepitone, Muhammad Ali, and Walt Frazier. I loved the Corleone family in The Godfather, and if there was anyone I wanted to grow up to be, it was Michael Corleone, the Al Pacino character.

JJM  The sports figures you mentioned could be classified as “hip athletes,” couldn’t they?

JL  Yes, they could.

Hip:  The History author John Leland

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Jazz historian, Living With Jazz author Dan Morgenstern

JJM Who was your childhood hero?

DM  As a boy, I saw the films Robin Hood and Captain Blood. Robin Hood was a terrific movie – I must have seen it three times – and I still like it. As a result, I was an Errol Flynn fan, who I thought was a dashing figure. As for a musician I admired, I saw Fats Waller perform when I was not quite nine years old, and he made a huge impression on me. So, my hero would be a cross between Fats and Errol Flynn. (I also had a big crush on Olivia De Havilland at the time, but that probably doesn’t qualify her as a hero. She’s still very much alive and still looks great, so I had a good eye, I guess.)

 

 

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JJM Who was your childhood hero?

MD My childhood heroes were Rod Carew, the second baseman for the Minnesota Twins, and the famous bicycle racer Eddie Merckx, who I admired during the time I lived in Belgium as a kid. My literary heroes were Spiderman and, a little later, James Joyce. But my biggest hero of all was my dad.

 

Django Reinhardt biographer Michael Dregni

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Satchmo Blows Up the World author Penny Von Eschen

JJM  Who was your childhood hero?

PVE  My honest answer is that my childhood hero was a baseball player, Rod Carew, the great hitter who played second base for the Minnesota Twins, and then later became the first baseman for the California Angels. The only possible meaning I have for this is that he was my first archive. I was a great baseball fan when I was in about fifth grade, so much so that I knew every player on the National and American League rosters — and everyone coming up from the minors as well. I grew up in Minnesota and was a big Twins fan during a time they were quite good, and collected all the newspaper articles about Carew, their best player.

 

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JJM  Who was your childhood hero?

NH   I grew up during the Great Depression, and at the time my father was a traveling salesman who would often come home with five bucks in his pocket after working all week. At least Franklin Delano Roosevelt seemed to be doing something about these tough times, and because of that, I would have to say that he was my childhood hero.

I used to listen to the radio a lot — Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy was among my favorite shows — and I remember the day that the guy from the finance company came and took our radio away because we couldn’t make the payment. I figured F.D.R. could help out.

JJM   That must have been a devastating experience.

NH  It was sobering, yes, but what devastated me was how badly my parents felt.

Journalist Nat Hentoff

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The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World author Joshua Prager

PH Who was your childhood hero?

JP I had a few baseball heroes when I was a kid. One was Graig Nettles, the Yankee third baseman. I was always making myself dive like he did. Lou Gehrig was another. I used to sleep under a picture of him. I always admired him — not just for his baseball skills — but also for the type of person I was told he was. My favorite author when I was a little kid was Roald Dahl. I loved reading his books. As I got older, I found out he was a rabid anti-Semite, so I guess there is a lesson in there somewhere. Maybe it is best not to learn too much about your heroes.

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PM  Who was your childhood hero?

DR  I would have to say my most admired figure
in my early youth – I was born and grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s
at Anniston, Alabama, among the most bitterly fought sites of the civil rights
era in my state – was my city’s local journalist, Cody Hall. Cody, the
editor at the Anniston Star newspaper, very bravely, and at considerable
financial and social risks, took an editorial stand in his paper urging a
non-violent acceptance of racial integration by the city’s white residents,
and insisting upon the rule of law in prosecuting those who committed violence
upon the freedom riders and civil rights workers who traveled to Anniston
in those early years. His stand was taken also at a considerable physical
risk; the FBI later gathered evidence that the local Ku Klux Klan was assembling
explosives in order to bomb Cody’s office and the Star’s printing plant.
What is more, Cody wrote eloquently, learnedly, and passionately. He was
a combat veteran of World War Two, and was one of the last generation of
the truly great journalists in the “Good Night, And Good Luck” tradition.
I was honored to have known him.

W.C. Handy biographer
David
Robertson

Heroes
Index

Heroes Page
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