Starting as a fan, I never knew much of anything about the lives of jazz musicians off the bandstand until I got to know some of them as a reporter and critic. Having grown up during the Great Depression of the ’30s, I quickly became aware of how hard it was for so many of them to make a living.
Coming upon Jimmy Rowles when he was long between gigs, I asked him what he was going to do. “I wait for the phone to ring,” he said. And I heard of players who died desolate and broke-like pianist Wynton Kelly, the singular sideman to Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and more, who died alone at 39.