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At Home with Ira Gitler

Audience with a legendary jazz scribe

Ira Gitler at home (photo by Jacques Lowe)

Jazz writer Ira Gitler and his wife, painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, live in a brownstone apartment in the choicest part of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a block away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have one son, Fitz, a graphic designer for PC Magazine, who also lives in Manhattan. The couple has lived in the apartment since the early ’60s, taking it over from former tenant Woody Allen. Entering through the front door, you have to push your way through narrow halls filled with Schwalbach’s enormous art display—huge three dimensional sports sculptures and hundreds of watercolors—and Gitler’s collection of more than 6,000 LPs. The living room is also filled with Schwalbach’s paintings, as well as a computer, hi-fi and thousands of CDs. The apartment’s clutter is a testament to the couple’s lifetime devotion to art and music.

Gitler is co-author with Leonard Feather of The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz and author of Jazz Masters of the Forties and Swing to Bop. The New York native has been writing about jazz since he was a teenager, but it was sports that first caught Gitler’s imagination. “I dreamt of becoming a great baseball player, but then wanted to become a sports writer.” Gitler wrote a sports column for his high school newspaper, but when the jazz columnist graduated he took over that column as well. The year was 1946 and Gitler’s first jazz piece was a review of Dizzy Gillespie at the Spotlite Club on 52nd St.

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