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Lee Mergner Remembers Ira Sabin

Former JazzTimes editor shares his memories of the magazine’s founder (8/10/28 - 9/12/18)

Ira Sabin with Dizzy Gillespie
Ira Sabin with Dizzy Gillespie, JazzTimes‘ first subscriber, 1984 (photo courtesy of Glenn Sabin)

I first met Ira Sabin in 1989. I had moved from my hometown of Philadelphia to the D.C. area to be with my then girlfriend, now wife, Irene. I had done various things in the music business—booking bands, producing some records, promoting shows—but hadn’t been particularly successful. I had no real job prospects, so I made a list of all the jazz and music companies in the area and sent them my résumé. JazzTimes was at the top of that list. I was a subscriber and had even been to the JazzTimes Convention at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in 1986. That really made an impression on me, seeing people like Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Betty Carter, the Heath Brothers, Dizzy Gillespie … all hanging out, drinking, telling stories, jamming in the venue at night. It was clear that they not only had a relationship with the magazine, but also had a personal relationship with the guy running the magazine: Ira Sabin. And now I lived in the same city as this cool jazz guy.

I didn’t know that he had founded the magazine first as a circular for his jazz and soul record store, Sabin’s Discount Records. Or that he had almost singlehandedly transformed it from an in-store sales piece to a tip sheet inexplicably called Radio Free Jazz to a newsprint tabloid. Or that Dizzy was its first subscriber. I surely didn’t know that he had worked as a musician himself, playing as a drummer for society functions and even promoting some jazz concerts in the area, including some of the first integrated shows in D.C. I just knew that he and his magazine were linked to the whole jazz community and I needed a job.

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