No Longer With Us: Mike Zwerin

Mike Zwerin, who died in Paris on 2nd April aged 79, was a renowned jazz trombonist and writer.

He dressed flamboyantly and had a reputation as both a bon vivant and dilettante.

I had the great pleasure of meeting him in the early 1980s, which led to Quartet publishing his book on how jazz was banned by the Nazis as decadent music yet somehow survived in Paris, as what Mike called ‘a metaphor for freedom’.

Here is an extract from my book, Fulfilment and Betrayal, which chronicles my one failed attempt to promote jazz in conjunction with Mike.

In October 1984 I made an attempt to promote jazz, having met Margaux Hemingway, the twenty-eight-year-old granddaughter of Ernest. She had a wonderful husky voice and revealed she was very keen to make a jazz record. I saw this as a golden opportunity and did not hesitate to do my best to make her ambition a reality.

The very next weekend I took her to have lunch at Maxim’s in Paris to meet Mike Zwerin, a trombonist who had played with Miles Davis in the 1950s. He was a writer on the Herald Tribune and the author of many jazz books, one of which Quartet had published – La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing under the Nazis, the curious story of the protection given by Nazi officers to Jewish jazz musicians in Paris during the Occupation. Mike had the best possible credentials to arrange and produce a disc from a newcomer.

Margaux’s voice impressed him as much as it had me. He proceeded to arrange with all the appropriate contacts a few sessions of voice coaching, with everything set for an early recording to follow. Margaux was ecstatic to think she was really about to make her singing début. The combination of her famous name with terrific good looks and vocal talent seemed certain to guarantee for her a whole new future.

Unfortunately Margaux was going through a phase where the spirit was ready to go but the body hung back in a lassitude that was impossible to break out of. She had a recurring drink-and-drug problem that was not severe in itself but was enough to drain her energies and sap her motivation. For weeks I kept after her to pull herself together and seize her chance, but although she met my pleas with her habitual charm, she never managed to muster the willpower to shake herself free of her demons.

She died a few years later in tragic circumstances, having achieved so little. The gods blessed her with many gifts but failed to grant her the inner strength to put them to good use.

It had been a life wasted, with no element of fulfilment.

One response to “No Longer With Us: Mike Zwerin

  1. This made me pick up Fulfilment & Betrayal again – to find it scattered with markers on people I wanted to talk to you about and one of them was the ‘jazz in Paris’ during the war story. If only F & B was not so heavy I could read it in bed in the dead of night – please make the next edition two volumes, Naim.
    [BTW – I think of Bron’s maxim about all text being improved by cutting each time I put pen to paper]

    X – S.