Mike Zwerin, Gone At 79

Last summer, I had the privilege of presenting the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Jazz Journalists Association to Mike Zwerin, my successor in the chain of winners of that honor. Mike was unable to make the trip from his home in France and accepted in absentia. That missed opportunity meant that I will never have the pleasure of a Zwerin.jpgpersonal meeting with a cherished colleague. Mike died early this morning in a Paris hospital at the age of 79, following a long illness. Our correspondence over the years provided me insights and great satisfactions. His end of it was witty and acerbic, in keeping with his columns in the International Herald Tribune and, in later years, Bloomberg News.
Zwerin’s books Swing Under The Nazis: Jazz As A Metaphor For Freedom and The Parisian Chronicles are essential items in any serious collection of writing about jazz. His first fame was as a fine valve trombonist and bass trumpeter, a member of the original Birth of the Cool band led by Miles Davis in collaboration with Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis. In his journalism career, in addition to his award-winning work for the International Herald-Tribune, he wrote for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone and Down Beat, among other publications. Mike’s writing style inspired Bill Kirchner to describe him as “Mezz Mezzrow meets Jack Kerouac meets Hunter Thompson.” Zwerin provided a rare combination of wisdom and spice. His readers, this one most emphatically included, will miss him.

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  1. Patrick Hinely says

    Zwerin’s writing has always made me rethink my approach to the subject at hand and usually much more; in the process, it has also made me laugh as well. This was a gift. In describing unique characters of the jazz world, he became one himself.
    Though I never got to visit with him on his Parisian home ground, I did get to work with him in Berlin and, even further back, hang with him in Warsaw, before the Iron Curtain had rusted away. Willis Conover was at the same hotel, and breakfast with those two, though it usually ran to noon, always ended too soon, as all the best things do.

  2. Charlton Price says

    Mike Zwerin writes with panache, mordant wit, and memorable insights about the experience of expatriate jazz life in the mid-20th century, a.k.a. the “good old days” — so-called by more and more older of today’s older “civilians” (Woody Herman’s term for fans) would like to believe. We were there, or wish we had been there. Next best: my bedtime reading and re-reading of Parisian Chronicles.