New jazz book preserves 'the memory of all that'

'Jazz on My Mind' ensures Herb Wong's insights, passion and memories live on

Marilyn Wong recalls the day her husband, jazz educator and concert producer Herb Wong, returned from the doctor with the news that no family wants to hear: The troubling symptoms he'd been experiencing were the result of terminal cancer.

Trying to sound a hopeful note at a time hope seemed a cruel joke, Ms. Wong asked her devastated husband, "What is it you want to do in the time you have left?"

It didn't take long for him to reply. "He told me, 'I want to do my jazz book,'" Ms. Wong said during a recent interview in the Menlo Oaks home she and Herb shared until his death in April 2014.

But Herb – known in the jazz world as Dr. Wong – was ill, and his strength was fading. Taking on a project to compile his decades of writings, interviews, and lively memories of friendships and professional relationships with scores of musicians seemed a daunting task. He needed help.

Ms. Wong got on the phone, she said, and called Paul Simeon Fingerote, the marketing director of the Monterey Jazz Festival who had known Herb since 1981. Mr. Fingerote agreed to steer the project that would result in "Jazz on My Mind: Liner Notes, Anecdotes and Conversations from the 1940s to the 2000s."

The book includes articles and recording liner notes by Dr. Wong, and eight interviews, or conversations, with jazz greats, including Dave Brubeck, Terence Blanchard, Phil Woods, Joshua Redman and Marian McPartland.

Other artists featured in the book include Menlo Park native Taylor Eigsti, a star pianist and composer who has called Dr. Wong "one of the most important influences on my whole life."

In all, the book touches on the music and memories of 58 artists. The range is great, and represents some of the biggest names of mid- to late-20th century jazz and beyond: from Duke Ellington, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton to Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie. Singers include Billie Holiday, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole and Carmen McRae.

Mr. Fingerote said that Dr. Wong chose the best of his liner notes, articles and conversations for the book. "Herb's job was not as easy as it sounds," he said in an email. "Herb's 'Record Room' ... was a former two-car garage, filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with LPs, CDs, albums, sheet music, photos, books ... and more and more jazz."

As co-author and collaborator, Mr. Fingerote said a big part of his role was "sitting down with Herb and interviewing him about the artists, the instruments, his anecdotes, and jazz," then weaving the material into the various sections of the book.

Mr. Fingerote's job continued for two years after his friend and collaborator died, and entailed transcribing his interviews with Dr. Wong which produced far more material than what could be included in the book transcribing recorded conversations between Dr. Wong and musicians, and scanning liner notes.

The collection that was created from these efforts, combined with those of Marilyn Wong and others who worked on the project, honors a man who, though no longer physically present in the world, has left behind a treasure of knowledge and memories – "the memory of all that," to borrow from the tune "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

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