My business card has a photograph of Sidney Catlett on it, and when people stop mis-identifying him (no, that’s not Nat King Cole or Morgan Freeman) some ask me why he’s there. I answer, “He made everyone sound better; he died after telling a good joke in the intermission of a concert, and people still miss him.” And depending on my listeners, I might repeat what Billie Holiday said of him.
After Louis, he remains my pole star. So I was astonished and delighted to see this photograph, which was new to me, on sale at eBay. Torn right corner and all. I know Sid’s handwriting, so the capital B S and C make me know the signature is genuine, and his fountain pen was working: obviously Marvin was someone special, because the inscription is carefully done, probably on a table or other flat surface.
and a closeup:
Through eBay serendipity, I found out that “Marvin” was Marvin Kohn, who had been the New York State Athletic Commissioner — and a jazz fan. (He also had an autographed photograph of Will Bradley.) Here’s a sketch of Marvin by Leroy Neiman:
I had invented a scenario where Sid and Marvin met at a boxing match, where Marvin offered Sid a ticket to some sporting event and then asked (as one might) for an autographed glossy in return, but I believe what might have happened would be different. Here is Marvin’s obituary in the New York Times:
Marvin Kohn; Boxing Publicist, 70
Published: February 8, 1994
Marvin Kohn, a longtime figure in New York boxing, died Sunday at New York Hospital. He was 70. He died three days after suffering a stroke. Mr. Kohn was appointed a publicist for the New York State Athletic Commission, which oversees boxing, in 1951, and he later served as a deputy commissioner of the agency before retiring in 1989. He also was a press agent for many actors and had served as publicity director for the old Hotel Astor. He is survived by his widow, Mildred.
And a memory of Marvin from Mervyn Gee, whose blog on boxing is called SLIP & COUNTER:
Back in 1987, more than 25 years after moving to London, I was security manger at The Cumberland Hotel, a 1,000 bedroom hotel situated in the Marble Arch area. The reason I mention this is that the World Boxing Council (WBC) held their annual convention there that year and a glittering array of their champions and their entourages were at the hotel. . . . Caroline Fransen was our liason officer . . . . [she] introduced me to Marvin Kohn, who at the time was secretary to the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) based in New York. Kohn was also deputy commissioner at the New York Athletic Commission for over 30 years and over the next decade I visited the Big Apple a number of times and Marvin introduced me to so many fascinating and influential people in the boxing scene.
Long before there were public tours of Madison Square Garden, I was privileged to be a frequent visitor and Marvin was even the only non-actor to have his caricature on the wall at Sardi’s famous restaurant. To this day, the BWAA present a “Good Guy” prize each year named after my late friend as the ‘Marvin Kohn award’. As a result of my friendship with Marvin I was even invited to the VIP lounge and restaurant at the United Nations buildings. Not bad for a little boyo from the valleys!
And from Mervyn’s site, a lovely photograph of Marvin at his desk:
But back to Sidney Catlett. January 1944, the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, with Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, for ROSE ROOM:
and one hero speaking of another:
Now I just have to figure out where to hang the picture — because I won it.
P.S. This post is in honor of master jazz-sleuth David Fletcher.
May your happiness increase!