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Jazz Spouses Get Smart

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Behind most jazz legends is a tireless spouse. As my article in today's Wall Street Journal notes, being married to a jazz legend is tough stuff. Over the years, while their husbands were on the road or out all night playing, the wives of these artists (mostly male) have had to run the home, pay the bills, take the kids to doctors, bring the car in for servicing and make sure everything has been normal and covered. [Pictured: The Musician by Georges Braque, 1917]

Unfortunately, too few jazz couples plan for the sad day when the jazz legend (and his income) isn't around. As a result, many surviving spouses do not have a clue about how to keep their husband's legacy alive through the years--or how to generate income from their albums, photos, instruments, personal items and other intellectual assets.

Among those who have managed to figure out a way to do both are Laurie Pepper, Sue Mingus [pictured], Maxine Gordon and Francine Bellson. I can't reprint my entire Wall Street Journal article (please go grab a copy when you're out today), but here's a taste:

“High on alcohol and drugs in 1981, alto saxophonist Art Pepper flew through a red light in Van Nuys, Calif., slamming his car into the one in front of him and sending his head through the windshield. Months later, as Pepper recovered from his injuries, his shaken wife, Laurie, insisted they have a talk.

“Fearful that her husband's erratic behavior could expose the couple to a ruinous negligence suit, she shared with the musician their accountant's advice: By transferring ownership of the saxophonist's works and contracts into Arthur Pepper Music Inc., they could shield those intellectual assets from any third-party claims. Her husband agreed."
What I found in my reporting is that most jazz-legend spouses are unaware of how to plan to preserve their husband's name and music and earn an income from both. If left dormant, that good name is all too quickly forgotten. As one jazz widow told me recently, “The phone rang off the hook when he was alive. Now, not so much."

What can a jazz-legend spouse do now while her husband is alive (or if he's deceased) to ensure that his legacy lives on and that income rolls in? Here's what the experts told me:

  • Build a website--so that fans and corporate entities with royalties like record companies can find you online.
  • Keep everything--since all papers may have value as intellectual property over time, organize as much as possible and put the material in safe storage.
  • Befriend fans--open an email dialogue with fan clubs worldwide to motivate and sustain interest.
  • Hire an attorney--preferably an entertainment lawyer who has strong relationships with the music business.
  • Start an LLC--have all assets transferred into the company for protection and estate-planning purposes. Consult a CPA and attorney for the right way to start an LLC. Or try LegalZoom.com.
  • Copyright music--original works have value. But first see if a copyright already exists on the works at ASCAP.com and BMI.com. Copyright.gov offers information. An entertainment attorney can help you with this.
  • Explore licensing--with a company that has experience leveraging jazz artists' names and likeness. For example, you may be entitled to royalties every time an image is used in books and on CDs.

This is just a start. If you follow this advice and the wisdom of the jazz-legend spouses in today's Wall Street Journal and the other experts I spoke to, you'll be on your way.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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