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Archive for the ‘Mentors’

My mentors: Lilliana & George Seibert

January 29th, 2010

Lilliana & George Seibert
George & Lilliana Seibert at the Harbor Pharmacy, 1958

Most of the mentorsI’ve written about have been work companions and no one I’ve worked with has had the same impact as George and Lilliana Seibert. It would have been their 60th anniversary today (George passed away in 2002) so it’s a great day to honor them.

Yes, Lilliana and George are my parents. And yes, most people can point to their parents as the prime influence on them, but I’m not going to completely bore you with too much personal biography. This blog is focused on work and my folks were my first bosses at their suburban pharmacy. The takeaway from my first work experience has shaped most of what I’ve done since. I picked up my complete love of work with them, and found out that for me “work to live” is not an option. “Live to work” is much more like it. I didn’t become a workaholic –I like my personal time as much as anyone– but I absorbed the real joy of the process of work itself.

I worked* in their store for more than 20 years. [Read more…]

My mentors: Nick Moy

September 18th, 2009

   Nick Moy, New York City, circa 1975
Nick Moy

To call such a buddy a “mentor” might seem an overstatement (he’ll probably find it silly), but it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be in the career I have without Nick Moy. [Read more…]

Ralph Ginzburg: My mentors (?)

September 14th, 2009

Ralph Ginzburg, Moneysworth Magazine
Click here to read this ad larger.

It’s hard to actually call Ralph Ginzburg a mentor of mine. I’m not sure he talked to me more than once, and after a few months on the night shift at his magazine Moneysworth, he had me fired. But a mentor to me he indeed was. Without either of us knowing it, the path I started at Ralph’s would continue for 15 years.

By the time I went to work for his publication in the summer of 1976, Ralph was on his last publication. He was notorious for being convicted and jailed for obscenity relating to his hard cover magazine Eros (though there were some who said he was less obscene than just completely annoying). Moneysworth was to be his last hurrah.

I worked in the production department. Ralph was around often, talking loudly and smartly about everything from design to circulation to advertising. All I had to do was absorb it all. It was the place I saw first hand and up close how design, language, marketing, and promotion worked in the real world.

Ralph showed me (inadvertently) the practical meaning of graphic design (the only things I knew were from reading my girlfriend’s book about Milton Glaser); he talked so much, and so eloquently about Herb Lubalin, I felt like I’d actually worked with him myself. And watching him lay out his trademark full page New York Times ads (like the ones above and below) was an education by itself, about design and typography.

But, it was really in the area of writing, strategy, and direct selling that I got my Ginzburgian education. I won’t belabor the details [Read more…]

My mentors: Michael Mantler

September 30th, 2008

MIchael Mantler  
Photograph of Michael Mantler by Tod Papageorge, 1968

I’m luckier than most. My life’s been filled with a lot of folks who’ve shown me the way. Parents, teachers, friends, bosses. Most of them would be horrified to be identified as my “mentor,” but that’s just what they are. An advisor, a counselor, who helped shape my world view.

Composer Michael Mantler was one of them. He was first hand proof that talent, planning, vision, drive, hard work, and sheer force of will could combine to accomplish dreams beyond anyone’s expectations. He didn’t have any particular interest, I think, in showing me much of anything really, but he was an incredible role model, trying to keep his family’s heads above water, struggling against all odds to be viable fringe artists in a highly commercial world. It was a time in my life that would never be repeated, and one that made a huge difference to me.

Mike would probably recoil at the whole idea of mentorship –by now, we’re probably more like friends or something– but I don’t know what else to call it. He was already a young legend in avant-garde jazz  when, as a naive 18 year old, I crashed my first professional recording session he was producing, his then wife Carla Bley’s “Escalator Over the Hill,” He patiently figured I was a friend of one of the superstar orchestra’s if he even noticed my presence. I went on to play their records on college radio, and then he  and Carla trusted me right out of school to work at their innovative artist record distribution service (itself an outgrowth of their incredible, idealistic collective, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, JCOA). I wasn’t too impressed with the job I did, but a few years later Mike asked me to be the sound man and assistant roadie on Carla’s first big band tours. It was an unforgetable experience not only for the music, but for the pride with which Mike managed the unruly, artistic bunch they’d gathered. I repayed them after a year by ducking out days before our first European tour (a real loss on my part), but it didn’t stop us from staying friendly for the 30 years since.

Thanks Mike, you made a real difference in my struggle to become a professional adult.

It wouldn’t be right to talk about Mike without mentioning some of his stunning work. His music isn’t for everyone (on his website he quotes one reviewer saying “‘Silence‘ is possibly the least listenable record I have ever heard”) and requires a dedicated listener, but the rewards are great. Aside from his playing and composing, Mike was no slouch as a producer either. He always knew to not only get the very best musicians, but that it didn’t hurt if they had name value for sales (check out Robert Wyatt, Jack Bruce, Don Cherry, Jack DeJohnette, Pharoh Sanders, Cecil Taylor, and Don Preston, among many others). A few of my favorites:

No Answer

And here’s one of my favorite of Mike’s recordings, featuring a jazz avant-garde superstar orchestra, from the 1968 “The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra“:

The Jazz Composer's Orchestra

The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra > Preview
(Composed & conducted by Michael Mantler; Soloist: Pharoah Sanders)

My mentors: Bob Pittman

September 5th, 2006


Writing about Tom Freston earlier has got me reflecting on the great boss we both had who brought us up in the early days of the cable TV business.

An old bio (or Wikipedia entry) of Bob Pittman can fill you in on his media life before he became the key force behind the explosive growth at AOL and as vice chairman of AOL Time Warner. But for me and Tom, MTVN CEO Judy McGrath, and a whole bunch of others, Bob was the inspiration that made us work like hell to build, launch, and grow (like weeds) MTV, Nickelodeon, and Nick-at-Nite, which of course led to the explosions of 27 wildly successful cable networks around the world. As John Stewart mentioned to someone earlier today, Bob (and then Tom) built a company that spawned almost every interesting and worthwhile cable executive today (and the worthwhile ones that didn’t work there desperately hoped to).

From my perspective, Bob not only is/was smart, shrewd, and a saavy judge of talent, but, he has the best immediate media instincts of anyone I’ve ever met. To this day, if I need a ‘right’ judgement on any media issue, small or huge, I call Bob, ask him a question, and the first thing out of his mouth is right. Every. Single. Time.

As to animation, while I had done a lot before, it was Bob’s notion to do what became the revolutionary 10-second animated network IDs we produced for cable throughout the 80s. He had some wild ideas that were too weird even for MTV, and his vision of what they could be really created an alternative career for me and my partner Alan Goodman.

Not everyone had the great luck of timing to be in a room with Bob Pittman in 1980 like me, Tom, Alan, and all the others. Can’t imagine where I’d be without that luck.