Recalling Profiles Of A Politician, Jazz Legend Producer Joanne Griffith joined News & Notes the week of the 2008 Republican National Convention. She recalls as two of her favorite segments, a feature on the personal and political life of former presidential candidate John McCain, plus a profile of jazz legend Hazel Scott.
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Recalling Profiles Of A Politician, Jazz Legend

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Recalling Profiles Of A Politician, Jazz Legend

Recalling Profiles Of A Politician, Jazz Legend

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TONY COX, host:

So, by now, you know that all week we have been looking back on some of our producers' favorite picks as News & Notes comes to a close officially tomorrow. Joanne Griffith is the newest addition to our show. She joined News & Notes way back in September via London, of all places. She joins me now. Hello, Joan.


COX: Is it OK if I say jolly good to have you?

GRIFFITH: It's absolutely fabulous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRIFFITH: It's cool beans, Tony.

COX: Cool beans.

GRIFFITH: I have enjoyed trying to teach you some London phrases over the past few months.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRIFFITH: Although, I have to say I haven't been as lucky as Drew to enjoy any smooches since I've been at NPR. Obviously, I'm doing something wrong.

COX: Oh, well, I don't know about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: We'll have to see. So, you've been working on all kinds of things in the short time that you've been here.

GRIFFITH: I really have. It's been a great time of - worked on pieces with Wayne Brady, Faith Evans, Alicia Keys, Jada Pinkett Smith, who we heard from earlier on. That was actually a lot of fun. But on the flip side, hard-hitting stories as well, you know, people moving from their homes after Hurricane Gustav. That was one of the first stories that I worked on. A mother who's son was murdered. We spoke to her for the crime series. And also, an interview with Michael Steele pre his GOP chairman days.

COX: Now, I understand that you have selected two of the stories that are your favorites. And one of them is a piece that you and I worked on together.

GRIFFITH: Yeah. Our first piece, in fact, Tony. And I have to say I was actually a little bit scared of your, was like, oh, oh...

COX: Not me.

GRIFFITH: I better do this right.

COX: Well, but you're right about that.

GRIFFITH: Get in all in place.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRIFFITH: But I joined the show during the week of the Republican National Convention and being a rather sad political junkie that I am I was really happy to be in a U.S. newsroom, particularly at such an exciting time in U.S. policies. It really was the next best thing to being at the party convention I couldn't, you know, wangle a free ticket for that. So, has produced a 10-minute piece giving some background to the personal and political life of the former presidential candidate John McCain. Now when you cover the news regularly, you do get to know a certain side of politicians, but you very rarely get to dig into their pasts to find out more about them, or some of the good things anyway. So I contacted politicians, some African-American Republican supporters, who we'd have him a show, military men who talk about his naval career. But I really wanted to hear from someone who actually knew him personally. Now, countless phone calls later, I knew way more than I ever thought I would about John McCain. Well, I found the guest that I was after. He is John McCain's former driver, Max Fose, who's maintained a really close friendship with him since 1992.

Mr. MAX FOSE (John McCain's Former Driver): He's a great person to work for. You feel like you have to do a 110 percent all the time because, you know, that's what he gives. He's very energetic. He, you know, goes a mile a minute and he outruns his staff. You have to switch staff because he is so energized all the time and, you know, it's go, go, go. And he's just the kind of person you'd want to have a beer with. Very down to earth, knows sports. You know, I would pick him up in the morning to take him to the airport, and it would be four o'clock and I'd always get up early and read the sports page to make I have something to talk to him about and everything you brought up, he already knew about sports. And that's the kind of a guy he is and very fun to be around, and when you're around you feel like your, you know, part of something bigger than yourself.

COX: Now that's certainly a different take on John McCain, isn't it?

Ms. GRIFFITH: It really was, you know. I had visions of him kind of sitting there made with a Lakers hat on, swigging a beer, having a glass of wine. Really not the image of the man that we would see looking quite stern on the presidential candidate campaign, and it really changed my complete view of him as a man, probably forever.

COX: Ah. You had another pick which was very different.

Ms. GRIFFITH: Yeah, I absolutely adore music and I realized that we actually have a mutual love of jazz.

COX: Yes, we do.

Ms. GRIFFITH: So, I was really happy when I was given a book to read all about the jazz legend Hazel Scott.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HAZEL SCOTT (Jazz Pianist; Singer): Hello, fellows. This is Hazel Scott. Cindy Catlan(ph) with the drums. We'd like to do a little jump number for you, C Jam Blues.

COX: Hazel Scott, a classically trained jazz pianist and singer, who became the first African-American woman to have her own show but whose outspoken nature may have cost her her rightful place in history. Well, for anyone asking who is Hazel Scott, a new book about her life has all the answers. It's called "Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Cafe Society to Hollywood to the House Un-American Activities Committee." Karen Chilton is the author, and we're also joined now by Hazel Scott's son, Adam Clayton Powell III. Welcome.

Mr. ADAM CLAYTON POWELL III (Son of Hazel Scott): Good to be with you.

Ms. KAREN CHILTON (Author, "Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Cafe Society to Hollywood to the House Un-American Activities Committee") Thank you, Tony.

COX: This is a great project, Karen. Let me talk to you first about why you did it and how long - I've understood it took a little while to get it done.

Ms. CHILTON: Well, initially, when I set out, I was interested in writing a book on black women artist expatriots. And that's what I was researching at the time. And I actually stumbled across Hazel Scott. I didn't know much about her. And growing up on the south side of Chicago, I was sort of raised in jazz and blues, so I considered myself, you know, an expert on jazz. And I was actually very frustrated by the fact that I had never heard of Hazel Scott. I stumbled across her photo in a book in the New York Public Library. I thought, well, who is she? Then, I found another obscure out-of-print book, I think it was from the '60s, and it was a book about expatriots and it was sort of a Q&A style book. And I started reading Hazel's essays, you know, or the answers to the questions that were posed to her. And I was really compelled to dig a little deeper. And before I knew it, I had shelved the other project and I was just fully, you know, engulfed in the Hazel Scott world. And I thought, well, surely there's a book on her. Went to the bookstore and there was nothing. And the more I learned about her, I found it really hard to believe that there had been nothing written on such a fascinating artist.

COX: Let me ask you, Adam, why that is - why is that the case?

Mr. POWELL III: I think that it may be because her - the peak of her fame as a musician, as an entertainer was in the '40s and '50s, and between having her career cut off in Hollywood in the mid-'40s and then being blacklisted in the early '50s, the blacklists did work.

COX: You know that was Hazel Scott's son, Adam Clayton Powell III along with author Karen Chilton. That was quite a story. I enjoyed it also.

Ms. GRIFFITH: It's a great story. And one of the great things about being a journalist, you know, you really get an opportunity to learn things. And I learn so much about Hazel Scott, about jazz. I'd never met Adam Clayton Powell III before and he really was a charming man. He came. He sat with us, very quietly, but as soon as he started talking about his mom he really became animated. But one of the things that I did learn doing that piece is a little something about our engineer, Sherene. I had to go in, and she had to help mix the piece and I was playing some music from the - from the Hazel Scott CD, and she was like that's Rachmaninoff, and like she got really animated about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Yeah.

Ms. GRIFFITH: And also, I didn't know that you were kind of, you know, classically-trained pianist and she was like, yes and so you know, you don't only - only learn something about the people you're doing piece about but also you're colleagues as well.

COX: That's absolutely true and to that point, I'm not sure how long that you have been in the United States, but I want to ask you this. How has working here helped give you some insight on a side of American culture, you know, black folks and really, to break it down, that you don't normally perhaps see in here?

Ms. GRIFFITH: A lot. You know, I've realized that we're all very, very, similar. Our politics are very similar. A lot of my friends, especially during the presidential campaign, were very jealous that I was working for National Public Radio. So, I used to get a lot of phone calls from BBC pals saying, well, can you do this, and can you do that, and you know, have you seen President Obama? It's like me and Obama, we - me the president, we don't really have it like that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRIFFITH: Just yet, I'm trying, I'm trying.

COX: It's been wonderful having you on the show. I think you bring a really interesting international perspective, and I hope you get that smooch you're looking for.

Ms. GRIFFITH: Well, you know, you got to try.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Thank you very much.

Ms. GRIFFITH: Thanks, Tony.

COX: Joanne Griffith.

(Soundbite of music)

KEITH REED: This is Keith Reed, business commentator. News & Notes over the past two years has just been a very, very special experience for me, working with everybody here from the hosts to the producers. And I'm very thankful for the opportunity that I got to do News & Notes over the years. I'll miss it.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: You're listening to News and Notes from NPR News.

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