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A guy I met long ago when he had one of the coolest jobs in the world -- covering Europe from London for United Press International -- died Friday morning after several years of failing health. Most people who'd heard of Dick Sudhalter knew him as a jazz trumpeter who made a handful of elegant CDs and as a major author on jazz subjects -- he wrote biographies of Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael and the massive, somewhat controversial (simply because of its subject matter) Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945.
Here's a tribute from his good friend, the cultural essayist Terry Teachout.
But Teachout doesn't even mention the phase of Sudhalter's life he was living when I met him. That was in 1968 in London, when he showed me where Fleet Street takes lunch. A few weeks later he drove from Germany to Prague and and was, by his account, the only Western journalist in Czechoslovakia when the Russian tanks rolled in and crushed Dubcek's reform government. His reward was the bureau in Belgrade, where in '69 he tooled me around town in his little car telling stories about Tito and about how he'd covered a Communist Party congress in Bucharest despite knowing no Romanian. We were friends virtually by definition, both being overworked, underpaid, and happily put upon by the same wire service, me in Saint Louis.
Sudhalter had gone to Europe to make music, but journalism always interested him too, and he asked UPI's Frankfort bureau for a job after finding out that UPI, pretty much alone among major media in Europe, would, if it could spoon a couple of beans from the bottom of the bowl, hire someone on the spot. By the mid-70s he'd left UPI and was back in the States.
When Lost Chords came out in 1999 I interviewed Sudhalter for the Reader, and bought a few of his CDs. Career Unipressers -- that's what the alumni call themselves -- will mourn him particularly. There's no group where memories are longer and loyalties more fierce.