Three Shades of Martha | Erroll Garner Tuesdays Week Five

The following post is part of “Erroll Garner Tuesdays,” a semester-long blog series written by University of Pittsburgh music doctoral students in the seminar titled Music, Media, and the Archive: Jazz Collections of Pittsburgh. It was originally published by the University of Pittsburgh.

1. Erroll, please be sure to get the transportation receipts from the men; by this, I don’t mean their little cab bills…—I mean their travel tickets, after used.
2. You didn’t send me any personal receipts in the envelope I gave you.
3. Did you get in touch with Sinatra. Time grows short.
4. Did you make any radio interviews, or more tv? If your opening was off, you needed them. Please advise.”
—Martha Glaser (Friday, February 3, 1956)   

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We commonly recognize Martha Glaser as the manager who staunchly defended Erroll Garner against the challenging business culture of the music industry. Her job was to make his life as bearable and enjoyable as possible. And in this regard, she often succeeded. Through an analysis of their correspondence with one another, we learn that Glaser possessed qualities that separated her from other music managers of her time. She was humorous, fun-loving, and playful. Yet she could also be firm, uncompromising, and tough. Nobody can deny, however, her passion for Garner’s well-being and success. For this blog post, I would like to discuss three sides of Glaser that are evident in her direct correspondences with Garner: Martha the adviser, Martha the encourager, and Martha the enforcer

Martha the Adviser

As indicated in a letter dated February 3, 1956 (see opening quote above), Glaser advised Garner in several areas including his finances, his relationships with other celebrities (such as Frank Sinatra), and his preparation for television interviews. Other letters reveal concerns ranging from the clothes he wore on his back to the people he associated with outside the arena of performance. Interestingly, Glaser would even offer occasional advice about musical matters. In a letter dated June 16, 1956, she urged Garner to utilize his skills as a composer, not solely as a performer: 

“If only we were out of all debt, I could put all my efforts to developing your next stages of your career—I hope you understand what I am trying to say, and to do…And believe me, I am not pushing you—you are overdue in the composing field—Pay attention to your talent. You’re tossing it away.” 

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The impetus for her comments was likely the recent success of “Misty,” which he wrote in 1954. She obviously believed that he could cement his legacy as a composer by featuring his original compositions more regularly.

Martha the Encourager 

This quality surfaced during the early years as Garner’s manager. It is evident in the respectful titles she assigned to him and through the informal nature of her writing in certain letters. For example, in a letter dated Thursday, 6:30 p.m. (no year given, but most likely mid-1950s), Glaser refers to Garner as “my boss” and “president”:

“NOW TO GET MY BOSS A FINE PLACE TO LIVE… LET’S HAVE A BUSINESS MEETING, PRESIDENT, WHEN YOU GET BACK. we haven’t talked since the w. coast…wrote garry moore a nice letter from you.”

During her first year as Garner’s manager, the lines between manager and fan seemed to be blurred, as she seemed somewhat starstruck by the pianist. This is illustrated in a letter marking her one-year anniversary as manager: 

“I hope you’re as pleased with me, in general, as I have been with you. On the main, I feel exactly about you as I did in the beginning—in fact, more so, since I’ve been able to see some of the things we’ve said come true—You’re the number one piano talent in the jazz field—and should soon occupy a position commensurate with your talent.”

Though Garner had been established for some years, Glaser deemed it important early in their relationship to build his confidence by emphasizing his talent as a performer and composer. It should be noted, however, that many of her later letters in the archive were more formal and did not possess the same starstruck quality.  

erroll and martha 2.jpg

Martha the Enforcer 

Glaser often acted as an enforcer on Garner’s behalf when confronting certain factions of the music industry. However, she could also be an enforcer with Garner personally, particularly when the pianist would go silent for extended periods. According to certain letters, Garner was occasionally reluctant to respond to her letters or phone calls. In one letter dated June 22, 1957, Glaser vehemently insists that he come out of his reticent state and consider a performance opportunity with the Cleveland Symphony:

“You would use your own men, and your own arrangements, with the Cleveland orchestra. It pays well. This is the kind of offer we’ve worked to get, for years. Sorry that your mind is not on your career, and that it has become impossible to get answers from you, or to work with you. Every move we make has become so difficult, that pretty soon, there will be no moves left to make, except the minimum jobs… I did not appreciate the extra work and calls I had to make to accommodate your financial needs, only to find when western union called, that you didn’t even pick up the money.”

Garner did not always respond favorably to Glaser’s comments, as indicated by Glaser’s comments in another letter: “I am as concerned about your career, and about you, as I ever was—only now I try to dispatch my work with a little less ‘mothering’ which seemed to bug you…” Despite the occasional tussles, one could argue that all of Glaser’s qualities—as adviser, encourager, and enforcer—were necessary for maintaining a successful client-manager relationship. In the end, the longevity of their relationship seems to attest to this argument. 

- Billy D. Scott, Doctoral Student, Jazz Studies, University of Pittsburgh