But there are all those other deaths as well, deaths even more keenly felt, closer to home, deaths of people whose careers and lives, while perhaps overlooked by us in their details, may have an even more lasting effect in the long run. These people were quietly dedicated to serving the muse--often more than one muse--their contributions tangible, substantive, their dedication total to a degree that defies rational explanation, and their accomplishments largely - unsung, their contributions uncelebrated. Only a handful of dance journalists belong in this last, very distinguished category, and Joe Mazo was one of them.
Joe died on the night of July 26, alone in his West Side apartment, some time after filing a review for the Bergen Record (one of the numerous publications to which he contributed) of Martha Clarke's opening at Lincoln Center that evening. Joe's body was found two days later after he failed to show up at our offices, where he was the magazine's news editor. He was fifty-six. (See Obituaries,) Helping the police track down the names of people to contact and having to find homes for his two cats, I encountered a world new to me of Joe's many admiring friend's. This reminded me of the old truth about not really knowing the people who live in our daily proximity: It is easy to overlook somebody who is always there. The poignance of Joe's death recalled the psalmist's admonition: "We fade away suddenly like the grass./In the morning it is green and flourishes;/in the evening it is dried up and withered." And this is true, of course, not only for our co-workers and professional associates but for our close friends and families as well.
Green. Withered. Just like that.
Joe's was a strong positive influence on the dance field in these dark times when we need all the positive force and direction we can get. His loss will be felt not just by his colleagues in the Fourth Estate but by the industry as a whole. Joe's passion for dance touched all of us. In his own characteristic way, he was a politician, familiar with the politics of art; he was also a reliable researcher, among the best, as well as a trusted and trustworthy reporter. He could wrap himself around a story and infuse it with breath and movement through the use of his clear, witty, often colloquial, accessible style. His jazz dance column--to mention only one of his numerous contributions to this publication over many years--was one of the most popular additions to these pages in the last six years. As a critic, he was informed and fair. As a reporter, he had access to people and places in this profession that most journalists can only dream of.
He was also a step ahead of the rest of us in addressing in print topics such as audience development and arts funding. Look at this very topical selection from the first of his three dance books, Dance Is a Contact Sport: A Season with the New York City Ballet. It might have been written last week.
"It has been said," Joe writes, "rightly enough, that the country could survive without the New York City Ballet, or without any ballet at all. It also could survive without the New York Jets, or without any professional football at all. In what condition it would survive is another matter. Sports and art are not byproducts of civilization, but essentials--both provide the temporary Dionysian madness that prevents the public from succumbing too often to the greater, permanent madness that lies in wait for us all. It is not accidental that games and arts are as universal among human cultures as communal eating and sex--they just have to happen....
"The Athenians knew all about it, of course. They made the theater a religious precinct. Admission was free, and the costs of each production were covered by local capitalists. It was a duty for the capitalist, of course, but those who put on a good show got quite a bit of image for their money. The system was not perfect--no system ever has been perfect--but the basic reasoning was sound: Art is a psychological necessity which costs money; somebody has to pay for it; let it be the state and the most prosperous citizens, and let them gain honor and advancement by doing so.
"Our most prosperous citizens are the foundations and mammoth corporations, and a few very rich people. The state takes in a few bucks in taxes, too. Let them support the arts--and the sports, too, should they ever need it--and gain honor and advancement thereby. Let them also have enough sense not to try to tamper with the product; the only people who are capable of controlling the content of art are artists. On the other hand, the financiers might make a few courses in basic accounting available to the theater folk; it wouldn't hurt the artists to learn to count...."
Joe wrote that in 1974, twenty-one years ago, long before our present troubles. Long before Congress voted to cut--as it did only recently--the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts by 40 percent (to $99.5 million) with total NEA phaseout scheduled by 1998; the same Congress that, led by conservative Republicans, wants to revive at a cost of $16 billion the disastrous and unnecessary (even according to the Pentagon) B-2 bomber program. He wrote it long before the troubles a few years ago when congressional representatives began dictating the content of art, about which they know nothing, care even less.
Since Joe wrote those paragraphs, of course, artists have learned to count--they've even learned to stretch their dollars--and recent surveys confirm that the majority of taxpayers do, in fact. believe in tax dollars supporting the arts, although there are men in Congress who refuse to acknowledge this for their own political reasons.
Joe was an advocate of many things, many causes, the most important of which was fairness, fair representation, giving artists a fair chance, a fair showing, a fair break. That fairness shone through in his writing and, although he certainly had strong opinions, he often made special attempts to see as many sides of an issue as possible. He never got much in the way of fair compensation himself--he was, after all, a dance journalist, and as such too often overlooked--but his myriad associations and being able to work in a field he loved seemed compensation enough. His new staff position here, a contract for a book (to be a primer on dance), and progress on a novel, all indicated that things were going well, And Joe had begun to feel that the same might also be true for the future of the arts in America, which he felt would adapt to the new, more stringent climate.
His heart attack was completely unexpected--for Joe, I can only imagine, as well as for the rest of us--and his loss is an enormous one for his friends and colleagues and for everybody for whom the arts are, as he put it, "essential" and "universal." But what he stood for, what he wrote and said--his legacy as a man and as a dance journalist--are cause enough for celebration.
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|Title Annotation:||remembrance of Joe Mazo|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1995|
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