The first time I visited L.A., years ago, I was lucky enough to have an entrée, through the publishing company I worked for, into the music world. I performed at a songwriters' night at the Hollywood Improv, sat in on a recording session with the sensuous singer Maria Muldaur, and visited a few music publishers, though the only one I remember is Jay Lowy. Jay was born in Chicago, and I recall his talking about the California weather, saying how he felt as though he were permanently on vacation. He was gracious enough to listen to a couple of my songs and offer advice. We stayed in touch for a while, having dinner at the newish Hard Rock Café when he was in New York and talking on the phone occasionally.
Watching the Grammys last Sunday, I thought of him when the Recording Academy president, Neil Portnow, made a speech. The person holding that office always makes an appearance on the show, and for a few years it was Jay. Not knowing he had attained that position, I was surprised to see him the first time he showed up in his tux on my TV screen. Unlike with Portnow, who stepped on a lot of toes by explaining the lack of 2018 awards for women on the need for them to “step up,” Jay’s appearances were effective but uneventful. Indeed, Jay was one of the many journeymen of music who work quietly behind the scenes—though as general manager at Jobete publishing, which represented Motown writers, he stood up publicly to MTV on their early policy of virtually shutting out black artists. (The station’s dubious rationale was that these musicians didn’t fit into their stated “rock” format.)
A while after Portnow’s speech at the Grammys came the regular “In Memoriam” tribute, and after the mention of Gary Arnold, a music retail executive, I saw—again, to my surprise—Jay’s name and image; I had not heard that he had died.
I know that some people were upset by exclusions from the segment, such as SHINee’s Jonghyun and Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart. Still, it’s very fitting that Jay was honored. He may not have made music, but his life was saturated with it.