Pioneering Jazz music manager and civil rights advocate, Martha Glaser, was born February 15, 1921 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, daughter of Samuel and Pearl Farkas, Hungarian immigrants, and sister to Bella Rosenberg. Martha Glaser (nee Farkas) attended Southwestern High School in Detroit and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Government with three minors in Economics, Sociology and History from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1942.
Ms. Glaser planned to pursue a career in public affairs and journalism, but following the Detroit riots of 1943 she became increasingly active in supporting human rights, taking a central role in the formation of the Entertainment Industry Emergency Committee to combat race hatred. Calling to “ensure the right of all people to live in our nation without discrimination,” Ms. Glaser advocated, “a coordinated approach to unleash the optimum weight of the entertainment industry in the offensive against race hate.”
Ms. Glaser was the first Jewish American woman to be hired by the city of Chicago to work for the Human Rights commission to oppose discrimination. As part of that effort, she organized Jazz concerts working first with Norman Granz, promoter of “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” (himself an advocate for the growing civil rights movement) and subsequently with agent/impresario Joe Glaser. She then went to work for the Disc Corporation of America as a publicist and organized the Jazz for justice tours throughout the late 1940’s.
In 1948 she created her own music management company and settled permanently in New York City, where the Jazz scene was in full flower on 52nd Street. It was in that milieu that Ms. Glaser met pianist Erroll Garner, and the course of her life was set. Mr. Garner, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a self-taught prodigy who astounded the music world with his seemingly limitless ability to improvise on the keyboard, despite a lack of any formal music training. While Garner was an artist, not a businessman, Ms. Glaser found that by combining her love for Jazz, her civil rights advocacy, and her innate business acumen, she was able, after signing an exclusive contract with Mr. Garner, to advance his career onto a level of prestige hitherto unavailable to Jazz artists.
Garner’s 1955 composition “Misty”, quickly became a classic, and was the twelfth most played ASCAP song of the 20th Century, due in no small part to Ms. Glaser’s untiring efforts to promote and maintain Mr. Garner’s image as a world-class composer. Her success in that effort is evidenced in his long list of laurels, including a triumphant appearance at Carnegie Hall, winning the French Prix du Disque, and securing the only Jazz music booking contract with classical music agent Sol Hurok. Mr. Garner shared that roster with Andres Segovia, Isaac Stern, and the Bolshoi Ballet.
Ms. Glaser’s vision encompassed recording as well, and she was a pioneer in producing Mr. Garner’s discs in the then-nascent Long-Playing format. In a singular instance, she instinctively secured a simple tape recording of one of Mr. Garner’s trio shows, in Carmel California, and when it was released as “Concert by the Sea” on Columbia, it became one of the largest selling Jazz releases of all time.
Throughout this unbroken record of success, Ms. Glaser never lost sight of her early devotion to equal rights; she inserted a clause into Mr. Garner’s contracts prohibiting segregation of his audiences, a decade before the Civil Rights Act declared the practice illegal. Mr. Garner’s worldwide fame notwithstanding, Ms. Glaser shunned publicity herself, although her record of success in the music business, which was dominated in the 1950’s by males in executive positions, is testimony to her tenacious hold on a position of equality among her colleagues.
Ms. Glaser was also a pioneer in the concept of musical artists owning the copyrights to their own work, an unusual concept at the time, and one of great benefit to Mr. Garner, who reciprocated with twenty seven years of loyalty to Ms. Glaser and their co-owned publishing and production company, Octave Music. After Mr. Garner’s career was cut short by his untimely death in 1977, Ms. Glaser maintained her tireless effort to keep his music in its premiere position, securing hundreds of licensed usages and overseeing a continual stream of LP and CD releases drawn for her trove of studio productions of the pianist’s work.
Thanks to Ms. Glaser's diligence and perseverance and in keeping with her wishes, the full scope of Garner’s recordings, including many newly discovered unreleased treasures as well as his first known recording in 1937 and his final concert, have been archived. These recordings, photographs, video, symphonic scores, memorabilia, legal and civil rights documentation span the tandem careers of two unique individuals, one an original jazz improviser, and the other a true innovator in the areas of human rights, the arts, and business.
Ms. Glaser died on December 3, 2014 at the age of 93.