An important piece of Jazz History, the letter ABC Artist Management president Joe Glaser sent to Jonas Ellis, the attorney for Louis McKay (Billie Holiday's widower), explaining the sad state of Ms. Holiday's bank account three weeks after her death.
The letter is dated August 7, 1959, about three weeks after the death of Billie Holiday.
It reads as follows:
Mr. Jonas Ellis
1270 Sixth Avenue
New York, N.Y.
This is one letter it is a pleasure for me to write.
You will find enclosed a check made payable to Billie Holiday from MGM Records in the amount of $1200 on a deal made by Bert Block in this office about three months ago whereby we were given to understand by Louis McKay that our dear friend Earl Zaden received the check, why I don't know, and I guess he must have gotten scared and advised Louie McKay that he had it.
We really and truly have $120 commission coming on this check however I know there is no chance of getting it now so I would advise you to deposit it to Billie Holiday's estate and I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that we will be able to get some of our money back.
The reason I had Louis McKay get this from Zaden and bring it in was because I told him that the estate did not have anymore then $82 in it and that I would advance him some more money which I am sure you will agree is okay since the estate now does have more money.
(Note: Louis McKay was Billie's husband. Joe Glaser was her manager. Jonas Ellis was an attorney who represented the Holiday estate. Bert Block was a 1930s bandleader and an agent employed by Glaser at Associated Booking at the time this letter was written. Earl Zaden - I have no idea.)
Although popular rumor claims there was only seventy cents left in Ms. Holiday's account upon her death, but the truth that is put across in this letter isn't much better. $82 is all that the greatest jazz singer who ever lived had in her bank account when she died.
Although the Glaser letter is telling in some regards and certainly of historic interest, there is an even more interesting story running in the background on this one. People tend to accept Billie Holiday's sad ending as a logical conclusion to her tragic, drug-addicted life. But the truth is never so simple.
One of the most interesting characters in the history of jazz was Joe Glaser. Seriously mob-connected by all accounts and a former associate of Al Capone himself, Glaser was founder and president of Associated Booking Corporation, a powerhouse agency that represented much of the country's top jazz talent from the 1930s through the 1960s. There is no Wikipedia or Allmusic.com entry for Glaser. Available information about him tends to be anecdotal or third-hand at best.
Now, given Glaser's mob ties, you have to wonder what "scared" the mysterious Earl Zaden into fessing up about the missing check, or how he came by it in the first place.
Glaser's two most famous clients were Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. They both loved and trusted him, and often credited him publicly for their commercial successes. They were likely right. Glaser had what it took, and took care of his people -- almost always. Armstrong held Glaser in such high regard that he even asked him to stand as best man at his wedding to Lucille.
Billie trusted him like no other; so much so that Glaser's was the first number she called when the feds kicked in her hotel room door in May of 1947 to arrest her for possession of heroin. This fiasco signaled the beginning of her end.
Sadly, it is highly probable that some of the above points are related to one another in a very bad way.
You see, that fateful night in May was not a fluke. Billie had been set up by her own manager and trusted friend, Joe Glaser. Allegedly, Glaser's more important client, Louis Armstrong, was facing some legal issues resultant of multiple marijuana charges. Allegedly, Glaser cut a deal with the feds to take the heat off Armstrong - agreeing to deliver Billie's head on the proverbial platter in Philadelphia.
Terrified and distraught when the feds came to call, Billie immediately called Glaser. Since Glaser's alleged deal was only good if Billie received a conviction, he recommended that she stand trial without counsel. She admitted the heroin was hers and was promptly found guilty. She spent 10 months in prison and came out clean, but the damage was done. At that time, you could not carry a Cabaret Card with a felony drug conviction on your rap sheet, and without a Cabaret Card you couldn't play in New York clubs that served alcohol. Also at that time, the New York scene was an essential component to any jazz musician's ability to earn a decent living.
What's not "alleged" is Glaser's role in the bust. FBI records show his participation - though he is quoted as doing it for her own good, so that she would be "forced into proper treatment." This is an unlikely scenario since, as her manager, he would have known that a conviction would destroy her ability to earn money -- and that the downward spiral of drug abuse would certainly begin again with a vengeance if that were to happen.
Billie died unaware of Glaser's betrayal.
In her last days, Billie Holiday cut a deal with a publisher to write a series of autobiographical articles, sort of a follow-up or addendum to her classic jazz autobiography, "Lady Sings the Blues." The day before her death she was given a cash advance of $750.00. When her body was discovered, the cash was found taped to her leg. So, besides the $82 in the account that is attested to in this letter, that $750 taped to her leg was all she had when she passed on.
Condition: The condition of the piece is between fair and poor, as can be evidenced in the scan. It is very fragile and must be handled very carefully. The significant and unique bit of jazz history here will more than make up for the condition of the piece to the serious collector. PLEASE NOTE: The "DO NOT DUPLICATE" watermark message in the scan DOES NOT appear on the actual piece.