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Former publisher of Downbeatby Frank Alkyer
Copyright © 2003 Frank Alkyer
John 'Jack' James Maher, Jr., the chairman and owner of DownBeat, Music Inc. and UpBeat Daily magazines, passed away of natural causes early Friday, Feb. 14.
He was 78 years old.
Jack served as the patriarch of Maher Publications. With magazines that served the jazz community (DownBeat), and the musical products industry (Music Inc. and UpBeat Daily), Maher knew, befriended and became one of the great names in the music business.
A graduate of Fenwick High School in 1942, Jack briefly attended Notre Dame University and the University of Illinois before joining the U.S. Marines. He served as a First Lieutenant on the U.S.S. Wichita during World War II.
Upon returning from the war, Jack started his career as a salesman in the printing business. He went to work for the John Maher Printing Company, a sheet-fed operation owned by his father. After successfully learning the business and building a client roster, Maher saw more opportunity in the emerging offset web printing business.
With two partners, Jack split off from his father's business to open Cardinal Printing in the late 1950s. Over the course of the next decade, Cardinal became successful in its own right, and Jack's career path was set. Or so he thought.
He may have had a passion for ink on paper, but didn't realize that magazine publishing would be in his future.
In 1950, Jack's father took over DownBeat magazine, the world's preeminent jazz magazine, when the magazine's publishers could not pay their printing bill with him.
John Maher Sr. owned and operated the magazine until his death at the end of 1968. As John McDonough wrote in the book DownBeat: 60 Years Of Jazz:
'There was considerable concern for the future of DownBeat. Maher's will left everything to his wife. The magazine went into the hands of American National Bank as trustee, with instructions to sell it after 12 months. Neither Maher's widow, who served as titular president during the trust period, nor his two daughters had any interest in buying it themselves.'
During the course of the year, Jack began to spend time at the magazine. He saw that the publication had potential to become profitable, and that it looked like it could be fun.
Jack successfully outbid a number of suitors, including Hugh Hefner at Playboy magazine, and took over ownership in 1970.
Jack went into owning DownBeat with a very clear and oft-repeated philosophy, 'The responsibility of a magazine is to stay in business,' he said.
After Dan Morgenstern's departure from the magazine in 1972 as its editor, Jack took a strong editorial role as well as the title of editor for most of the next 11 years. One of his coups came on Jan. 5, 1977, when the Down Beat Readers Poll became the focus of the PBS national music series, 'Soundstage.' The result was a remarkable snapshot of contemporary jazz in the seventies: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, George Benson, Jean-Luc Ponty, Sonny Fortune, Ron Carter, Bill Watrous, Billy Cobham, Thad Jones, Gary Burton, and others, with Quincy Jones as musical director. It was one of the most memorable jazz-on-TV events of the decade.
Jack was an ardent supporter of jazz education, epitomized in his founding the DownBeat Student Music Awards in 1978. The awards have become the preeminent junior high, high school and college jazz achievement awards in the nation, and over their history have given the likes of current jazz stars Wallace Roney, Maria Schneider, Brad Mehldau, Norah Jones and Roy Hargrove their first national attention. They are also responsible for millions of dollars in college music scholarships that have been awarded to the winners.
Jack also helped found Musicfest U.S.A., a national student jazz festival that debuted in April 1987 which helped bring such young talents as Hargrove and Joey DeFrancesco to the foreground.
Under Jack's guidance, DownBeat, now approaching its 70th year in print, has remained the world's 'book of record' on jazz, through the emergence of the avant-garde and fusion in the '70s, the ascendance of the neo-bop 'Young Lions' in the '80s and '90, and the explosion of vocal jazz and multicultural and technological influences in the music in the new millennium.
As a side project, DownBeat began one of the nation's first trade show magazines in 1953. Called The DownBeat Daily, it was published during trade shows run by NAMM, the international music products association. The magazine and association focused on the industry that manufactures and retails musical instruments.
When Jack took ownership, he soon changed the name of that publication to UpBeat Daily and started a monthly trade magazine called UpBeat Monthly.
In 1990, UpBeat Monthly became Music Inc., which has developed into a leading trade magazines in the musical products industry.
In 1999, Jack was awarded the American Music Conference Henry Grossman Honorary Lifetime Director Award for his support of music, music making and music education.
Jack was preceeded by his son John 'Butch' James Maher III, his father, John Maher Sr., his mother Erene V. Maher and his sister Joan McElroy.
He is survived by his wife Pat (nee Murtaugh) Maher, his sister Dorothy Niemer, his brother-in-law Richard Niemer. He is also survived by his children: Michael Maher, his daughter-in-law Anna Maher, Carolyn Maher, Erene Maher-Vrba, Kevin Maher, Mollie Maher, Patti Maher Goers, his son-in-law Ron Goers and his daughter-in-law Margie Maher Bellvonini. Jack had 13 grandchildren John IV, Brian, Robert, Kelley, Patrick, Jennie, Kevin, Eric, Katie, Michael, Christopher, Mary and Lily.
Jack's son, Kevin, will carry on the family business as the president of Maher Publications.
Funeral Mass will be Monday, Feb. 17, 10 a.m. at Notre Dame Church at the corner of Chicago Ave. & Norfolk Ave. in Clarendon Hills, IL.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Music Conference/Music Education, 5790 Armada Dr., Carlsbad, CA 92008. Or, the West Suburban Humane Society, 1901 W. Odgen Ave., Downers Grove, IL 60515.