“She had huge listening ears and an even bigger heart.”–Wendy Lewis, Twin Cities vocalist
About 17 years ago, I formally met Pamela Espeland and her husband John Whiting after months bumping into them at the Dakota and Artists Quarter. Actually I think the Berrymans introduced us. It was clear that we had similar tastes in music, particularly jazz, and as it turned out, we also shared strong beliefs in promoting the music that we loved through writing. Pamela, who was an English major at Carleton, was well established as an editor, still working for Free Spirit Publishing at that time as well as freelancing as a catalog editor. As for me, with degrees in psychology and recently retired from Minneapolis Schools as a school psychologist, I had just written my first articles for Don Berryman’s then-new E-Zine Jazz Police and was starting to carry my camera into jazz venues. I had also worked as an editor (books and newsletters) for my professional associations but my only “training” in writing and editing dated back to 9th grade journalism classes and projects. In the next few years I learned a lot more about grammar and writing from Pamela. Pamela became an active writer for Jazz Police including annual promotions and reviews of the Monterey Jazz Festival, usually illustrated by John’s photos. I continued writing for Jazz Police. Pamela soon moved on to more and more jazz writing and editing for a variety of outlets, eventually taking on at least weekly assignments for MinnPost’s Artscape which sent her to a wide range of arts events; she also took assignments, usually jazz artist interviews, for the Star Tribune.
In late August, I caught up with Pamela over lunch. She was excited about a new assignment from the Strib to interview Dave King; her interview with local composers JD Sanford and Asuka Kakitani had been published the week before. She had just turned 70 and was enjoying time with her first grandchild. A few weeks later, she suddenly died of a stroke. I lost a friend. The community lost one of its most ardent arts advocates and most talented, and honest, arts journalists.
Pamela’s writing and advocacy touched many artists and beyond. “Witty, sly, knowledgeable, intellectual, fun, and kind Pamela! The person who single-handedly altered the Minnesota arts scene with coverage that was deeper and more consistent than you could find anywhere else, in this era of declining local coverage— the ultimate arts booster,” wrote local vocalist Maria Jette on Facebook. “Pamela was a force. An incredible writer. Such thorough research! She was always so good to us and our music. An avid supporter of the arts,” noted vocalist and former Twin Citian Jana Nyberg.
Pamela had the most impact on the local arts scene through her long-time affiliation with MinnPost, starting her work when the publication launched in 2007, turning what was anticipated as a relatively simple promotion of local arts events into a wide-ranging bevy of articles and interviews that reached into every corner of “the arts,” her writing fueled by her personal attendance at (often) multiple events, seven days per week. Noted MinnPost Managing Editor Susan Albright in her tribute to Pamela, “Now we are in shock and feeling her loss deeply, realizing that we will no longer be illuminated by the radiant, effervescent light she brought to her work on the arts — and to everything she did.”
Pamela often steered me (and I’m sure many others) to the latest CD release or an upcoming gig from the most innovative musicians. She was a big fan of vocalist Kurt Elling, the late pianist Esbjorn Svensson (E.S.T.), Twin Cities native, pianist-composer Craig Taborn, and many others on the local and national scene. In my last conversation with Pamela, we shared our enjoyment a new project from Taborn, “60” (referring to 60 improvisations of 60 seconds each) and our anticipation of his new ECM release, Shadow Play. And Craig had just seen her in the audience at the Icehouse. “It was always such a joy to see her,” he noted on Facebook. “She was a light in the community of music lovers.”
Make that the guiding light of the entire arts community. Here at Jazz Police, we mourn the passing of our friend, of one of our first, and our most astute, writers, and the head cheerleader of Twin Cities arts. Our condolences to her family and friends.