The Syncopated Life

From courts to concert halls, Norman Provizer leads a life on the downbeat.

By Mindy Sink

Publish Date: September 4, 2013

Political science professor Norman Provizer is also a nationally recognized jazz
writer. Photo: Evan Semón

Just ask MSU Denver political science Professor Norman Provizer, who has steeped himself in both.

“Both politics and jazz are about the art of improvisation,” says Provizer, founder and director of the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership.

In the classroom, Provizer is an expert in constitutional law and leadership and has written extensively on both topics. Outside of class, he’s passionate about his love for all things jazz — as much as he can be when he doesn’t play an instrument or sing.

“People ask me ‘What do you play?’ and I say ‘records,’” Provizer jokes.

After moving to Colorado from Louisiana, Provizer approached the Rocky Mountain News about writing a regular jazz music column and did so for 20 years until the newspaper closed in 2009.

Even before that he was writing for venerable industry magazines Jazziz and Downbeat. He continues to write for the latter, taking part in its highly regarded annual critics poll, which cites the best jazz artists and recordings of the year.

“For Downbeat there are about 150 or so jazz critics from around the world they invite to take part in their critics poll, which was my bible when I was growing up,” he says. “It told me who the critics thought was worth buying and listening to.”

Provizer also is a member of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences — the people who vote for the Grammys — thanks to his years of writing album and CD liner notes.

“I got interested in jazz when I was about 12 years old,” he explains. “I’m an avid listener and it captured my imagination. I have been fortunate enough to write about it in a variety of ways.”

He first wrote about jazz for his high school newspaper and then later for his college newspaper. While his love of jazz came early, his passion for politics came even earlier.

“Politics I grew up with [because] my father was involved with the mayor of our city — Chelsea, Mass., right outside of Boston. After school I’d hang out at city hall and it piqued my interest in the political world,” he says.

Provizer says there is no disconnect between his seemingly disparate passions, but readily admits they exist in two different worlds. He cites Denver filmmaker donnie l. betts (B.A. communication ’87), producer of “Music is My Life, Politics My Mistress” about singer Oscar Brown Jr., as a kindred thinker. “I always kind of liked that, though mine might be the reverse,” Provizer says. “Politics is my life, music is my mistress.”

In 2012, Provizer brought his mistress home, so to speak, when he was able to host members of the International Leadership Association at a jazz concert he organized on the Auraria Campus. “It was perfect for me,” he says.

Provizer is happily balancing all of his interests. This summer he wrote promotional materials for jazz guitarist and composer Earl Klugh’s new CD, and he is co-editing a book on President Teddy Roosevelt. And every Thursday before classes, he previews the upcoming week in music on KUVO, Denver’s jazz public radio station.

“The academic stuff I’m very interested in, and I try to keep a finger on the jazz thing too,” he says.

Norman Provizer offers his top 10 picks for any jazz music collection. Read more.

Learn more about MSU Denver’s new jazz program. Read more.