Publisher, Drummer Ira Sabin Dies at 90


Dexter Gordon (left) and Ira Sabin in 1986

(Photo: Michael Wilderman)

Ira Sabin, whose career included stints as a drummer, concert presenter, record store owner and magazine publisher, died Sept. 12 at the age of 90 in Rockville, Maryland. He had suffered from colorectal cancer, according to his son Glenn Sabin.

In 1962, while based in Washington, D.C., Ira Sabin bought a record store and renamed it Sabin’s Discount Records. It was at this store that he founded the publication that would eventually become JazzTimes magazine. He began publishing Sabin’s Happenings, an in-store newsletter, which listed new LP releases, tracked jazz airplay and publicized jazz shows at local venues. Renowned jazz critics, such as Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, contributed to the newsletter, which Sabin renamed Radio Free Jazz in 1970.

He renamed the newsletter JazzTimes in 1980. Then in 1990, his son Glenn Sabin took over the operation and transformed the publication into a monthly magazine. The Sabin family sold the magazine in 2009.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Sabin told journalist Dan Morgenstern for a 2000 article in JazzTimes. “I’ve always done what I wanted to all my life. Running a store may have seemed a drag, but I made it a happening thing.”

As a young boy, Sabin played the drums, and by 15 he was gigging professionally in the D.C. area. Sabin later served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and played in an Army band.

In a tribute to his father, Glenn Sabin wrote: “After the war, Dad continued playing music full time, and established a music production company in the Washington, D.C. area. He played lots of D.C. society gigs, and he programmed shows featuring the top musicians and comedians of the day—including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Jonathan Winters and Redd Foxx.”

Glenn Sabin’s essay, titled “My Dad in the Twilight of Life,” also included this line: “Anyone who knows Dad will tell you they never saw him not wearing a smile.” DB

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