Brown eyes peer out from behind wire-rim glasses, a smile appears from beneath a salt and pepper mustache, and a brown leather watch peeks out from the sleeve of a sky-blue, button-down as Howard Reich prepares to speak to a classroom of journalism students.
Reich, a jazz critic for 29 years at the Chicago Tribune, began his career as a music critic while majoring in music as a piano performance major at Northwestern University. He was first published in the Chicago Daily News at age 21 and has been writing critiques for 35 years.
He freelanced for the Chicago Tribune for six years before being hired full-time. Reich’s area of expertise in music is what gave him the competing edge in the newspaper business.
With so many years working as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Reich had a lot of advice to give to students. He told stories about his many close encounters with finishing stories on deadlines.
One story he told was about New Orleans and the first Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina. He decided to use a Mardi Gras Indian parade with the experience of being in the parade in his story. Reich, with only a cell phone in the car, decided to call his office while in the midst of the Mardi Gras Indian parade.
“The editor of the national desk comes on and says, ‘We need the top of your story in 45 minutes,’ and I said, ‘What story?’ He said, ‘The story you’re doing on the first Mardi Gras after Katrina.’ I said, ‘No one told me I was doing a story. I thought I was collecting a couple of quotes for future stories.’ He said, ‘Well I don’t know. They want the top of your story in 45 minutes for the Page 1 doping.’ So anyway I said, ‘I’m trapped in this car. I’m surrounded by Mardi Gras Indians. I have no laptop. All I have is a cell phone.’ He said, ‘We need it in 45 minutes.’ So I take out this pad of paper, I had a couple of quotes from the evening before, and I just start writing a story in long hand. I call them back up and dictate it to them,” said Reich explaining that writing a story when he didn’t know he was writing one was the weirdest experience he had as a journalist.
Reich also talked about how he has traveled all over the world listening and critiquing music. His favorite place that he’s traveled to is Havana in 1998 and 2002.
“If you’re a music lover in general and a jazz lover in particular, going to Havana is like going to the Promised Land,” Reich said. “The street musicians there are virtuosos.”
Reich has a good sense of humor and is interactive with his audience. The advice he gave to students was practical and invaluable.
“My advice to any of you who want to write the best thing to do is just to write,” Reich said.