Remembering Mary Ann Topper (1940 - 2019): Jazz Manager Extraordinaire


News | Nov, 20th 2019

Mary Ann Topper (pictured, left) was more than just a manager to some of jazz's greatest living artists, including Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, Jim Hall, Diana Krall, and countless others. She was a true advocate for the art form and the artists.

Our staff shared their memories of working with Mary Ann over the years and her unparalleled dedication to the artists.

Mary Ann Topper. 212-475-0415. I must have called that number a thousand times or more. When the number appeared on my phone it was met with either excitement or dread. When I first started at Yoshi's in 1993, Mary Ann's "Jazz Tree" agency was already famous, and with the addition of Benny Green, Christian McBride and Monk Competition winner, Joshua Redman, I was going to be on the phone with her a lot. I often spoke with Anna Sala -- her number 2 -- but when Mary Ann was on the line it was cordial but direct. She wanted something and wasn't going to take no for an answer. Like when she insisted I trust her, that I needed to book her new signing. She didn't have a demo tape (yes, a demo) or CD, not even a picture. Mary Ann said she could open for Christian McBride's trio and would use his band for four nights. The money was low.  It wasn't going to be too much of a risk, she insisted, and that I'd be grateful to her that we did this. This was 1994 and the pianist and sometimes singer was Diana Krall. It was to be Diana's first dates in the 'States and the beginning of a wonderful relationship with her and the club. It was Mary Ann who made it happen for both of us. As "hands-on" and insistent as she was about her artists and what they needed (and I needed!) it was always clear that she had her artist's success and well-being in mind. I'll always love and respect her -- thank you for the friendship and guidance, Mary Ann. Your Jazz Tree roots went deep, touching us all in the jazz community.
-Jason Olaine, Director of Programming and Touring

In January, 2013, while my colleagues and I exhibited at APAP, Mary Ann approached our booth and introduced herself. She explained that she had just begun to work with Diane Schuur and that her first step was to find Deedles a new booking agency.  Less than a month later, my colleagues and I entered this new relationship, thus beginning a close collaboration with Mary Ann Topper. I was the point person for this new relationship.  From day one, she asserted her dominance (in a good way) as an industry veteran, knowing that younger and less-seasoned agents were eager and ready to follow her lead.  In ways that we hadn't experienced before, Mary Ann immediately raised the bar, creating a new level of standards.  She focused on details, many of which we hadn't properly given enough attention to.  She insisted that we utilize her very specific organizational style and calendar planning (she referred to it as 'The Long Range').  Her phone calls were really, really, really long.  Her emails -- filled with questions, comments, criticism, occasional stubbornness, and praise -- were extensions of these phone calls, her voice coming through the computer screen so clearly with certain words in ALL CAPS or stressed words in italics, or something even more important in bold.   She was a high-energy manager with a plan and with a clear vision how to enact that plan.  She knew how to motivate our team, provide daily inspiration, encouragement, and guidance, and she was persistent!  Her expectations were lofty, but unlike many managers, she was grounded in reality and understood (and accepted) situations, even if they weren't ideal.   Mary Ann was a wonderful manager and I feel so fortunate to have worked with her for 16 valuable months.  She was a genuine advocate of this music and a fierce champion for the artists and colleagues she believed in.  I will miss her.  
-Dan Israel, Assistant Director of Touring

Read more about Mary Ann's legacy at JazzTimes.


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