At 6′ 4″, Robert Mailer Anderson gets to look down at the service box before launching his rockets. Unsure what to do, I stand a couple feet back from the baseline and await my fate. As the tennis ball blasts towards me, I close my eyes and just swing, baby swing. By the time I do, Robert is already at the net waiting to put my shit away.
I first met Robert Mailer Anderson a little over a year ago by a mutual friend who also loves tennis. We've played multiple times since and it's always been a blast. As is customary in any first time meeting, I got around to asking him what he does. “I'm a writer, or at least try to be when I'm not too busy looking after the kids!“, Robert responded humbly. He went on to say that he's working on the occasional screen play, but struggles to find the time.
“A starving writer just like me,” I remember thinking to myself. “Maybe our buddy can help pull some strings for you in the industry?” I suggested turning toward our mutual friend we love. They both smiled and shrugged it off.
Each time we met, I wondered how Robert's writing was coming along, but never asked. Leave the man alone to do his work, I told myself.
A Lesson In Humility By Robert Mailer Anderson
One day, the front desk attendant at the tennis club caught me ogling a beautiful, black Italian coupe. The wheels on this baby were massive and I couldn't help but admire the stitching in the leather seats. As a car fanatic who went through seven cars in eight years, I tend to decompose into a shady character whenever I come across a fine automobile. Luckily, nobody has pistol whipped my head yet when I try and inhale that new car smell from a cracked window.
“Nice car right Sam?” the front desk attendant surprised me.
“A beauty for sure!” I responded as if I had just been caught eating too many free samples at Trader Joe's.
“What does Robert do?” the front desk attendant asked.
“Huh? This is Robert's car? You mean tall Robert with the occasional black rim glasses? He's a writer,” I said, still a little surprised.
Robert and I weren't playing that day as we both had separate matches. With a lemon Gatorade in hand, I went home to peruse the SF Chronicle online where I found a picture of Robert on the homepage! What's going on here, I wondered as I read the article about Robert's life and his charity work as the Co-Chair of the SFJazz Center fundraising initiative.
It turns out that Robert already wrote a best-selling novel entitled, Boonville, in addition to a screenplay! All this time, I thought he was just like me, just some guy looking for his big break.
Not once did Robert ever talk about his literary success. All we ever did was battle it out on the tennis court and recap our games afterward. Tennis is what bound us together. Robert, good man, you sneaky dog!
Supporting The SFJazz Center In San Francisco
The first time I remember being tickled by jazz was when the great trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis came on campus to perform. It was freshman year and at the time, I had spent most of my life overseas.
With little exposure to jazz abroad, I was overjoyed hearing Wynton fill the auditorium with sweet sounds and improvisations that only he could do. I was hooked and wanted to play the jazz trumpets myself, but alas, I was already too old to learn.
When I discovered Robert Mailer Anderson was co-chairing the capital raising campaign for the SFJazz Center, America's first dedicated jazz center in the nation, I had to get involved! I e-mailed Robert asking how I could contribute, and he mentioned he was throwing this “small party” at Bimbo's 365 jazz club and that I should come.
I was thinking of writing a check for $300 for my date and I to attend. A hundred fifty dollars a person sounded like a reasonable sum don't you think? When I asked where I should send my donation, he told me not to worry about it, and that he appreciates any future support once the center is open.
Supporting The Cause
For the life of me, I couldn't find how much the tickets cost as I wanted to find someway to give back. When I finally found the online brochure, I had to scroll all the way to the last page in the fine print to see the cost. $100,000, $50,000, and $25,000 tables were listed first! And then, at the very bottom in microscopic print it wrote, “Available tickets in limited supply for $1,000 and $500 per person.” Ouch! I'm glad I didn't mention the $300 or else I would be so embarrassed!
With Maceo Parker and Ahmad Jamal headlining the event, I was excited to attend. When we got to Bimbo's, we realized this was no “small party”, but a full-blown Hollywood style rager! No less than four photographers were outside asking us to pose in front of a advertisement-studded backdrop. At the end of the red carpet there was a man with a microphone, ready to interview only the most luminous of luminaries.
Attending were author Amy Tan, NAACP President Ben Jealous, comedian Robert Townsend, NFL great Ronnie Lott, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome, Mayor Willie Brown, the honorable Kamala Harris and many more. Chris Tucker was on hand to receive the Humanitarian Award for his good deeds. Later, none other than Clint Eastwood took the podium to give Ahmad Jamal, 81 the Lifetime Achievement Award!
No wonder why the cheapest tickets cost $500 a person. What a fool I was not to understand the full magnitude of the event.
The Love Of One Thing
What stood out most from Robert's speech was his message that it is the love of one thing that brought us together. It doesn't matter what you look like, what you do, how much you have, or who you are. All that matters is that you enjoy jazz and are dedicated to seeing its music flourish.
As co-chair, Robert gave a speech thanking the various patrons and providing a progress update of the auditorium. Robert was a natural in front of a powerful audience, probably because he literally knew everybody there. At one point, Robert rattled off the names of no less than ten supporters in the house without a skip of a beat. I don't know many people who can do that without a little cheat sheet, but Robert did.
The love of one thing is the same on the tennis courts. Your opponent could be a big wig CEO of some major corporation whose calendar is booked for months in advance. Even if you are a first year lackey out of college, you and the CEO are equals, if only for a couple hours.
When there is a common interest, we find ourselves reverting to our most pure, inner selves. We don't get to know someone because we want something from them. We get to know someone because we share a common passion. Relationships develop in the most purest way over the love of one thing. It's how every relationship should be.
Staying True No Matter What
Have you ever come across a really attractive woman who not only has a great personality, but also gives you the time of day, is a PhD who loves playing hoops and drinks beer for lunch? No? Well, neither have I. However, if I was a woman, I can imagine Robert to be that kind of catch for any lady out there. Good thing for his wife, she's already got him locked down!
If you get to know Robert Mailer Anderson, you'll realize he'll never forget his roots. From his time growing up in different foster homes in Northern California, to his Aunt in Malaysia who took him in, to his friends back east from the University of Miami where he pitched some ball, Robert always goes back.
As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I'll never be able to match the financial contributions of Robert or his many friends. But, what I will promise is my loyalty and support. Thanks again for your generosity and kindness Robert. You've reminded me about the importance of humility as well as the privilege to give back to the community.
Robert's event ended up raising $1.1 million dollars towards the $63 million SFJazz Center Auditorium which is to be opened on MLK Day in January, 2013. Please click the link to learn more about SFJazz and the nation's first and only stand-alone jazz auditorium.
Updated 2020: I saw Robert the other day at his house. He and his family are doing well!
Photo credit: Robert and Obama. Jim Goldberg.
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22 thoughts on “How To Do It Right Like Robert Mailer Anderson, SFJazz Trustee”
Don’t neglect going out to hear real live jazz in your local bars & restaurants. Find the tip jar and buy a CD if they have them. Better yet, take the $300 you were going to spend and hire a jazz combo for an evening.
Definitely. Are you a big jazz fan? What are some of the things you’re involved in?
I’m a big music fan, playing and listening to it live.
As to involvement, I’m not ‘involved’ in any formal way such as supporting something like the San Francisco Jazz Center.
I go out and listen to live jazz when I find it.
I spent a few hours last night in Laguna Beach listening to a live jazz band called Storyville who have been around Orange County since the 70s’. I paid a $5.00 cover and bought a few drinks, which keeps a bar that has bands like this going. The environment was informal, there was conversation, commentary, the band was approachable and very importantly, the band was right here and they were having fun. Essentially, this was a bar band that happened to be playing jazz instead of classic rock.
A few years ago, I was living in Pittsburgh (PA) and found an art gallery that had a jazz jam on Wednesday nights. Anywhere from 5 to 10 musicians would show up, and from 10 to 40 people. It was BYOB and food if you’d like, and it was musicians having fun and playing well and an audience having fun. No cost, no cover, a few bucks in the tip jar were all that was needed.
So i guess my point it, you don’t need a jazz center with a multi-million dollar budget to enjoy jazz, to me, that’s the ‘classical music’ version of jazz. the ‘bar band’ version still exists, its’ accessible, public and in a city like San Francisco, still there, in bars & restaurants.
It would be great if you not only listened to jazz music, you can also give some of your time and money. Perhaps write a post espousing jazz, or volunteering. I don’t call just going to listen anything special. We all do that!
-Jerry Curl, I do give my time and money. 2 hours and about $20.00 last night to support jazz where it is played. Supporting and patronizing events like that will do far more to keep jazz alive than donations and volunteering. And I think I espoused jazz pretty well, not?
Your attitude is that you feel you are better than others, where in fact, you’r not. Why do you have the attitude that you think you’re better than people who also go listen to jazz and support? $20 is chump change. Why don’t you go donate some real time and real money if you are such a fan? And if not, how dare you tell others how to spend their $300 bucks.
Jerry – I’m not sure what you’re so angry about other than that I don’t agree with you on a few things and answered you back as much.
I’ve spent $20 and a few hours weekly, sometimes more than that, for the past 15 or so years since I developed a taste for live intimate music.
That adds up to thousands of dollars and I feel it’s worth it for the enjoyment I get from hearing music. It’s spent at bars and restaurants that hire live musicians who make or at least subsidize a living from playing. Not to mention cooks and servers that benefit also.
Many times I bring other people specifically to hear a band that I like and their money gets spent also. I’m far more than pulling my weight to keep live music going.
What is it you don’t like about that?
Great respectable story about Robert. I adore humility in people, quality that is very rare today. In regards to the beer drinking/attractive/educated/fashionable/sporty woman, I’ve been fortunate enough to have met someone like that, who also happened to be my first love. Women and men alike exist, yet are becoming an extinct breed.
What happened then?!
Now Now…Mr. Nosy….lol :)
Without getting into too much detail, lets just say that I’m not Jewish…..and I’ll wait for your next question/comment. :)
Is that him next to Obama?
PS I think you have a man crush on Robert, which is completely respectable.
Very cool story and awesome opportunity. I’m glad some people are still down to earth and don’t act like they’re above others just because they are successful and have money!
Humility is hard to come by these days. Especially for those of us in the rat race, you are almost forced to always have your resume on the tip of your tongue to make sure you always have the edge on your competition. I hate it. We can definitely learn some lessons from your friend in how to carry yourself and keep things in perspective.
Jacob, I know how you feel.
As I enter my 3rd week in sabbatical, I’ve become very zen in my approach on competition. Things will be as they always are. So much relaxing and rewarding to just support someone else’s efforts.
Really cool story – it covered two of my favorite topics: humility and jazz. Your friend, Robert, sounds like a great guy. I am glad you were able to share that aspect of his character and how it affected you. Definitely inspirational and memorable.
Definitely. I’m honored to help publicize his good work and help out a friend.
More people should be like your friend Robert. Doing the important work is so much important than talking about it. I liked how he did not even try to hit you up, but included you. Very nice.
Great article Sam! My most favorite people are the most humble. The beautiful girl in high school who could be a snob, but is nice to everybody. The guy who has everything, but makes no impression he has anything. The Crown Prince Sidhartha Gotama who sat under the Bodhi Tree, but begged on the streets like everyone else.
Google usually does a great job of telling me whether someone is a big deal or not. This guy appears to be a big deal. Glad you got to attend.
How cool! I’m on the SFJazz mailing list and have been to a few concerts in their Jazz
Festival over the years. Since I moved here I’ve been so impressed with the quality and diversity of all the arts programs and museums. The symphony is fantastic, the range of art museums is so neat, and there are so many talented people living here. That is so awesome that SF Jazz is opening their own center. What an inspiration for the youth here too.
There is a boy probably around 12 who I see playing the trumpet on the street near the Westfield center every week. I’ve never seen a kid play with so much heart and enthusiasm. I wouldn’t be surprised if I see him perform on stage at the new auditorium someday in the near future!
That’s really neat you have such a talented yet humble friend.
Awesome that you are a fellow supporter of SFJazz! I’ve seen that little boy trumpeter. Awesome that he’s out there practicing and hustling.