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James Grooms can’t scat. But that didn’t stop him from becoming general counsel of a New York arts organization that’s all about jazz. Spearheaded by artistic director Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of what’s often called America’s classical music. Grooms, 39, has been a attorney at Jazz for five years; he became GC in 2005. A Washington, D.C., native, Grooms says he decided to go into law in the fourth grade when his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I didn’t see a lot of options for myself,” says Grooms, who was raised in a rough part of town. “For people growing up in those circumstances, we usually heard of about three jobs that would be successful: doctor, lawyer, and preacher. I knew I wanted to be the lawyer out of those three.” How did you get the job at Jazz? I had represented a number of jazz artists [while I was an associate at New York's Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard], and I had a reputation for looking out for them. And then the woman who was the director of marketing [at Jazz] and I met on an airplane going to Atlanta. We were stuck on the runway for hours, and we had a real fun conversation about our careers. Then she [told Jazz about me]. What do you like best about coming to work? The variety. What’s a typical day like for you? When I speak to students about what I do, they think that I’m going to talk about artist agreements and recording contracts, and how I meet all these famous and interesting people. That is part of the job, but they’re surprised when I tell them that’s [only] about 10 percent of it. What is the other part? Governance issues, including [dealing] with the board. I think about protecting personal information, making sure we’re in compliance with GAAP [general accepted accounting principles]. We deal with all the other things that a corporation would deal with-tax liabilities, lawsuits. We deal with sponsorship agreements, merchandising agreements. How would you define jazz? Its goal is to be inclusive, to be forward-thinking. The interesting thing about the improvisational part of jazz music is that it allows you to be an individual while being a part of a group. Did you ever want to be a musician? I wanted to be a singer. But if you heard my voice, you would agree with me that I made the right choice [laughs]. I did try to take piano lessons when I was 12, but I began to realize that the cost of the piano lessons was having an effect on our household, so I pretended I hated them and I stopped going. What’s the best performance that you saw at the center? Higher Ground. It was after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; we realized we had an obligation to do something. So we put our resources together to do a concert. A lot of folks [Paul Simon, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, and others] donated their performance time. That was a magical moment, and we raised several million dollars. Do you hang out with Wynton Marsalis all the time? No. But the cool thing is, I can pick up my phone and call him.

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