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Farewell To Our Senior Arts Editor Tom Cole

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That report was produced by NPR senior arts editor Tom Cole, which we would not normally mention, except Tom is retiring this week after 33 years at NPR. Congratulations, Tom. Our critic Bob Mondello has thoughts.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Think about the story you just heard - an unfamiliar artist, a creative process complicated by the real world, language that's direct, sound that's complex, storytelling filled with grace notes. That is a typical Tom Cole piece, which is to say it's not typical at all. For three decades, Tom has positioned himself as an enabler for reporters interested in exploring fascinating corners of the arts - a lost era of Shanghai jazz, say, that NPR's Hansi Lo Wang discovered meant different things to different audiences...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

HANSI LO WANG: And you'll find a generational skip in the record.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Chinese).

MONDELLO: ...Experimental filmmaking that appealed to the late Pat Dowell...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PAT DOWELL: Stan VanDerBeek's 1963 film "Breathdeath" is full of animated collages.

MONDELLO: ...Bay Area rap that Shereen Marisol Meraji wanted to describe in a way she worried wouldn't fly with NPR's powers that be.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI: Rappers like E-40 treated the rap game like the dope game.

E-40: It's a beautiful thing. You claiming more fame than the dope game. You making more money than the dope game. And it's more legal than the dope game. How about that one?

MONDELLO: Every editor helps to shape and hone a story. That's the job. Tom has always gone further, fighting for a few extra seconds from show producers so music can breathe, diving into archival material to punctuate an audio joke, spending weeks with first-timers to help them sound like pros. And then when most editors would hand the piece off to a producer, Tom would start over on the production side, blending sounds and music to help the reporter's ideas get carried aloft the way his own voice was whenever he talked about, say, saxophonist Charlie Parker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TOM COLE: Now let's listen to what Parker does with it in his solo. He'll be playing off the notes and scales and chords in the theme and letting his imagination just go wherever he's feeling at that moment, just let him carry himself away. Listen to his sound, too. For me, it sounds like a human voice speaking.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE PARKER'S "SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE")

MONDELLO: Tom Cole has long been one of NPR's unsung collaborators, a nurturer of fresh voices who's helped us bring taste and sophistication to listeners he figured embodied those qualities themselves. If we're not actively distraught as he retires from NPR, it's because he's trained so many of us to do that on our own.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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