Bob “Protz’’ Protzman, (83), a 40-year, multi-ward winning journalist and highly regarded radio jazz show producer/host, died March 4, 2020 of heart disease. Bob was born in Erie Aug. 25, 1936, son of the late Robert Leroy and Ethel M. (Cleveland) Protzman.
When Bob was 7, TB struck the family with Bob and his sister Carol spending four years in a TB sanatorium. They were in other institutions through high school. Thanks to the late Father William Hastings and the Catholic Diocese, Bob was awarded a scholarship to Erie’s Cathedral Preparatory School, where he often said he spent four of the best years of his life.
He joined the Air Force after graduating from high school in 1954 and ran into his long-time love: jazz. Living on a base 65 miles outside of New York City Bob and his buddies spent weekends in NYC at clubs like the Five Spot and Birdland where they saw jazz greats like Charles Mingus and Art Blakey perform. Backward and forward, inside and out – he learned everything he could about America’s original music form.
After his discharge Bob returned to Erie where the late Erie Morning News city editor/columnist Hugh “Red’ Barr got Bob an interview, and his newspaper career began in December 1959. He worked from 1959-67 for the Morning News, then accepted a post in 1967 at the St. Paul, MN Pioneer Press, where he stayed until retiring in 1998.
As a journalist Bob was proudest of his efforts on behalf of individuals and groups who were treated unfairly or ignored altogether. He was honored with a national award for coverage in the Erie Morning News leading to the establishment of the Office of Public Defender in Erie County to provide legal services for the poor. Bob shared the award with the late Erie Daily Times colleague and friend Garth Minegar.
After an elderly, destitute man was set afire in an Erie apartment house doorway, Bob wrote that story and a series of articles on derelicts and alcoholism. Those efforts resulted in the opening of a halfway house in Erie, and led to the program becoming a model nationally.
At the Pioneer Press, Bob noticed what he felt was a lack of coverage of the black community. He asked the city editor if he could begin to close that coverage gap and he did. When Bob retired from the Pioneer Press, a farewell piece headlined “So Long Protz.’’ credited Bob with leading the way to the paper expanding its coverage of blacks and other minorities throughout the newspaper’s sections.
For his last 20 years in St. Paul, Bob moved from “hard news’’ to covering arts and entertainment as a feature’s writer and rock, pop and jazz critic. Though he reviewed people like Janis Joplin, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Prince, his true passion was jazz. Recognizing this, the editors named him a fulltime jazz writer/ critic, one of the few on a U.S. daily newspaper. In that role, Bob interviewed/reviewed many of the most famous musicians/vocalists of the era, including Sonny Rollins, Elvin Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Ahmad Jamal, Joe Williams, Maynard Ferguson, and Tony Bennett.
Nationally, Bob was known for his articles in Down Beat (generally regarded as jazz’s major publication), JazzEd and Jazz Times magazines. He also was a voting member of the International Jazz Journalists Association (JJA). Bob was inducted into the Minnesota Jazz Hall of Fame – one of only two non-musician members.
In the late ‘80s he began to cover a burgeoning comedy scene in the Twin Cities, interviewing and reviewing many of the big names in comedy, including Jay Leno, Louie Anderson, Jackie Mason, Bill Cosby, Richard Lewis, Roseanne Barr, David Brenner, and many more.
Bob enjoyed a second career as a broadcaster. In Erie radio he did news, produced and hosted a sports show and a nightly jazz show. Bob produced/ hosted a three-hour jazz show from the ‘60s in Erie to the 80s and 90s in St. Paul/Minneapolis, and again in Erie from 2004-13 with an “Everything Jazz’’ program on WQLM-FM and Mercyhurst University’s jazz FM (WMCE-FM). In 2003 Bob joined the Jazz Erie board and helped bring nationally known artists like Joe Lovano, Joey Defrancesco, Bobby Sanaabria, Karrin Allyson, and others to Erie.
Bob was preceded in death by his parents; a brother Donald (in childhood), and sisters Shirley Hawley, Carol Protzman and Patti Pratt, and his first wife Mary Louise Parker.
He is survived by his wife Barbara Freasier McNally; stepson Christopher McNally and wife Corrie; granddaughters Kendall McNally and Kennadi McNally, grandnephew Ryan Todd and grandnieces Victoria Arico and Sarah Christoph; sister-in-law Doretha Christoph; and very good friends Susanne Rohland and Jeff Barr.
The family would like to thank Jackie Marucci and Cindy Travernese for making Bob's final years better with their extraordinary care, compassion and kindness.
There will be no calling hours. A memorial celebration at the Dakota Bar and Grill (jazz club) in Minneapolis MN will be held for musicians and friends to celebrate his life.
Arrangements entrusted to the Burton Funeral Home & Crematory, Inc. Send condolences at www.Burtonfuneralhome.com.
In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to the American Heart Association, 823 Filmore Ave., Erie, PA 16506.