Whither Whitney Houston?
Her new album, Just Whitney, was supposed to be released by Arista on Nov. 5. This was after a late September date had been cancelled. Now Arista insiders confirm that Just Whitney has been pushed to Nov. 26. It's not a big difference, but it's significant. Obviously, Houston and husband Bobby Brown, who's the project's self-appointed manager, are having some trouble getting the album right. In the end, even postponed albums are released.
The album is considered a major part of Arista's Christmas release schedule, which also includes new albums from Santana, Blu Cantrell, and Kenny G.
Some track titles have turned up so far as possibilities. They are the original single release of "Whatchulookinat," remixed by P Diddy, plus a duet of some kind with Carlos Santana on "Tell Me No," a duet with Brown on something called "My Love," the cover of "You Light Up My Life," originally written about in this column, plus songs called "Unashamed," "One of These Days," "On My Own," "Things You Say," and "Love that Man."
Whitney has also supposedly completed the video for "Whatchulookinat" last week with director Kevin Bray. This seems like a weird thing to do, since the single did not catch fire at radio stations when it was "sneak released" in July. Wouldn't it have been better to move on to a new idea? USA Today, following up stories here and in New York Magazine, gave Whitney a pasting back on Sept. 25, but that didn't stop the Bray shoot from proceeding. Right there that's bad news -- it means no signals in the press, even from Whitney's allies, will change a march into battle no matter how misguided.
Anyway, whenever Just Whitney appears, if nothing else we can be guaranteed that the singing on this album will be above expectations and four-star as usual -- even if the trappings are eccentric.
PS -- Just in case you're feeling parched and need a dynamite songstress in your CD player, Alison Moyet has just released her first album in more than a decade (and maybe longer than that -- no one remembers). It's called Home Time, and it's on Sanctuary Records. The brilliant Moyet, once the lead singer of Brit group Yaz, is the natural successor to Dusty Springfield. You can get Home Time from either amazon.com or cdnow on the Web.
Has a pretend shareholder played Vivendi Universal, the press and others for a fool?
For the last several weeks, several media writers have used James M. Kaufman for quotes on the financial trouble at Vivendi Universal. This is the international media conglomerate in crisis because of its now deposed leader, Jean-Marie Messier, and its backers, Barry Diller and Edgar Bronfman Jr.
Kaufman identifies himself in these articles as having a firm called James M. Kaufman Capital Associates. He says he or his clients -- unidentified -- own "one percent of all Vivendi" stock.
There is no listing in any financial database for this firm. And Kaufman's background and claims are now in question.
I received a call last week from a source who said Kaufman, a self-professed "major fundraiser" for New York Governor George Pataki, lived in federally subsidized housing on New York City's Roosevelt Island. The maximum income in his apartment complex would be $41,000 -- certainly very little for a man who claims moguls Diller and Bronfman also as close associates.
Kaufman told me, when I asked him by phone about his living arrangements: "I oversee the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation for the governor. He's got a chief operating officer, but I oversee it and report back to him about what's going on."
However, the RIOC administration states, "He has no role here."
A Roosevelt Island insider remarked, "Jim loves to drop names. You'd think he was on the phone with Governor Pataki four or five times a day the way he talks."
In fact, Kaufman may have really pulled a fast one in what could turn out to be a real game of liar's poker. According to news sources, he calls media outlets constantly, offering information on Vivendi in exchange for being quoted. "He wants to be quoted, and he calls later to see how we liked his quotes," said one source. "And a lot of his information is good."
But Kaufman may simply be getting his information from other reporters, and recycling it through the day.
He told this column he worked in the Reagan White House, and started out in the 1960s at the Lazard Freres investment house. He's told other sources he's a lawyer, or was a lawyer. He regularly drops the names of Diller and Bronfman as old friends.
At Vivendi's Investor Relations office, Kaufman has become a running joke for his constant phone calls and references to having just had lunch or meetings with the company's top players. "He calls here all time asking if we've seen his quotes and did we like them," said a source there.
Calls to Bronfman and Diller to verify these friendships came up empty last week. Even though Kaufman claimed to this reporter to be a friend of the Bronfmans "since the Seagram days," a secretary at Edgar Bronfman Sr.'s office said she had never heard of James M. Kaufman and didn't schedule appointments for her boss to see him. For his part, Diller would only respond about Kaufman through his office with a "No comment."
But Kaufman is not without celebrity. What his media sources do not know is that he is the son of the late Judge Irving R. Kaufman, the man who sentenced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death in 1953 in a highly publicized case. Irving Kaufman was a controversial and celebrated jurist, who in the early 1970s, ruled in favor of John Lennon in his case against the INS when they wanted to deport the ex-Beatle.
Judge Kaufman received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Reagan in 1980 and served on an organized crime panel in the Reagan Administration.
Whatever his background, James M. Kaufman remains VU's unofficial spokesperson. He's probably the best cheerleader Bronfman and Diller could ever have. "Edgar and I are pretty much on the same page. Barry is a genius. He's one of the great asset builders of all time," Kaufman said.
Kaufman told me his "one percent" ownership of Vivendi comes from six shareholders whose names he refused to reveal. It's impossible, therefore, to know if they exist.
Interestingly, no one at Vivendi Universal has done a thing to investigate him. The company's corporate PR department has so far ignored him. One person there told me: "We have no idea if he represents shareholders."
More importantly, editors at the New York Post told me that so far they've haven't based on stories on Kaufman, and used him "mostly as a gadfly." At Bloomberg News Wire, one reporter repeated the usual observation, that Kaufman lives to be quoted. Phyllis Furman, the business writer at the New York Daily News who's quoted Kaufman extensively, refused to speak about him.