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a quote from the immortal Louis Armstrong.

I was raised on jazz. My dad was from Chicago and grew up with Nat King Cole and Joe Williams.  My parents were in NY by the time I was born and my earliest memories are of my parents playing 78’s of tunes like Stompin’ at the Savoy, Caravan, and Caldonia, or Billie singing Strange Fruit.  

Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit

When I was a teenager my parents bought their first home in a suburban area of Queens NY where integration was just taking place and our neighbors were musicians like Lester Young, Roy Haynes, Milt Jackson, John Coltrane, Dakota Staton, Count Basie, & Eric Dolphy.

I remember Coltrane interrupting some of the local boys hanging out at the Coltrane's home one day,  who were teasing me because I loved ballads.  

He stopped them, and said "she's right.  Ballads are the most difficult tunes to play; it's about the space between the notes. "

I never forgot that lesson.
One of his most lyrical ballads was written in honor of his wife Naima - who we called "Neet"

Naima - John Coltrane

Neet used to take some of us neighborhood kids to NY clubs like Slugs, the Village Vanguard, the Half-Note, the Blue Note, and the Annex, where we saw musicians like Miles, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, and Lee Morgan.

Roy Haynes took us to all his gigs, where I learned to appreciate jazz percussion.  He also introduced me to the humor of jazz comedian/vocalist Babs Gonzales, who dubbed Thelonius Monk "Melodious Thunk" and called drummer Art Blakey "Smart Snakely"

As an older teen my friends and I would hang out at the Village Gate, on the corner of Thompson and Bleecker  in the  Village – where the nights fare ranged from Nina Simone to Hugh Masekela. On Monday Nights at the gate  radio DJ Symphony Sid hosted Latin Music and we’d dance salsa to the new sounds of Latin Jazz – Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, Candido and Tito Puente.

Cal Tjader - Soul Sauce

My dad took me to Harlem to hear jazz in clubs and lounges.  We had an eclectic mix of musicians, actors and singers in our home.  I remember when Columbia records had a club – where you could get 12 albums free with the first purchase, and  my father allowed me to pick two of the 12.  I got Mile’s Davis’ incomparable Sketches in Spain, arranged by Gil Evans, and Time Out by Dave Brubeck.

Miles Davis - Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio)

My High School, Music and Arts, had a jazz chorus; led by Donald Byrd; we performed on his Christo Redentor.  

Donald Byrd - Christo Redentor

On the way home from school each afternoon we’d compete to see who could do the best rendition of Lambert Hendricks and Ross' Cloudburst, or Four.  

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross – Four

I got a job working in a jazz club on Avenue A called the Jazzboat, where there were frequent performances by Doug and Jean Carn, and Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon Documentary - "More Than You Know"

It’s no surprise that I would grow up with an obsessive love of jazz and would eventually become the program director of a jazz radio station in Washington DC, the home of Duke Ellington.

Roaming through the jungle of 'oohs' and 'ahs', searching for a more agreeable noise, I live a life of primitivity with the mind of a child and an unquenchable thirst for sharps and flats.
-- Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington - Satin Doll

I loved working at the station and getting a chance to not only play the music I loved, but the opportunity to interview, and broadcast live some of the greats.  I even got Congressman John Conyers to do a regular show - called "Jazz From the Hill".

My favorite guest was Betty Carter, one of the most dynamic women I ever met, and one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time.

Betty Carter

But something changed in broadcasting – the sounds of jazz on the airwaves began to be pushed off as stations changed their formats.  The first major station to bite the dust was NY’s famous WRVR – which flipped to Country and Western much to the shock and disgust of its avid listeners.  The bell began to toll the death knell for jazz on the radio.  

The Future of Jazz Radio

One of the most pressing issues facing the jazz world is the gradual and seemingly irreversible disappearance of jazz radio, and the almost total exclusion of jazz from other forms of mass media. Frequent contributor Eugene Marlow reports below on a small cadre of jazz advocates who gathered to discuss the the current state of jazz broadcasting at the JazzWeek Summit in Rochester

Marlow states:

The de-valuation of the performing arts in this country and its positive socializing effects are also results of the decimation of music, dance, and theater activities in our public schools. And we’re paying the price for it now with a younger generation that has little sense of cultural history. Another piece of evidence is the almost weekly announcement of the elimination of an "arts" critic from a leading newspaper in a moderate-sized and large market. This, even in the face of thriving or growing arts activities in that same market. Shrinking profitability is the usual reason given.

We now live in a world that has both mass marketing and niche marketing, with a strong leaning towards the latter. Growing the audience for the performing arts or selling tens of thousands of CDs has become close to a miracle in the classic world of the performing arts. As Quincy Jones once quipped "A hit jazz CD is one that sells less than 20,000 copies." Jazz performers and labels would be ecstatic to get close to selling 20,000 CDs. It is worth noting that, in the music segment of the performing arts world, opera is thriving, followed by classical music, followed by jazz at the bottom of the chart. Opera is probably thriving because it is multi-dimensional theater, incorporating all elements of the performing arts. There’s a clue in that, I think.

It is time, quite clearly, for the performing arts world to pull together at the national, local, individual and group levels. The performing arts in the United States need to turn a corner. To do so, however, requires a collectivity of action. The individualistic philosophy that is the cornerstone of this nation’s founding has been pushed over the line: people seem only to care about themselves and to hell with the larger community. The concept of community is well embedded in China’s long history and look what it is doing now economically. It is not a new lesson that there is a direct relationship between the positive socializing effects of involvement in the performing arts and economic development.
It has been said that when a country spends more and more money on military things (when it doesn’t need to) and ignores the socializing benefits of the arts, this is a sure sign of a nation in decline.

All is not lost.  There are still some markets that have jazz on the air-waves.  The station I helped found is still on the air in DC:

Jazz Gets A Boost

The audience is declining, funding is a struggle, and the station's own staffers are at odds over whether to play more music or focus on news and public affairs. So when Bobby Hill set out to create a new schedule for WPFW (89.3 FM), he knew his every move would be scrutinized.
But Hill has managed to do the impossible, adding seven programs and 15 new hosts while eliminating only two shows from the listener-supported station's schedule, which premieres this month.
The demise of smooth jazz WJZW (105.9 FM), which last month switched to an oldies format in February, left WPFW as the only on-air source of jazz in the Washington area, and the 31-year-old listener-supported station has had a decade-long internal dispute about just how much of its airtime should be devoted to that music.
The other four stations in the Pacifica Radio group of non-commercial stations -- located in New York, Berkeley, Calif., Houston and Los Angeles -- focus much more heavily on public affairs and news from a left-wing perspective, but WPFW was created with the intention of being primarily a jazz station, and Hill is now nudging the station back in that direction.

As straight ahead jazz was pushed off the radio dials across the country a new program format took its place. "Cool" or "Smooth" Jazz Stations like NY’s CD 101.9 in NY.

The term "Smooth jazz" seems to inspire controversy. Normal jazz purists contend that smooth jazz is, in actuality, not jazz of any kind, regarding it as a misleading marketing buzzword that represents an attempt to hijack the ostensible prestige of jazz in order to sell what is really a form of "elevator music". They consider the smooth jazz genre uninspired, lacking the depth of expression, harmonic and rhythmic sophistication, and complex improvisation that are hallmarks of traditional jazz; substituting, at times, trite and hackneyed musical phrasing. Recurring accusations charge smooth jazz with offering a watered-down sound whose aim is to appeal to a larger, mainstream, middle class white audience, though, notably, radio demographics have indicated that middle- and upper-middle class African Americans constitute what may be a significant percentage of smooth jazz listenership.[citation needed] Smooth jazz is still played (though decreasingly) on Muzak-style background music systems as well as telephone music on hold services, which many artists try to distance themselves from as they are seen as degrading to music. Jazz fusion enthusiasts also point to smooth jazz as having confused many listeners as to the meaning of fusion music, with fusion enthusiasts being some of the most vocal in appreciating a high level of virtuosity, improvisation, extended track lengths and soloing, all of which are rarely present in smooth jazz.

But even the switch to bland jazz mixed with pop has failed to sustain itself in certain markets:

Currently there are more than 50 commercial radio stations across the US playing smooth jazz. However, the format has been on a decline in popularity, and in a number of media markets, this format is no longer available over-the-air. This includes New York City, the number-one market in America, where WQCD became WRXP, an album rock station, on February 5, 2008. It has also been removed recently from the air in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex (KOAI is now rhythmic adult contemporary KMVK), the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul (KJZI is now talk station KTLK-FM), Indianapolis (WYJZ is now Top 40 WNOU) and Baltimore (WSMJ is now modern rock station WCHH).

In a discussion I had recently with jazz trumpeter and composer Baikida Carroll he pointed out that not only is jazz disappearing from the airwaves, but work is hard to get for musicians – made more difficult during the Bush years by the dearth of bookings in Europe – where hostility towards US foreign policy has cut into the now no longer lucrative touring circuit for American musicians.  

So where has jazz gone and for those of us who love it – where can it be found?  

Why right here on the tubes, in multiple venues and many genres.  It started with IRC – Internet Relay Chat, in the late ‘80’s and early 90’s.
IRC, a multi-user chat system, where people convened on "channels" to talk in groups, also became a place to share and download music.  I hosted a jazz channel on the Undernet for several years.  But copyright laws and infringement violations put a crimp in free music exchange, and the advent of steaming audio and music channels on the tubes soon changed jazz access.  Everyone, theoretically could start their own jazz stations online, or existing broadcast stations could stream live music for those folks who spend time at their computers, listening while they work.  

Some blogs developed with jazz music components, and the advent of youtube in 2005 allowed users to upload music, as well as clips of jazz tunes and performances from early film and television. Youtube also has specific jazz or jazz focused channels like:

Some jazz blogs of interest:

The Daily Jazz

One of my favorite blogs is not one dedicated solely to jazz, but provides thought-provoking music discussion.

Breath of life
A Sharing and Discussion of Black Music  

All humans make music. Black music (meaning music produced or heavily influenced by people of African descent) is one of the main forces in popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Even though Black music is ultimately a reflection and expression of the experiences of people of African descent, Black music is not an exclusively racial product. People from diverse backgrounds all over the world produce rap, jazz, blues, gospel, funk and many other forms of Black music. Additionally, from classical music to what is humorously called "hick hop" (rap influenced country music), Black music has directly affected all major forms of music in the world today.

This website is a celebration of Black music. We update every Sunday and offer three selections each week: a classic (music that is a major example of a specific genre or style), a contemporary (music produced within the last decade or so), and a cover (previously recorded music that is given a new or different interpretation).

Jazz can be heard across the net, both in streaming audio from existing broadcast stations, and from online channels devoted to specific genres

Jazz88 WBGO
All That Jazz with Brian Parker
Jazz 90.1 Rochester NY

Listings of links to online jazz:

So tell me how you discovered jazz, what tunes you love, what artists you admire, what blogs you read, and where you listen.  

I'll play it first and tell you what it is later.
-- Miles Davis

Bop is no love-child of jazz.
-- Charlie Parker

I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know.
-- Billie Holiday

Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time.
~~Ornette Coleman

I stole everything that I heard, but mostly I stole from the horns...
Ella Fitzgerald

As far as playing jazz, no other art form, other than conversation, can give the satisfaction of spontaneous interaction.
Stan Getz

Reader links:

Toddlerbob suggests: KCSM

normal family has reminded me that I forgot to include WKCR-FM the Columbia University Station that is famous in the NY area:

About WKCR Jazz

The sounds of jazz have been heard over the WKCR FM airwaves for over 60 years. In that time we have cultivated a position of great respect among both listeners and musicians (Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus have walked our hallways, and this past year we have been visited by Billy Taylor, Dick Hyman, Randy Sandke, Henry Grimes, Art Davis, and Lawrence Lucie, among many notable others).

Roughly 67 hours (about 40%) of WKCR airtime is currently devoted to Jazz music each week and, quite simply, we present American art music that no other radio station plays. We practice a 'one foot in the past, one foot in the future' approach. Unlike other 'jazz' stations, WKCR is deeply commited to the rich and storied history of jazz music and its numerous genuises, many of whom have been unfortunately neglected in recent decades. Additionally, we feature and interview cutting edge, avant-garde musicians who are seldom heard in more commerically-driven media.

Originally posted to Denise Oliver Velez on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 10:05 PM PDT.


What's your favorite jazz genre?

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