Here’s a rant I’ve wanted to unload for some time. It concerns jazz on the radio. Fortunately, there’s a fair amount of it now, particularly on the Internet. But it could be better.
Specifically, the hosts could tell us who’s playing. How hard is it, actually? There’s a quintet playing: trumpet, tenor, piano, bass and drums. The piano player knocks you out. Who was it? You want to listen to him or her some more, buy a CD. “That was Miles Davis,” says the host. No mention of anybody else.
Sometimes you have to wait through another tune before the announcer comes on not to tell you who was playing. CBC is terrible for this, but not alone. Failure to announce the personnel is more than irritating. It is an abdication of responsibility to those who are learning the music.
That may sound a bit over-dramatic. Still, I remember how I learned about jazz. I was living in the Middle East, as a teenager, and suddenly developed a passion for the music after listening to the records some of my friends had. I bought Downbeat whenever I could find it and read about the big and not-so-big names of the period — Miles, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Horace Silver, Stan Getz. Not to mention all the trumpet players of the day — Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Jack Sheldon, Shorty Rogers, Clifford Brown.
The way I heard them was to stay up late and listen to the Voice of America on shortwave radio. Voice of America was a U.S. propaganda vehicle aimed largely at people who lived behind the Iron Curtain and in the so-called uncommitted nations of Africa and Asia. The most appealing part of the propaganda was jazz, a symbol of freedom, so it was thought, and an underground passion in many Communist countries.
Every night Willis Conover would play jazz records and after every one he would painstakingly list every musician on the tune — even if it was a big band. If it was a Count Basie record he would tell you who every one of the 15 musicians was. This was jazz education at its best and I imagine there are young players today who would be happy to learn the same way.
If it was Horace Silver record, Conover would tell you who the trumpet player was. So that’s what Donald Byrd sounds like! Conover would tell you who played tenor and bass and drums. So I might buy a Donald Byrd record and on that record hear Pepper Adams and decide I liked Pepper Adams enough to buy one of his records and on that one hear a piano player I liked. And so on.
If you heard that tune on the CBC, it would be over and the guy would say: “That was Horace Silver.” And then move on to read some offbeat article off the wire that had nothing to do with music.
Now, it’s possible that you might be able to find a playlist online if you searched for it (I just tried and gave up), but that doesn’t help you if you’re in the car. And really, how much extra time does it take to read five names aloud?
Internet radio, which I listen to increasingly to hear jazz, has sort of the same problem, but in most cases there is no host to blame it on. If I hear something I like, I will do some quick Googling on the tune and leader and find out who else is playing. But you shouldn’t have to do that when there is a host.
This didn’t happen, by the way, when Katie Malloch was running the jazz show on CBC. The decline has happened since and what it tells me is that there really isn’t much interest in jazz at the CBC, other than filling a time slot. There is a blandness about the programming that indicates CBC is content to provide background music.
The failure to provide personnel information is further indication of a lack of interest. If you really cared about jazz you would want to know who the players were. If you really cared about jazz, you would want your listeners to know that too. It doesn’t sound like anyone cares.
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About this blog
Tune Up won't be a calendar of events — Ottawa Jazz Happenings takes care of that. But it will discuss events and issues of interest to the JazzWorks community. Journalist, author, trumpet player and a jazz camper since 1999, Charley Gordon is a former vice-president of JazzWorks.