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March 10, 2011


My Midlife Jazz Crisis – Stage 3: Jazz Radio RIP

The other day my 10 year daughter walked into my office as I was listening to one of the prominent jazz radio stations on the east coast. She listened for a bit and then bluntly asked me why jazz sounds like an old fashioned movie. When I realized the station was actually playing a new jazz release, it struct a nerve and got me thinking just how out of touch many jazz radio stations are in their programming of the music. I know for a fact that the music today is rich, eclectic, expansive and exciting but why do the majority of prominent jazz radio stations (at least here in the USA) want to keep the music pinned in a rigid box and never venture out and show the variety that jazz has to offer?

Watching what has happened to jazz radio programming over the past 15 years has been heart breaking. A lot of it boils down to economics, I know, but that is still NO excuse for boring and uncreative radio programming especially in jazz. I grew up with local jazz station KJAZ 92.7 FM and banked many listening hours. That’s where I first learned about the rich history of the music as well as the contemporary scene. What KJAZ did especially well was present the old stuff and the new stuff in an equal manner, never spending too much time in either the past or present. And they played all styles within the music including both acoustic and electric variations. Their programmers really knew the music and served up creative and inspiring sets day after day.

Listening to KJAZ taught me that jazz, as a genre, was not one style that should be kept in a box. It’s a collective art form that is constantly moving forward and redefining and reinventing itself. This was an invaluable lesson that helped shaped my passion for the music as well as my career path. So the question remains, why do most jazz radio stations only want to offer one flavor of the music? Some may say if you don’t like the station then don’t listen to it, but frankly, that is not the answer. A jazz station is vital to the progression of the art form and has the power to do incredible work for the music. But in order to successfully achieve this, they must be relevant to the current times unless they want to go the way of a museum art format like classical or the “unforgettable” station. Doesn’t this music deserve more?

– JV

  1. Please, talk to Mr. Winton Marsalis. He knows what’s going on…

  2. Mar 10 2011

    As to the “middle of the road ” appeal of most jazz stations, I completely agree. Our local jazz station here in central Washington state comes out of Washington State University, KNWR. It (jazz programing) airs on weekends. I have to say upfront I really appreciate any effort to air jazz. However, commonly, longer tunes are cut off in mid stream. I can only imagine this is to fit into a very commercial concept of time management like the old three “minute rule” on Pop radio. Many of the same tunes are repeated from Friday to Saturday. Some of the music is very good, but a lot of it is not very compelling. Perhaps they have a limited library or a program director that is not up to speed on today’s music. That said, I still listen and appreciate what they do.

  3. The Jazz Messenger
    Mar 10 2011

    Ron –

    I also listen to a few of those kind of shows myself. I appreciate the efforts and do enjoy the music granted it is in the same bag. BTW did you see KPLU’s user voted 100 Greatest Jazz Songs list? it is worth checking out and showcases some of the narrow focused programming issue that I am referring to in my blog.

    Take care – JV

  4. Mister M
    Mar 10 2011

    Mr. Cláudio Barroso has a problem with Mr. Marsalis, probably because Mr. Barroso don´t like blowers. I think so.

  5. Mar 11 2011

    Hi JV, I checked out KPLU’s top 100. cool. Thanks for the heads up.

  6. The Jazz Messenger
    Mar 11 2011

    Ron –

    Also check out this radio article from Lee Mergner from JazzTimes. It is very good and touches on some of the points I am making as well.

    – JV

  7. Aurora Muse
    Mar 11 2011

    @ FranciscoClaudioBarrosoBotelho – that’s funny as hell, man! If anybody knows, it’s Wynton!
    On a serious tip, record labels are notorious for dumming down the music on CDs so it can be “radio friendly”. It shouldn’t be surprising that, over the years, as the recording process has become more antiseptic (and thus, what’s heard on the radio), musicians in general are afraid to “color outside the lines” when being recorded because they want their music to be played on the radio.
    The quest for good reviews, label support and radio play is enough to scare any musician into being well-behaved, musically speaking. this translates into turning music – beautiful, kinetic, energetic, unadulterated music – into the little black marks written on the page. boring, boring, boring as hell…

  8. The Jazz Messenger
    Mar 11 2011

    Since there are no major record labels producing jazz and no commercial jazz radio stations to speak of, it will be interesting to hear the next batch of jazz coming out via artists who are now left to produce their own albums. Aside from a few labels like Blue Note, Concord, Mack Ave and some others, the music is sure to sound different than the dumbed down stuff produced by the majors and made for “safe” radio airplay. I think we are seeing some of that now. And even in the height of the last jazz record boom in the early to late 1990’s, there was a lot of inspiring and creative music being produced and much of it I personally heard on the radio. It’s out there but just needs to be shared.

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