Calling All Jazz Artists: Save KCSM Jazz 91

My favorite section of Hajdu’s Strayhorn biography Lush Life, the part with the strongest storytelling, is where he talks about Billy Strayhorn’s cancer diagnosis. For this chapter, he relied on the vivid memories of Marian Logan, Harlem socialite and wife of Dr. Arthur Logan, physician to both Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.

Strayhorn took his diagnosis bravely, calmly. Ellington, not so much.

“Arthur called Edward [Ellington’s first name] and told him. He was on the road somewhere,” Marian Logan recounted. “Arthur said, ‘Edward is terribly, terribly angry. I think he blames me. ‘How can you tell me this? Do you know what you’re saying? Why didn’t you tell me this before?’… He was irrational. And he was pissed off.”
Hajdu, “Lush Life – A Biography of Billy Strayhorn,” Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996, p. 233

I’m with Ellington right now.

KCSM, Jazz 91, the mainstay of my musical existence for the past 20 years, has the blues, and their blues will be felt by their thousands of listeners worldwide. Due to budget shortfalls and other issues, the station will have to cut back some of their on air staff and has cancelled some of their best programs.

Gone is “In the Moment,” a showcase for recorded live performances in the Bay Area. Harry Duncan’s “In the Soul Kitchen” also received the axe. Some of my favorite announcers will be working reduced shifts, including Greg Bridges, whose programming has aided me while writing on more than a few occasions.

While the station is dedicated to staying on the air and broadcasting jazz 24/7, one of only three left in the country still doing so, its precarious position troubles me to no end. And more trouble could exist just over the shaky horizon that is life in the age of the Trump Administration. He has already made known his desire to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, and the National Foundation for the Arts. Republican Congresses in the past have threatened this act of cultural suicide in the past. Having a president pushing for so drastic a move only makes matters worse. While these federal programs make up a tiny fraction of 1% of the national budget (we won’t solve the deficit by getting rid of them, in other words), entities like KCSM rely on the money they receive to keep the lights on.

We human beings are storytellers. Music tells our stories most vividly, creatively and viscerally. Music is also the closest thing I have to a religion. So the last thing I want to see is my main temple of music go away.

Miles Davis has a famous quote where he says that all musicians should get on their knees at least once a year and give thanks to Duke Ellington. I’d like to revise this a bit. I think every working jazz artist today should give thanks to the little station that could. KCSM is probably jazz’s best ambassador and that’s entirely due to the knowledge, care, and dedication of its on air talent.

So here’s my challenge. Time for all jazz artists and their fans to go Full George Bailey for KCSM. Do benefit shows. Fill the halls. Sing the station’s praises from the rooftops. Save one of your best ambassadors. In these troubling times, we need the wit, wisdom, diversity, and badassness that is jazz. We need KCSM.

(And everyone, donate now.)

© 2017, gar. All rights reserved.


Calling All Jazz Artists: Save KCSM Jazz 91 — 4 Comments

  1. I’ve been listening to KCSM going on five years now via the internet from southern california. A jazz fan i met a show suggested i listen as i might prefer it over the LA area jazz station, KJazz. He said there programming is more progressive, and I’ve found it to be. I love the classics, the legends, standards, and jazz that swings, but not 24/7. I like variety when it comes to jazz. Greg Bridges and Ron Pelletier are my favorite DJ’s. I really appreciated the fact that the station had the “free jazz show, “all out”, as I think it’s quite rare for a station to give that type of jazz much airplay. I really loved the jazz gallery and Ron Pelletier’s wednesday night slot as i find his taste abs selection interesting. With the changes the station has made, i don’t really have much reason to tune in as much as i used to as I can find what they play now on most any jazz station.

  2. I’ve been listening to jazz radio since before high school, 65 years ago. First AM radio late at night, then in Cincinnati during my college years, from Chicago for 42 years, and since 2006 from Santa Cruz. Bob Parlocha is what drew me to KCSM before I left Chicago, and I still listen to KCSM via the internet from Santa Cruz. It’s one of a half dozen jazz stations programmed into my dedicated internet “radio.”

    When I first moved here, I sent a hefty check and a hefty letter, with both positive and negative critical of programming and hosts. That was 2006; they never cashed the check, and they never responded to my letter. Needless to say, I haven’t contributed again, and most of my negative criticisms still apply. In 2006, I complained about the weakness of the hosts M-F in the 10 pm to 2 am slot, the truly awful syndicated trad stuff Sunday mornings, and the guy on Sunday nights who thought he was a comedian, and who I found really boring. I love comedians. I praised most of the rest of what in heard, giving special notice to Parlocha and Clancy.

    Ten years later, the Sunday night guy is gone, the weak DJs M-F during the week are the ones now being let go, Parlocha is gone, replaced by Bridges, Lee Thomas, Clifford Brown, Jr, and now two guys from Chicago. Lee and Clifford figured out late night radio right away, and Lee is by far the best at it. The “get” late night radio, so both music choice and on-air delivery is “just right” for the time slot. It took Bridges most of a year to get in the groove, but he’s starting to right. Now, the two guys from Chicago, whose delivery is just fine for early evenings, but JARRING at 4-6 am.

    And ten years later, the best thing happening at KCSM has been Michael Bermnan, who’s been doing Saturday nights in fine fashion for several years and doing swing shifts during the week. But now, he’s on sabbatical. Jane Pettingil “gets it,” but then they put one of those weak part-timers in that slot.

    SO — I can’t say that I’m happy that KCSM is having money problems, but if that’s what it takes to clean up the 10 pm – 2 am slot, I see it as an ill wind that blows some good. And that “pre-recorded programming” that is replacing those weak 10 pm to 2 am jocks is Bridges and Thomas, syndicated via the WFMT jazz network. And those two new guys from Chicago, Neil Tesser and Dave Schwan would sound pretty good in the 10 pm to 2am slot.

    If KCSM cleans up their act, I’ll gladly send them some serious bank. In the meantime, I’ve been much happier with WBGO through the night until drive time starts in NYC. Which, unfortunately, is 3 am in Santa Cruz.

    • Everyone has different tastes. I’ve listened to KCSM continuously for 20 years and find all of their announcers bring something good to the table. I’ve always enjoyed Saturdays, from Keith Hines to Sonny Buxton to Dick Conte to Michael Burman. I hope Michael will still have a slot waiting for him when he returns; things are sadly that unsettled.

      As I say, everyone has different tastes. But I think “cleaning up their act” is a bit harsh. They’re a professional group and work very hard doing what they do. I play the station all day every day in my office at work. Do I hear a tune I don’t like? Of course I do. I just wait until the next tune comes along.

      • Hi gar,

        I strongly agree that Saturday is quite strong, especially with Burman on board — everyone, including Hines, is really first rate. The full timers are strong, it’s the part timers that I find weak. And they’re filling what for many listeners WOULD be prime listening time (assuming you’re not a TV addict) after 10 pm. To me, Fallico, Pelletier, and Ramirez are the lightweights, I can’t stand the free stuff on Thursday evening, and blues bores me. The newer female jocks have all been pretty good — while not as polished, they “get it,” and they always seem to satisfy. Ramirez is OK to listen to because even though he’s been playing the same tracks every night for 10 years because that’s all he seems to know, they are, at least GOOD tracks. This is a guy who played Sinatra with Basie and didn’t acknowledge that it was the Basie Band. You should have to read liner notes to know it’s Basie, and Frank with Basie was WONDERFUL! :)

        And from the viewpoint of a listener — if I point my internet “radio” to WBGO in the same timeframe, I hear really great music selection by jazz greats. A couple of years ago, the jock in that time frame was talking WAY too much, but things are much mellower now. This was a program director problem, not a jock problem — it’s the same jock. :)

        As I see (hear) it, KCSM has gotten complacent and inbred. The weekday daytime and dinner jocks are fine, and while they rarely play artists who weren’t around 20 years ago, their music selection is pretty good. But I find that I’ve missed a LOT of the artists who have come on the scene in the past 20 years. It’s almost as if it’s oldies radio for jazz fans of retirement age. That’s my age, but my ears are still ready for GOOD stuff from first rate artists younger than 40. Artists that are strong enough to be featured at the Stanford Festival, at SF Jazz, and San Jose.


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