A farewell to jazz on WUSF 89.7
Jazz on WUSF is moving to Arts Axis Florida come Monday. We celebrate some of the voices who brought it to listeners over the years.
There’s a famous photograph from the late 1950s known by jazz fans the world over. It’s called “A Great Day in Harlem.”
It captures the images of many amazing musicians, including Count Basie, Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk.
It would be so nice if All Night Jazz fans had one big picture of all the jazz hosts who've sat behind the mic at WUSF and shared their favorites since the genre was first played by then University of South Florida student George Geiger, 56 years ago.
One thing those two pictures would have in common is that everyone in them shares a love for America’s art form, jazz.
Back in the day, there was a longtime volunteer jazz host named Vic Hall. He always wore a short-sleeved button-down shirt and often, a cravat. And he was always kind.
Hall came to the United States from Birmingham, England, via Canada.
Hall, who was with the station from 1968-2005, hosted The Sound of Jazz and specialized in jazz music from the 1940s and 1950s.
Saxophonist Doug DeHays, who was an All Night Jazz host in the late 1980s and early 90s, says Hall was known for his expansive knowledge of the international jazz scene.
“He always knew that there was a trumpet player from Denmark who played better than Freddie Hubbard, or there was a xylophone player from Brazil who could “out-xylophone” anyone you know,” DeHays said.
But he added, “I always remember that I learned about people that I probably would have never heard of.”
DeHays helped Larry Martin, host of The Jazz Legacy, engineer his programs. He recalled that Martin often brought in his own vinyl records to play on the show.
He said Martin really knew his stuff and had done a lot of research, long before you could consult the internet on your phone or the Ken Burns documentary on jazz and the advent of other resources on the genre.
“That was such a treat to find somebody that dedicated to a slot of music that stopped with Charlie Parker, pretty much. He listened to everything, but his main focus was this early jazz and how it shaped what was coming after that,” DeHays said.
At one point, Martin did a show on Billie Holiday and how much her voice had altered from her early days, later in her career.
DeHays remembered a special experience he had during one overnight jazz shift.
“Jon Faddis (trumpet player) was one who'd played with the band at USF. And he came up and ended up hanging out with me until three or four in the morning, talking about Dizzy Gillespie and this kind of stuff. And that was just such a rare treat for me,” he said.
DeHays also calls longtime jazz director Bob Seymour a mentor, and the one who taught him how to have a conversation with someone on the radio. And he said Seymour “possessed a great knowledge and great love for the music as well.”
Seymour retired from WUSF in 2016, and remembered his role this way:
“It’s a great place to be, to be kind of the conduit, the go-between, between artists…I’m not a reviewer or a critic, I don’t have to deal with music that I don’t really care about. I just get to choose music that moves me, or that I think is worthwhile and present that to an audience who cares about it,” he said at the time.
Another longtime jazz fan is soprano Linda Switzer, who owns and runs The Florida Arts School.
“As an opera singer and a musical theater enthusiast, I've always liked jazz. And there are some classical singers that are not fond of jazz,” she said. "But to me, it's like Baroque things where you're improvising. And I realize how much skill it takes to do what those musicians do."
She said she never had a favorite WUSF Jazz host, but loved the variety of music that was played, from the older music to more recent performances by Diana Krall.
When Switzer was a little girl, her father put her to bed with music and All Night Jazz later became her soundtrack heading into dreamtime.
She said things won't be the same without it on the radio.
“I'm just gonna miss the beauty of the music and just the positivity of it, very, very much so,” Switzer said.
Paul Wilborn, Executive Director of the Palladium in St. Petersburg, says WUSF's jazz presence has played a key role in the community.
“It's amazing the caliber of musicians who've been drawn here over the years, including John Lamb and those guys from the Duke Ellington Band, Buster Cooper,” Wilborn said. "But what I've noticed running a music facility that really does a lot with jazz, is how strong the local jazz community is, and how dependent I've seen them on that radio station."
Many of the jazz hosts on WUSF have been musicians who played in the community as part of their own bands, or with other ensembles.
For example, trumpet player Jackson Harpe, jazz guitarist Dominic Walker and pianist-composer Simon Lasky comprised the WUSF-FM All Stars, who played with USF faculty jazz players, including saxophonist Jack Wilkins, Tom Brantley on trombone, Dave Rudolph on drums and USF student Noel Reyes on bass, in 2021.
Harpe has been shepherding All Night Jazz since Jazz Director Mike Cornette — who succeeded Seymour — retired last December. Harpe said he’s planning something special for the final night of All Night Jazz on WUSF 89.7 this Sunday night.
“Cause I want to honor the classics and the legends too, right? Again, your Clifford Browns and Lee Morgans and Charlie Parker has to be in there somewhere. So, I don't know, it's a lot. But that's the approach I'm going to take,” he said.
Harpe had these words to share with the fans of All Night Jazz:
“We especially want them to know how thankful we are for the years of support and listening, calling in, especially during campaigns," Harpe said. "We'd get song requests when somebody would donate sometimes and we loved all of that. So, I just want them to know that we are thankful and humbled by the support."
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Here are some of the many jazz hosts at WUSF over the years:
George Geiger, Michael Scott, Steve Splane, Mike Cornette, Tim Ruskell, Vic Hall, Bob Seymour, Larry Martin, Doug DeHays, Marty Musgrove, Kevin Frye, Tom Parkinson, Scott Hopkins, Philip Booth, Steve Carroll, Jeff Franklin, Thomas Dickens, Curtis Hayes, Gig Brown, Richard Jimenez, Dominic Walker, Jackson Harpe, Simon Lasky, Alicia Kaye, Whitney James, Mark Feinman, Angelo Lanni, Mike Stephen, Ken Collura, Bill Mims, Jim Leonard, Lorri Hafer, Kathy Kopek, Maria Miller, Ric Lopez, Ray Malone, Ray Weir, Dee Moses, and Joe Gagnon.
List of songs used in the broadcast story:
- Movin’ Wes, Wes Montgomery
- Airmail Special, Lionel Hampton
- Daphne, Django Reinhardt
- Davenport Blues, Bix Beiderbecke
- Things Ain’t What They Used to Be, Benny Carter
- The Look of Love, Diana Krall
- This Time the Dream’s on Me, Ella Fitzgerald, featuring Billy May and his Orchestra
- Aurora, John C. O’Leary III
- Cantaloupe Island, Blue Note Concert Live, featuring Herbie Hancock