[JPL] Minnesota's Voice of Jazz for more than six decades, Leigh Kamman, signs off tonight on "The Jazz Image."

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Sat Sep 29 17:16:10 EDT 2007


Music: The last radio show

Minnesota's Voice of Jazz for more than six decades, Leigh Kamman, signs off
tonight on "The Jazz Image."

By Jon Bream, Star Tribune
Last update: September 28, 2007 ­ 1:40 PM

The scene: downtown St. Paul. The smartly appointed third floor of Minnesota
Public Radio, teeming with blond woodwork and muted earth tones. Dinnertime
is approaching.
Like smoke seeping under a door, Leigh Kamman quietly enters the radio
studio with his supper in a rolled-up brown bag and his notes in a thick
briefcase. He's already left a stack of CDs with his producer.

Peering through oversized aviator eyeglasses, Kamman, 85, seems casually
businesslike, his usual demeanor, even though he full well knows he is in
the homestretch, taping one of his last programs of "The Jazz Image," his
weekly show that has been broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio since 1973.

The final show of Minnesota's Voice of Jazz Radio will be heard tonight. It
was recorded Sunday at the Dakota Jazz Club in front of a full house. And
never has Kamman -- a fixture at the Dakota and in every Twin Cities jazz
spot since he began his broadcasting career in high school in 1939 -- seemed
more, well, uncomfortable.

Pacing about in his familiar turtleneck and corduroy blazer, Kamman seemed
uncharacteristically adrift. "What's going on here?" he asked when singer
Debbie Duncan summoned him to the stage.

Instincts took over and Kamman soon did what he does best, take charge at
the microphone: "Before you leave, Debbie, I want to go back in your career
a moment. Detroit. I'm thinking of two high schools, one of which you went
to and the other was a fountain of jazz."

On a recent night at MPR, the Twin Cities' ever-bubbling fountain of jazz
shared thoughts on retirement, a planned book project and his legacy. As is
his style on the radio, Kamman rambled off on many side trips, dropping
names famous and obscure, but eventually returned to the main point. His
memory for names, places and dates remains as sharp as the visual memory
with which he paints scenes with words over the airwaves.

On how it feels to be in the home stretch of his show

"Sort of pulled and indecisive. I do have an objective behind this. I
haven't had many vacations. I'm going to take some time off."

On making the decision to retire from radio

"Erik Nycklemoe [MPR's director of radio] and Sarah Lutman [senior VP of
content and media] and I were sitting, having lunch one day in the early
summer, and they asked me how much longer I wanted to continue. I said,
'Well, Sept. 2 is coming up and I'll be tracking 85. I'll think about it.'

"I thought, 'I'm rusting, and it's time to see if I can knock out some of
the rust and keep my mind clear and do this other project.'"

On his immediate plans

He wants to resume work on an educational book project he conceived in 1973.
The topic is the history of American jazz broadcasting, from the 1920s to
the present day.

The book will not include the countless interviews he's done over the years
-- from Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker to Karrin Allyson and 15-year-old
saxophonist Grace Kelly. That, he says, would be a different book.

"I hope if I recharge my batteries properly, I will complete this [book],
for whatever it's worth."

He added: "I'll welcome the rest. But I'm sure I will miss [the radio]. I do
hope I can do occasional guest spots where I hit the dinner circuit and do
some talks, and I have some ideas in mind based on that jazz history. And
maybe contribute to the school scene."

On his radio style

"Through imagery, I invite people to go with me to New York and we'll return
you safely. And we'll pick up the tab. And we're going to take you to the
Jazz Standard or the Blue Note in New York -- or to Yoshi's in Oakland/San
Francisco by the Bay."

On his writing style

"I'm struggling for just good, clear written language with a little fire in
it. I don't know if I write the way I speak."

On what he will miss the most

"Just the total assignment of it all. There were two things I was given --
just the freedom to program without any dictates ... and the range to do the
long shows.

"I'll miss meeting the people. Getting to meet and listen to artists."

On how he wants to be remembered

"I hope that whatever we were doing -- I am not alone -- [gave listeners]
something that they can keep as part of their cultural life. But this --
parallel to chamber music, symphony, opera -- is a very important part of
the American cultural community. And it's an international language, as the
other musics are. [Jazz] is an important part of our life. I hope they take
that with them. I'm talking too much."

€ € €

Postscript: After taping his penultimate show at MPR, his associate
producer, Christine Sweet, reminds Kamman that on Oct. 9 he'll be inducted
into the St. Paul Central High School Hall of Fame.

"I'll be hornswaggled at 8:30 a.m.," he says.

"It doesn't end on the 29th [of September]," she continues. "You get to go
into October and celebrate."I wanted to go silently," he says. "I've been
through some kind of revolving door."People won't let you go silently,"
Sweet says.

Jon Bream € 612-673-1719

Jon Bream € popmusic at startribune.com

© 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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