[JPL] Time To Re-Think How We Do Radio

Jackson, Bobby Bobby.Jackson at ideastream.org
Fri Jan 16 16:45:14 EST 2009

Aloha Jae and fellow JPL'ers,

To quote Duke Ellington in his book, "Music Is My Mistress" and it's one
of my favorite quotes about jazz....

"To not know the history of this music, is to miss much of its charm."

It is a beautiful and telling quote!  That being said, I believe you
don't have to be a musician, to share what you know about this music to
get people appreciate and get closer to the music.  You can get "behind"
the music and share stories that you know about the songs, the people;
the times it was created in to get people to listen in a different way.
For example....

During the 60's we all know about the bombing of that church in
Birmingham, AL that claimed the lives of 4 little girls.  I could play
"Alabama" by John Coltrane and not give that particular background.
I've heard hosts back announce the players and the year it came out.
How boring and insider is that approach!!  It would sound like a dirge
because of its somber tone and the uninitiated would probably tune it
out.  OR, I could talk about that incident and lead it up to the John
Coltrane song "Alabama" and the set up would give listeners a chance to
listen with an intent based on the history of why it was written in the
first place.  I might even tell them how the song makes me feel.  Now
that's getting personal, showing a little vulnerability and above all,
being human!  This kind of set up gives listeners a chance to use their
own aural imagery creating that tragic moment.  This kind of set up has
the potential to move from their heads to their hearts.  The context the
song is presented in makes all the difference in the world to how you
will listen to it.  

I had a conversation with my Mom just last night about Sam Cooke's "A
Change Is Gonna Come."  She knew the song because it was popular but she
didn't connect it to what was happening at the time it was created.  I
gave her the background of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind and his
connection to Woody Guthrie through Alan Lomax and all of these
connections through the Civil Rights struggle.  Now she listens with a
different intensity to all of this music.  

As programmer's we should always look for ways to connect the music back
through our culture.  Like Charlie Parker once said, "If you don't live
it, it won't come out of your horn."  Music truly is a reflection of the
times it's created in.  As programmer's there is a need to be more
intimate with the music that we serve our audiences.  Not only will we
grow our audiences we will grow ourselves.

Keep A Light In The Window,

Bobby Jackson

-----Original Message-----
From: jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com
[mailto:jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com] On Behalf Of Jae Sinnett
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2009 3:36 PM
To: jazzproglist at jazzweek.com
Subject: [JPL] Time To Re-Think How We Do Radio

Sponsored by: JazzWeek Summit 2009


I've been thinking about this for a while now and what brought it to a
head with me was a show I did this past Monday evening. My bigger point
will be made later in this note. 

I had a few "local" musicians on the show with me and we performed. One
section of the performance was educational in that I was able to explain
to our listeners...to a degree...and demonstrate...how jazz works. I
asked the guys what questions do listeners of their music ask the most.
"How does the rest of the band know when to come back in after the drum
breaks?" " How do you know what to play for your solo?" "I get lost when
the solos start so how do I learn to follow along?" "It just sounds
muddled to me so how can I learn to hear the music more clearly?" "I
have a heard time with the rhythm of jazz...can you help me to
understand?" These are just a few of many but what it clearly shows is
that many that listen to jazz...don't really understand it. Now think
about those that don't listen...they don't because I would bet they
simply don't understand the music and most that don't understand don't
have much positive to say about it and won't give it a

The response to that section of the show was amazing. Ninety percent of
the responses where about that portion of the show. What this tells me
is that clearly many...probably the majority of our listeners... don't
know much about what they are hearing and two...they want to learn. It's
simple to me, for jazz to find a bigger and more supportive audience we
must find a way to get them to understand what it is they are hearing
with the music and making them believe it is something worth listening

Most programmers for years simply play the music and tell the listeners
who it was they've heard and give out bits of historical shorts
occasionally. This is the way most have been taught. The reality is this
method of programming is not helping us build an audience. It's going
nowhere fast. I'm just one that is sticking my neck out here and saying

We've all heard that we're not on air to "teach" the listeners. I've
always disagreed with that assessment. I've always felt the mission of
public radio was education first. To inform and most importantly and
ironically, every bit of research I've conducted for our jazz
programming continues to tell me that what the folks appreciate about my
show the most is what they learn. It's not what or who I play that gets
the most interest...it's what they learn. So why do we keep saying we
shouldn't be teaching on air? 

When I say "re-think" I'm referring to coming up with concepts that do
teach listeners about the music without sacrificing the musical
presentation but more enhancing it. We need more ideas here and unless
we do more and more formats will disappear and our audience will not
grow in my view. Methods so far in keeping an audience like simplifying
the music works to a degree in helping to maintain a strong audience
base but it also treats the music like a relic and doesn't help any
artist doing material other than the familiar or something that sounds
like such. 

I belive we can make this situation better. If anyone else feels the
same way and would like to develop or start and objective dialog about
this my hat is in. 

Jae Sinnett  


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