[JPL] Ralph Berton: The Man Behind Radio's First Serious Jazz Music Program

Jim Eigo jim at jazzpromoservices.com
Sun Jun 3 11:15:56 EDT 2012

> http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/archives/2012/jun/01/ralph-berton-university-jazz/
> WNYC Archives & Preservation <http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/archives/>
> Ralph Berton: The Man Behind Radio's First Serious Jazz Music Program
> WNYC History Notes Vol. 3 Issue 6
> Friday, June 01, 2012 - 11:00 AM
> By Andy Lanset <http://www.wnyc.org/people/andy-lanset/>  : Director of
> Archives
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> * Ralph Berton (1910-1993)
> * 
> * Archives and Preservation
> <http://www.wnyc.org/series/archives-and-preservation/>
> * Established in the year 2000, the WNYC Archives are the station's physical
> link to its rich and storied past.
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> From 1940 to 1942 Ralph Berton hosted WNYC's daily foray into jazz called
> Metropolitan Review, dedicated to "the finest in recorded hot jazz." The
> program was radio's first serious jazz music show on the air.
> Although critical of Berton, reviewer Elliott Grennard wrote at the time, "The
> program is a genuine effort to effect a more intimate relationship between its
> listeners and the enfant terrible of American culture...The program presents
> out-of-print classics by legendary heroes as well as lesser known imprints by
> obscure folk artists. It presents, in the flesh, jazzmen who reminisce about
> glorious recording dates of the past and reaffirm their admiration for those
> who went before them." [1]
> Berton came to WNYC in 1939 through an old friend, Mitchell Grayson, who was
> WNYC's Drama Director. Grayson had asked him to adapt some novels for the
> drama series Great American Novels. This he did and then came a lunch meeting
> with Program Director Seymour N. Siegel where Berton was asked to handle the
> jazz for the first American Music Festival in February, 1940. Regular jazz
> programming soon followed. [2]
> In May 1942, Newsweek noted that "Berton converted listeners by the thousands.
> His fan mail pyramided to 8,000 letters, outstripping all other regular
> shows..."[3] Later that year, he turned Metropolitan Review over to jazz
> pianist and activist Art Hodes. Berton had also initiated a special weekly
> WNYC series first called The American Jazz Institute and then, The Jazz
> Institute of the Air. The first program aired May 3, 1940 and began:
> THEME: "Sweet Lorraine"...(Hot Record Society Original #2000-R2774) ‹ 22 ‹
> seconds. (Fade Half)
> ANN'R: (UNDER THEME) Tonight we bring you the first in a new series of musical
> programs under the auspices of the American Jazz Institute, conducted by Ralph
> Berton, F.J.C. ‹ er ‹ "Friend of the Jump-Cats."  Every Friday evening at this
> time, this genial musicologist of swing will undertake to guide your steps, or
> shall we say your ears? through 30 minutes of the very best in jazz. The
> music that illustrates these lectures will come to you mostly through
> phonograph recordings supplied through the courtesy of the Hot Record Society
> of New York. On special occasions we will hear various guest performers, great
> jazz artists in person, who will join in bringing you the American Jazz
> Institute.  And now: Professor Berton!
> BERTON: Good evening, ladies, gentlemen and fellow cats. Before we begin, I'd
> like to say a few words about jazz itself. You know, jazz has never been
> considered quite respectable. But there are signs that we Americans are waking
> up at least to the fact that jazz is a genuine art-form, the most
> sophisticated folk-music in the world. And now, with the inauguration of this
> program, even the stately microphones of WNYC will be quivering with the
> rhythms of our weekly jump session..."[4]
> Ralph Berton was also the main force behind the live jazz programming for
> WNYC's early American Music Festivals, bringing the Benny Goodman sextet into
> our studios, and the Lester Young band to Manhattan Center
> <http://www.wnyc.org/shows/fromthearchives/2007/may/01/>  for a remote
> broadcast along with many other jazz greats. He also produced a radio drama on
> the life of legendary jazz cornetist, pianist and composer Bix Beiderbecke.
> This work would later grow into the book Remembering Bix, a Memoir of the Jazz
> Age, published in 1974.
> After leaving the Metropolitan Review with Art Hodes at WNYC, Berton took the
> Jazz Institute of the Airbriefly to WINS. By January 1943, the show had landed
> at WBNX in The Bronx as the Jazz University of the Air, but it was
> short-lived. In July, the show was cut due to programming changes at the
> station that called for more home front and war news. Interestingly enough,
> Berton too was enmeshed in the war effort as Billboard noted that he was on
> the air at night and working as a machinist at a war plant by day. [5]
> Ralph Berton was the brother of noted jazz drummer, percussionist and
> Hollywood music director Vic Berton. He was also a professional boxer; (eight
> fights as a featherweight); an artist; a writer for radio and Hollywood, as
> well as on jazz for numerous publications. He was the editor of the jazz
> magazine Sounds and Fury in the 1960s and taught at the Metropolitan School of
> Music and Middlesex County College. Ralph Berton died in 1993 at the age of
> 82.
>                  Magazine display ad for one of Ralph Berton's regular jam
> sessions in 1941.
> [1] Grennard, Elliott, "Jamming the Jam," The New Masses, September 9, 1941,
> pg. 27.
> [2] Interview with Ralph Berton by WNYC Host Andre Bernard on Around New York,
> February 18, 1985. (Thanks to Kate Berton) You can listen to this interview at
> the top of the page!
> [3] Newsweek, May 11, 1942.
> [4] Special thanks to the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in
> Newark for access to the Ralph Berton papers. See: FINDING AID
> <http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/IJS/collections/Berton,%20Ralph,%20Collection.pd
> f>  by Robert 'Gabe' Gabrielsky for more details on Berton's life.
> [5] Billboard, January 30, 1943
> and
> Special thanks to Dan Morgenstern and Tad Hershorn.
> _____________________________________________________________________
> Broadcast on WNYC Today in:
> 1947: The Golden Door presents "Wait for Me," a drama about Paul, an ex-sports
> champion and survivor of the Allied battles in Europe, who wakes up in the
> hospital an amputee and faces difficult re-entry into civilian life. Paul
> meets a young man named David, a displaced person (DP) living in a war orphans
> home, and the two become good friends. David asks Paul to teach him to be a
> star runner.  Though pained by his permanent disability, Paul agrees to train
> him. Upon his departure from the hospital Paul's doctors secretly arrange for
> him to become David's foster father. The program closes with Miss M. Ingeborg
> Olsen speaking on the plight of refugee children.  Presented on behalf of the
> Committee for the Care of European Children.
> 1954: Gilbert Seldes talks about the investigation of the Ford Foundation on
> this edition of The Lively Arts.
> 1987: Music from New England on this episode of New Sounds with John Schaefer.
> 1995: Brian Lehrer speaks with Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Chair and
> Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report.
> 2003: Conductor Valery Gergiev is Gilbert Kaplan's guest on this edition of
> Mad About Music.
> * jazz <http://www.wnyc.org/tags/jazz/>
> * ralph berton <http://www.wnyc.org/tags/ralph_berton/>
> * wnyc history <http://www.wnyc.org/tags/wnyc_history/>
> * WNYC Archives & Preservation  <http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/archives/>

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