A couple of weeks ago I got to talk by phone with the programmer who runs Pure Jazz 72, Sirius Satellite Radio’s 24-hour jazz station that, as the name implies, plays classic mainstream modern jazz. Jazz, traditionally identified as America’s only native artform (an assertion that might attract argument from certain other tribes), remains a low profile scene in music, a challenging, acquired taste. Like escargot, maybe. Those who get it, and love it, believe it’s better than chocolate. One of those would be me. Anyway, I emailed Matt Abramowitz, the public radio-trained steersman of Pure Jazz 72, poking him a bit about what I see as a too-tight pattern of repeated cuts, and a shortage of newer artists and newer sounds. Everything on the station, even the “new music”-labeled cuts, sound like 1959. This had to sting a little, because lack of variety is the default–and justified–gripe against corporate on-air music radio. To toss it at an authentic jazz station that does justice to a field built on freedom is like saying Thelonious Monk played too few notes. In spite of my rudeness, Matt offered to call and discuss it. I said great, he did and we did. It was a cordial conversation, in which Matt patiently explained that in order to promote jazz to surfing satellite subscribers, he makes sure that they’ll always hear a great example (as the Antiques Roadshow people would say) of the music. Classic songs, the best performances. He admitted Sirius isn’t pushing the envelope. You won’t hear The Bad Plus, for instance. This is too bad, I said, because this young piano trio doesn’t seem to me more outre than many classic performers — Monk, for example. I have to admit, though, I understand the broadcaster’s point of view here. I worked in radio, half an eon ago, and our jazz station — in 1959-60, as a matter of fact — played it fairly safe, too. We were “lite-er” by far than Pure Jazz in the daytime. Where we’d play George Shearing in the afternoon, PJ would play Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson. You will hear Shearing on Pure Jazz. You’ll hear everybody on Pure Jazz. Sure, I can carp about hearing certain “favorites” too often: Evans’s great Waltz for Debbie, Brubeck’s Take Five, or Dolphin Dance, Stolen Moments. But hey, these aren’t exactly torture to listen to. Except maybe — and I’ll never understand why Sirius thinks this is a classic — In the Land of Ooblahdee. Jeez. Never mind, it’s great to have a great jazz station, even if I have to pay for a hundred-plus channels to get it. Thanks, Matt, for talking to me. Keep up the good work.


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A Sirius Chat

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hertzsketch1
Heinrich Hertz's experiments proved the existence of electromagnetic radiation. Cycles-per-second, the standard measure of radio wave frequency, was named for him. He died in 1894, at 37. Wikipedia: Hertz

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STERN-3
What do you do with a problem like Howard? After decades of profits and FCC indecency fines as routine budget items, Howard Stern, king of all pottymouth radio guys, followed his enabler Mel Karmazin to Sirius Satellite Radio, leaving CBS to make up a hundred million in revenue (They sold stations) and fill the void for the half of Howard's loyal audience who didn't choose to buy a new radio and pay fifteen bucks a month for a few more, ranker epithets.
Wikipedia: Stern

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PALEY-S
CBS might have become the Cigar Broadcasting System. William S. Paley was the scion of the family business. In 1927, his cigar tycoon dad, Samuel, bought the struggling network of early radio stations from a group of poor schlumps who were trying to – would you believe: sell programming to radio stations! Every syndicator since has had to relearn that this doesn't work. Bill and his dad figured out the right business model -- you sell commercials to advertisers, and give the programs to stations. Got it?
Wikipedia: Paley
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