Sirius channel 72 is a good jazz station. It may be a great one. Radio and jazz haven’t made it together in the U.S., mostly. Jazz is an acquired taste, like avocados, or brussel sprouts, oysters. It asks more of its listener, more than classical music does, though its premise is simple: take a song, play it once through to establish its form, then let the players, in turn, invent new melodies, while keeping the accompanying chords the same as the original. Within this discipline, jazz musicians create new music that is at once profound and stratospheric. Radio programming people, since the Seventies, have tried to apply opinion research to music programming, without regard for musical content, or variety in tempo, or mood, in the hope of giving the customer (listener) only what radio people think they want — the familiar and popular — in order to maximize the number of simultaneous listeners to their stations, thus their ratings, thus their advertising revenue. Even public radio broadcasters, some of whom have adopted jazz as their musical “format” when they’re not feeding NPR or PRI programming, have used commercial radio’s methods, thinking they’re serving listeners who are most likely to contribute money to their fund-raising drives. The assumption is that the further jazz musicians are allowed to deviate from the written melody, the smaller the audience. This is probably true, but which came first, egg or chicken-hearted-ness?

The fact is, you can program jazz on the radio in a way that’s true to jazz, without stunting its spontaneity or chasing away the audience. You do this by taking advantage of its many layers of mood, tempo, emotion, the astounding range of its players. talents and styles, and its durability through its decades of history. And, I must add, the personality and passion of the person who’s selecting and presenting the music. Of all music, jazz offers the greatest opportunity for the disc jockey to become a collaborator in the creative process. Leave any of these elements out, and the radio station, well, just goes flat.

Public radio jazz stations and shows I’ve heard are mostly flat. Jim Wilke’s “Jazz After Hours” on PRI is the only exception I’ve encountered to date. Wilke knows, loves, and feels jazz. His programming is right on the money. KPLU-FM Tacoma-Seattle is pretty flat. The Smooth Jazz format on commercial radio is both flat and narrow.

But this review is supposed to be of “Pure Jazz,” channel 72 on Sirius Satellite Radio. This morning, Paul Anthony, (weekdays 6:00AM-12Noon ET), played this set: an organ-guitar trio version of “My Favorite Things” (John McLaughlin, John Pizzarelli), then segued to Miles Davis’s classic blues, “So What,” followed by a recent performance of guitarist Kenny Burrell’s: “All Blues,” a tune from the same historic Davis “Kind of Blue” session.

The person who decided to juxtapose these three performances knew exactly what he/she was doing — demonstrating that the interesting minor key patterns of Richard Rodgers’ “My Favorite Things” relate directly to the underlying chords developed by Bill Evans and Miles Davis for “So What.” That Kenny Burrell’s astonishing chorded guitar solo captured and paid homage to the original, while achieving a whole new creation of his own. The casual listener might or might not notice that these recordings flow so naturally, one to the other. Doesn’t matter. The effect is there, and could only happen on the radio. This is just one example of what I’m talking about — the details that make Sirius 72 a great jazz radio station. This kind of moment happens all the time on “Pure Jazz.” For me, this one channel is worth the price of admission.

Links: NPR on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue | Sirius “Pure Jazz” DJ profiles | on Sirius DJs | Jim Wilke’s “Jazz After Hours” Website

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Review: Pure Jazz, Sirius Satellite Radio


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