Phil Schaap’s 50th year on the air
Back in February, WKCR’s Phil Schaap marked his 50-year broadcast anniversary. As anyone who has listened to Schaap for any length of time knows, he hasn’t just been doing a radio show for 50 years. He has been putting every bit of his physical/psychic/emotional/mental energy into programming. When he’s on, he’s on. And he’s always on (or always on the air, it seems). We know, Schaap isn’t for everyone. The man believes the music of Charlie Parker, and the jazz tradition itself (going back to its beginnings in New Orleans) is one of the most important things on earth. And he is possessed by desire to share his knowledge of this music with the world. This is someone who has found his calling, and lives it on the radio.
There’s a rumor that if you took recordings of Phil Schaap’s radio appearances and strung the tape together, those 50 years would cover the length of the Manhattan Bridge. At least half of the distance would reportedly consist of Phil playing alternate takes of Bird.
Another Schaap story holds that WKCR once dispatched a Columbia ethnomusicology student to archive all of Schaap’s recorded programs. The student mysteriously disappeared, resurfacing years later in the Catskills, very thin and heavily bearded. His only possessions consisted of some clothing, a bowl, water jug and a reel-to-reel tape player. The student could be heard mumbling: “I tried, but he just keeps going!” Blurting out: “BIRD LIVES!” he then ran off into the mist.
Deep, deep focus on KCR
On a recently rebroadcast Deep Focus, host Mitch Goldman laid out his vision for the show. This is a paraphrase, but his idea seemed to be to give the music the heavy listening treatment you would get when you started getting really into it; you have a friend or two come by, plop that album you finally found on the turntable and just get lost in the sound. This is what I think he was saying, anyway. Or at least, that’s what I get out of the show.
Since the plague still rages, Goldman has been drawing from his vast reserves. Recent episodes we’ve heard have included sax player Jorge Sylvester talking about Jimmy Lyons, drummer William Hooker discussing Larry Young and bassist Melvin Gibbs digging deep into the work of Lester Bowie. These guys don’t just talk about the importance of these artists and play songs anyone can now find online. They listen to unreleased recordings from the KCR archive (and sometimes from their personal collections). It’s not unusual for Goldman to announce a song by mentioning the recording has never been played publicly before. Often, as in the case of Gibbs, the musician will detail their personal experience playing with the featured artist; listeners get an additional human element. There’s nothing like this anywhere. Catch it on WKCR, Monday nights 6-9 pm, or via Goldman’s website or on podbeam.
George Grella on the lack of new giants in jazz
The Red Hook Star Revue newspaper has been running some interesting music writing these days. George Grella (who also edits the Brooklyn Rail’s music section) recently wondered, “Where have all the giants gone?” In an essay well worth reading, Grella looks at the current state of the music, and the limitations placed on the form by the institutions that allow musicians to grow and survive:
“The music is a niche now. Institutions and academic programs have stepped in to keep it alive, but institutional support in general and pedagogy in particular means a shadow conformity, if not something more explicit and pernicious—money comes in to departments and institutions, and how it is spent is a reflection of institutional values, the money becomes the way. The meanness of America has meant taking money away from public schools. If you’re not at a private school, or one in a wealthy zip code with an active PTA, you’re not likely to get quality music instruction before college. That already pre-selects the kids who might have a chance to go to music school, even before the cost of college. Graduate school, which has become a prerequisite in a society that sees credentials as the single most important heuristic in professional life, further narrows the field, which has already been built on those who can most afford all the training, not on those who have the most musical talent and promise.”
The entire essay is here.
Get the Led Outta Here!
New York’s main “classic rock” station, Q104.3 has been deviating from their usual ten-song format on weeknights to play live versions of a few of those same ten songs. Weeknights at 8, host Carol Miller fires up some Led Zep bootlegs. Miller often says these things are “audio and studio enhanced for quality,” but that doesn’t help much. I used to own some Zeppelin boots, and some of this stuff is excruciatingly bad, sound- and performance-wise. What is it about the Zeppelin brand that whoever programs this stuff would rather play an incoherent take of Ramblin’ On than take a chance on anything else? Some of this stuff sounds like a bad Zeppelin cover band with the members simultaneously playing four different songs at different tempos. Apparently the surviving members of Led Zeppelin haven’t done anything in the last 50 years? Even the musicians whose body of work these stations bleed into infinity can’t get their current music played. Take Paul McCartney, he’s got this acclaimed new album. Maybe they play one song from the thing early in the morning on a Sunday, or something. The programmers at these stations are so afraid of deviating from the market-tested approach that Paul McCartney can’t get even airplay. The format holds that there are ten important bands in the world, with ten important songs between them. With lots and lots of songs about being young and free and driving fast, the perfect soundtrack for being stuck in traffic.
WFMU’s Joe Belock has been doing interesting music trivia segments on Clay Pigeon’s Wake and Bake morning show. Belock, a first-rate DJ in his own right asks listeners to try to refrain from using google, and then presents background on various musicians. One of the segments featured a song from Madonna’s initial punk band. Belock’s good enough that he can still provide enough interesting context on someone like Madonna to keep it interesting. This week’s bit on Buck Owens had us searching out the singer’s early session sides.
McGasko delivers the goods
The only other thing we have to say about WFMU today is that Joe McGasko consistently turns out high-quality radio. I caught a recent post-fundraising-marathon set of JM’s consisting of all Billy Joel covers (he was fulfilling a promise to listeners). Drawing on obscure international records from his collection, he made even this sound interesting. I’m sure this isn’t an original idea: now that so much music is available online or on the phone, good music radio serves an essential role in distilling the good stuff. McGasko is a pro at this, he clearly puts in a lot of work putting his show together, and it shows. A DJ like McGasko will always be relevant anyway, since so much of what he plays isn’t even available online. This is kind of the opposite approach to the stuck-in-traffic “classic rock” format we talked about earlier. Mondays, 9 am – noon.
Vaccine “breakthrough” infections and side effects on WNYC
Brian Hill did a very informative in-house bit this morning (4/13) on “breakthrough” covid cases. These are the infections that occur in vaccinated people. This segment isn’t available online, but the station did carry an NPR story on the same issue. No vaccine is fully effective, but your odds of getting Covid are still much, much smaller if you are vaccinated. Listen to the full story here. This morning, the FDA recommended the Johnson and Johnson vaccine be put on hold following reports of blood clots in some recipients. Brian Lehrer responded with a look into the differences between the available vaccines, and their potential side effects. If you have any concerns about vaccine safety, this is a great place to start (stay off youtube!). Later in today’s show, Lehrer dealt with the challenges of vaccinating incarcerated people. He opened up the phone lines to people who have been incarcerated during the pandemic. The word from inside is that the bureaucracies running the prisons and jails have been focusing on public relations rather than safety of staff and inmates.
Tom Robbins Deadline NYC on Minnesota police and the newspaper business
Tom Robbins is one of the all-time greats in the newspaper game. His BAI show, Deadline NYC: Tales from a Veteran Reporter, Mondays, 5-6 pm, often features thoughtful interviews with other reporters. This week’s show features a discussion with Ruben Rosario, recently retired from the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the trial of Derek Chauvin, and the latest high-profile police shooting in Minnesota. The latter part of the interview delves into Rosario’s time as a NYC newspaper man. The two reminisced about Rosario’s tenure at the NY Daily News, where he delivered a Son of Sam letter to Jimmy Breslin and his time going undercover in a crack den. Robbins and Rosario talked about their days out on strike against the News. Robbins has an easy, laid back conversational tone that gets guests to open up. He never puts himself at the center of the story or displays any type of hubris, which is all the more commendable, considering how good the guy is.
BAI: first the good news, and then Gary Null
Under the tenure of program director Linda Perry, WBAI has really stepped up its in-house news game in the last few years. In addition to Deadline NYC, the station now runs its own programs by writers/editors from news sources including City Limits, the Gotham Gazette, the Indypendent, the Queens Daily Eagle, and Celeste Katz Marston, who has written for countless publications. Paul De Rienzo has been doing a commendable job with daily news reports for at least the last year. It would be great if WBAI could replace the health quackery programming like Gary Null with local news/public affairs coverage. Null is reportedly a major source of listener revenue for this perpetually cash-strapped station, and BAI is unlikely to cut the huckster loose any time soon. It is unfortunate that a station that prides itself as a champion of regular people against nefarious interests has a flim-flam man fleecing people with his suspect nutritional products. Null does deserve credit for pioneering this field. Nowadays every two-bit podcaster has their own line of miracle supplements. The Freq-Amp credo regarding miracle nutrition supplements is simple: never touch the stuff. That’s also a pretty good approach to Gary Null’s radio show.
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