Ed Bradley: Journalist and Jazzman
“ I never got jazz. It was something the generation ahead of me listened to... Then all of a sudden I heard Concert by the Sea. ”
Some may not know that Bradley, 61, is also a longtime jazz fan. Before he embarked on a journalism career that has won him a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Paul White Award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association, as well as Emmys and a Peabody Award for his reports on "60 Minutes," he was a jazz disc jockey, back in the day, in Philadelphia, making $1.50 an hour spinning the records of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday. That gig, he admits, was done out of joy for the music, while he earned his living by day as a teacher.
His whole life changed when he decided to go into journalism, but his passion for jazz remained, and he got back into radio about a decade ago through his association with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and back into a radio job hosting Jazz from Lincoln Center, now in its 10th season.
The program which earned its own Peabody Award can be heard mostly on National Public Radio (NPR) stations and has recently been picked up by other commercial stations across the country.
But there was a subtle shift this season, a shift that might be another blow to jazz music in the United States. NPR no longer has anything to do with funding the "Jazz from Lincoln Center," and is doing away with other long-format shows, some of them jazz. Bradley's show will flourish. It's still distributed to many NPR stations, but it is done by WFMT Radio Networks, which handles the distributing and marketing. Is NPR, once one of the tried-and-true places people could go to find jazz music, turning its back a bit on the great American Art form?
Perhaps so. The decision, at minimum, has created a further erosion of jazz airplay.
"NPR decided to go another direction with their programming. I think it's a mistake, but that's what they wanted to do," said Bradley. "They got some new people on board and decided they don't want to do this kind of show anymore, as well as some of the other longer-format shows that they do, and they went off in a new direction. I think they made a big mistake, but we have a continuing outlet for our broadcast, and in fact we're growing."
But it's another place where jazz has lost a little ground in America.
There has been a catch-22 regarding jazz music on the airwaves. Programmers say the desirable demographic doesn't listen to the music, so they won't play it. Because it's not being played, it can't reach people. The music needs to be out there, so that people have a choice.
"It's a matter of what you're exposed to. There's not a lot of jazz on the air, so fewer people do hear it," said Bradley. "If you don't get airplay, it's hard to sell the music."
"They will supply it if there is a demand for it. But you're caught in that vicious circle there. How do get the demand if there's no availability on the air? Because access to the airwaves creates demand for the product."
Jazz musicians feel that way too, knowing they're swimming upstream against the current of the music industry. Drumming legend Elvin Jones, in an All About Jazz interview earlier this year, lamented, "nowadays what people hear they really don't have any control over it. And that's the problem. I don't think it's the music. The music is beautiful," he said. "But if I can't have a choice if I turn on my radio or television or go in a record store and there's nothing there but, bam-bam-bam-man, or cussin' or calling everybody a motha-something that's not to my taste. The music doesn't have anything to do with that."
"But I just don't believe that people who perpetrate that kind of fraud will last," added Jones. "Just like EnRon has come tumbling down. Everybody gets found out sooner or later."
Bradley also sees radio, in general, as too similar across the nation, resulting in a loss of the cultural flavors one could sample from region to region.
"There's been such a constricting of radio in this country. You can leave New York and go to Chicago or go to Dallas, and you'll hear the same songs. Because the stations are owned by the same company, and they do the same programming with the same songs. Some of them don't even have live disc jockeys; no people in Dallas, telling you what it's like in Dallas. There are some stations that do, but there are many stations that don't. That kind of regionalism that you heard in this country, we're losing.