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Ed Bradley: Journalist and Jazzman

By Published: February 23, 2004
"New Orleans is a perfect example. You would go to New Orleans and there would be people who are big hits, big stars and everyone knows them in New Orleans, but they rarely escape New Orleans, parts of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi. They were regional hits. Every once in a while you would get someone who would escape. Going back to the 50s and 60s. Ernie K-Doe had "Mother-in-Law." It was a big hit. But everybody knew K-Doe in New Orleans," said Bradley.

"There are all kinds of groups like that, and musicians like that, jazz musicians like that. We lose our identity when it all becomes homogenized."

There are people who will never like jazz, and those that always will. In the vast middle ground, there is the potential for many more fans, if they only had a fair chance to be exposed to the music. For so many jazz fans, there was one special moment when jazz broke through the skin, poked into a vein and traveled to the heart. For me, it was "My Funny Valentine" from Miles' Cookin'. For Ed Bradley it was "Teach Me Tonight," from Errol Garner's Concert by the Sea.

"I've been around jazz all my life. But up to a certain point I regarded it as my father's music and my uncle's music, because they all played it and it was what they liked. But it wasn't my music," he said. "I guess the first 10 years you weren't aware of music for yourself. But as you approach those teenage years, you stake out your own identity. In those days, I think it happened later than it does today."

But that changed with exposure to the classic Garner album. "For me, it was my Rosetta stone. Because I never got jazz. It was something the generation ahead of me listened to. It wasn't my music. I didn't understand it. Then all of a sudden I heard Concert by the Sea. Particularly "Teach Me Tonight." All of sudden it made sense to me." He was 15 at the time and remained a fan.

In his 20s, he got the side job at WDAS in Philadelphia playing jazz music for fun, certainly not for profit.

"The idea that I could go to a station and open the cabinet doors of what we called the library and pull out music present and past and play what I liked to play, music I liked to hear, and that there were people out there listening to my taste in music — Man, it just didn't get better than that. What more could you want? A friend of mine said, 'If I turn the radio on and I hear Billie Holiday, I know you're on the air,'" he said with a gentle laugh.

Being a disc jockey also contributed to Bradley broadening his tastes in jazz. How? The word "exposure" is once again the key.

"My tastes at that time, I guess this would be 1964-65, reflected where I was. I was 24, 25 years old. I was into Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Horace Silver, Mal Waldron, younger, hipper guys. When I became a disc jockey, I would get phone calls. Listeners would call up and say, 'Hey. How come you don't play Count Basie?' Well, Count Basie wasn't happening for me, but because I would get people who would ask for it, Count Basie or Duke Ellington, I would say, 'Let me see what we have here on Count Basie. Wow, he has a lot of albums.' And then Duke Ellington. 'Whoa, man. Does he have a lot of albums! Let me play some of these and see what I hear in them.'"

"Then I started playing big bands. From there, it took me to other big bands. Playing people like Coltrane and realizing there was someone who came before Coltrane. Where did he come from? Then somebody asked me about Dexter Gordon. I had never heard of Dexter Gordon. I pulled out an album and heard "Scrapple From the Apple," and said 'Whoa, man.' So I started looking for Dexter Gordon and where did he come from? That took me to people like Ben Webster, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt.

"What I do now as a journalist, when I'm doing a story, I have to do homework. I have to read everything I need to read about that story, so I know what I'm talking about. When I was a disc jockey, I had to do homework to find out about this music that was really new to me. So, I did a lot of listening on my own and exploring people whom I didn't really know a lot about, and discovered some great musicians. I just loved it. It's never stopped. My tastes are very eclectic and catholic in the universal sense. I like music and I see jazz as one category in music. I like all kinds of jazz."

As a young man eying his future, Bradley had to stop doing what he liked in order to follow bigger pursuits.

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