L.A. Jazz Radio
KJAZZ, through pledge drives, lets the people vote for their favorite artist and there are 88 "great" songs that they expect KJAZZ radio hosts to play. The list, which is on the KJAZZ website (www.kkjz.org), includes a respectful selection like Gerry Mulligan's "Walkin' Shoes," Miles Davis' "Concierto de Aranjuez," and Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." The disheartening thing is the paucity of songs by listeners requesting anything recorded in the past 30 years. Only two songs (Diana Krall's interpretation of "Peel Me a Grape" and Eric Reed's "Bouncin' with Boo Boo") are within the past two decades. If KJAZZ is the only full-time jazz station, how come they aren't able to educate their audience into listening to anything recorded since 1980? And does that say more about the product or the messenger?
Violinist Jeff Gauthier comments, "You can't play music that is adventurous anymore." Guitarist Larry Koonse adds, "In terms of accessing a broad spectrum of music, it's not there. Avante-garde is not well represented. There's pre-'60s music, which I love, but I find there is too much at the present time and that reflects more of that period than the current music. What predominates the airwaves is a rehashing of the same sort of thing from the late '40s to the mid to late '50s, without any real nod toward some of the other stuff that has happened since then, or reflecting any creative input that makes it fresh, reflecting now. It's is like a jazz version of K-Earth 101. I love classic jazz and it needs to be played just like Beethoven. I even like updated versions of standards, but generally what I hear feels like an afterthought. For me, that's not interesting. There are other stations that have programming I find interesting and reflect the jazz tradition. KCRW and KPFK play some interesting stuff."
Gauthier clarifies, "It's not an L.A. problem. It's a problem with radio all over the country." Bill Cunliffe puts it into perspective, "I think that to have a full time jazz radio station in L.A. is unbelievably great and considering all the challenges of the market, I think KJAZZ does a really good job.
Most cities have even less jazz than L.A. does. Koonse points out, "There's a resistance to anything that is a bit far from what 'jazz' is and that's dangerous because jazz has always been about pushing down boundaries."
One of the main services of jazz radio is to spotlight local talent. A look at the KJAZZ playlist on any given date includes locals Pete Jolly, Bob Florence, Bill Cunliffe and Joe La Barbera. "I go to clubs," explains Niles. "I just saw a new kid who is fantastic." Cunliffe agrees, "I see Chuck Niles at gigs all the time." Heitkemper notes, "That's the number one focus, to support the local artists. We take great pride in supporting the local musicians. We have a great scene out here, so it's easy to do." But Nino vehemently disagrees, "Yeah, try to get something promoted there and try to get some love at that station, and you won't without paying the price. It's basically a commercial station. It's public in the name.