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Opinion/Editorial

L.A. Jazz Radio

By Published: April 8, 2004
Puzzling such criticisms would be directed at a listener supported station. According to Heitkemper, "We're public. Seventy-five percent of our income is from membership contributions. Seventeen percent of the other twenty-five percent comes from underwriting small businesses and groups that support us with a contribution and receive a mention. We receive less than $200,000 a year from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is funded by the Congress. We have a $4,000,000 budget. It's pretty small for L.A." Borgers discloses, "We at KCLU get no federal money. At first, we were scared here, but now, it's a badge of honor. We've existed without a dime of federal money. KJAZZ gets a lot of money from the federal government. We live strictly by donations." "At KJAZZ, every time you hear the station, you hear a non-stop pledge for money," explains Downs. "I feel I was fired from KJAZZ because I asked for a raise," perceives Downs. "I asked for more money, but there's no money in jazz radio. I was getting $24,000 a year to work there. I was going poor, but I was supporting the music. I worked late in the night and early in the morning. I had to do other work during the day to support myself." Liebowitz relates, "I was earning $15 an hour when I worked at KJAZZ and they asked me to take a cut. I donate my time to KCRW." "There's only one black jazz DJ," finds Downs. "KJAZZ got rid of the ethnicity. Three blacks and one Hispanic are replaced by two women. We do need women, but the sound is changed by adding Caucasian women. There's a change in the style of music. They won't play free jazz, but they'll play Diana Krall. You replace the people, you replace the sound." Leibowitz adds, "I like some of the people at KJAZZ. Some of the people aren't very competent. They have a couple of women there that don't know much."

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.


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