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Jim Wilke After Hours

By Published: August 29, 2006

AAJ: Your early recordings at The Penthouse provided the emphasis for starting your own location recording business. How has that evolved over the years?

Jim Wilke (l) with Charles Lloyd (r)

JW: The Penthouse shows were live radio, but musicians noted the good balances and accurate sound we were achieving. It compared well to studio recordings but with the added excitement of being "in the moment." After a while I started getting inquiries from musicians who'd ask if they could hire me to record their performance at a club or concert. Sometimes it was just to document a special combination or reunion; sometimes it was with the intent of creating an album. The current series of shows on Jazz Northwest on Sunday afternoons helps keep that idea alive. I'm still doing live-to-two-track and mixing on the fly with a minimum of processing and EQ, leaving that to the mastering stage. My equipment isn't the most expensive or elaborate, but it's chosen for natural sounding mics and clean, uncolored mixers. I'm equipped for anything from solo to big band.

AAJ: In broadcasting I imagine one has to keep up with technology. Are you doing satellite radio, podcasts, etcetera?

JW: I'm still fascinated with the business after fifty years. Most of the changes have come in the last 20 years or so. When I taught radio classes at BCC (Bellevue Community College) we were still editing tape with razor blades and splicing tape. I took a CD player to show students what was soon going to replace the LP. I did host a daily jazz show on Sirius satellite radio for a while when it began.

Jazz After Hours is distributed by PRI via satellite in the US and goes worldwide via a dozen or more stations streaming to the internet. Listeners check in from the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, South America, a boat in the Caribbean, and even from one listener aboard a Singapore Airlines flight 40,000 feet over India. KPLU has recently added a podcast of each local recording we do on Jazz Northwest, so if you miss the show on Sunday you can download it on Monday or any day the next week or so. I've recorded on reel to reel tape, cassette tape, Beta tape, DAT, CD and computer hard drive. My microphones range from a ten pound RCA 44 BX ribbon mic from the '40s to modern condensers. I've gone from tubes, to solid state, to digital. I'm a bit of a gear head but I'm really in it for love of the music.

AAJ: Describe an average day in the life of Jim Wilke?

JW: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I hardly come out of my studio except for meals and to sail in the Duck Dodge race on Lake Union Tuesday evenings in the summer. After I complete production of 14 hours of Jazz After Hours for PRI, and one hour of Jazz Northwest for KPLU, the rest of the week is more flexible. That's when I do location recordings, write for CD booklets and other special projects. It's also when I sample the new CDs which arrived in the past week.

AAJ: How long does it take for you to produce two seven-hour segments of Jazz After Hours?

JW: I put in three long days to complete the 14 hours. I do the shows in real time; I don't rip CDs onto a hard drive and voice track like many radio shows are done today. When I was doing the show for Sirius, I voice-tracked a nightly six-hour show, a week at a time, and never heard a scrap of music in the studio, only when it was on the air. That really takes the fun out of it. I want to hear the music and experience it the way the listener experiences it, and react to what I've just heard, not just imagine it.

AAJ: How big is your library of collected jazz recordings?

JW: Somewhere between 15 and 20,000 LPs, CDs and tapes.

AAJ: With such a huge supply of music to choose from, how do you possibly decide what to play on Jazz After Hours?

JW: I generally focus on living artists, current releases and important reissues. The older recordings I include are generally in the jazz classics category, unless I'm into some programming theme such as a holiday or seasonal thing.

AAJ: Do you ever get tired of previewing, programming and processing all that jazz?

JW: I wish I had more time to audition new CDs. I receive 80 to 100 CDs per month—if I listened to each one in its entirety I'd have little time for anything else. I emphasize new music on my shows; most of it has been issued in the last three months, with a few classics and staples sprinkled in. The classics are well covered elsewhere; my shows are about what's going on with jazz right now. I enjoy programming, sometimes improvising on a theme like a full moon, a change of season, a holiday, tunes that are thematically related in some way, or contrasting versions of the same tune. I also key on who's touring and where they're playing. I do love doing the location recordings—and editing, mastering and producing those shows for Jazz Northwest. It's some of the most satisfying work I do and it makes me feel like a part of the music community, not just a radio guy.

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