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Jim Wilke After Hours

By Published: August 29, 2006

AAJ: KPLU cancelled your daily JazzBeat segments a few years ago, which irked a lot of listeners. What explanation were you given for the cancellation?

JW: KPLU cancelled JazzBeat at the end of May of 2003 after nearly 11 years. I didn't receive much reaction to the cancellation personally, just a few expressions of mild regret from friends. Perhaps it had run its course. It was only two minutes, but about the same number of words as a daily newspaper column so it took some time to choose and research topics. The writing itself was fairly quick. I had considerable freedom in doing JazzBeat, just a few suggestions here and there which I incorporated when it seemed appropriate.

AAJ: KPLU, the NPR affiliate in Seattle, began broadcasting your Jazz Northwest segments in 1988. Until recently the show was a three-hour showcase of the best in regional jazz. What are your thoughts on the direction KPLU is taking, considering that Jazz Northwest has been reduced from three hours to one?

JW: I'd rather not comment on that for obvious reasons. At one time KPLU did carry all seven hours of Jazz After Hours both Friday and Saturday nights starting at 9 pm. The first three hours have since been displaced by local blues shows. Apparently, the listener support isn't as good for jazz as it is for blues, so that's the direction they went with weekend evenings.

AAJ: John Dimitriou is booking more and more smooth jazz artists into Jazz Alley. He's betting that a shift to smooth jazz will pay off in ticket sales. Is there a chance that you too will phase in smooth jazz programming on Jazz After Hours?

Jim Wilke (r) with James Moody (l)

JW: No, with rare exception smooth jazz doesn't interest me, and at this stage of my career I have no desire to program music I'm not interested in. Actually, I'm happy to say that's been true of most of my career. My model was and is Willis Conover, who had an annual contract with The Voice of America to do the jazz show in the way he saw fit. He said something to the effect of, "If you don't like it, don't renew my contract. But don't tell me how to do it." His contract was renewed annually for over forty years before he died in 1996.

AAJ: Describe the climate of the mainstream jazz market today, and, given the climate, where do local independent labels like Pony Boy and Origin fit in to the overall picture?

JW: If you think about it, much of the best jazz has come from small independent labels: Commodore, Prestige, Blue Note, Riverside, Fantasy, Concord, etcetera; and these were essentially one- or two-man operations at the beginning. Pony Boy and Origin are an extension of that. They are the product of people who believe in the music themselves and want to help musicians get their music heard by a wider audience. Profits are not the primary motive, but you have to at least recover costs somehow if you're going to continue in business.

The big labels are in and out of the jazz business so often these days it's hard to keep track. In this case it's usually the result of some insider having a jazz jones and pushing to build a jazz presence for the label. That's good as long as it lasts, but if this person leaves for some reason, that jazz department usually collapses, too.

AAJ: Your Best Northwest Jazz CDs of 2005 list names over a dozen of your favorite discs by local artists, including Greta Matassa, Floyd Standifer, Thomas Marriott, Dave Peck, and the Emerald City Jazz Orchestra. Could you briefly comment on these five selected artists and what you like about their music?

JW: This is the sort of mix I like. Greta's a singer who I've watched develop from a band singer early in her career to now when she's one of the busiest, most visible artists on the scene today and a born leader in her own right. Floyd is, to many, Mr. Seattle Jazz and rightfully so. He's a solid musician, knows hundreds of tunes, a great leader who other musicians love to work with; he's personable and audiences love him. He's the genuine article on or off stage.

Thomas is a young trumpet player in full flower with control, range and passion in his solos. It's been great watching him come up in the Garfield Jazz program, go on to New York Latin bands, Maynard Ferguson and come back to Seattle to add another spark to our scene here. Dave Peck grew as a musician when he was part of the house band at Parnell's backing visiting stars from Chet Baker to Sonny Stitt. He took the lyrical musical language of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett and created a recognizable style of his own. His influence as a teacher will continue to be felt for a long time. The Emerald City Jazz Orchestra is notable for perfect execution of great arrangements by Matso Lemtiaco. It can stand alongside many of the best bands in the country.

AAJ: We're now six months into the year. Can you offer a sneak preview of your Best of 2006 Northwest CDs?

JW: It's too early to start picking favorites when we're only half way through the year, but the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra's Sacred Music of Duke Ellington (Origin, 2006) is certain to be one of them. It was carefully compiled from the best performances of this music at annual concerts over five years. Many of Seattle's best instrumentalists are featured in the orchestra.

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