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Meet Russell Perry

Meet Russell Perry
AAJ Staff By

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About Russell Perry

Russell Perry became a dedicated jazz listener while an announcer on WTJU Charlottesville during college. In the company of other young explorers, the world of recorded jazz revealed itself to him. After a fruitful career as an architect focussed on sustainable design, he has resumed his radio activities. The culmination of over a decade of reading and careful listening was his epic series Jazz at 100—the history of jazz recordings in 100 one-hour programs.

What is your first radio-related memory?

My childhood was spent listening to Top 40 radio and I remember the first time I heard the Beatles in 1964.

How did your fascination with radio start?

I found WBCN Boston, WHFS Bethesda and WGTB Georgetown University during high school and was hooked on free-form album-oriented radio. It was an easy step into the jazz world from there.

What were the radio shows that you were a fan of, and why?

Three announcers at WHFS stand out in my memory, Weasel (yes, really), Damian and Cerphe. They exposed me to so much new music and pointed out associations between tracks that I wasn't listening for. My capacity for listening, hearing and creating aural synapses grew from their example.

When did your jazz radio career start?

As a first-year in college, the student radio station, WTJU, was in the basement of my dorm, so I moved in.

Did you have a mentor or you are a self-made host?

For many years, my travel schedule precluded much broadcasting, but I kept my hand in through listening to and visiting with Dave (Professor Bebop) Rogers, Friday nights from 11 -1.

Do you recall the first album/song you ever presented on the radio?

Hard to say, but for a couple of years in college, I followed a program called "The Achievement of Giuseppe Verdi" (where I heard the last 10 minutes of everything Verdi ever wrote.) I led off my show with Jimi Hendrix playing "Johnny B. Goode" from Hendrix In The West, saying it was time for "the Achievement of Giuseppe Hendrix."

What stations have you worked for?

WTJU 91.1 FM, Charlottesville, VA, USA

How do you approach each episode?

I am an inveterate list-maker, keeping a running tally of discs of interest. Through the radio station, the cooperation of record labels and artists, and a stretched budget, I put as many of these discs as I can find into a digital database complete with recording dates, all the players, composers, etc. I also keep a running list of programs that might be interesting to create. So when I want to put together a program for Charlie Parker's 100th Birthday, I can easily find dozens of Bird covers from the past decade. Listening through all these to select the few that make it on the air is most of the fun. There is so much amazing music out there (100 years worth!), I have given up relying on my memory to keep track of it all.

How long does it take you to produce a show?

Several hours.

Are you a Vinyl, CDs, or Files host?

Files.

What is it that usually impresses you about a musician?

I gravitate to musicians who have their own voice and something to say.

How do you engage with your audience?

I try to offer a perspective that the members of the audience might not have considered, music that they might not have heard but deserves their consideration, and respect for their time,

Do you have a sense of who's listening to your shows?

Those of whom I am aware are an impressive bunch of fans of this music, but mostly -no.

How do you feel about "airwave radio" vs. "internet radio"?

Each has the potential to nurture and reinforce community.

If you were programming your final radio show, which songs would you open and close with?

Louis Armstrong "West End Blues" & John Coltrane Quartet "Giant Steps"

Do you listen to other jazz radio shows? If so, which ones do you enjoy most?

Dr. Jazz's Gifts & Messages.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

Recently "I Remember Clifford" and "Stardust."

If you could have dinner with anyone from jazz history, who would it be and why?

Coleman Hawkins. What a towering figure. Virtuosic, courageous, proud, creative, dignified, prescient.

What underrated album do you wish everyone knew about?

Charles Owens Trio Three & Thirteen.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Under-appreciated.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Like every other form of fine art, we need to introduce it to high school and college students, as is being done here in Charlottesville by my old friend trumpeter and educator John D'Earth.

Listen to the Show

Jazz at 100 Archive

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