I like jazz music, even though I am not an authority on the genre. Heck, I like all genres of music. I may not have a lot of pure country & western on my shelf but without C&W a lot of the music I love (and do have on the shelf) would not exist. Period. Music, if it’s possible to talk about it in such broad terms, is a wide-spanning ecosystem where every genre and sub-genre makes an eventual impact on the whole [insert pebble/ocean analogy here].
There is a jazz radio station in Toronto that I listen to (that is, when I want to listen to jazz), named Jazz.FM91 – or, less formally, JazzFM. They have some great programming (The Big Band Show with Glen Woodcock is a fave) and some great hosts (Heather Bambrick, Walter Venafro). I even like the guy who reads the news in the morning (Tim Keele, with that old-school newsman voice). Aside from a couple of annoyances, there wasn’t much to dislike.
The problem is, similar to what plagues public broadcasters, in trying to appeal to a wide audience (and it should be noted that JazzFM is supported by donations) they end up playing a lot of crap which makes me lunge for the remote to change the channel: Joni Mitchell doing jazz, jazz musicians covering Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello doing “swing” versions of his own songs. Overall, an overdependence on middle-of-the-road lyrical jazz of the sort that elevator manufacturers would consider too ironic to use as background music.
It used to be easy to avoid the bad programming: namely, Ralph Benmurgui’s morning show (the man insists on sucking all the oxygen out of the control room…seriously, if someone mentioned that a 737 hit a dog on a runway in Mexico, Benmurgui would instantly quip: “You know, I was in this great airport in Puerto Vallarta last winter where they served this wonderful coffee! And let me just say to our Mexican listeners: ¡Le deseamos el mejor!“) and their choice of the syndicated Sunday morning program, Radio Deluxe (where hosts John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey play an assortment of jazz classics performed almost soley by – wait for it – John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey! Here’s a lesson to all you starving artists: if those royalty cheques aren’t coming in fast enough, just start a show where you can program your own work).
However, lately, outside of these distractions I’ve had to lunge for the remote more and more. JazzFM is becoming synonymous with all the clichés that keep people under the age of 55 from listening (or considering listening) to jazz: the first, that “jazz” is a never-ending series of earnestly pedantic covers of songs such as “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Aguas de Marco”. The second, that everything you need to program a jazz-based radio station is contained in the Blue Note CD box set (seriously: I pulled this out last year and began listening to all 5 CDs, and I had to stop because I realized this was practically half of JazzFM’s playlist).
In the end, I fear JazzFM is becoming just another Top-40/Oldies radio station. This is great news for Michael Bublé and Diana Krall – can anyone name an original composition either of them has written? But what of people who’ve never experienced anything but the mention of Oscar Peterson’s name? Did Miles Davis stop creating music after 1960? In case anyone from the station is reading this (or not), I’m not asking for the Jolly Roger to be flown over the JazzFM building – what I’m asking is whether the middle of the road (which is where they seem to be sitting) needs to be so damned narrow.