The other day my 10-year-old daughter walked into my office as I was listening to one of the prominent jazz radio stations on the east coast. She listened for a bit and then bluntly asked me why jazz sounds like an old fashioned movie. When I realized the station was actually playing a new jazz release, it struck a nerve and got me thinking just how out of touch many jazz radio stations are in their programming of the music. I know for a fact that the music today is rich, eclectic, expansive and exciting, but why do the majority of prominent jazz radio stations (at least here in the USA) want to keep the music pinned in a rigid box and never venture out and show the variety that jazz has to offer?
Watching what has happened to jazz radio programming over the past 15 years has been heart breaking. A lot of it boils down to economics, I know, but that is still NO excuse for boring and uncreative radio programming especially in jazz. I grew up with local jazz station KJAZ 92.7 FM and banked many listening hours. That's where I first learned about the rich history of the music as well as the contemporary scene. What KJAZ did especially well was present the old stuff and the new stuff in an equal manner, never spending too much time in either the past or present. And they played all styles within the music including both acoustic and electric variations. Their programmers really knew the music and served up creative and inspiring sets day after day.
Listening to KJAZ taught me that jazz, as a genre, was not one style that should be kept in a box. It's a collective art form that is constantly moving forward and redefining and reinventing itself. This was an invaluable lesson that helped shaped my passion for the music as well as my career path. So the question remains, why do most jazz radio stations only want to offer one flavor of the music? Some may say if you don't like the station then don't listen to it, but frankly, that is not the answer. A jazz station is vital to the progression of the art form and has the power to do incredible work for the music. But in order to successfully achieve this, they must be relevant to the current times unless they want to go the way of a museum art format like classical or the "unforgettable" station. Doesn't this music deserve more?
- Joseph Vella, jazzonline.com
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