This is the third part of a three-part series reminiscing on how I got started with contemporary jazz 20 years ago and highlights since. Part one is here; part two here.
Eventually, I graduated from the University of Missouri but still stayed on as a volunteer announcer for KBIA for some time. I think at some point the evening contemporary jazz show was put to rest and I didn’t want to stay on for programming that didn’t interest me as much. It wasn’t long before I missed it. At the same time, I started learning this new way to make content for this thing called the World Wide Web. In 1995, I learned HTML, got a web host and created my first GIF. cJazz: The Contemporary Jazz Site was launched in January 1996. I recall it being one of the first 16 jazz sites indexed by Yahoo! (people added sites manually then; there was nothing like Google yet). I’ll never forget how I quickly received 15 email messages about the site and about half were outside the U.S. It really put the world in World Wide Web. I remember an email exchange with Rob Mounsey, getting a nice message from a doctor in Italy, and meeting Suzy Cline who was running a jazz hub called Jazz Stuff.
Most labels weren’t sure or unaware of the Web then but Randall Kennedy at Warner Bros. knew the deal. I think he had a WB Jazzspace site going earlier than other jazz labels. Michael Ricci launched AllAboutJazz.com, now the top jazz site on the Web. Larry Rosen, Dave Grusin, and Jon Diamond founded Jazz Central Station. Morrice Blackwell launched JazzReview.com, still a top jazz site to visit.
I spent five years building up ContemporaryJazz.com (I’d bought the domain name soon after the site launched). I worked on it almost every day for most of those years. Due to a major change in my life and some burnout, I sold the site in 2001. I later regretted that decision and was happy to be able to get the site back a couple of years ago. I won’t be giving it up again.
This is the second part of a three-part series reminiscing on how I got started with contemporary jazz 20 years ago. Part one is here.
KBIA-FM, one of the top NPR stations in the country, had an evening contemporary jazz program that would have a life-altering affect. One night, I won a GRP sampler in a giveaway. When I went to the station to pick it up, I started talking with the music director and I guess I got talked into doing a tryout for the show. I had no broadcast experience. I remember a pronunciation sheet that taught me how to say Metheny and Corea. I gave it a try and before I knew it, I had a FCC license and was on the air from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Having unlimited access to contemporary jazz was a dream come true. I’d come in to listen to (and later get to participate in) calls from record label promoters the music director was taking. Fellow students and the KBIA staff would joke that they should be a cot in the studio for me since I would always cover for people. Eventually, the music director trusted me to help select the music. That was so awesome for me. To this day, I still am compelled to share music I like with people, which is why there is ContemporaryJazz.com Radio. That music director, Darren Hellwege, became a good friend. He was the best man at my wedding! The program director at that time was the organist. My time working at KBIA is a treasured part of my life. My next contemporary jazz highlight would also be in the media field: the World Wide Web!
My contemporary jazz journey began 20 years ago, in college. In 1989, I was dating a girl who listened to contemporary jazz. She had cassettes of Spyro Gyra’s Point of View and David Sanborn’s A Change of Heart in her blue Honda. I was a bit familiar with modern jazz (a high school classmate had Light Years by the Chick Corea Elektric Band) but not knowledgeable. She and her mother and me took me to an Earl Klugh concert in St. Louis (he was touring behind his Solo Guitar recording). I was completely infatuated with this girl and I wanted to experience everything she enjoyed. When the relationship fell apart, I took an even stronger interest in the music because I didn’t want that part to end. I started buying Jazziz magazine. Based on the issue I bought (the one spotlighting the Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown! compilation), I bought cassettes of the latest from Grover Washington, Jr. and Fattburger. I’d listen to these on my Walkman while serving as a student worker at the student loans department. Little did I know of the life-changing event coming soon.