Contemporary Jazz: How I Got Into It, Part 2

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 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!

Remembering XM 72 Beyond Jazz

This is the last week of broadcasting for XM satellite radio channel 72 – Beyond Jazz. When I originally decided to get satellite radio over six years ago, the primary reason was to get the jazz channels. The only jazz I could regularly get on the radio in Kansas City was a not-to-my-liking, now-gone smooth jazz station. XM’s music wasn’t even commercial free at the time. Beyond Jazz immediately became the #1 preset and has stayed there since. Russ Davis played what I wanted to hear. When I first subscribed, he had five recordings he was playing heavily – Pat Metheny Group’s Speaking of Now, John Scofield’s Uberjam, Yellowjackets’ Mint Jam, Joe Zawinul’s Faces & Places, and one other that I can’t remember. Those were all winners. In between those anchor recordings was a cornucopia of modern jazz sounds. It was the first time I heard Liquid Soul on the radio. My mouth dropped when he first played the Solsonics. This was my station.

Soon, Russ added classic fusion to the mix and I discovered the origins of a lot of modern jazz. As the years progressed, Russ added more and more songs to the playlist. I don’t know the final count it was in the thousands. Thousands of nu jazz, fusion, acid jazz, plugged-in jazz, new vocalists, jam bands…every type of contemporary jazz style you can think of. Russ had no fear of Squarepusher. He would create shows dedicated to everyone from Miles Davis to Frank Zappa to Dave Samuels to Steve Khan to … well, you name it.

Beyond Jazz was primarily responsible for my returning to the jazz web scene in 2002. I’d originally created in 1996 (then called cJazz: The Contemporary Jazz Site) and sold it in 2001. When I got XM, I couldn’t keep silent about XM 72 and had to share this contemporary jazz treasure with everyone. I created tomorrowJazz and promoted the station like crazy. I even contacted XM’s legal departure and signed legal forms so I had (wish I’d kept that). I integrated those blog posts in this new – read what I had to say then.

I drive a lot and have racked up over 100,000 miles over these years. Beyond Jazz has been my companion, a constant source of inspiration and discovery. I’ve already posted about Russ’ future plans and I’m encouraged that the story isn’t over. However, hearing great contemporary jazz when I first get in the car and having the artist and song display on my dash – that’s over for now. Thank you, Russ Davis. I will miss this station.

XM Beyond Jazz To End

For over six years, I’ve been an XM radio subscriber and fan of XM72 – the Beyond Jazz channel. The primary reason I became a subscriber is the ability to hear music on the radio that I can’t hear in my local market, most notably contemporary jazz and electronica. XM72 music director, Russ Davis, has been consistently kept the station a must-listen for any modern jazz (or MoJa) fan. The balance of classic fusion, acid jazz, new fusion, jazztronica, and other plugged-in jazz is like nothing you can hear in your automobile. I used to post about the thrill I got hearing Liquid Soul, the Solsonics, Marcus Miller, Jamiroquai, and other favorites of mine air on a nationwide channel.

Now, those days are over. XM laid off 80 employees yesterday. Some were on-air personalities, including 50s fan-fave Matt “The Cat” Baldassarri and Soul Street’s Bobby Bennett and Leigh Hamilton. While writing this, I just got an email message from Jammin’ Jazz (a popular show on Beyond Jazz) host Michelle Sammartino. It’s true – Beyond Jazz will be ending in early November. This fits in with the rumor that a XM-Sirius merged single set of channels will be coming in November.

Here’s the message I received from Michelle:

Hiya John,

Unfortunately i was already laid off, and Russ will be gone in early November with the channel. They cut so many people this week in programming alone… it is sad. I am sorry to see the channel going, as you know it was our passion. We are however planning to continue to work together with this music. Whether that is an online radio channel or podcasts or something. Keep checking back here and once we have it done I will post all the info here.

Sad… but one door closes… well you know the rest…


I know I’ll be writing more about this. Right now, though, I’m kind of numb. Radio Turns 5

According to, Radio (formerly tomorrowJazz Radio) turns five years old today. Man, how time flies. Last year, I wrote about why I have an Internet station. The reasoning hasn’t changed. I’m just as interested in sharing the music I like as ever – now I even tweet what I’m listening to.

I have plans for the station. I’m hoping to celebrate the station’s anniversary later with giveaways and some surprises. In addition to its core programming of acid jazz, nu jazz, remixed jazz, jazzy house, and similar grooves, I hope to launch specialty shows that spotlight other areas of contemporary jazz. I had planned to do podcasts but this seems to work better given the amount of time I have to dedicate. I’ve done shows in the past (10+, holidays, Valentine’s Day) and it will be fun to do those again.

Thanks to Wally and all the people who have supported the station with donations or encouraging words! Radio Adds – Early September Radio plays nu jazz, acid jazz, remixed jazz, jazzy house, and other groove jazz styles. It’s online all the time and is free (with ads) or you can purchase a VIP package for commercial free listening and other benefits.

In the last few weeks, I’ve added new music from a number of artists I just learned about. Glam Sam and His Combo’s recording is called Groovy and Sam says it’s “cool music. Just cool and funky, with a twist of jazz.” It’s that twist that got my ear. I’ve got two cuts from it playing now. Hit up the MySpace page. You’ll also hear music from recent releases by Miles Bonny, Mocean Worker, and South Froggies. I’ve put my favorite Bob James cover back into rotation – Masters at Work’s “Nautilus (MAWtilus)” from the excellent Nuyorican Soul disc.