Campaign for the Future of Local Jazz Radio

DEC. 29 UPDATE ON CAMPAIGN PROGRESS The eight teams formed at our July 31 BPL meeting have merged into four, and the work continues: the Jazz Broadcast Radio team is focused on getting jazz on the air 24/7 by drawing college and other smaller stations into the jazz community and finding another strong station to serve as Greater Boston’s home for jazz; the 21st Century Tools & Technologies team is exploring ways to use the Internet, apps for mobile devices, and other approaches to bring jazz to digitally oriented audiences; the Arts, Culture, and Education team has assumed the broad charter of strengthening jazz’s position in our culture, including improving jazz curricula in the public schools, while the United Nations/UNESCO team is focused on getting UN recognition and support for Boston’s 2013 celebration of International Jazz Day. JazzBoston’s dialogue with WGBH also continues. See our Facebook page for the latest developments. 

One of the most remarkable things about Greater Boston's jazz community is that it has continued to thrive and play a distinctive role in our city's cultural life despite shifting tastes, a weak economy, and the benign neglect of public and private funders. However, the cutbacks in jazz programming that WGBH instituted on July 6 deprived our community of one of its strongest sources of support and undermined city and state efforts to build Boston's reputation as one of the world's great jazz cities. They also shocked and angered jazz lovers and listeners in Boston and beyond. That WGBH's abandonment of its arts-and-culture identity is part of a nationwide trend among NPR stations doesn't make its impact any less damaging.

At an emergency meeting in June, JazzBoston's Board of Directors voted unanimously to take on the challenge of coordinating a jazz community campaign to address the immediate issue of WGBH's termination of weeknight jazz programming and the broader issues of local jazz radio and the place of the music in our city's cultural life. We announced two steps: we would hold an open meeting to bring together members of the jazz community and allies inside and outside the music world; and we would request a meeting with WGBH senior management to convey a message from the jazz community and explore what can be done to preserve and enhance the jazz programming that remains. Details on the results of both meetings and the campaign now getting under way are below.

WGBH ends weeknight jazz, puts Boston's jazz community in the spotlight

Weeknight jazz broadcasts and most live production came to an end at WGBH on July 6, severely curtailing the time available to showcase local musicians with interviews and live studio performances. After a 31-year run, Eric Jackson’s show was relegated to the weekend, leaving Eric with only 9 hours of total airtime, and Steve Schwartz’s 27-year-old show, along with his job as producer, was eliminated altogether. Jazz was replaced by NPR programming, more news, and more talk, and the voices of two of the most eloquent, knowledgeable champions of Boston’s jazz scene were significantly muted.

Ironically, WGBH’s action has brought our diverse and widely dispersed jazz community closer than it has been in decades. It has also bought us an unusual amount of attention from the media.  Developments are being covered regularly by regional and national blogs, webzines, and newsletters, including The Arts Fuse, Brilliant Corners, Campaign Outsider, Berkshire Fine Arts, and the JJA News website. Iconic jazz journalist Nat Hentoff has an upcoming piece in JazzEd magazine and plans for a column in the Wall Street Journal. The Boston Globe and Bay State Banner have also provided occasional coverage.

The early response: letters, threats, and a funeral

When the news of the programming changes broke on June 20, it triggered an outpouring of pain and anger from fans and musicians throughout the Greater Boston area and beyond. Since then WGBH management has been bombarded with letters demanding that Eric and Steve be fully reinstated, canceling memberships, and threatening to withhold all future support. The comments on the station's own website tell a similar story.

In what was surely the most poignant response to the station's action, saxophonist and Revolutionary Snake Ensemble founder Ken Field (photo above), staged a New Orleans style "Jazz Funeral for Jazz on WGBH" outside the radio studio building the night of July 5 as Eric hosted his final weeknight program. The event drew 300 + musicians and fans and was reported in The Boston Globe the following day.

JazzBoston's letter to the Globe, sent the day the Globe's editorial about WGBH's programming changes appeared, was also published the day after the Jazz Funeral.

A dozen or more videos of the July 5 event have been uploaded to YouTube. These four are among the best:

For the complete list of available videos, go to YouTube and search for "Jazz Funeral at WGBH."

Jazz community campaign gets under way with two key meetings

On July 31, from 6 – 8 pm, 160 people from every part of Greater Boston’s jazz community participated in an open meeting at the Boston Public Library. The informal conversation format was moderated by JazzBoston board members Emmett Price, musician and Associate Professor of Music and African American Studies at Northeastern University, and José Massó, longtime community activist and announcer/producer of ¡Con Salsa! on WBUR FM. Mark Harvey, founder and director of the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, and also a member of JazzBoston's board, served as scribe.

Special guests, in addition to Eric Jackson and Steve Schwartz, included Cathleen McCormick, Director of Programs, Harvard Office for the Arts; Adrienne Petrillo, Manager of Presenting and Touring Programs, New England Foundation for the Arts; Mike Quinlin, founder of MassJazz; Lisa Simmons, Director of Public Relations and Communications, Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism; and Rebecca Wohl, Arts  and Business Council.

By all accounts, the meeting achieved the goals set out when it was announced. Everyone who wanted to speak had an opportunity to do so; the energy in the room was positive, and the feeling of community was strong; many forward-looking ideas emerged, and many people signed up for the eight teams that will pursue them. Click here to read the full report. 

The photo above appeared in the Bay State Banner along with a brief description of the event. (Left to right: Emmett Price, Fred Taylor, Steve Schwartz, Eric Jackson, Pauline Bilsky, José Massó, Arni Cheatham, Mark Harvey. Don West photo.)

On August 20, from 1 – 2:30 pm, JazzBoston Executive Director  Pauline Bilsky and board members Mark Harvey and Emmett Price met with Marita Rivero, WGBH Vice President and General Manager for Radio and Television, and Phil Redo, Managing Director of News and Culture for WGBH Radio. The discussion was open and frank, with a positive tone throughout. Marita and Phil assured us of the station's long-term commitment to jazz and to Eric Jackson as the voice of jazz at WGBH, described their plans for enhancing the station's jazz programming, and asked for community input on some of those plans. We asked for and received agreement to continue the dialogue with a meeting in late September. Our overall conclusion: it was a good start with more ground to cover. Click here for the full report.

Next steps

In our role as coordinator, JazzBoston has been contacting people who signed up for a team on July 31 or wrote to us since then expressing interest in being part of the jazz community campaign. We began holding planning meetings with the teams in early September, and will continue until each team has a work plan and a leader. Later in September, we expect to have an online forum in place to keep the lines of communication open among everyone engaged in the campaign or supporting it in some way. This will not be a public forum; registration will be required. Two very able volunteers are looking at various options now.

If you have any questions about the campaign or would like to  join one of the teams, please write to thefutureofjazz@jazzboston.org.