Have I ever regaled you with tales from back when I was a DJ in college? Probably not, it was kind of a weird time. But you’re right, I had no business in college radio. I knew nothing about the hip bands of the day; even a decade later, when I hear the name “Silver Jews” my first instinct is to be offended. Still, I was a freshman in search of a clique who would accept me, and I wanted to be able to regale people later in life with tales from back when I was a DJ in college.
Of course everyone who joins a college radio station does so in hopes of getting their own show. At my school this turned out to be a complicated, almost political process, and you know me, I’m not a small-fish-in-a-big-pond kind of guy. But I learned that the station was in need of someone to head up their jazz department, and if I took those responsibilities on I would fast-track my way to the mic. Sure, I had to play jazz, but now I wouldn’t be just some freshman who wanted a radio show, I would be the Jazz Director of a radio station. Transportin’ in the chocha, as they say.
The primary duties of the Jazz Director were to contact labels, have them send over the latest albums from their artists, and then play them on air. I don’t know what you remember about the state of jazz in the mid-90s, but most of it was derivitive drivel, basically unlistenable. But it was my job, and the hip-hop DJ with the time slot after mine was very cute, so I wanted to keep doing it.
Unfortunately, my need to play new jazz was in direct opposition to my listeners’ need to not hear new jazz. This led to me taking a very hard-line approach. People would call in every week asking 1) what the hell was I playing, and 2) Could I play Miles or Thelonius or anything else instead. And I would tell them No, the point of my show was to showcase new jazz artists, and yes we all love the greats but it’s imperative that we support these contemporary artists, who are struggling to advance the genre and carve out careers, because without them jazz as an art form would stagnate and die. I would actually deliver sermons like this to the callers. Thanks for listening and calling in and being engaged, here’s a fucking lecture.
Eventually I got so exasperated with people calling in making requests like that that I began pre-emptively proselytizing on air, explaining the importance of what I was doing and why people shouldn’t call in to request something else. I mean modern jazz artists are reinventing and pushing the limits of the genre every day, but what’s the point if we’re not bearing witness to what they’re doing? As if I alone, the Jazz Director of a small FM station in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, was keeping the torch lit for future generations. Like anyone within the sound of my voice would have given a shit if jazz died. Like it hadn’t already.
It took a long time before I realized that there was a reason why no one wanted to be the Jazz Director, and it wasn’t just that everyone else preferred indie rock.
Jazz Diet Pepsi comes in two flavors: Strawberries & Cream, and Black Cherry French Vanilla.