JAZZ AT 100 WITH WTJU
This is the most WTJU story ever. Stop me if you’ve heard it. A guy walks into a program director’s office and says, “Hey, this is kind of off the wall, but I’ve got this idea…” Chords are struck. Ideas are volleyed. Hands are shaken. And off we go. Welcome to the life in the creative wild, wild west that has made UVA’s cherished commercial-free radio a treasure for 60 years running. In this case the idea was a big one. Russell Perry is a longtime WTJU volunteer whose love affair with jazz pushed him to explore its deepest waters and hidden corners, informing his listening experiences by feeding an insatiable appetite, not only to learn the tunes, but also to follow strand after fascinating strand of cultural DNA that make up the ever-evolving jazz world. “I started listening backward,” Perry said, “trying to figure out who an artist had been playing with and who those artists had been playing with. I leapfrogged my way back, and it didn’t take me long to get to February 26, 1917*, which was the date of what most people regard as the first jazz recording.” He combined his intensive ear training and many hours of studying the stories of the greats of the genre. “I wanted to hear the music before I listened to it,” Perry said. “And I started getting into it and thinking maybe somebody else might like to hear it too.” In the summer of 2016, Perry pitched WTJU General Manager Nathan Moore on a show that would tell the story of the 100 years of recorded jazz. “We brainstormed with the Jazz Director David Eisenman and Gary Funston of the Charlottesville Jazz Society, and the idea became one hundred one-hour programs that really talked through and listened to the progression of jazz over 100 years.” Perry broadcast his first program on the February anniversary date and is on track to deliver his final program next February.
By that point, employing a combination of research, vibrant recordings, and the occasional in-studio guest like UVA’s own jazz great John D’earth, Perry will have taken audiences across a dizzying landscape of passion and virtuosity that will take them from swing to bebop to hard-bop to post-bop, fusion, and more. “Like in the history of any art form, I think there is a tendency to simplify it into a linear form by saying OK, you have New Orleans, then swing and then bebop and then hard-bop and then post-bop, etc. But like with every other art form, jazz is not that simple.” Perry references what noted musicologist and jazz historian Ted Gioia calls a “fragmentation of styles,” in which movements and moments are constantly colliding with thrilling musical results. “These overlaps and synergies between the different strains are what I find fascinating. I find that the more complex the story gets, the more interesting it is.” One thing Perry wants to do is get people past the stigma of trying to understand the intricacies of the art form. “I think jazz is one of those things like classical music, where there is an intimidation factor. But the truth is this is a very visceral music. It’s a dance music. It is music to laugh along with or cry along with or tap your feet along with. It was never meant to be a distant thing. What we are trying to do is give people a place to stand to appreciate the richness of the music.” Perry is particularly appreciative for the forum, orplace to stand, provided by WTJU. “I said at the time I started this thing that I didn’t know anyone else who was going to do this and we have now been at it for a year and I am still not aware of anybody who has tried to tell this story in such a comprehensive way.” In addition to local broadcast, WTJU syndicates the program through Public Radio Exchange, and radio stations in eight states have aired episodes in the series. Check out Jazz at 100 now!!
*Correction: In the print version of the UVA Arts Magazine, Volume 8, Russell Perry was misquoted regarding February 16, 1919 being the date of what most people regard as the first jazz recording.