I came of age in Southern California. In the '60s, my peers were listening to The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I was groovin’ to Lou Rawls, Dyke and The Blazers, and Sam & Dave on KGFJ, a soul station that was my portal to black music and black culture.
My guitar teacher, who chain-smoked Marlboros throughout my lessons told me, “If you like soul music so much, you should check out the jazz station at 105 FM. It will be the next step in your evolution.” I began listening on my mom’s “Hi-Fi Stereo.” I couldn’t reproduce on my guitar what I heard as easily as I had with the music on KGFJ, so I knew jazz was a big step up.
While I connected with some of the music presented, I quickly realized that I liked some jazz (and certain disc jockeys' taste), better than other forms of the idiom. The big bands were generally too brassy and too busy, while the smaller group modal pieces attracted and relaxed me. Back then, disc jockeys were still programming their own shifts. My taste was strongly aligned with that of The “Jammin’ Jay Rich.” I also liked his cool rap. I imagined he had the world by the tail.
One day, I was walking down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Canterbury Records had a small speaker posted outside the store. I heard the cool modal sounds of Miles Davis “So What” from the album Kind of Blue beaming over that little speaker. Paul Chambers’ bass line pulled me into the store like a moth to a flame. The space Miles placed between notes seemed as important as the ones he played. I was hooked.
“If you like that you’ll love this,” said the clerk handing me a copy of Wes Montgomery’s Tequila, featuring “Bumpin’ On Sunset.” I popped that four-track tape into the “Mad Man Muntz” tape deck that I had just installed in my mom’s ’65 Mustang, and began cruising down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with a whole new perspective. The string arrangements by Claus Ogerman fit Montgomery’s soulful guitar like a glove. As I drove, something clicked in my mind. I wanted to be just like The Jammin’ Jay when I grew up and decided that one day I, too, would work at KBCA, 105 FM.
Fast forward to 1973. Having graduated from UCSB, I found an apartment on the corner of Wilshire and Westwood, right across the street from KBCA.
“If you ever need a fill-in I can be there in five minutes,” I told owner Saul Levine. After badgering the station for three solid years while programming a jazz shift at KCRW, writing for Down Beat, and waiting tables at The Old World Restaurant, I was hired to work weekends at KBCA. The Jammin’ Jay was by then working cross town at KJLH, but I gladly carried the torch that he, Rick Holmes, Dennis Smith, Gerald Wilson, Charlie Niles, and Jim Gosa had lit. I didn’t have the world by the tail, but I was honored to be involved with a music I’d come to love.
This is the first in a series of how our music hosts fell in love with the artform of jazz.
We're inviting you to share your story of how you came to love jazz, in 200 words or less. Email your essay to firstname.lastname@example.org before February 14. We’ll read the top submissions on air and award several prizes.