My story begins back in the early eighties, a high school kid, in Fair Oaks, living with my parents with an AM/FM transistor radio. It was during that time that I began listening to KXPR. I enjoyed Gary Vercelli’s broadcasts, not just the great tunes but his instruction, too, in the ways of jazz. At that time, I’d flip on my radio, in my room, at precisely 10:00 PM, when I knew Gary’s mellifluous voice would be floating on the air waves. Gary introduced me to mainstream jazz, in that hour, like a bizarre journey into the unknown. The music presented a history of strife-ridden passion that opened a new window on a structure of feeling, a deep, strange, soulful identification I leaned into.
After high school graduation, I moved out, attended Sac State, and continued to listen when KXJZ was launched. I heard other hosts with similar experiences of Gary on the air and we remained faithfully tuned in. We attended jazz shows regularly, on Gary’s recommendation. We devoured the music and the Excellence In Jazz programming. The music began to overflow in my life. I, and my friends, got intensely hungry for more. We saw some great acts locally – Andy Narell, Al Di Meola, Billy Cobham, McCoy Tyner, Return to Forever, Weather Report, George Benson, Grover Washington Jr. – the day’s super stars.
I continued my education at UC San Diego and hung out in the local jazz scene. The jazz of the day included Afro-Cuban acts in local venues, Irakere and Los Van Van, and student performances on campus that were always swingin’. When I returned home, it was incredible to know Gary hadn’t left. He introduced the great Bobby Hutcherson to the audience of a 2012 show in Folsom my wife and I attended. Man! Gary’s play lists and expertise have grown rich with age!
Today, I would describe my deep appreciation of jazz as something owed to Gary’s on-air presence. He shaped the development of my own preferences early on, and my continued growth is a tribute to the great Gary Vercelli. Funny, but despite the tech revolution, I listen to Gary on the car radio mostly or on the radio at home, just like in the good old days. In those days we didn’t have shows devoted to “Acid Jazz” – but it’s no surprise that the jazz we love, just like Gary, reflects that edgy far-out part of us that always pushes ahead of the times.