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Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.

 

For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.

 

Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

NYT - Behind the Racial Uproar at One of the World’s Best Jazz Stations

WBGO seems to be distancing itself from the community that built it. There have been repercussions.


Keanna Faircloth, the new host of “Afternoon Jazz” at WBGO.Credit...Anna Watts for The New York Times

By 

  • Published Jan. 29, 2020Updated Jan. 30, 202

For almost 40 years, Dorthaan Kirk, the widow of the great jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, was a fixture at WBGO, Newark’s public jazz station.

Considered the city’s “first lady of jazz,” Ms. Kirk organized jazz brunches and persuaded famous musicians like Regina Carter to perform at children’s concerts. Her parties at the station celebrating the art exhibitions she curated, like one featuring vintage boomboxes, were always open to the public.

In 2018, Ms. Kirk retired, just shy of her 80th birthday.

Things at WBGO quickly changed after that. The station ended the exhibitions and the parties. Then management stopped allowing the public into the building, citing security concerns. The community, it seemed, was no longer welcome at the station it helped to create.


https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo2/00wbgo2-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 683w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo2/00wbg... 1366w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo2/00wbgo2-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
ImageDorthaan Kirk and Bill Daughtry were longtime employees of WBGO.https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo2/00wbgo2-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 683w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo2/00wbg... 1366w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo2/00wbgo2-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
Dorthaan Kirk and Bill Daughtry were longtime employees of WBGO.Credit...Anna Watts for The New York Times

This development did not sit well. WBGO (88.3 FM) is arguably the best jazz station in the world, and its fate speaks to the broader challenges facing the popularity of jazz, that uniquely American idiom.



What WBGO offers is rare and culturally significant: an ongoing, ever-changing audio library of jazz, both old and new. The fact that its headquarters are in Newark, a center of black culture and activism, as well as the home of musicians like Sarah Vaughan and the saxophonists James Moody and Wayne Shorter, is no accident.

Not surprisingly, the situation became contentious. WBGO stalwarts rallied around a batch of perceived slights. Grievances cited in a petition, signed by the singer Cassandra Wilson and the pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., pointed out the racial imbalance in WBGO’s leadership and hiring decisions that marginalized veteran employees and the community at large. An op-ed published in November alluded to a “perceived stench of racism on the part of WBGO.”

At the center of it all was Amy Niles, the station’s innovative yet divisive president and chief executive, who was once its chief operating officer. This week, after a tense board meeting and the firing of a black employee who refused to take part in an internal investigation out of fear of being fired, Ms. Niles resigned.

Upon learning the news, Ms. Kirk was sympathetic, pointing out that Ms. Niles’s previous position as C.O.O. was never filled. “She took on too much, and that’s when WBGO started deteriorating,” she said.



But the conflict ran much deeper than management style. The problem facing WBGO, really, is nothing less than honoring the roots of jazz while staying afloat financially.

In 2014, Ms. Niles, a hardworking executive with a background in radio marketing, was brought in to modernize and expand the reach of WBGO.

This is something that most would agree, needed to happen. In the last two decades, social media, streaming and podcasts had reshaped the radio business, forcing old-school stations to rethink how and where they distribute and market their music.

But the way this new reality was enforced was heavily resisted at WBGO, where announcers are considered community elders and storytellers.

Ms. Niles seemed to understand this. In an interview earlier this month, she championed the creative license given to the station’s on-air personalities, citing the example of Bob Porter, the host of three WBGO shows and a 40-year veteran of the station, who “not only played the record you just heard, he produced it or he was there for the recording session. The stories he’s telling, he’s telling firsthand.”

But those stories were not being told in a vacuum. They issued from Newark, a city that, in the 1960s and ’70s, saw its mostly black residents’ fight for social justice, especially during the race riots of 1967, channel the spirit of jazz.


https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo1/merlin_116356058_6367a802-ba1b-41b2-8c7b-e0f7be9f09f4-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo1/merli... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo1/merlin_116356058_6367a802-ba1b-41b2-8c7b-e0f7be9f09f4-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
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Amy Niles, the chief executive of WBGO, resigned this week.https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo1/merlin_116356058_6367a802-ba1b-41b2-8c7b-e0f7be9f09f4-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo1/merli... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo1/merlin_116356058_6367a802-ba1b-41b2-8c7b-e0f7be9f09f4-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
Amy Niles, the chief executive of WBGO, resigned this week.Credit...Stephen Speranza for The New York Times


Whether Ms. Niles, her management team and the station’s board of trustees were paying adequate respect to WBGO’s legacy was at the heart of the conflict. “People who have a conception of what WBGO was in the ’70s and ’80s may need to rethink some of that in the 2020s,” said Tom Thomas, co-chief executive of the Station Resource Group, a national alliance of public radio stations.

WBGO, which has an annual budget of about $5 million, recently focused on expanding the station’s editorial content. Nate Chinen, a former jazz critic for The New York Times, was hired by Ms. Niles in 2017 to be the head writer.

“One thing I give Amy a lot of credit for is really insisting on an ideal that, in the 21st century, BGO needs to be considered and to consider itself a media organization rather than strictly a radio station,” Mr. Chinen said.

The criticisms from the community, though, were less about the product and more about workplace culture and the role of the station in Newark.

In the op-ed from November, the community activist Ronald Glover raised concerns that the station’s board and management were elitist and disproportionately white.

He wrote that as a contributing member to the station, he was surprised not to be invited to WBGO’s 40th anniversary gala, which was held in New York City and not in Newark last year. “Is it because I am not a ‘high-end donor’?” he wrote, adding that he knew of several black WBGO staffers who either had not been invited or had been excluded because of the $1,200 ticket.

“The intentional exclusion of these employees is emblematic of deeper issues,” he wrote.

WBGO was founded in 1979, a dozen years after the Newark riots, when the black writer and activist Amiri Baraka, a resident and the father of Newark’s current mayor, Ras Baraka, had inspired a new freedom of self-expression and activism.



“The music of WBGO was an indelible part of my childhood,” Mayor Baraka wrote in a letter to the chairman of the WBGO board this week, urging structural change. “My parents played the station from morning to night. It was the background music, and the sound of jazz that permeated through my home.”


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From left, the jazz promoter George Wein, Ms. Kirk and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, in 1990.https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo4/00wbgo6-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo4/00wbg... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo4/00wbgo6-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
From left, the jazz promoter George Wein, Ms. Kirk and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, in 1990.Credit...via Bill May

Gary Walker, WBGO’s longtime music director, remembers job titles being fluid in the early days. “We would all answer the phone,” he said. “Sometimes, the general manager would call me at 7 a.m. and say, ‘Gary, what are you doing?’ I would say, ‘Bob, I’m on the air.’ And he’d say, ‘During the news, can you go out front and throw some salt on the sidewalk? It’s snowing.’”

Nationwide, the health of jazz on public radio is less than robust, according to Mr. Thomas. There are only 42 stations devoted to jazz in the country. WBGO, which has nearly 300,000 regular broadcast listeners and a sizable streaming audience outside the local market, is one of the two most successful in the country, Mr. Thomas said. The other is KKJZ Los Angeles.

But for Mr. Thomas, the distinction between the two stations is clear. KKJZ skews more contemporary, with heavier representation of West Coast artists like Poncho Sanchez and Herb Alpert. “WBGO,” he said, “worships at the altar of Coltrane.”

There are also demographic differences. WBGO’s audience has been 47 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and 44 percent “other” over the past decade, said Mr. Thomas. Only 11 percent of the listeners for KKJZ, the Los Angeles station, are black, and 22 percent Hispanic.


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After 40 years with the station, Rhonda Hamilton, shown here interviewing the singer Marion Cowings in 1981, resigned and moved to California.https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo3/00wbgo4-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo3/00wbg... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/02/02/nyregion/02jpwbgo3/00wbgo4-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
After 40 years with the station, Rhonda Hamilton, shown here interviewing the singer Marion Cowings in 1981, resigned and moved to California.Credit...via Bill May


Ms. Kirk’s departure roughly coincided with other beloved personalities leaving the station: “Midday Jazz” host Rhonda Hamilton left in 2019 after 40 years and moved to California, where she is now an on-air host at SiriusXM’s “Real Jazz.”

Bill Daughtry, host of “Afternoon Jazz,” also retired in 2019. But not because he was relocating.

“I retired because I knew a palace revolt wouldn’t be far away,” Mr. Daughtry said. “People are very unhappy there. There’s no vision.” By contrast, he said, the local vision that launched WBGO was vivid. “Legends like Miles Davis came to Newark because it was the second-biggest jazz society in the country,” he said. “What are we now? We’re underrepresented.”

Not everyone saw it that way. WBGO, like all public radio stations, is fueled by donations. The station currently has 17,000 members. In 2019, only 220 of them lived in Newark.

This is, understandably, what led WBGO executives to woo donors outside of Newark, including the decision to hold the anniversary party in Manhattan last year, with little attention paid to local celebrations. “There was gross disappointment over the lack of 40th anniversary events” in Newark, Mr. Daughtry said.

After Mr. Glover’s op-ed, the station issued a statement to employees. An internal review was conducted, the results of which were released this week. They led to Ms. Niles’s resignation and obligatory workplace discrimination training. Robert G. Ottenhoff, a founding member of WBGO, was appointed as the station’s interim chief executive.


https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/29/nyregion/29wbgo/merlin_167991039_66ea5766-d232-473c-95bf-ab90ca2eb677-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/29/nyregion/29wbgo/merlin_1... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/29/nyregion/29wbgo/merlin_167991039_66ea5766-d232-473c-95bf-ab90ca2eb677-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
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From left, the pianist Billy Taylor and Robert G. Ottenhoff, a founding member of WBGO, in 1981. Mr.  Ottenhoff will be stepping in as the station’s interim chief executive. https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/29/nyregion/29wbgo/merlin_167991039_66ea5766-d232-473c-95bf-ab90ca2eb677-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/29/nyregion/29wbgo/merlin_1... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/29/nyregion/29wbgo/merlin_167991039_66ea5766-d232-473c-95bf-ab90ca2eb677-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
From left, the pianist Billy Taylor and Robert G. Ottenhoff, a founding member of WBGO, in 1981. Mr.  Ottenhoff will be stepping in as the station’s interim chief executive. Credit... via Bill May

Keanna Faircloth arrived at WBGO last fall as the new host of “Afternoon Jazz.” She had spent 16 years at WPFW, a Washington, D.C., station with the tagline “devoted to jazz and justice.” The divisiveness at the Newark station, where she has been winning praise for her social-media savvy and her fresh take on modern jazz artists like Makaya McCraven and Robert Glasper, has been palpable for her.



“I think the station has been sort of cagey and protective,” Ms. Faircloth said. “When a family fights, they don’t necessarily want the world to know about it. That has been the feeling here.”

When she was still in Washington, Ms. Faircloth thought of WBGO as “the mecca for jazz, this beacon on top of the hill,” she said.


https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/28/nyregion/00wbgo5/00wbgo5-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/28/nyregion/00wbgo5/00wbgo5... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/28/nyregion/00wbgo5/00wbgo5-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
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So far, Ms. Faircloth’s experiences at WBGO have made her feel a bit like Dorothy from “The Wiz,” she said. https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/28/nyregion/00wbgo5/00wbgo5-jumbo.jpg?quality=90&auto=webp 1024w,https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/28/nyregion/00wbgo5/00wbgo5... 2048w" sizes="((min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1004px)) 84vw, (min-width: 1005px) 60vw, 100vw" itemprop="url" itemid="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2020/01/28/nyregion/00wbgo5/00wbgo5-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale" />
So far, Ms. Faircloth’s experiences at WBGO have made her feel a bit like Dorothy from “The Wiz,” she said. Credit...Anna Watts for The New York Times

Although she is honored to be a part of it now, she has not been able to avoid a sense of disillusionment. She recently compared the situation at the station to the end of the film “The Wiz.”

“In the movie, they went behind this wall and they found out the Wiz was just this old, disenchanted guy who was on a mike the entire time,” she said. “He didn’t have that big, booming voice they thought he had.”

At WBGO these days, she is experiencing a similar reality check.

“I feel a little like Dorothy,” she said. “I’m like, Oh, wow — this isn’t necessarily what I thought it was. I’m still excited to be here. But I see we have a lot of work to do.”



Correction: Jan. 28, 2020

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of a musician. He is Poncho Sanchez, not Pancho. 

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