Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Radio Nights: a music education via the airwaves

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2010 at 4:29 PM

When I was young, my family lived on the flanks of Cheyenne Mountain outside Colorado Springs, Colorado. My father would scan the horizon to the east and say, "on a clear day you can see Kansas from here."

When he wasn't making pronouncements like that he was playing music. Not of his own making but recorded music. After work and all day, every day on weekends, he had music playing on the phonograph.

By the time I got smart enough to know more about music, I started to kid my father that if a composer or bandleaders name had a "B" in it, their music was to his liking.

I learned first about the three big "B's"- Bach, Beethoven and Brahms although I was way more interested in my father's other B's: Bix (as in Beiderbeck), Benny (as in Goodman) and Basie (as in Count).

I also found his third B group -- Broadway musicals -- interesting. And there was always a 33rpm recording of the latest hot musical show that got played to death when my father came home from a business trip to New York City.

The musicals started with "Oklahoma" then came "South Pacific" and "Kismet" and so on for years.

But while my father was playing lots of good music, I was getting turned on to a lot of things musically I'd never heard before via my small console radio. The same radio I put under my covers at night, so only I could hear it and was certain it was well hidden when my parents came to check to make sure I was in bed.

It was there that I first discovered the joys of living at over 6,000 feet on a mountainside with a somewhat interrupted air space between our house and the mysterious Midwest and South,

So at age 10, I started twisting the dial to listen to all this nighttime radio on stations that seemed to come in as clearly as if they were located in downtown Colorado Springs.

My first big finds were those just-over-the-border megawatt stations in Mexico that played a lot of C and W and offered things like: " 100 Baby chickens for $19.95".

Tired of them I was running down the AM band one Sunday night when I came on a voice saying: "this is WWL New Orleans. Now let's join Tony Almarico and his band down at the Steel Pier."

Suddenly there was Dixieland jazz coming out of the radio followed by inane patter like, "Well Tony how are the boys in the band doing tonight?"

"Great, we're just happy to get some toe tapping music out over the air."

OK, it was cornball but I loved the fact that I was listening to a station from New Orleans. I mean New Orleans was way over there on the map on my bedroom wall.

So I kept my dial set on WWL only to tune in on Monday to find Tony Almarico and his band gone replaced by a show called "Moonglow With Martin."

Martin, I can't recall his first name, was the epitome of what I would come to know as cool. He played jazz records and introduced them in this mellow baritone voice that never betrayed any excitement about anything including some burning hot recording.

"Here's one by Stan Getz I think you'll enjoy. With Stan are Lou Levey on drums,etc"

I figured why not give the show a listen. I did and from that first listen well my teens I was a regular listener to "Moonglow With Martin".

In the process I learned about music my old man had yet to put on and play at full volume around the house.

Through "Moonglow", I became acquainted with Duke Ellington, with BeBop, and the post Bird/Diz/Monk/Trane bop "Cool School" of Getz and assorted West Coasters like Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan.

In short, "Moonglow With Martin" became my music education.

And when I got to college and had my own radio show, I modeled it after "Moonglow" right down to having some background music playing softly behind me when I talked.

Later when one of my professors asked me what had sparked my interest in music, I had to confess what my father started a guy named Martin finished over the airwaves under the covers of my bed in Colorado.


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