Arts Remembrance: Jeff Breeze, Host of WMBR’s “Pipeline”
By Sheeva Azma
“I don’t believe that there has been a stronger advocate for local music than Jeff Breeze. Nobody cared more about local music than him — nobody.”
I had stopped by WMBR, happy to take a break from my difficult science and math courses at MIT in order to do my radio show (a mix of indie rock and Middle Eastern beats). “Remember that you’ll have to wait for Pipeline to close up shop before you can start your program,” I was told by the engineer. It was the early 2000s, and I was new to WMBR. But I had been told that I had already become part of a distinctive community, one with a huge presence in the Boston music scene. For me, the best part about WMBR was its friendly people — and, of course, the fact that the station was entirely maintained by its DJs (a mix of MIT students and music aficionados from the local community), down to maintaining the transmitter. My inner tech geek and music nerd was delighted.
Pipeline, it had been explained to me, was WMBR’s long-running live music program. Created in 1989 by Theodric Young and Andy Hong, the focus of the weekly show was on the New England music scene via live concerts from local bands. The guests were not always Boston-centric — if a band was performing at the Middle East or T. T. the Bear’s Place (a Central Square concert venue which closed in 2015), they might stop over at the station to play a set at the radio station, located in a basement on the MIT campus.
Because of my affection for Pipeline, I was utterly devastated to learn recently that the long-time host of the show, Jeff Breeze, had passed away unexpectedly on November 8, 2020. I am not the only Pipeline fan who found Breeze to be larger than life — there’s an entire tribute webpage dedicated to him. He had hosted the show since 2003, and he brought a number of impressive strengths to the job, including a great radio voice, super connections in the local music world, and a well-maintained ice cream blog.
“Jeff was a tireless advocate for Boston-area new music,” WMBR tweeted upon the news of his untimely passing.
Before he became Pipeline’s host, Breeze had worked as a producer for the show since 2001. Long-time WMBR DJ Bob Dubrow had been in charge of Pipeline for nine years before that; he recently dedicated an episode of WMBR’s Lost and Found to Breeze (it can be found here). The show includes a recording of an informative interview Dubrow did with Breeze on March 11, 2003, right around the time he passed the baton.
Breeze was born in 1973 in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up in Bolton, Massachusetts, where he moved before he started kindergarten. He graduated from Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton, Massachusetts. Though he finished in the top 10th percentile of his high school, he spent about seven years in college at the University of Missouri (Mizzou), taking classes part-time. He explains in the interview with Dubrow that academics took a backseat to his love of music and especially radio. As a college student, Breeze worked at KCOU, the Mizzou radio station.
Breeze’s claim to fame at Mizzou was the reunification of the rock group Big Star, who had not played together for 19 years. In 1993, while he was planning the KCOU spring concert, Breeze and a friend decided to try to reunite the Memphis, TN-based rock band. (Poster Children, who had been on the spring concert roster, had cancelled.) Faced with finding a substitute, Breeze called Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, who lived in New Orleans at the time. Chilton liked the idea and, according to Breeze’s 2003 interview, the musician called Breeze within an hour and a half. Following Big Star’s comeback at Mizzou, the band played gigs in Europe and Japan, as well as The Tonight Show, until they once again disbanded in 2010 (for good this time).
After college, Breeze moved back to Boston out of necessity — he had no money and no job, so his parents offered him a place to live with them. The first position he took on was as editor of the languishing Northeast Performer, which he turned around — in 2010 it combined with other regional magazines to become Performer Magazine. Breeze also became active in the local music scene and joined WMBR, working as a Pipeline producer.
Breeze passed away suddenly due to unknown causes in his Somerville, MA apartment. He is survived by his parents, two younger brothers, and his wife, Rebecca. Besides running Pipeline, he was also a member of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (BTO) and wrote on the local music scene.
Breeze’s bandmate in the BTO, Derrick Albertelli, remembers Breeze in a post on the group’s website. “He had an enviable and encyclopedic knowledge of music that can only come from a profound love of the art…He enjoyed trips to Revere Beach and Long Island, pick-up softball games at Foss Park and watching curling. He was well traveled in the United States and was a terrific writer.”
Rick Roth is a current WMBR DJ and a friend of Breeze’s (who used to babysit Roth’s kids). Roth is the founder of Ink Kitchen, a version of Ted Talks for the printing industry. (Ink Kitchen also makes WMBR’s t-shirts.) About Breeze’s impact on the New England music scene, Roth says: “I don’t believe that there has been a stronger advocate for local music than Jeff Breeze. Nobody cared more about local music than him — nobody.”
As for Breeze’s favorite Pipeline artists, Roth thinks he knows a few. They would include Breeze’s fan and friend Marissa Nadler, who is more successful in Europe than the US; Palehound; and Black Helicopter. The first hour of Pipeline was always new local music from New England. “He’d never play anything old,” Roth recalls. The live performance would happen in the second hour of the show. “The band would play for a half hour, then he would interview them live on the air.”
Breeze worshipped the new. Roth says of the 5000 bands Breeze played on WMBR (as listed by track-blaster.com) he never played more than 20 of them twice. A regular Instagrammer, Breeze posted a new record each day — an “amazing amalgamation,” says Roth, of various deep dives into music. And, though Breeze was an acknowledged point person for the Boston rock scene, he was also knowledgeable about other genres. “He knew a lot about soul music and jazz, and didn’t even play that on his show,” Roth notes.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, WMBR has been closed since March 2020. Its DJs have been forced to use pre-recorded materials. Breeze accepted the challenge and got five artists to submit pre-recorded “live” performances.
Breeze’s death followed the loss of two other members of the WMBR community: Frank Shefton and Bob Roffi. Shefton, also known as Captain Al, was an WMBR DJ for over 40 years, the host of R&B Jukebox. Shefton was a dedicated station volunteer who I remember as the go-to person for MIT students (like myself) anxious to get the engineering experience needed to run their own shows. Roffi was another long-time member of the station, a fierce advocate of indigenous rights.
Pipeline goes on with Galen Mook and Erik Morrison at the reins. While live music has been severely impacted by COVID-19, it is my hope that Pipeline will continue to amplify (pun intended) local music and support a live music scene that is badly in need of assistance.
Visit Pipeline’s Facebook page here.
Sheeva Azma is a freelance science writer and reporter. She is also founder of her own science writing company, Fancy Comma, LLC. She can be found on the web at www.sheevaazma.com and on Twitter @SheevaAzma.