Longtime WGBH host Eric Jackson passed away earlier this morning.
Live radio is the most ephemeral of media. But its resonances are unpredictable.
When you are an on-air host, you sit in the studio, say what you think is appropriate or witty or profound into the mic, fire the CD player or the computer file, and wonder. Your words go off into the ether. You never know who is listening. And the later your shift is, the more you wonder if ANYONE is listening.
You rarely think you’re doing something that anyone will remember.
I have been astounded when people I’ve never met before say, “I remember you. What did you call that show? Spaces? I loved that theme song you played.”
It’s been 40 years since I did my last jazz show on the radio, and people still remember my paltry 10 years. How many more people did Eric Jackson touch in his four decades on WGBH?
How many tens of thousands now keep Eric Jackson’s voice alive in their hearts? You’re one of them, aren’t you? You can hear his voice right now if you listen with your inner ear.
In 1971, I was 22. That was the year I first wangled my way into the WBUR studios and sat a few feet from the man who had the late-night jazz shift, 21-year-old Eric Jackson, talking genially to the unseen while the turntables next to him held black vinyl discs, ready to spin after he closed his mic. I remember listening to him work. I remember thinking, “He sounds so easy with this, like he’s talking to some old friends out there.” And of course, at the same time, I was thinking, “If only I could sit there …”
Eventually I did sit in that chair. I worked part-time as a jazz host at WBUR for eight years, and then full-time for two. Back then, WBUR was still small potatoes, and Eric had moved on, to WHRB, and then to WBCN, and finally to the Big Room, that late-night shift on WGBH-FM that brought his voice to every person who cared about jazz all over New England.
The years went on. Week after week, Eric talked to people as they made their way to jazz concerts, and he talked musicians home after their gigs. He was a jazz friend when you needed one, or someone who would listen when you were thinking out loud, or someone who’d play music while you made love, or someone you could cry with when a musician you knew suddenly died.
He hosted jazz for more than four decades on WGBH, season after season, and he always sounded easy in that chair. Even though we knew he had health problems, he always bounced back, he always returned to the air, and he gradually ascended to that golden throne of radio — his listeners came to feel that he would always be there when we needed him. And now …
Others will continue to play jazz on the radio. I have good friends who do it well in other markets, and I envy them a little because I no longer have that beautiful privilege of telling people about music that is worthy of being heard, and then playing it for them. But no other jazz host has ever been blessed in the way that Eric Jackson was blessed — he became the Voice of Jazz in his adopted home, always the first person you wanted to have emcee a jazz concert, always the guy you wanted to interview you when you had a new recording, always the guy to tell you about a new artist who was doing something important, always the guy who put some peace into your heart when you needed it. Here in the land where jazz was born, only a handful of radio hosts have become the Voices of Jazz for their cities, and no one else has ever been a Voice of Jazz as long as Eric Jackson was.
When I did some fill-in work as a classical host at WCRB a few years back, Eric was working just a couple of studios away, because the WGBH umbrella covered both radio stations. While a masterpiece by Beethoven was playing on my side, I might drop by his studio and say hello. We talked the way old stablemates talk – remember so-and-so, what a good show so-and-so had given, I saw you across the room when so-and-so played, what a shame about so-and-so. Every once in a while, I would ask him how he was feeling, knowing that, just like me, he was vulnerable to time. It was always reassuring when he said, “Yeah, I’m fine. Fine.”
I last heard him when he was co-hosting a splendid WGBH in-studio concert by pianist Donal Fox. Since Donal works both sides of the musical street adeptly, and often plays right on the center line, Eric was there to provide the jazz context, playing counterpoint with WCRB classical host Cathy Fuller. He sounded completely at ease, and was as genial a host then as he was when I first heard him work, 50 years before.
There is no guidebook for great radio hosting. The constants — talk to one listener rather than a crowd, keep a smile in your voice, say the right thing and get off the air — don’t tell you much. You learn by doing.
Sometimes you have nights that you think are epic — every word is right, every segue beautiful. Sometimes you want to crawl into the dark and die — every intro is wrong, every tune seems to clash with the one before. Usually your audience can’t tell the difference.
But you know. In your heart you know when it’s working and when it isn’t. I know Eric must have had nights he was proud of, and nights he wished he’d stayed at home. But no matter how he may have felt inside, on the air he was always easy. He made his nights into our nights, and not one of us would take any of those nights back.
We only wish there had been more.
More: Rhonda Hamilton, a major presence in American jazz radio with many years on WBGO in Newark, NJ and Real Jazz on the Sirius / XM satellite radio channel, credits Eric Jackson with inspiring her at the beginning of her long career. She sent to the Fuse this link to a 2018 interview she conducted with Eric on WBGO, which contains some anecdotes Bostonians may not have heard, and concludes with a heartfelt and eloquent tribute from her.
— Steve Elman
In the summer of 2012, WGBH dramatically reduced its jazz programming. “Jazz on WGBH With Eric Jackson’’ no longer ran from 8 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, airing only from 9 p.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday. At the same time, after running a jazz show for 27 years, Steve Schwartz was fired from the station. On July 5, 2012. musician Ken Field organized a well-attended “Jazz Funeral for Jazz on WGBH.” Unfortunately, no resurrection ensued. Art Fuse commentary.
I wrote not long ago: “I consider the 2015 passing of trumpeter Clark Terry, a stalwart of the Tonight Show Orchestra, as a symbolic marker of the end of the 60-year relationship between big band jazz and mainstream television.” Unfortunately, the same parallel holds with the passing of Eric Jackson. Just as late-night talk shows moved away from jazz, on the radio, jazz has been almost entirely relegated to stations of low wattage with small coverage areas.
The shift in the consumer audio environment has been dramatic, of course. Given the brave new world of streaming, the AM and FM radio dials can seem almost archaic. There are apps that will find you jazz radio stations anywhere in the world at any time of day. But the curtailment of jazz programming on a high-profile, high-wattage station makes a difference. The most obvious: there will be less jazz that people will be able to find on their car radios. Possibly equally important for the Boston jazz scene is that Eric’s high profile — on a station as powerful as WGBH — meant that he assumed the role of a kind of roving ambassador of jazz. Of course, he interviewed many artists on his show, but he (like Steve Schwartz) also emceed events and taught music courses. He made use of his bully pulpit to spread the jazz gospel.
Yes, there are still a number of fine jazz programs in Boston on college radio stations. But the knowledgeable hosts toiling in those vineyards are unlikely to receive the considerable cultural imprimatur that comes with the backing of a station like WGBH. When a major media outlet withdraws its support from a particular artistic activity it is a resonant symbol: the city-qua-city has less of an investment in that activity. The fact that jazz is no longer a foundational element in Boston’s cultural self-image is deeply disappointing.
— Steve Provizer
John Spallone says
Having listened to ‘Eric in the Evening’ while I lived in Boston (1977-81), and streaming his shows since 2010 (I live in SF now), I have shared this concern for a few years. Along with the passing of Bob Parlocha in 2015, Eric Jackson’s transition leaves a gaping hole in the ranks of very knowledgeable jazz radio hosts. With fewer broadcast options for hearing jazz, it becomes more important, for those of us who love the music, to support those stations that still carry forward, programming African American-inspired creative, compositional, and improvisational music.
Naomi Bailis says
So sad to hear about the death of Eric Jackson. I always looked forward to listening to his amazing show (and voice!) whenever I was driving in my car on a Saturday night. His jazz knowledge was encyclopedic and his love for the great music was infectious. So glad I got to see him live, hosting the ACS Trio at Scullers a few years ago (before Covid). Sadly, that was one of Geri Allen’s last concerts as well. Eric was a treasure who will be impossible to replace. I will say this, there are a multitude of jazz lovers in Boston and WGBH should revisit its unfortunate decision to downsize its jazz programming.
S Withington says
Eric hadn’t sounded well recently, and I worried. He has been my routine for many weekends. There is nothing like the sounds he and his buddies, the supporting cast, have provided. The sound quality is far superior to that pap provided after midnight.
I am very sad and send my condolences to his extended family and buddies. Sally W
Harry Castleman says
Listening to Eric In The Evening was like religion. I started to feel sanctified at the beginning of his show every time he dropped the needle on his theme song, “Peace,” by Horace Silver. I miss him already. In fact I’ve been missing him ever since they took away his week-nightly platform in 2012. The weekend slot, while better than nothing, was just not the same, even though Eric soldiered on. His peaceful spirit lives on in all who love jazz and especially those who were lucky enough to spend many an evening with him and the music on the air or at any of the many concerts he emceed around Boston.
Davis Bliss says
Listening to Eric was a gift. There is so little jazz radio in Boston, but we had the best. I came on the show tonight in the middle of A Love Supreme. When it finished, I was told it was Eric’s favorite. WAS. His show was a religion & an oasis of beauty, joy & love.. His voice embodied the music he loved. Thank you….
Karen Derman says
With heavy heart I will miss you. I have listened to your broadcasts for so many years. Just this morning you came into my thoughts. I knew something was wrong and it was. Play some jazz for the angels Eric. It will never be the same for us on earth.
Carole Rollins says
Karen, you have said it all. I also had a feeling that something was wrong as Eric has not been on the air for some weeks, although in his last recorded show he said that he would be back after Labor Day.
Steve Elman says
Steve Provizer has put Eric’s passing into valuable historic context.
As he notes, a lively jazz scene still exists on the radio (or more appropriately said, in the world of digital media), and some outlets deserve a mention. WBGO, out of Newark, NY, Jazz 90.1, out of Greece, NY, Jazz24, out of Seattle / Tacoma, and Jazz de Ville, out of Amsterdam, along with many others, offer streams of jazz programming that are worth hearing, each with a distinctive character. And there is always the Sirius / XM Real Jazz channel, until recently the last place you could hear the marvelous Rhonda Hamilton, who got her start in Boston and became one of the most important Voices of Jazz in the New York City metro.
But Eric Jackson was one of the last of a distinctive class of broadcaster – a truly LOCAL jazz host who was intimately involved with his own community. Steve P is right. We will not see his like again.
Tessil Collins says
I’ve been toiling on the stream Steve. Doing the best I can. Eric was the glue. https://www.wgbh.org/music/jazz/jazz-24-7 (BTW – You know Ron Gill is my brother)
Steve Provizer says
Tessil-We all appreciate your efforts.
Freda Brackley says
With streaming, listeners in Boston should be able to enjoy Jazz a la Mode from WFCR/NEPM out of Amherst, MA. Jazz a la Mode has been hosted by Tom Reney since 1984, though host duties are now shared with several other excellent and knowledgeable jazz DJs. The show runs Monday through Friday evenings from 8 pm – 11 pm.
Bee Andrews says
Like many others, I miss the weeknight shows and their opener “Peace”. With that, Eric blew the cares of the day away. I will always remember driving home one evening while Chie Imaizumi’s piece “A Change for the Better” came on. It was so joyful, so spectacular, I had to pull over to listen properly. Imaizumi was then a recent Berklee grad and it was her first album. Eric introduced her and so many other great talents to us all. Thank you Eric.
Stephen Griffin says
Rest in Peace (with Tommy Flanagan playing “Peace” in the background). His love for jazz was infectious and he turned me on to so much great music. I will be forever grateful.
Tessil Collins says
Thank you for these thoughtful words about my dear friend Eric. I am one of those who knew him at BU. I was on the air at WMFO at Tufts so we were instant kindred spirits haunting the late nights of Boston radio. Eight years ago I joined him at GBH to build their Jazz 24/7 on-line music station. https://www.wgbh.org/music/jazz/jazz-24-7 Twelve hours a day, the station plays what Eric added and played on the weekend. It’s there… Jazz radio won’t be the same. Another chapter has ended. Peace, Eric.
Tessil Collins says
BTW- Eric is scheduled to be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame on Thursday 9/22. > https://www.massbroadcastershof.org/
Marjorie Porell says
There was an audience and he taught his audience and they reciprocated by buying the music from the artists he featured on his show. If there is an archive of Eric’s show on September 11, 2001 I would pay money in his memory to own a bit of hi s powerful legacy. Thank you,Eric. Shame on WGBH.
Carole Rollins says
In 1977, when I was a young graphic designer by day and an artist by night, NPR and WGBH had already caught my ear via the Watergate hearings. I kept my radio tuned to GBH and, one evening while in my studio, a gentle yet rich voice stopped me in my shoes. It was Eric Jackson. Perhaps his show Eric in the Evening had not made its debut at that point, but he was on the air. This guy played great Jazz and he was incredibly knowledgeable. Today I am much older, but the recorded sessions of Eric in the Evening still lead me to that artistic space. Eric and his love of Jazz have guided me and become wedded with my art and inspiration. My husband and I were fortunate to meet Eric at one of his 40th celebrations for GBH at the Abundant Life Church in Cambridge. I approached Eric and told him my story dating back to 1977. I was able to thank him and say that Boston is blessed to have him as a radio host. He replied that instead, he was blessed to be our host. Such a beautiful and humble soul. Thank you, Eric for your lessons on Jazz and for allowing me to thank you—it means so much. I will carry your soothing voice with me always. And the music, always the music. Our blessings to Eric’s family and to the Jazz community.
Christopher Watts says
I grew up to the sound of Eric Jackson’s voice! Throughout my high school years, through agonizing young adulthood, right up to to my middle years, up until last night, the arrival of his theme song and the sound of his resonant voice has anchored me in a world that has faithfully existed for as long as I can remember. I am breathless to hear he is gone, along with that world. Although I never met him, I feel as close to him as if he and I spent every night for 40-ish years in each other’s company. I will miss him, for as long as I will live.
Janice Neudorfer says
I am so sorry to hear of Eric, passing. I loved ,all of them. There,s two that stand out, Thanksgiving with his Dad, and the Christmas Ellington. Year after Year.. I was in SF during X-Mas this year, listened to the show and sent a thank you to Eric!RIP❤️To the family, Sincerly, Janice Neudorfer
Lee Farris says
I’m really missing Eric already. I hope GBH will keep the time slot as jazz, and find another knowledgeable person to host it.
Tj Wheeler says
Like I mentioned at Mai Kramer rememberence, both her & Erics late night Radio shows kept endless amounts of (especially Blues & Jazz) musicians safe & awake on our endless road trips, back & forth to gigs.
Eric’s laid back, solace laiden voice was as welcoming as any old friend, that I can imagine. After 40 plus years of listening he was an old friend. When he became active on FB, my mind still heard each word & phrase he posted. A thoughtful & equally warm response came back to every reply he made. At least 20 years ago when visiting the Jazz Museum in KC MO., imagine my pleasant surprise, when I instantly recognized Eric’s voice hosting the audio/headphone journey of every step of the way to the century plus history of Jazz. His annual MLK show, the time he did a comprehensive history of recorded Jazz & their back stories, all indelible memories. Probably my favorite shows were, back in the days, with his father. The empathy, mutual respect & love for the music and each other was always a hue and a roux to each program. So glad that the official city of Boston honored him, a few years ago, with a Eric Jackson day. His mellifluous voice will play on in each of our inner, mental soundtracks and bidding us a warm & peaceful night. Right back atcha my brother.
wendy schwartz says
I am so sorry to learn of Eric’s passing. I worked with him at GBH radio many years ago. I loved talking with him about how he put his show together. I loved his quiet, gentle spirit. He is leaving a big empty space in many people’s lives.
Joren Madsen says
The only person I could count on being up at 2AM each weekday night during my college years was Eric…and sometimes Brother Blue with a story. The succor Eric provided to all of us through jazz was life-affirming. There are no words, only music.
Tony Russo says
Everything changed for me when they changed his hours. Tommy Flanagan’s brilliance was represented as the introductory statement for Eric and then his voice at the end of that perfection ,
soft and contemplative, truly, impossibly magical how those evening moments changed feelings becoming more human, centered and not living in the extremes work world and life has become . I wake for work early, very early over the years between 1:00 and 3:00 AM and days over between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM. Long days part of the reward was listening to Eric and if I was early hearing Tommy and then Eric. That changed for me dramatically when they changed his hours. He was special and a treasure for this world. He was the quiet mentor in his roles as a member of this community and far beyond. I hope to hear him again when we are altogether in our eternal world. Thank you so much for the time and the evenings Eric, you will be missed.
Henrietta Robinson says
Eric in the Evenings was prime time for me. For in my ears and eyes, Eric Jackson is the maestro, the dean of jazz radio. He skillfully and lovingly transitioned listeners from the fading, diminishing rhythms of day to the pulsating, rising rhythms of the evening and night. On a personal note, and as a former part-time host of The Jazz Gallery (Friday night to early Saturday morning edition), Eric encouraged me to study, to love, to delve into jazz, develop my voice, and keep the music playing. I am grateful for his selflessness and support.
Many years ago, I returned to my native state where I have been trying to keep the music playing. During October of 2021, when colleges and universities were returning to in-person attendance, I was fortunate to perform a jazz concert for students attending the “Wind Down Wednesday” event at Texas A&M University, Galveston campus. During the concert, I introduced the students to Horace Silver’s composition, “Peace” performed by Tommy Flanagan (“the poet of the piano,” as described by Eric). I told the audience the backstory of the song and highlighted that it was Eric Jackson who brought this gem to my attention. Additionally, I told them that this particular rendition of “Peace” is a fitting example of how peace can sound and feel, especially after navigating the challenges of a demanding day. Most importantly, I encouraged the students to add this version of “Peace” to their playlist to help them shed the stresses and tensions of their daily lives. So, to Eric Jackson, I say “thank you” for helping me (and countless others as well) transition from day to night, from dark to light, from despair to hope…to peace. Now, may you rest in peace, in power, and in jazz.
Former Host, The Jazz Gallery
Diane Harting says
Henrietta Robinson, we have still the mello tones of your beautiful voice lingering in our ears all these years later from when my daughter and son-in-law got married in Plymouth MA all those years ago in the early 1990s and you sang at the reception at the Plimoth Plantation with Joe Baldwin and the Baldwienies it was magic! Brent Banulis had gotton in touch with you and asked you to sing at the reception. As usual you knocked it out of the park but when the second daughter got married, I think you were off to Bangkok, so we missed out on that. I hope you are still keeping on and that life has been kind to you. We shall always remember you and that wonderful voice and great way you had of delivering a song.
Jose Cervantes says
Just learned of Eric’s passing. Listened to Eric in the Evenings religiously when I was doing my Master’s degree at MIT from 1995-1998. He made my evenings, bringing me peace and inspiration while worked through math equations and wrote my master’s thesis. To this day I still listen to Peace by Horace Silver, and that song always takes me back to those beautiful evenings in Boston’s Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods. May he rest in peace.