Fuse Update: Sunset for Weeknight Jazz at WGBH

By J. R. Carroll

July 11 update. The New Orleans-style funeral for jazz on WGBH radio was an amazing coming-together of musicians from across the spectrum of styles. It was an occasion for mourning the loss of Steve Schwartz and the diminution of Eric Jackson, to be sure, but it was also an occasion for celebrating with more than a little wonderment the recognition that we all are, indeed, a community.

Courtesy of Videosphere.

Gifted with an unexpectedly lovely evening that provided a striking sunset as a background, well over 100 (possibly 200) musicians began with a solemn reading of the traditional, New Orleans funeral anthem, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” The tempo doubled in the last few choruses of “Closer Walk” and set the stage for a boisterous, almost roisterous rendition of “Down by the Riverside.”

Eric opened his last weeknight show with a return of his old theme song, Horace Silver’s “Peace,” as played by Tommy Flanagan. Fittingly, the assembled musical forces outside had just performed that very song, in an arrangement put together for the occasion by Russ Gershon. (Trumpeter Jerry Sabatini had already opened the funeral with a clarion solo intonation of “Peace.”)

After touching tributes to Eric and Steve by Gershon and the evening’s Big Chief, Ken Field, “When the Saints Go Marching In” carried the musicians down the street (and into a local watering hole), allowing Eric to give them a grateful wave from his studio window. Brilliant Corners blogger (and participating trumpeter) Steve Provizer said “it felt freakin’ great to be there”—I couldn’t agree more.

Eric closed out his weeknight jazz career on WGBH by playing Sarah Vaughan singing “Send in the Clowns.” How ironic and totally apt for the occasion.


Many heartfelt comments were posted following the event but none more eloquent than those contained in a post by writer Jason M. Rubin on his blog Dove Nested Towers. Amen to that.

Friday evening was a bittersweet occasion for the jazz community. Steve Schwartz put together a final WGBH broadcast (delayed until 9 p.m. but spilling over past midnight) that was exemplary of all that he has brought to the Boston airwaves for more than a quarter of a century, including the last live session he had produced for the station, a performance by saxophonist Marco Pignataro and his ensemble. Steve’s two final selections said it all: From 1949, Lennie Tristano and his sextet playing “Wow!” and, as a touching farewell, John Coltrane playing “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”

During the show and afterward, there was a stream of Facebook posts thanking Steve for his dedication to the Boston audience.

JazzBoston flyer

Click on this image to download a copy of JazzBoston’s flyer

Now the Boston jazz community needs to reckon with the impact of the cutbacks in WGBH’s jazz programming and begin the journey to whatever comes next. A key milestone will be the open community meeting (see flyer, left) that JazzBoston has set up for Tuesday, July 31, at 6 p.m. at the Boston Public Library main branch in Copley Square. The co-moderators of the discussion will be Emmett Price, chair of African American Studies and associate professor of Music at Northeastern University, and José Massó, host of WBUR’s last surviving music program, ¡Con Salsa!, and long a pillar of Boston’s Latino community.

JazzBoston has set up a Facebook page for the event and also sent a letter to the Boston Globe that was published on July 5. The Globe published a brief item the same day about the jazz funeral, but that seems to have been it for coverage—not a peep in the Sunday paper.

Discussions continue to percolate on Facebook with ideas about strategies for attempting to persuade WGBH to reconsider it’s decisions. In the end, though, we’re probably looking at initiatives to find—and fund (with donations that WGBH will not be receiving from its angry jazz listeners)—a new broadcast home for Boston jazz. I would expect this to be a significant element in the conversations at the July 31st JazzBoston forum. (Parenthetically, let me note that a JazzBoston membership comes with many of the same discounts as a WGBH member card.)

Turning to the local and national media, the Jazz Journalists Association continues to track events here in Boston, and new threads of discussion continue to pop up on Radio-Info.com.

Noteworthy is an article in the Bay State Banner that indicates that this issue is beginning to surface in the African-American press. (They’ve also published a great photo of the jazz funeral.) It will be interesting—and significant—to see how these discussions evolve.

Jon Garelick’s reactions to and comments on the demise of WGBH weeknight jazz (and last Thursday’s funeral) have now been posted on the Boston Phoenix website. Will WGBH management have a change of heart? Jon says “fuggetaboutit”.

John Carroll (no relation) continues to react on his Campaign Outsider blog, including this gem of a Wordsworth parody:

JACKSON! thou shouldst be spinning at this hour:

Boston has need of thee: she is a fen

Of stagnant music . . .

Meanwhile, the Twittersphere has been anything but quiet:







If you’re just tuning in to these recent events, you can get a bit of back history from our earlier coverage of the jazz schedule cutbacks:

Fuse Commentary: Radio Silence for Boston Jazz?

Fuse Update: The Gathering Storm

Fuse Update: Herding the Cats

as well as more general commentary about WGBH and public radio overall:

Fuse Commentary: WGBH’s Radio Theater of the Absurd

Fuse Commentary: What Does WGBH Do When It Cuts Back On The Arts? It Celebrates, Of Course

Fuse Commentary: WGBH — No Excuses

The Arts Fuse will, of course, continue to follow events as they unfold, so check back in with us regularly.


  1. Paul Levinson, Hyde Park on July 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Good Evening: I was talking to a “GBH staff member at church today. She said the transition on air was kept so quiet in house that it was possible to not know it was happening.

    This is NOT how public media is supposed to operate. I don’t know Jon Abbott’s motivation for this, and I’m sure he calculated the financial impact of making the shift. Like most everything in our society these days, the public interest is the last thing to be considered, if it is at all. WGBH had close to a unique programming element on a NATIONWIDE basis; the only cities that can come close to Eric’s and Steve’s knowledge and dedication are major music markets (NYC, New Orleans, Miami, Chicago, MSP, LA, possibly SF, Portland and Seattle. In Canada, add Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. That’s IT for all of North America, and Jon Abbott dynamites Boston’s very strong place in this market.

    Listeners are sick of being ignored so that corporate types can make a few extra bucks. What ever happened to loss-leaders? Boston fancies itself so sophisticated and erudite; well, Jon just assured that Boston will again be viewed as one big frat party overseen by a bunch of arrogant snobs from Harvard, MIT , Wellesley, NEC, the Boston Conservatory, Berklee, and who cares who else, who think that Boston’s history and reflexive “No” to anything new (c.f. Fenway Park, the most uncomfortable place in the major leagues to watch a baseball game) exempts it from having to keep an open mind and stay fresh.

    Getting rid of Eric and Steve so Boston can have more bloviators who think they are God’s gift to deep thought is the LAST thing this patrician, tiny town needs. So, nice work, Mr. Abbott. You’ve guaranteed that Boston is just like every other city with far less than 1 Million in population inside the city limits in the U.S. Except for all the terrific programs your competitors at WBUR put on every day, there is now nowhere to tune your radio in Boston to get release from yet another crappy day at work. Thanks, Jon.

    As a closing thought, if I were thinking of what to do next, I might go sell an idea or two at WBUR. Eric started there under the hegemony of Jane Christo, who finally imploded in 2004 when even BU’s trustees couldn’t ignore her plan to sell ‘BUR’s sister station in Providence, WRNI, without bothering to ask RI and BU Management for their support and blessing. It might be time for Eric and Steve to go back to WBUR and make WGBH a complete non-issue in the region’s public radio music scene.

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