In 1983 there were numerous local radio shows that featured jazz. WGBH was the front runner. Ron Della Chiesa was host of Music America, an afternoon program which played a broad range of American jazz.
Ron was an avid supporter of the local jazz scene. In addition to inviting visiting jazz performers as guests on his show, he constantly championed local musicians and frequently interviewed them on air.
Eric Jackson started broadcasting at WGBH in 1981 and by 1983 his show Eric in the Evening had a large following. The show’s theme song was “Peace” by pianist Horace Silver as performed by Tommy Flanagan. Like Ron he fervently supported the local jazz scene by promoting concerts and gigs and doing countless interviews of local musicians.
Starting in 1990 Steve Schwartz hosted Jazz From Studio Four, which aired one or two nights a weekend.
The major competition for jazz at WGBH was Tony Cennamo on WBUR. In 1983 he was broadcasting from 10pm to 2am. Like his counterparts Tony was an enthusiastic promoter of local jazz.
One of my first strategies was to meet these major jazz radio personalities whose support was critical. Mario invited each of them separately to the restaurant where we talked about the importance of a suburban concert series. They agreed to help; they consistently mentioned our concerts on air and often invited our performers to their shows for live interviews. I was frequently a guest myself and got pretty comfortable sitting in a studio wearing headphones, answering questions, and telling stories. In the summer Eric, Ron and Tony were co-hosts at a major summer event, but more about that later.
another important goal was to personally contact the jazz columnists/critics at the Globe, the Herald and the Phoenix, as well as the individuals responsible for listing events. As a non-profit organization, we didn’t have to pay for listings or PSAs (public service announcements.) Even so there was no guarantee that the paper would include our listing. Whenever one of our concerts was selected as the “Hot Pick” in the Globe Calendar I was thrilled because that usually meant a good audience for the night. After our first season I even brought a cake from Mario’s bakery to the editor of the Globe Calendar to thank him for promoting our events. Without all this help Highland Jazz would never have survived.
And yet given all this support why was Highland Jazz such a well-kept secret, not only in 1983 but even as the years continued? I have always felt it was location, location, location. Had we been in downtown Boston I think the story would have been quite different. And of course our events did not take place in a jazz club where people could drink, talk a little, hang out etc. Sitting in a hall is a different experience; there is no doubt about that and it may be less appealing to some jazz enthusiasts.
Where are they now?
Ron Della Chiesa has a weekly Sunday program, Strictly Sinatra, on WPLM-FM. It features five hours of Frank Sinatra. According to Ron, this “ isn’t even enough time.” He has written a memoir Radio My Way. He did an interesting NPR interview in March 2012, in which he talks about some of the interesting performers he has met and interviewed.
Tony Cennamo passed away in June 2010. Here is article that Steve Ellman from WBUR wrote about him.
WGBH has now downsized Eric Jackson’s popular weeknight show to a cumulative nine hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.
At the same time the station canceled outright the weekly show hosted by Steve Schwartz. I am including two links in case you would like to read more about WGBH’s programming decisions about Eric Jackson and Steve Schwartz In my opinion what WGBH has done will negatively impact the success of jazz programs especially for non-profit organizations like Highland Jazz.