WBGO Blog
  • Great Live Moments - Milt Jackson

    April 16, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Milt Jackson

    WBGO staffers have big love for vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Among the monumental contributions to jazz music, "Bags" turned a set of percussive steel bars into a more versatile jazz instrument. His was an altogether different sound for the vibraharp, sonically more warm and mellow than his predecessors, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. Milt Jackson made the vibes sing.

    It's no wonder that Milt Jackson was himself a singer, a teenaged tenor in a gospel group, The Evangelist Singers, in his Detroit hometown. He loved the sound of the voice, and he accompanied many singers throughout his career. One of his last records was Sa Va Bella (For Lady Legends), a tribute to the leading ladies of jazz that Milt Jackson loved so much - Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Etta Jones.

    WBGO recorded Milt Jackson's Quartet in the summer of 1996. The concert was part of the Oris Spirit of Jazz concert series (of which we are still proudly associated). Mike LeDonne is the pianist, Peter Washington the bassist, and Mickey Roker the drummer.

    Listen to Milt Jackson's Sa Va Bella from the WBGO Archives.

  • It's What I Do

    January 2, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    "It's what I do ..."
    I never know what to say when I get a compliment. I've always been amazed that people actually like me and like what I do -- and that I get paid to do what I do. I've sometimes felt that if I say "thank you" I feel as if I'm acknowledging that whatever nice thing someone is saying to me is true.
    "I love your interviews!"
    "It's what I do ..."
    "You got so many pledges that last hour!"
    "It's what I do ..."
    I've been "doing" for 35 years on the radio, and it was only after 25 years that I felt that apparently I'm good at this, good at ... what I do.

    New Year's Eve was my 21st coast-to-coast broadcast and my 23rd anniversary as a jock on WBGO. My first shift was filling for Rhonda in the afternoon, December 31, 1984. January 1st is the birthday of Milt Jackson, and so I played a day-before birthday tribute. Phone rang, and the voice said "This is Bags. Thanks." And in that moment I knew that I was a jazz jock in the jazz capitol of the world.
    Even though we broadcast from Newark, and there's considerable Jersey pride at WBGO, I usually tell people elsewhere in the world that I'm from the jazz station in New York. We apparently, last I heard any numbers, have more listeners and more members in New York than in New Jersey -- although, really, I say New York mostly because I live in New York.
    I only recently realized that I'm a commuter.
    Back before the various large edifices that have gone up in Newark since I first came to the station -- law school, arts center, FBI, and now the Rock -- the walk on Raymond Blvd twixt train station and radio station was darker. I never felt especially in danger. I've always been quite grizzly, and I've seen folks on the street fear me. What was weird in the 80's was when folks in New York asked me if I carried a gun to protect myself in Newark.
    Tempus fugit ...
    23 years ...
    I knocked the station off the air 20 minutes before I first came on the air. I was expected to record myself on a cassette. Remember them? Various plugs and wires were involved, and I somehow plugged the entire on-air signal into the cassette recorder. Nobody knew what was happening and the phones started ringing about the dead air. I didn't know what was happening, but I thought maybe I should un-plug the cassette recorder, and at once WBGO was resounding loudly again.
    I'm still the clumsiest jock on WBGO. I'm not kidding when I get crabby about "too many buttons!" I've pushed the wrong buttons and played the wrong CDs countlessly. We didn't have CDs when I came to the station. We played music from a wall of LPs. Remember them? I remember when the first CD player came in. There was what looked like a spice rack in the studio with four CDs. One was "Glenn Miller in a Digital Mood" -- which I never played even once. I was afraid that if I endeavored to play a CD I'd blow the station off the air again.
    I'm proud to say that since that first clumsiness, I have knocked the station off the air only one other time. Readings said our power was too high for the FCC max, so I pushed the button that lowers the power and the power lowered to zero. After a scramble of engineers like the code blue for a heart attack, we came back.
    We now have an all-new computerized system for on-air spots, calendars, produced programs, and IDs. It's been working for almost a month now, and I've only screwed up a half dozen times. I once said to Josh Jackson, who's a whiz at working all this new tech and was so quickly and seeming effortlessly editing a special we were producing on a machine with a screen full of multi-colored squiggles, "I feel like a baboon looking at a rocket ship ..."
    I'm much more technologically adept than I used to be. I'm helpless about the squiggles, but I sometimes can get through an entire shift without pushing a wrong button. Even a monkey can learn how to ride a bike.
    I've actually never learned how to ride a bike -- but that's another story. Now comes ... blogging.
    E-mail, I can do.
    Googling, I can do.
    Porn, any baboon can do.
    I've owned a computer for two years, and by now I'm not as cyber-challenged as I first was.
    I've actually been able to listen to baseball on my computer.
    I've finally been able -- without help -- to buy stuff on my computer.
    Now comes ... blogging.
    I've been asked and encouraged to blather about ... whatever.
    Baseball. Batman. Musicals. Traveling. Why I think of myself as Dutch. Why I've lately become obsessive about "Pride and Prejudice" and Jane Austen. And other things I love. And also ... love.
    When I was initially asked to blog about what I think about, my immediate answer was "Who cares?" I'm blogging now only because my loved ones have insisted that listeners who like me might like to know ... what I do when I'm not doing what I do on WBGO. And also how I do what I do. I've been requested to explain how I program Singers Unlimited -- which will involve confessing a variety of eccentricities I've heretofore never talked about -- when the easiest answer is nonetheless
    "It's what I do ..."

    I'm Michael Bourne.