Michael Bourne

Host, Blues Break and Singers Unlimited, Critic-at-Large

Michael Bourne has been a presence on WBGO since the end of 1984. He's hosted the popular Singers Unlimited, Sundays 10AM-2PM, since 1985. He’s nowadays hosting the Blues Break, Monday-Friday 2-4PM. Michael is also a senior contributor to Down Beat, with the magazine since 1969. Doctor Bourne earned a PhD in Theatre from Indiana University -- which comes in handy when he's a theatre critic for the WBGO Journal.

"I became a jazz jock by chance," says Michael. "I was working on my doctorate in Bloomington. I'd been an occasional guest on the jazz show of IU's NPR station WFIU. When the regular DJ was going on vacation, the program director asked me if I'd like to fill in on the show. That was the summer of 1972 and I'd just survived my doctoral exams. I needed to do something fun, plus they were going to pay me to play records on the radio. I was supposed to fill in for four weeks, but the four weeks is now almost 45 years! I was offered the gig and I stayed until 1984. WFIU was a mostly classical station, but I played everything else, especially jazz, but also blues, Brazilian and Irish music, singers and Broadway musicals."

How he came to New York and WBGO also involved some chance. "I came to New York every summer for theatre and jazz, especially for the George Wein festival. I often stayed with my Indiana school friend Kevin Kline. When I first stayed with him, he was still beginning as an actor. When I came in 1984, he was a bonafide movie star. I also left a tape of my WFIU show with Wylie Rollins, then the program director of WBGO. I'd been thinking about venturing to New York for years, but I didn't know when or how. And on one fateful day in September 1984, Kevin called and said he'd be on location for a while and I could have his apartment for several months if I wanted to come to New York. That very afternoon, Wylie called and offered me work at WBGO. I couldn't resist what seemed a sign that New York was meant to be. My first shift was filling for Rhonda Hamilton on the afternoon of New Year's Eve, 1984."

Bourne's passion for music began early in his hometown of Saint Louis -- but not for jazz. "I was a boy soprano. I wanted to be an opera singer when I grew up. I was crazy for Wagner especially. I eventually eased into Gilbert and Sullivan, then the Broadway shows." Bourne's passion for jazz came about -- again -- by chance. "When I was a junior in high school, my chem lab partner and the kid behind us were always talking about jazz. I remember a very animated argument about whether Miles Davis or Sonny Stitt was hipper. I asked them what was a good jazz record to begin with, and one of them said Dave Brubeck's Time Out. I bought the LP at a grocery store the very next day, and when I heard "Strange Meadowlark" I was addicted to jazz. I bought more records at the grocery store, and soon I was listening to Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, the Modern Jazz Quartet. I even became a drummer as I fell in love with Art Blakey and Max Roach.” He connected jazz and theatre in 2016 co-creating and performing “The Brubeck Songbook” with singer Hilary Kole and the Brubeck Brothers.

Bourne continued his love for theatre as an undergrad at what is now called Truman State. He came to graduate school at IU in 1967, and while working at WFIU he finished a PhD. in theatre -- but he enjoyed being a jazz jock so much that he stayed on the radio rather than become a professor somewhere. "I always meant to work in the New York theatre as an actor or a playwright or a critic, and when I first came to WBGO, I was also working on two musical theatre projects. Both shows crashed and burned just as they were about to happen, and I didn't want to be an always struggling actor, so my theatrical career became only critical."

Bourne became a frequent contributor to the WBGO Journal early on. Though he mostly reviews theatre, he's also written about movies, art museums, baseball, beer, and his travels (from his favorite park in Oslo to his favorite pub in Dublin). He hosted WBGO's syndicated show, The American Jazz Radio Festival, for five years, and he's hosted or anchored 22 of WBGO's New Year's Eve broadcasts. Michael filled in on countless shifts at all hours until finally settling into the Afternoon Jazz shift. "Ironically, just after I'd come to WBGO, Rhonda Hamilton asked me what I wanted to do at the station, and I remember laughing and saying that I wanted her shift in the afternoons. And now she's on mid-days, and here I am right after Rhonda."

While nonetheless working six shifts each week on Jazz 88, from 2001 to 2006 Michael also jocked on the "Broadway's Best" channel of Sirius Satellite Radio. He's been an active arts and travel journalist, especially for Down Beat. He edited Corsage, a tribute to his favorite mystery author, Rex Stout -- "the most fascinating individual I've ever known," says Michael. He edited the mini-magazine Hennessy Jazz Notes from 1992-1997 . He's written countless album notes, and in 1997 Bourne produced four CD collections of Mark Murphy songs for 32 Jazz.

He's also been a correspondent for the Bon Voyage newsletter. Traveling became his greatest passion after his first trip overseas in 1986. Bourne hosted the Jazz Yatra festival in Bombay. "I was almost 40 and I'd never left the United States. The culture shock was staggering, but I fell in love with the world -- a full-tilt epiphany! -- and I've been traveling ever since. I've always felt most alive when I've been 'elsewhere' -- far from home, far from work, far from myself." Michael also hosted the jazzfest in Amsterdam. "I was the MC for Stephane Grappeli on three continents: Bombay, Amsterdam, and Carnegie Hall." He's been a WBGO travel host on trips to Brazil, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, and the Caribbean. Montreal every summer is Michael's jazz home away from home. "I first went in 1992 and I've been virtually adopted by the festival ever since. In recent years I've not only written about the festival for Down Beat, I've also been a judge for the festival's group competition, and I've broadcast live from Montreal on WBGO." To celebrate his 20th year in Montreal, the festival honored Michael by christening the press room Salle de Presse Michael Bourne. "I only missed the festival in 2006, because of a heart attack — and I was angry, not because of the heart attack, but because I missed Montreal!" Other festival favorites over the years have included Umbria Jazz in Perugia, the NorthSea jazzfest in The Hague, fests in Antwerp, Copenhagen, Berlin, Warsaw, Chicago, and New York. "What's been especially heartening is how often I've encountered Jazz 88 listeners from all around the world. I remember a jazz lover in East Berlin weeping at the thought of a radio station that played jazz 24 hours a day. Since then, the Wall came down, and now everyone can hear us on the internet, including in no-longer-East Berlin" Traveling offers other delights for Bourne beyond the music, including his passion for great paintings, the Dutch masters especially, and for great beers, the Belgian masters especially. "I'm a Nederlander at heart." He'll happily go anytime to Amsterdam, Antwerp, London, Rome, or anywhere in the U.S. where his beloved Cardinals are playing baseball. "Pops" also enjoys hanging with his grand-kids, Nora and Luke, in Chapel Hill.

He's returned to performing in recent years -- that is, for people who can actually see him. He's hosted "Lyrics and Lyricists" concerts at the 92nd Street Y. He's been a host and the musical director for the "Jazz on the Mountain" festival every January (since 2000) at the Mohonk Mountain House in the Hudson Valley -- where he's frequently performed what he sometimes calls "jazz acting" with drummer Michael Carvin, singer Hilary Kole, and in the "Parlor Games" musical criss-crossing that's a festival finale on Monday mornings. He co-wrote and directed the show Singing Astaire, a celebration of the Fred Astaire songbook at Birdland. And after more than 20 years, he's nonetheless "with you" on WBGO.

"A listener said to me that she read that I used to be an actor, and she asked me 'Do you ever act anymore?' And I said 'Every day on Jazz 88!’” The Daily News asked Michael when he turned 65 if he'd ever retire. "I said 'From what?' I get paid to play records and go to shows!” He turned 70 in 2016 and nonetheless plays on on 88.3FM and wbgo.org …

Ways to Connect

Heartbreak House
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews the off-Broadway production of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House.

Click above to hear the review.

Pretty Woman
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Another new musical on Broadway comes from screen to stage.  Theater Critic Michael Bourne reviews Pretty Woman.

The musical is based on the 1990 film of the same name written by J. F. Lawton and starred Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.  The film captured in many people's opinion one of the most beloved romances of all time .

Broadway's Pretty Woman stars Samantha Barks and Andy Karl.

Doug MacLeod
courtesy of the artist

Doug MacLeod is a definitive troubadour. He travels. He sings. He tells the stories of the songs. And he's a terrific guitar player.

Albert King, Albert Collins, Joe Louis Walker, Son Seals, and Coco Montoya all have recorded MacLeod's songs, and his own newest album of songs and stories is Break The Chain.

He's playing at Queen's Brewery (Thursday 8/23) in Ridgewood, NY, and at The Town Crier (Friday 8/24) in Beacon, NY.

Straight White Men
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater Critic Michael Bourne reviews Straight White Men and Mike Birbiglia's The New One.  Can you guess which one Michael doesn't get?

Click above to hear his review.

Twelfth Night
Michael Bourne for WBGO

"If music be the food of love, play on" is the opening line of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", and Theater Critic Michael Bourne loved what's playing on in Central Park.

Mummenschanz
Mummenschanz.com

Theater critic Michael Bourne says he enjoyed the return of a show off-Broadway, he just doesn’t know what it is. 

Click above to hear Michael's review of Mummenschanz.

Benoit Rousseau

Maison Symphonique is like Dr Who's TARDIS. Bigger on the inside.

I remember when the upper right corner of Place Des Arts was a mostly empty and small plateau. There were stairs up from the street. There were amusements for kids. And then they built a large concert hall in that corner.

Blond wood everywhere, wooden seats, wooden slats in the walls, an enormous array of silver-grey organ pipes above the stage. And with acoustics perfect for singers.

John Abbott

Monument-National is about a block from Place des Arts on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. When I first came to Montreal, the corner of the block was virtually red-lighted. Sexy lingerie shops. Sexy porn shops. And actual sex for sale.

Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer and Lauren Kinhan Kinhan of the New York Voices host concerts they call “Vocal Mania” every month at the Zinc Bar. Lauren sings. Janis sings. They welcome friends to sing. 

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Valeriegay Bessette for FIJM

The Montreal Jazz Festival every year presents awards named for some of the greatest artists who've played at the festival. All of the awards were created to celebrate an artist's life's work.

I couldn't see all of the awards shows this year. Some of the shows were happening at the same time. George Thorogood, honored with the BB King Award for a blues artist, was playing down the hall from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, honored with the Miles Davis Award for an international musician whose work and influence the jazzfest acknowledges as "regenerating the jazz idiom."

The Gesu
David Tallacksen for WBGO

"Gesu" is an Italian name for Jesus. "Le Gesu" is the name of the Jesuit church near Place des Arts in the heart of Montreal.

"The Jesus?" I wondered.

Marc-Andre shrugged and laughed. "The whole name is Le Gesu--Centre de creativite."

He's been a festival friend for years. Now he's the major domo of the arts center at the church -- which includes a theatre down below that seats 240 or so fest-goers -- which includes me throughout Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.

Sweeney Todd
Barrow Street Theatre

While he didn't eat the meat pies available for theater guests, theater critic Michael Bourne loved the experience of  Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Theatre in NYC.

Click above to hear Michael's review of Sweeney Todd.

Stevie Wonder performs at Montreal Jazz Festival 2009.
YouTube

BRULANT !!

"Chaud" is the everyday French word for "hot" -- but "brulant" is le mot juste: the perfect word. Translates (according to Babylon) as "burning, scorching." Also "scalding, roasting."

Every day that I've been in Montreal this time, someone I know or strangers at the festival gasps something about the heat. "Is it always this hot when you come here?" a sweating fellow in an elevator wondered.

George Thorogood
Victor Diaz Lamich for FIJM

"I first played in Montreal in 1978," said George Thorogood from the stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival. 

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Victor Diaz Lamich for FIJM

"I'm trying to define what it means to be a woman in her 60's," said Dee Dee Bridgewater, catching her breath, leaning back on a stool, and laughing. In the middle of the stage. In the middle of the show.

Not that she was done.

Dee Dee was quickly up and dancing, singing another of the soul classics she's revisited on her newest album, "Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready."

Victor Diaz Lamich for FIJM

Toujours ici -- I am always here.
At the jazzfest in Montreal.  26 years.
And it's not as if I've come back year after year.   A plane to Montreal feels no different to me than a train to Newark.
I'm always at WBGO.  It's where I live every day.
I'm always in Montreal.  It's the same life.

This trip, right away, I've been hearing Charles Aznavour singing.  All of the songs about time.  Especially his song "Je n'ai pas vu le temps passer." "I have not seen the time go by."

Carmen Jones
Michael Bourne for WBGO

The 2018-2019 theatre season is underway, and WBGO's theater critic Michael Bourne is back, off-Broadway, with a long-overdue revival of a classic inspired by a classic "Carmen Jones".

Lonesome Blues is a play about blues legend Blind Lemon Jefferson, one of the best-known and best-selling blues artists of the 1920’s. His emotional singing was powerful, and nobody played guitar like Lemon. He rarely played in strict danceable time, and his sometimes whimsical, sometimes dramatic guitar often burst every which way. Lemon’s playing and singing is in the DNA of all the blues artists who came after him. Lonesome Blues imagines him on his last night, only in his mid-30’s, dying in the cold of Chicago, remembering highs and lows of his life.

Anna Webber

Cyrille Aimée is always having fun on stage. She smiles in countless photos from her concerts. And in her smile is the joy of a little girl who grew up near the birthplace of Django Reinhardt, and who snuck out at night to sing with the gypsies.

Shervin Lainez

Amy Cervini sings all across the musical spectrum. She has recorded tributes to Blossom Dearie and country songs. She's sung shows for children and shows that I've called "delightfully naughty." She also often sings alongside Melissa Stylianou and Hilary Gardner in the trio Duchess, tackling everything from jazz standards and pop to the astonishingly fast and hip vocal arrangements of the Boswell Sisters. Having been a saxophonist gives Amy much more improvisational chops as a vocalist.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

Amy Cervini recently came to WBGO for a Singers Unlimited session with Michael Bourne. They talked about her new album, No One Ever Tells You — and, with Michael Cabe playing piano, she sang some of the songs. 

She’ll celebrate the album’s release with a gig June 15 at Subculture in the East Village. She’s been in residence for years at the 55 Bar, and often works with the group Duchess. (Duchess sings next on June 27 at the Jazz Standard.)

Paradise Blue
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater critic Michael Bourne goes off Broadway to review Paradise Blue, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

Click above to hear Michael's review of the new jazz play.

Saint Joan
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater Critic Michael Bourne has enjoyed this year's jam-packed revival display on and off Broadway.

Click above to hear Michael's full rundown of shows that are worth your time and money.

Desperate Measures
Michael Bourne for WBGO

The Tony Awards celebrate what happens ON Broadway, but WBGO theater critic Michael Bourne is often even busier OFF Broadway.

Click above to hear Michael's reviews of some Outer Critic Circle Award-winning shows off Broadway.

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

Kat Edmonson writes music for the present in a style firmly rooted in the past. Her new album, Old Fashioned Gal, showcases all original songs — but if you look past the lyrics, her sound clearly harks back to the mood and attitude of Fred Astaire movies from the 1930s.

Edmonson and her band recently joined WBGO’s Michael Bourne in celebration of her album, just out on Spinnerette Records.

Harry Potter
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews several pop culture related shows on Broadway, including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Click above to hear the full review.

Frozen
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews three musicals from movies.  Frozen, Mean Girls and The Sting are now on Broadway.  

Disney's Frozen won an Oscar.  Now it's going for a Tony.  Bourne wasn't sold on that possibility, unless Olaf the snowman picks up an award.

courtesy of the artist

Karrin Allyson is about to release a new album of all her own songs. She came by WBGO to play and sing and talk with Michael Bourne for Singers Unlimited.

She’ll perform this week (Tuesday through Saturday) at Birdland, with Miro Sprague on piano and Fender Rhodes, Jeff Johnson on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums.

The Genius of Eddie Jefferson is the new album from singer Allan Harris. It’s something of a musical sidestep for the crooner. After years of singing in a Nat-like creamy baritone, he’s at his jazziest as he celebrates the godfather of vocalese — the art of creating songs with lyrics to classic jazz records and solos.  

Allan Harris and I go back a ways — 30 years, maybe more. I first heard him in an upstairs lounge on Greene Street (I've never forgotten the joint's comfy chairs), and Allan has come in for interviews and performances on Singers Unlimited ever since. Last year, he brought a band to play songs from Cross That River, his musical about black cowboys on the cattle drives of the American west after the Civil War.  


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