Gary Walker

Host, Morning Jazz and Music Director

In jazz radio, great announcers are distinguished by their ability to convey the spontaneity and passion of the music. Gary Walker is such an announcer, and his enthusiasm for this music greets WBGO listeners every morning. This winner of the 1996 Gavin Magazine Jazz Radio Personality of the Year award has hosted the morning show each weekday from 6:00 -10:00. And, by his own admission, he's truly having a great time.

"It's rare that I don't want to get up and come in to work in the morning. I really love this job, and I don't think everyone can say that." Walker declares with satisfaction. He's probably right in that assumption. But listeners preparing for work each morning with Gary on the radio will no doubt admit, he makes it easier to head off to work no matter how we feel about it.

His love of jazz is apparent, and he says it's a feeling that began during adolescence growing up outside of Detroit in the mid 1960's. He remembers his dad bringing home a new radio with an FM band.

"This was pretty new at the time. Almost all of radio was on AM," recalls Walker. "There were only two stations on this new FM band, and one played jazz. They often broadcast live from a club known as the Twenty Grand, and though I can't remember the artists, I will never forget the feeling of that music. It seemed that the musicians and the crowd were having such a great time. I just wanted more of that feeling."

His next recollection is of an occasion when his mother dropped him off at the record store. He had planned to buy a novelty pop album that day. However, amid the display posters and album covers promoting new releases, Gary noticed an album by Henry Mancini entitled Music From Peter Gunn. He sampled a few cuts in the listening booth, and enjoyed what he heard. It was the first jazz record he would buy.

"I didn't know it was jazz, I just knew I liked it," he says. "Frankly, I believe most of us approach jazz that way - we discover it by accident."

Though he may have learned about jazz by accident, his interest in the music grew deliberately. While his peers were listening to rock and roll, Gary aggressively sought jazz. He listened to Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis and other cutting-edge artists. He was a finance major at the University of Texas at the time. He remembers passing the campus radio station, and noticing that everyone had so much fun. He soon abandoned finance and graduated with a degree in Mass Media. He continued his studies at the University of Akron in Ohio where he was a radio announcer on the school's jazz radio station. He continued to hone his broadcasting skills, and became proficient at the technical aspects of radio production.

Soon he moved to New York City with plans to broaden his career endeavors. Within five weeks he landed an announcer's position on Saturday mornings at WBGO. The station was new then, but Gary remembers it as a special place.

"My first day here, I ran into Mercer Ellington (Duke's son)," recalls Walker. "I couldn't believe of the greatest band leaders around, and he was sitting right here. Around the same time other great artists would drop by regularly. I met Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and Dexter Gordon."

After more than 35 years with WBGO, legendary artists continue to visit the studios, many to join Gary during Morning Jazz. He believes their visits are part of what set the station apart from other jazz stations. However, he also believes that other jazz 88 announcers, producers and programming staff contribute to the distinction of the station.

"I think we're the best jazz station in the country, perhaps the world," he says plainly. "I think that because of the knowledge we have here, the fun we have here and the music that is created here. No one else does what we do."

Ways to Connect

Rob Davidson

As noted on our website, Chick Corea was a learner until the very end. In the Autumn of 2015 Chick came to the Yamaha Studios in New York to learn and burn with master banjoist Bela Fleck. Their shared inspiration was a a marvel to witness. Sometimes intense, sometimes light as a feather, we share that afternoon for your enjoyment and engagement with one of our recently departed masters - Chick Corea.

Here's the first or four segments of that special day.

Courtesy of the artist

Clark Terry, the matchless trumpeter and flugelhorn player, was born 100 years ago today.


It’s another early weekday, which begins with a good night to Jazz After Hours host Greg Bryant, and a good morning to news anchor Doug Doyle. Just the two of us, as Bill Withers might say, and you. A cup of coffee, some jazz to start the day, the latest news to put a handle on the world.

  It’s a rhythm you experience in your lives. By 8 AM, WBGO starts to churn with activity when the many hard working folks in membership, marketing, underwriting, web content and production arrive, all anticipating another exciting day.

Chris Tobin

Bounce, the new release by pianist Michael Wolff, represents a grand celebration of life.

The album, out today on Sunnyside, is his musical response to a three-year journey back from a rare form of cancer that nearly took him from us. During Wolff’s return visit to Morning Jazz, we talk about that historic recovery, and the resilience that flows through his new music.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

Saxophonist Igor Butman is living proof of the power of music to cross-pollinate cultures, break barriers and make folks feel good.

Trevor Smith / WBGO

Steven Van Zandt hasn’t just toured the world as guitar-slinging Little Steven in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

If you’re like me, words like “poise,” “polish,” “assurance” and “maturity” were not legitimate self-descriptive terms when you were 16.

For pianist Joey Alexander, those descriptions reveal themselves in an exciting and bold array on his forthcoming album, Warna. Joey’s major label debut (on Verve) was the focus during his return to Morning Jazz.

Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

Michael Leonhart could be a chameleon.

He’s a trumpeter who composes for both small and large ensembles, even as he serves as an arranger and producer (and trumpeter) for Steely Dan. What a hip treat it was to have Michael come to Morning Jazz with his 15-piece orchestra, which has a monthly residency at Jazz Standard.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

As the saying goes: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

During our Season of Giving Fund Drive, our listeners are joining in celebrating another fantastic year of programming at WBGO.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

The appeal of any art form is to take one to another place, perhaps a place never seen or heard before.

For Ranky Tanky, that transporting power comes from a mixture of ingredients: the Gullah culture of the Carolinas, griot stories, poems and children’s rhymes. Those elements further combine with an incendiary blend of gospel, folk and jazz that gives the group both youth and depth.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

When violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Allison Miller make music together, it can feel much like a parlor game.

Not so much for its simplicity, because it simply isn’t that — but rather in the sense of capturing all of your attention, the way a parlor game would have done before the distractions of a radio, a television or an internet.

Cybelle Codish

Guitarist Randy Napolean makes a scene clean. How? With no nonsense, melodic lines that speak a look over the shoulder and a push ahead.

When you ask organist Joey DeFrancesco where the spark of his instrument burns, he’ll tell you right away: organ greats Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, along with his father, “Papa” John DeFrancesco, who took his son at primary-school age into clubs in his hometown of Philadelphia, to sit in with saxophonist Hank Mobley or drummer “Philly” Joe Jones.

Hollis King

Pianist Monty Alexander says that the music he heard growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, had tastes and smells strong enough to inspire him today.

There’s no taking pianist Orrin Evans out of his comfort zone. He’s just so musically articulate. Consider all the music he’s made with a trio, with his Captain Black Big Band, with Tar Baby, with The Bad Plus — or an upcoming duet recording with a longtime Philadelphia buddy, guitarist Kevin Eubanks.

Hugh Brennan

Ed Palermo is real good for jazz. Why? Because this saxophonist, composer and arranger moves his big band to consider any source an engaging good time for receiving ears and eyes.

Ed visited Morning Jazz with the entire group to chat about their latest album, A Lousy Day In Harlem (Sky Cat Records).

Lesley Karsten

Astor Piazzolla wrote and performed some of the most affecting music of the 20th Century - rooted in the tango tradition but expanded and renewed by elements from European classical music, klezmer, and jazz. As a result, what was once dance music in Buenos Aires has become, reimagined by Piazzolla, part of the repertoire of chamber groups and symphonic orchestras around the world. 

For 35 years, the tradition of Jazz in July at the 92nd Street Y has been a swingin’ shelter from the swelter, while delighting audiences with scorching sounds spread over 7 evenings. 

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

Whether live onstage, in a television production or in one of his many noted films, Michael Shannon leaves an indelible impression. He elevates any creative endeavor in which he’s a part.

But what elevates him? Aside from his partner, actress Kate Arrington, his two daughters, Sylvie and Marion, and his spirit as a practicing musician, it’s an absolute love of jazz.

Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

Charnett Moffett feels that each musical experience has provided a bright new day — from his early years in the Moffett Family Band, led by his legendary drummer father Charles, to recording in the ‘80s with both Branford and Wynton Marsalis.

Bud Glick

Scott Robinson wears many hats. But there is one that is very special to him.

It’s made out of 177 reeds taken from his saxophones, during a career that has included work with Ella Fitzgerald, John Scofield, Maria Schneider, Paquito D’Rivera, The New York City Opera — even Elton John and Sting.

Pete McGuinness — composer and arranger, trombonist and singer — recently stopped by Morning Jazz to chat about Along For the Ride, the third album featuring his big band.

Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

When guitarist Dave Stryker visited Morning Jazz to celebrate his new recording, Eight Track III, the nostalgia of musical evergreens of the 1960s and ‘70s was pushed forward with a soulful modern turn.

For Lewis Porter, the lifelong excitement of jazz exploration has yielded spirited contributions on many platforms: as an author, writing fascinating books on the lives of Lester Young and John Coltrane; as a founding member of the Graduate Program in Jazz History at Rutgers University; as a pianist, ready and able to share discoveries in the moment; and as the mind behind Deep Dive, here at WBGO.

Gregory Porter spoke with Gary Walker in advance of his Valentine's Day Concert at the Beacon Theater.

Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

With Duologue, their new album on Mack Avenue, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and percussionist and vocalist Pedrito Martinez prove Thelonious Monk's postulate of “two is one.”

Both born in Havana, these two artists handily express their Afro-Cuban influences in such unlikely vehicles as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the theme from Super Mario 3. When they visited Morning Jazz this week, the duo also shared some emotionally charged vocals, which drew us in even closer to the spirited originals that make these two contemporaries smile.

Eric Ryan Anderson

Branford Marsalis has a skillset pulled from his life’s work as a touring jazz musician. He also has the luxury of a working band of 20 years, whose collective personnel — Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderrazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner — can go places that others just can’t.

Laiona Michelle
T. Charles Erickson

Nina Simone was a cultural icon who used her creativity to attract a worldwide audience and spread a message of social and personal injustice and racial inequality.

Actress and playwright Laiona Michelle, through Ms. Simone's words and 17 songs, raises the high priestess' profile in Little Girl Blue, running through February 24th at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Michelle joined WBGO morning host Gary Walker to talk about this seven year project which one could immediately tell had changed her own outlook on the world around her. 

A diverse array of artists pay tribute to saxophonist Michael Brecker at The Nearness Of You Concert, in the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Jan. 28.

Brecker’s influence spanned the worlds of jazz, pop and rock, his cutting-edge artistry earning him 15 Grammys and the laser focus of many of today’s students of contemporary music.