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. For the past 22 years, 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 24 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."

No matter how gratifying Gary finds his work, nothing brings him as much joy as his 20 year old son, Nate. From early visits to Jazz 88 with his dad, his son became a first year trombone player in the school band. Gary says, "Nate knew I was going to interview Wynton Marsalis and told me, 'Dad, tell Wynton I'm playing the trombone, but next year I might switch to trumpet.' When I passed this information on to Wynton, Marsalis' response was, 'you tell your son if he wants to elevate his social status, he should make that change as soon as possible!'" Just a note: Nate still has a trombone and Wynton has more social status. Nate's dad has neither, but loves his work at Jazz 88!

Ways to Connect

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.

WBGO's Daytime Hosts Share Their Favorite Jazz Albums of 2018

Dec 26, 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, Gary Walker, Rhonda Hamilton and Bill Daughtry share their favorite jazz albums of the year. 

Courtesy of the artist

As we savor the season, WBGO looks back to a session from 2013, when the Ted Rosenthal Trio came in to share music from a new holiday album.

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

There is a tune on pianist Ray Angry’s debut album, One, titled “Circles Inside You.” Angry’s concentric creativity includes work with Wynton Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, The Roots, Joss Stone and Esperanza Spalding — an interesting mix which alone invites a listen. 

Courtesy of the artist

Although guitarist Django Reinhardt and his violinist friend Stéphane Grappelli formed their Quintette du Hot Club de France back in 1934, there are legions today with a burning desire to join the club and know more about the music, the man and the lifestyle that generated such feverish playing.

Jeff Xander

With both parents working as music educators, Aubrey Logan’s artistic cup began to fill with tap lessons. She was 5. Artistic openness led to choral lessons, along with slide trombone studies at  Berklee — and on down the road, performing around the world with Dave Koz’s Summer Tour.

Unlimited Myles

Sonic Creed is vibraphonist Stefon Harris’ first recording as a leader in nine years. He recently came in to discuss the album, among other things, on Morning Jazz.

Steve Turre
Steve Turre for WBGO News

WBGO's Gary Walker chats with trombonist Steve Turre about playing for the Emmy's as part of the Saturday Night Live Band and Turre's new album The Very Thought of You.

Click above to hear the interview.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

In my office there hangs a postcard-sized photograph of Sonny Rollins — captured, I'm sure, in the midst of the umpteenth amazing chorus of some standard we all thought we knew. The pianist in the picture is Mark Soskin, probably best known for his 13-year tenure with the Saxophone Colossus.

Courtesy of the artist

Ted Nash made his first recording as a leader in 1978, and titled it “Conceptions.”

Whether playing saxophone, clarinet or flute, he has shown how magnificently broad his conceptions are: exploring a tango/klezmer/New Orleans brass feel with Odeon; giving sounds to great painters like Van Gogh, Matisse and Pollack with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; reinventing the music of Henry Mancini, who employed both his father and uncle; or musically reimagining great speeches from John Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.

Paul Moore / Blue Note Records

Saxophonist Dave McMurray says that every time he hears an instrumentalist from Detroit, it feels like they’re singing.

The Motown native knows this feeling. He grew up with it, eventually bringing his own versatility to gigs with B.B. King, Herbie Hancock, Johnny Hallyday, Gladys Knight, Nancy Wilson and Geri Allen. This was all in addition to being part of Was (Not Was), whose bassist and cofounder, Don Was, is now president of Blue Note Records.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

Back in the day, when record labels put musicians together in a studio simply because they were on the same roster, the results were often mixed: intention didn’t live up to invention. That isn’t the case with New Faces, a Posi-Tone Records assemblage who, with crystal clarity, have shown on their new recording, Straight Forward,  that listening to one another can have a powerful effect on musical outcome.