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

Courtesy of the artist

Holli Ross was one of my favorite singers and dearest friends. She passed early Saturday morning after several years fighting cancer.  

Hiya —

It is quite possible that you’re like me at the moment.  We’re older.  Some of us have health twists.  Many of us are stuck at home during the current plague.  

And we’re all listening to WBGO more than ever before.

The Inheritance

The Inheritance, a new play on Broadway that focuses on the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15.

Theater critic Michael Bourne caught the show just in time. 

Click above to hear his review.

Grand Horizons

The Second Stage production of Grand Horizons at the Helen Hayes on Broadway, stars Jane Alexander and James Cromwell as a disgruntled mother and father.

Click above to hear WBGO's theater critic Michael Bourne's review.


Theater critic Michael Bourne says Broadway shows are more and more like concerts of impersonated pop stars. Now comes a dramatized Tina Turner.

Click above to hear Michael's review of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.

It's been almost 40 years since A Soldier's Play was first peformed off-Broadway.  It's now come to Broadway with just as much power -- and maybe more.

David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood star in A Soldier's Play.

Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews A Soldier's Play which is running at the Roundabout Theatre Company.

My Name is Lucy Barton
Manhattan Theatre Club

Professors (and psychologists) of literature have argued that there are only 7 basic plots in all storytelling. Or maybe 9. Or 36. Or, according to mythologist Joseph Campbell, one plot. Laura Linney now stars on Broadway in a play about one woman’s story. Or maybe everyone’s story.

Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews a new play at Manhattan Theatre Club at Samuel J Friedman Theater on Broadway My Name is Lucy Barton.

Laura Linney stars in the play.

Click above to hear the review.

Harry Townsend's Last Stand
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Everyone's experience of the arts -- what we hear in the music, what we see in a painting, what we feel from a play -- is unique. What WBGO theater critic Michael Bourne was feeling from a play now at City Center was very personal.

Broadway legend Len Cariou joins Craig Bierko on the stage for Harry Townsend's Last Stand.

George Eastman is the playwright.

Click above to hear Michael's review of Harry Townsend's Last Stand.

Atlantic Theatre Company

Theater critic Michael Bourne says Halfway Bitches Go Straight To Heaven is one of the best plays he's seen.  It's the latest production from the Atlantic Theater Company.

Click above to hear his review.

London Assurance
Irish Repertory Theatre

A pretentious aristocrat. A besotted idiot. A variety of liars, hustlers, and fools. And one smart beauty. They’re the dramatis personae of an 1841 rom-com, London Assurance. Theater critic Michael Bourne reports on all the silliness afoot at the Irish Repertory Theatre.

Click above to hear Michael's review.

Michael Bourne
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Most of the recent biographical dramas and musicals have presented stories about famous politicians (Alexander Hamilton, Lyndon Johnson) famous performers (Tina Turner, The Temptations) -- but theater critic Michael Bourned enjoyed a new play about famous scientists.

Click above for Michael's review of Off-Broadway's The Half-Life of Marie Curie which closes this weekend at the Minetta Lane Theatre.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

Carmen Lundy. Singer. Songwriter. Arranger. Keyboardist. Percussionist. Painter. Sculptor. Photographer. Designer. She’s all of the above (and then some) on Modern Ancestors, her newest album on her own label, Afrasia.

She’s been a vocal presence on WBGO since her first album, Good Morning Kiss, in 1985 — when her song “Time Is Love”  was a hit on every shift.  

Jagged Little Pill

Recently, almost as often as popular movies have become Broadway musicals, popular singers and songs have inspired new shows on Broadway. Theater critic Michael reviews a new show adapted from a 1995 groundbreaking album from Alanis Morrisette, Jagged Little Pill.

From Academy Award-winning writer Diablo Cody (Juno) comes an original story of suburban subversion inspired by Morissette’s Grammy-Award winning album.

Jagged Little Pill is running at the Broadhurst Theatre.

Click above for Michael Bourne's review.

Last week, Michael Bourne enjoyed Seared, a new play about what people eat.

This week, he enjoyed the revival of a classic musical about people being eaten…in the Little Shop of Horrors.

To hear the review, click the link above.

MCC Theater

Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews the new play by Theresa Rebeck.  Seared is running off-Bway at MCC Theater.   Seared will make you hungry --or maybe not.

Click above to hear Michael's review.

Chris Tobin / WBGO

LaTanya Hall owns a variegated curriculum vitae.

She’s worked all around show biz. She was a Miss America finalist. She played the young Lena Horne in the workshop of a bio-musical. She starred on the road in the musical Dreamgirls.

David Byrne
Matthew Murphy

David Byrne's American Utopia is a theatrical event on Broadway. Theater Critic Michael Bourne came away happily "burned down with the house".

The show was created with choreographer Annie-B Parson and production consultant Alex Timbers.

David Bryne's American Utopia is playing at the Hudson Theatre on West 44th Street.

Click above to hear Michael's review.

The Rose Tattoo

Theater Critic Michael Bourne was certainly busy this week, splitting his time on Broadway and OFF-Broadway.

Michael reviews The Rose Tattoo  -- Broadway revival, Tennessee Williams, with Marisa Tomei

Bella Bella -- off-Broadway play, Harvey Fierstein as Bella Abzug

Linda Vista -- Second Stage, from Steppenwolf, dark comedy by Tracy Letts

The Independents -- off-Broadway play about the painters Degas and Mary Cassatt

The Lightning Thief -- Broadway musical, rock-ish derring-do for kids

Some of the best and brightest women of jazz grew up in British Columbia: Renee Rosnes, Ingrid and Christine Jensen, Diana Krall — and trumpeter-singer Bria Skonberg, born in Chilliwack.

Sarah McKenzie is a bright young pianist and singer from Down Under. Melbourne, that is.

She’s been playing around the world for a while, and recently she played Dizzy’s Club. She also came by WBGO with bassist Giuseppe Cucchiara for a talk with Michael Bourne on Singers Unlimited.   

Molly Sweeney
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater critic Michael Bourne goes Off-Broadway to catch Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney.

The play is about consequences and ironies of what happens when a blind woman is able to see and is being performed by Keen Company at Theatre Row, West 42nd Street.

Click above to hear Michael's review.

The Great Society
Michael Bourne for WBGO

As the weather is cooling down, the theatre season is heating up.  Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews two new plays on Broadway, The Great Society and  The Height of The Storm.

Click above to hear both of Michael's reviews.

The Wrong Man
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Not only is more and more theatre happening off Broadway,  more new theaters also have opened.   Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews The Wrong Man, a musical about a man wrongly convicted, and (A)loft Modulation, a play with jazz.

Click above to hear both reviews.


Sunday, a play off-Broadway by Jack Thorne, is running at the Atlantic Theater Company.  Theater critic Michael Bourn says while Broadway shows are already opening for the holidays, he's been spending several week mostly OFF-Broadway.

Click above to hear Michael's review of Sunday.

Courtesy of the artist

Svetlana came from Russia to America as a kid. She spoke little or no English. She learned some of the language seeing movies. Growing up in Moscow, movies were windows on the world outside of Soviet walls. 

Svetlana also gravitated to singers — especially jazz singers, especially Ella Fitzgerald. Her love of jazz and movies comes together on her new album, Night at the Movies.


BETRAYAL is the story of an illicit affair that unfolds in reverse—from the end of a marriage to the first forbidden spark. Starring Golden Globe and Olivier Award winner Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers), Zawe Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw) and Charlie Cox (Daredevil), this stunning production features the daring vision of one of the UK’s most acclaimed directors.

Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

Jazzmeia Horn celebrates her new album with a concert at Le Poisson Rouge on Monday, Sept. 9 — but before that, she and her band stopped by WBGO for a talk and performance on Singers Unlimited. 

Bill Steber

Bobby Rush is one of the last of the blues titans, especially from the Chicago scene of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Buddy Guy. (Buddy is 83. Bobby is 86.)


SeaWall / A Life are two one-act plays on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre.  One stars  Tom Sturridge, while the other has Jake Gyllenhaal as its lone actor.


Theater critic Michael Bourne says they're more like two plays in one.


Click above to hear Michael's review.



Michael Bourne reviews Bat Out of Hell and Moulin Rouge.  To hear the review click the link above.