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

Michael Bourne
David Tallacksen for WBGO

WBGO's Michael Bourne has experienced thousands of musical events throughout his amazing career as an announcer for the greatest jazz station in the world.

But before he came to WBGO, he was a young reporter who got a chance to cover Woodstock 50 years ago.

His journey was unforgettable.

Click above to hear Michael retell his trip to Woodstock.

The Rolling Stone

The Rolling Stone, running off-Broadway at Lincoln Center, is a new play about a tragedy of hatred.

Set in Uganda, The Rolling Stone is an intimate yet explosive family drama about two brothers at odds — one a gay man in a clandestine relationship, and the other a church pastor who fervently rails against the life his brother is forced to conceal.

Theater critic Michael Bourne says one of the greatest tragedies is how often people kill each other with what they think are the right causes.

Click above to hear Michael's review.

Shervin Lainez

Sara Gazarek is, as every jazz singer ought to be, an original. 

Toni Stone
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater Critic Michael Bourne is always busy rooting for his hometown St Louis Cardinals, but baseball is also in his spotlight off-Broadway in a new play about a woman playing pro ball in the 1950’s.

Toni Stone is Lydia R. Diamond's play about first woman to play professional baseball.  Stone played in the  early 50’s in the Negro Leagues.

Toni Stone runs at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre August 11.

The Secret Life of Bees
Michael Bourne for WBGO

The theatre season is just getting started, it's way too soon to predict theatre awards -- but theater critic Michael Bourne says he's seen a winner off Broadway, The Secret Life of Bees.

Michael Bourne
Irish Repertory Theatre

June 16 was Bloomsday, the date when the events of the James Joyce novel Ulysses happened. At a variety of events in New York, the novel was celebrated and read aloud. Theater Critic Michael Bourne instead enjoyed the most famous pages of the novel on stage.

Yes! Reflections of Molly Bloom is playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre.

Click above to hear Michael's review.

Frankie & Johnny
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Two highly acclaimed actors get together on Broadway. Audra McDonald plays "Frankie". Michael Shannon plays "Johnny". They’re falling in love — or something like love in the revival of a modern classic. Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews the revival of Terrence McNally's Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune.

Michael Bourne

The Tony Awards will be presented Sunday night at Radio City Musical Hall in New York City.

WBGO Theater Critic Michael Bourne has been writing Broadway reviews for 50 years.  He had a fun time looking back and forward in this review. 

Click above to hear his entire review.

Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

The Hot Sardines play jazz, for want of a better word. Hiply swinging songs and sounds, from Fats Waller to Ray Charles and beyond. Not that they're "retro" about it. Whatever they play is musically happening (and lots of fun) right now. 

Welcome Home, Bon Voyage is a new album of concert highlights, including songs live at Joe's Pub, the downtown bistro that's been a home for the group for a decade.

Courtesy of the artist

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is the brightest young artist erupting on the Blues scene today. 

He’s from Clarksdale, Miss., ground zero of the Delta blues. He grew up near the crossroads where Robert Johnson legendarily sold his soul in a guitar showdown with the Devil, and he plays so fiercely it’s often wondered whether Kingfish is likewise musically hellbound.

Jonathan Chimene / WBGO

It’s been too many years since Vanessa Rubin came on Singers Unlimited with a new album, and her newest is one of her best.

The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron celebrates the great composer and arranger of the '40s and '50s. Dameron, like Vanessa herself, was born in Cleveland, and her tribute is heartened by her hometown pride.

Michael Bourne for WBGO

The Tony Awards soon will be awarded to the best of Broadway on June 7th at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The Outer Critics Circle award winners were announced earlier this week, and our own Outer, Michael Bourne, actually voted for a few of the winners.

Click above to hear his review of the best and no so good musicals of the season.

Jeffrey Apoian

For a couple of years, before I heard Paul Jost singing, I heard about Paul Jost — from other singers!

Jost sings a residency every last Wednesday at 55 Bar. He came to WBGO to sing with a couple of the players on his new album, Simple Lifepianist Jim Ridl and bassist Dean Johnson.

Theater Critic Michael Bourne reviews three shows by Sean O'Casey showing at The Irish Repertory Theater.

To hear his review click the link above. 

Joan Marcus

Ted Chapin is the president and chief creative officer of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. He handles especially the performance rights of all Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. He's been a perennial guest on Singers Unlimited. 

Dewey Nicks

Herb Alpert built a unique entertainment empire, especially as a trumpeter and leader of the mega-selling Tijuana Brass. Alpert and his partner, Jerry Moss, founded A&M Records and enjoyed great success with a variety of popular artists, including Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66.

Alpert and that group's lead singer, Lani Hall, have been happily (and musically) married for more than 40 years. They perform together from time to time, and this coming weekend, on May 10 and 11, they'll be at City Winery in Manhattan.

Michael Bourne
David Tallacksen for WBGO

The Tony Awards event next month will be the official end of the New York theatre season --but the Tonys are not the only awards and, according to our theater critic Michael Bourne, even more theatre this season was happening OFF Broadway.

Click above to hear Michael's "Best".

King Lear
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Shakespeare returns to Broadway with Dame Glenda playing King Lear. According to our theater critic Michael Bourne, gender-switching is becoming quite familiar in recent productions of Shakespeare.

King Lear is playing at the Cort Theatre and is directed by Sam Gold.

Click above to hear Michael Bourne's review of King Lear.

All Our Children
The Sheen Center

Broadway shows have been opening night after night lately, before the deadline to qualify for the Tony Awards -- but theater critic Michael Bourne was nonetheless OFF-Broadway this week to attend two new plays.

Michael reviews All Our Children presented by The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture and Do You Feel Anger? at the Vineyard Theatre.

Click above to hear both reviews.

Heidi Schreck
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Over the last several seasons, shows that have become hits OFF Broadway have relocated to bigger theatres ON Broadway.  Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews one, a new political comedy -- or is it a comedy?

The new play What the Constitution Means to Me is by and stars Heidi Schreck.

Click above to hear Michael's review.


On stage and on screens both big and small, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a new name and an astonishing performer new to theater critic Michael Bourne.  Michael reviews her in off-Broadway's Fleabag.

The show is playing at the Soho Playhouse.

Fleabag, which is written by and stars Waller-Bridge with direction by Vicky Jones, is in the U.S. following acclaimed runs in the U.K. and a subsequent television adaptation from the BBC.

Shervin Lainez

Gabrielle Stravelli is a delightful singer of... everything.

As is usual every season on Broadway, lots of shows will be opening in time to be nominated for Tony Awards -- and nonetheless shows keep opening (and closing) off-Broadway.  Michael Bourne reviews two of the new plays off-Broadway.  


To listen to the review, click the link above


One revival is less than perfect but better than all the new shows he’s seen this season, and a very different revival is the best show he’s seen (so far). 

Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews Merrily We Roll Along, and Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish.

Click above to hear both reviews.


Theater critic Michael Bourne enjoyed "The Cher Show" on Broadway, mostly because he thinks Cher was an interesting person.  He wasn't as impressed as the teenagers were beside him while watching "Be More Chill."

Click above to hear both reviews.

Michael Bourne for WBGO

To Kill a Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin's play from the Harper Lee novel and movie, is on Broadway.

Click above to hear Michael Bourne's review.


Catherine Russell is one of the most Herculean singers I know. She sings all across the musical spectrum, but she's especially full of blues and swing. 

True West
Roundabout Theatre Company

Theater critic Michael Bourne was certainly impressed with the actors in Broadway's Revival of Sam Shepard's True West.

Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano star in this revival at the Roundabout Theatre.  In True West, Hawke's character confronts his brother, who is a screenwriter played by Paul Dano.

Hawke is a four-time Oscar nominee, twice for acting and and twice for acting.

Click above to hear Michael Bourne's review of True West.

Choir Boy
Manhattan Theatre Club

Choir Boy, a new play that was also arecent WBGO members event.  The Manhattan Theatre Club usually presents a limited run of a show, but WBGO Theater Critic Michael Bourne says the impact of  Choir Boy keeps extending the run.

Click above to hear Michael's review on the new Broadway play.