Keanna Faircloth has been a prominent and steadfast voice for jazz in Washington, D.C., her hometown, on both broadcast and digital signals. She begins a new era this week, making her official debut as the voice of Afternoon Jazz at WBGO.
“It’s a great privilege to be able to share Keanna with our audience,” says Amy Niles, WBGO’s president and CEO. “Her respect and understanding of the legacy of our music and her ear for the new sounds is exactly what makes WBGO so vital. The addition of Keanna to afternoons with news anchor Alexandra Hill will undoubtedly make compelling programming for our loyal audiences as we look to the next 40 years of WBGO.”
As Keanna prepared to settle into her new role, I sent her a few questions by email.
You’ve been on the air in Washington, D.C. for more than 16 years. How does it feel to be moving up the Northeast corridor?
It feels surreal! I've always looked to WBGO as the pinnacle of jazz radio, and I am absolutely honored to join its 40-year history. It is truly a dream fulfilled to rub shoulders with each and every announcer on the airwaves. The way the music is handled with such respect and admiration just cannot be imitated. I had an amazing 16 years on the airwaves at WPFW. I started out as an intern there and was suddenly thrust into the announcer seat one day when a host didn’t show up for Midday Jazz. As they say, the rest is history, because the slot became mine in my sophomore year of college.
How did you first get into jazz? Were there any gateway albums or artists for you?
Miles Davis’ iconic Kind of Blue changed my life in middle school.
I just couldn’t figure out why I was so sucked in every time I listened to it. Something about it struck me to my core. From that moment on, my interest in jazz was piqued, and my parents did all they could to expose me to the music. I had to be the only 12-year-old in D.C.’s Blues Alley taking in the music of artists like Dave Brubeck, Rachelle Ferrell, Pieces of a Dream and more. I also grew up playing the piano and had an excellent teacher who exposed me to both classical and jazz. I later went on to Howard University, where I majored in Music History with a minor in Piano. I also studied Jazz History, and Jazz voice under the private instruction of percussion and vocalist Grady Tate. Once I started interning at WPFW, I gained an amazing mentor in the late Jamal Muhammad. He had been at the station for over 20 years and previously lived in New York City, where he was friends with renowned jazz musicians. I know he would be so proud of me now.
How would you characterize the current jazz scene, and what is your general approach to covering it?
The current jazz scene is so exciting! With artists like Robert Glasper, Jazzmeia Horn, Joel Ross, and Brent Birckhead, the future of this music is certainly bright.
What drives me on-air is my mission to connect the jazz of yesteryear to the sound of today. At WPFW, I hosted a show called The Continuum Experience which celebrated the idea of “Sankofa” — to “go back and get it.” I feel it’s my duty to make a concerted effort to ensure the future of jazz for generations to come. Hip-hop artists have a history of sampling jazz artists, but oftentimes the average listener doesn’t know who the sampled artist is. I find joy in educating the listener who may be just beginning to make those connections, as well as those who consider themselves connoisseurs.
You’ve been a contributor to NPR Music, notably as a part of Turning the Tables. Do you feel that the situation for women in jazz — not only among musicians, but also broadcasters and critics — is improving?
Certainly! I think artists like the late Betty Carter really paved the way for women in jazz to take creative control of not only their artistry, but their business.
She opened the door for women like Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding and Tia Fuller. Even in D.C., the Washington Women in Jazz Festival has the sole purpose of highlighting and supporting the efforts of women in this genre. I am so inspired by women who make space for other women. Ann Powers at NPR Music is doing a great thing by compiling the annual Turning the Table list. I was honored to write for this because it is these types of platforms that perpetuate an empowering narrative for us.
The Artimacy podcast has been a signature part of your profile. Will you keep it going?
Artimacy will continue to live on! Episodes can be heard on DC Radio and on SoundCloud. Through the podcast, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing a few amazing folks — Wynton Marsalis, Dionne Warwick, Jonathan Butler, Michael Franks, Aaron Diehl, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and Robert Glasper, to name a few. I was even listed in Radio Ink magazine as a Future African American Leader in Radio. It has spawned a live performance series called “Artimacy Unplugged,” where conversations with artists are paired with acoustic, scaled-down performances curated to feel like an intimate gathering among friends. I’m excited at the possibility of continuing this series in Newark and NYC.
What is one track — from any artist, in any time period — that you can’t wait to spin at WBGO?
There are so many tracks I can’t wait to spin! Especially the album that started it all for me: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. And in the spirit of connecting jazz “way makers” to the new generation, I also look forward to playing Nicholas Payton’s “Jazz is a Four-Letter Word.” Oh sorry... that’s two tracks!