My favorite section of Hajdu’s Strayhorn biography Lush Life, the part with the strongest storytelling, is where he talks about Billy Strayhorn’s cancer diagnosis. For this chapter, he relied on the vivid memories of Marian Logan, Harlem socialite and wife of Dr. Arthur Logan, physician to both Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.
Strayhorn took his diagnosis bravely, calmly. Ellington, not so much.
“Arthur called Edward [Ellington’s first name] and told him. He was on the road somewhere,” Marian Logan recounted. “Arthur said, ‘Edward is terribly, terribly angry. I think he blames me. ‘How can you tell me this? Do you know what you’re saying? Why didn’t you tell me this before?’… He was irrational. And he was pissed off.”
Hajdu, “Lush Life – A Biography of Billy Strayhorn,” Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996, p. 233
I’m with Ellington right now.
KCSM, Jazz 91, the mainstay of my musical existence for the past 20 years, has the blues, and their blues will be felt by their thousands of listeners worldwide. Due to budget shortfalls and other issues, the station will have to cut back some of their on air staff and has cancelled some of their best programs.
Gone is “In the Moment,” a showcase for recorded live performances in the Bay Area. Harry Duncan’s “In the Soul Kitchen” also received the axe. Some of my favorite announcers will be working reduced shifts, including Greg Bridges, whose programming has aided me while writing on more than a few occasions.
While the station is dedicated to staying on the air and broadcasting jazz 24/7, one of only three left in the country still doing so, its precarious position troubles me to no end. And more trouble could exist just over the shaky horizon that is life in the age of the Trump Administration. He has already made known his desire to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, and the National Foundation for the Arts. Republican Congresses in the past have threatened this act of cultural suicide in the past. Having a president pushing for so drastic a move only makes matters worse. While these federal programs make up a tiny fraction of 1% of the national budget (we won’t solve the deficit by getting rid of them, in other words), entities like KCSM rely on the money they receive to keep the lights on.
We human beings are storytellers. Music tells our stories most vividly, creatively and viscerally. Music is also the closest thing I have to a religion. So the last thing I want to see is my main temple of music go away.
Miles Davis has a famous quote where he says that all musicians should get on their knees at least once a year and give thanks to Duke Ellington. I’d like to revise this a bit. I think every working jazz artist today should give thanks to the little station that could. KCSM is probably jazz’s best ambassador and that’s entirely due to the knowledge, care, and dedication of its on air talent.
So here’s my challenge. Time for all jazz artists and their fans to go Full George Bailey for KCSM. Do benefit shows. Fill the halls. Sing the station’s praises from the rooftops. Save one of your best ambassadors. In these troubling times, we need the wit, wisdom, diversity, and badassness that is jazz. We need KCSM.
(And everyone, donate now.)
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