Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The end of jazz at Minnesota Public Radio

Yesterday I learned that Maryann Sullivan, host of "The Jazz Connection" on Minnesota Public Radio for the past 15 months, had been laid off. I called her, she generously agreed to speak with me, and I wrote a short news article for MinnPost.

So a once-a-week, three-hour radio program is no more. ("The Jazz Connection" aired on Saturday nights from 9 to midnight.) What's the big deal, other than a friend losing her job? The big deal is that MPR, a large and successful public radio organization with a regional network of 38 stations and nearly 100,000 members, no longer thinks that jazz is worth supporting.

Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ahmad Jamal, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ray Brown, Roy Hargrove, Fred Hersch, Benny Green, Joshua Redman, Randy Weston, Patricia Barber, Kurt Elling, Sean Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard, Abdullah Ibrahim, John Lewis, Joe Lovano, Jackie McLean, Lester Bowie, Jimmy Smith, Ornette Coleman, James Carter, Charlie Haden, John Coltrane, Art Tatum, Sonny Rollins, Maria Schneider, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Horace Silver, and on and on, not to mention the many, many fine musicians and performers we are so fortunate to have here in the Twin Cities area--you, and you, and you are no longer worth supporting, at least not by Minnesota Public Radio.

Some of us believed that once Leigh Kamman retired (after 34 years of hosting "The Jazz Image"), jazz on MPR would go away, then sighed with relief when Sullivan was given the job of jazz broadcaster in Kamman's former time slot. We thought that meant MPR was committed to jazz. NPR (National Public Radio) seems to be. So does the BBC.

Locally, we still have jazz programming on KBEM and KFAI. Like MPR, both are public radio stations.

Many people have sent emails with comments about the MinnPost article and MPR's decision. A sampling:

--"Me, I'm pulling for Lightrail to reroute through their lobby."
--"Just plain pitiful."
--"Mary Ann did a valiant job of furthering the art form in this region. I'm among those who will really miss the show. "
--"This is indeed sad news."
--"I ALWAYS learned something when I listened to the program."
--"Pardon my French, but those bean counters at MPR are assholes."
--"This is an unfortunate trend all over the country.... What's alive as an art form is nearly buried as a business venture."
--"It is further inspiration to support the lesser-supported arts."
--"The Twin Cities' support for jazz used to be fawned over from San Francisco to New York City. Now we're an embarrassment. What happened?"

Allow me to suggest that we include KBEM and KFAI in our giving plans. And to suggest that in the midst of the economic crisis, the cutbacks, the layoffs, the downsizing, our personal economic troubles, our worries, and our fears, that we do what we can to support live jazz. If we want it to be there and available to us six months from now--whether at the Dakota or the AQ, Orchestra Hall or the Ted Mann, the Rogue Buddha, the Kitty Cat or the Hopkins Center, the Clown Lounge or the Hat Trick or Cafe Maude or any one of the places we can experience this remarkable music in person--let's get out there, kids. Now is the time.


  1. Sadly this is the same in the UK where the BBC is funded by a mandatory licence fee. It's rare for jazz to be on in "prime time" the result of which is that more people grow up thinking it's a music only for those over 60 and hard to approach.

    I now have an Internet radio on which I can listen to Radio Swiss Jazz whenever I want. Perhaps Internet radio is the real home for this music ?

  2. Beautifully put, Pamela. Thank you.

    About the only thing one could add to this piece is about 200 more of those archetypal names!

    I am in hopes that Jazz will continue and thrive and doesn't need MPR. I know that Maryann's many talents will certainly find other outlets.

    But arrogance is contagious and is never pretty (although the "Minnesota Monthly" comments a few months back were ironically hysterical), and your "call to arms" is appropriate and timely.

  3. The names were a chorus in my head. In among them, of course, were many people you and I know personally, but I thought if I included those at well I'd get into trouble for sure. :) When you start listing names and realize you could go on forever, it underscores the enormity of MPR's snub.

  4. Not only does MPR drop the only local jazz programming - they don't even carry the jazz programming put out by NPR.

    I was sad when MPR bought 89.3 from St Olaf, because they used to carry NPR's jazz programming.

    When will people wake up and realize that jazz is America's classical music - and is worthy of the same kind of support and respect that European classical music gets.

  5. And what about KPLU?
    It seems to me that it`s serious public radio with the strong sympathy for jazz.

  6. Yes--KPLU in Washington State ( Another 88.5, like KBEM here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Thanks for reading and writing.


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