Most people know that St. Louis has a rich jazz heritage. From its New Orleans roots to the ground-breaking Black Artists Group to current young musicians, the city has produced its fair share of jazz musicians and innovators.
One would think, then, that St. Louis jazz radio would reflect our diverse history. St. Louis has four non-commercial stations and two commercial AM stations that feature jazz in their format. While jazz music means different things to different people (some even object to the word "jazz"), much of the airplay seems to have a single focus. Where does one turn to hear John Hicks, Oliver Lake, Lester Bowie or Eric Person a all with St. Louis roots a or others pushing the envelope, such as David Murray, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra or the Either/Orchestra?
It seems that if music doesn't have a recognizable beat or melody, it's not worthy of airplay. The same could be said about live performances in St. Louis.
This is not meant to knock melodious jazz a even Art Blakey said that "the average man doesn't want to have to use his brain when he listens to music. Music should wash away the dust of everyday life." But there is so much room under the "jazz" rubric.
Two radio hosts who do take chances are Dennis Owsley, (Jazz Unlimited, KWMU, 90.7 FM, Sun days, 9 p.m.-midnight) and Darrick Shakir, (The World of Jazz Mecca, KDHX, 88.1 FM, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. -midnight).
Owsley has hosted a jazz show on KWMU for 13 years and thinks that jazz is at its lowest point since 1969. In addition to broadcasting, Owsley lectures on jazz history at several local colleges and universities. "What I'm trying to convey is that this is great music, music that deserves to be heard and compared to any other art music, it [often] reflects where the culture is going."
Owsley cites examples of how in the `40s and `50s, bebop players were talking about civil rights long before any organized cultural efforts existed. "Unfortunately, the precedent now seems to be extreme conservatism," which he believes is reflected in the current jazz scene, especially concerning which musicians get all the press.
"You've always had a problem in jazz because its always been put in the pigeonhole of popular music. So you have people that, although they are not great artists, are designated by the press as spokesman for the music a often times these are the wrong people," he said.
"It's a crying shame that these `xeroxers,' people who base their styles a almost note for note a on well-known players, are getting all this press. And unfortunately, most jazz fans don't even know the difference."
Concerning the local jazz scene, "there is basically one club where national acts can be heard, and then if it's somebody who's not very well known, nobody shows up, witness Lester Bowie [Nov. 8, Jazz at the Bistro]. Jazz is not a and never has been a hip mood music."
The future? …