WHAT ED BEACH GAVE US

I’ve just learned that Ed Beach is dead.  He was 86 and had lived in Oregon (his home state) for a long time.  No service is planned, so people who recall him, love him, and love what he did will have to perform their own affectionate memorials in their heads.

Fittingly, for a man who spent his life as a voice coming through the speaker, there is no picture of Beach on Google Images.  But that voice — cavernous, drawling, amused, dragging out certain syllables — is here in my memory, and when people like myself who grew up listening to Beach speak of him, one of them will bring forth his cherished phrases and start laughing.

What I know of his biography is limited.  Oregon-born, he was a capable West Coast jazz pianist who admired Tatum and the early bop players.  How he got into radio I don’t know, but my first awareness of him began in 1969, when I saw in the New York Times that there was a two-hour program called (rather flatly) JUST JAZZ on the then reigning non-commercial New York jazz station, WRVR-FM, 106.7, broadcasting from the Riverside Church. 

That in itself was interesting: it was on two hours every weekday and for four hours on Saturday night.  In this age of digitized music and internet streaming, those hours may not seem like a great deal, but it was a boon even then.  And what caught my attention was the listing of a two-hour show on Lee Wiley, someone I’d read about but hadn’t heard.  (I’d read George Frazier’s love-besotted liner note reprinted in EDDIE CONDON’S TREASURY OF JAZZ.  More about that book and that piece sometime.)  So I found a new box of reel-to-reel tape and sat in front of the speaker while Ed Beach played Lee Wiley’s recordings and spoke in between them. 

I didn’t know at the time that I had uniwttingly encountered one of the great spiritual masters, someone who (along with the musicians themselves and Whitney Balliett) would teach me all that I needed to know about jazz.

Beach’s show began with his chosen theme — Wes Montgomery’s BLUES IN F — played softly as connecting-music in between the performances he wanted to share with us.  Then, that deep voice, introducing himself and the show, and offering a very brief sketch of the artist who was the show’s subject . . . and into the music.  He didn’t overwhelm with minutiae; he didn’t teach or preach.  (Yes, I am comparing him with the Phil Schaap of today, but defenders of Phil need not leap to his defense.  This is about Ed Beach.) 

Beach wasn’t terribly interested in full personnels, in the best sound quality, in the original label of issue, presenting alternate takes in sequence, arranging an artist’s career chronologically. 

Rather, his was an eclectic, human approach — as if you had been invited to a listening session with someone who had a large collection, was eager to share his beloved treasures, moving from track to track as delight and whim took him.  So his approach was personal, apparently casual — as one selection reminded him of another, not just for their apparent similarity, but for the juxtapositions and the range of an artist’s work he could show in two hours.  Someone like Lee, whose recorded career was compact (this was in 1969, before all those versions of LET’S CALL IT A DAY surfaced) could be covered well in two hours.  Other artists, with longer careers, got multi-part shows: four hours on Louis in the Thirties.  Beach’s range was wide: I remember shows on Rollins and on Johnny Dunn.  And — given his format — he didn’t replay his favorite recordings.  Ed Hall today, Hank Mobley tomorrow, and so on. 

In hearing and recording and rehearing those shows I was not only learning about performances and performers I hadn’t heard of (because much classic jazz was out of print and my budget was limited) but about a loving reverence for the music, a point of view that could shine the light on the ODJB and on Clifford Brown, without condescending to either.  He mixed reverence for the music and irreverence for things outside it (he was powerfully funny in an understated way).  He tried to teach us all what to listen to and how to listen to it.

Now, when we can buy the complete recordings of X — going for hours, with unissued material, arranged in sequence — a Beach show might seem a fragmentary overview.  And I remember the mixed feelings I had, perhaps thirty-five years ago, when my collection (in its narrow intense way) began to expand past what he had played — or, even given new discoveries — what he had known.  I had that odd sense of a student discovering something that his much-admired professor hadn’t had access to . . . mingled emotions for sure. 

(Beach also had a program, for some brief time, BEACH READS, where he did just that — in that resonant voice, purling his way in hilarious deadpan through S.J. Perelman.  I can hear those cadences now.  And he was just as articulate off the air.  I remember having a small dialogue with him through the mail.  Powerfully under the spell of Mezz Mezzrow’s REALLY THE BLUES, I had written something negative to him about Red Nichols, accusing Nichols of being in it for the money.  Forty years later, I remember Beach’s sharp response: “Jazz musicians don’t play for cookies and carrots.”

All things, even Golden Eras that no one recognizes at the time, come to an end.  JUST JAZZ started to be aired at odd hours.  I set my alarm clock to get up at 7 AM on a Saturday morning to tape a two-hour Sidney Catlett show.  Pure jazz, without commercials, was not a paying proposition.  WRVR changed its programming schedule, putting Ed “in drive time,” airing brief jazz-related commercials (one of them was for the Master Jazz Recordings label — MJR of sainted memory) and then the station was sold.  I heard him again only on my deteriorating tapes and then only in my imagination.       

I hope that others who had the precious experience will share their memories of Ed — and perhaps this post will make its way to his family, so that they will know even more of how “Uncle Gabchin” or “Sam Seashore,” of the firm of “Wonder, Blunder, and Thunder,” some favorite self-mocking personae — how much Ed Beach was loved.  And remains so. 

Few people gave us so much, with so little fanfare, so generously.

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22 responses to “WHAT ED BEACH GAVE US

  1. will friedwald

    My Dad – who passed away 13 years ago – talked about hearing Ed Beach, but I don’t believe that I ever did… although Al Keller and some of the veteran collectors had some of his vintage programs on open reel tape.

    Michael: funny comment about “let’s call it a day” – I was around when all those takes was discovered, and had a hand in the Schaap-like decison to release them all. (I said to myself, ‘this set is only for completists!”) Also was happy to see a mention of Hank Mobley in there. (We like him!)

    w

  2. Sad, but glad to see he lived to a reasonably ripe old age.

    I still have a bunch of his programs recorded on reel-to-reels sitting somewhere in my parents house.

    I seem to recall the title of his reading show on WRVR-FM as “Ed Beach Reads through a Manhole”.
    His reading of SJ Perelman’s paean to Groucho Marx, “I’ll Always Call You Shnoorer, My African Explorer”, is a classic.

    He described his piano playing in an interview as “a poor man’s Errol Garner”.

    He would often, when the music merited it, outline each solo chorus of the selection yet this never was tedious or didactic. He had a deep historical, intellectual and spiritual understanding of jazz music.

    Ed Beach altered the trajectory of my life and thought. For the better.

    Good tidings and thanks to you Ed, wherever you might be.

  3. Sad news. Ed was the best jazz dj I ever heard. His comments were always appropriate and succinct. Thus, after playing “Lay By” by Duke featuring Ray Nance on violin, with his melifluous tone he said, “Marvelous!” He was the only one who played Claude Thornhill’s pre Gil Evans band with Fazola at his greatest. Oh, how we need his likes.

  4. Joe, you’re so right — but what happens when a great teacher stops teaching, his students carry on the work. Every time you play a great record for someone who’s never heard it, you are being your (and our) own Ed Beach. Thanks for writing! Michael Steinman

  5. The cavern of memory just opened up for a moment, and I remembered that the TIMES did a story on Ed Beach sometime in the Seventies. There might have been a picture, but what I remember most is his description of his apartment decor as records with a few sticks of furniture interspersed. A true collector!

  6. Although I was a regular listener to Ed Beach beginning probably in the early 1970s, only one particular day stands out in my memory. In the fall of 1974, I happened to be visiting Ellington specialist Jerry Valburn at his home in Plainview, New York, less than five miles from where I live. Jerry’s friend, Ulysses LaPradde, who had been close with the Ellington organization for a very long time, was helping Jerry with a project of some sort, the nature of which I can no longer recall.

    At some point in the middle of the day, I went on an errand with Ulysses. My car radio had been set to WRVR-FM. As I turned on the radio after starting the engine, a recording featuring Ellington reedman Harry Carney was playing. At the conclusion, Ed Beach introduced another Carney feature which was followed by yet another. This was quite unusual for Beach who, on no other occasion that I was then able to recall, ever played back to back recordings of the same artist.

    Sometime after Ulysses and I returned to Jerry’s house we learned that Carney had passed. It was much as I expected even though we had not heard Ed Beach mention that fact while we were listening to his program that day. It was a similarly sad day when I learned that Riverside Church was selling the radio station and the new owner was adopting a country music format.

  7. Ezra Millstein

    What I best remember about Ed Beach was his impeccable taste. He simply never played a bad tune. He was also the very best kind of educator: attract not promote.

  8. WRVR was very important to me as a teenager, and Ed Beach’s “Just Jazz” in particular. During my time as the Museum of Broadcasting’s Associate Curator for Radio, we made it a point to collect his programs.

  9. My Roommate and I listened to and enjoyed a lot of Ed Beach and his wonderful jazz programming as Tufts undergrads, 1961-64. His descriptions of the music, such as as the tempo and mood of a selection being “medium bright” were dead on, and uniquely his own. I’ve missed him since and I miss him now.

  10. Paul + Carol Rae Bradford

    What CDs and music are available, and where?
    Living in the New York area, and later on, Boston, MA we used to love listening to Ed Beach, “Just Jazz.”
    Thank you

  11. A collector whose name I don’t recall was advertising on one of the online jazz forums that he had CDs of Beach shows for sale — Google might come up with a result. I have learned that the Library of Congress and the Institute of Jazz Studies have collections of Beach shows — and the latter institution has his papers, as well. Let me know if none of this helps. (The short answer is that I don’t believe any of the shows have been issued in their original form officially — rights and permissions matters.) Thanks for reading! Michael Steinman

  12. charles davis

    I first developed more than a cursory interest in jazz in the late 60’s.If memory serves,Jean Sheperd,Ed Micheals and Billy Taylor were on the FM airwaves then-intelligent and informed voices, all. Ed Beach on RVR was a major part of that.His lucid capsule summaries of the music’s great performers-names unknown to me at the time-always seemed so inviting to me. As others have noted,it was as if he were welcoming you into his living room,saying..”Now check THIS out!” One memorable show was on pianist Martial Solal,and it started me on a now 40-years long joyous love of Solal’s music. Programs would send me on a search for the lps played,most which were hard to come by at the time-Evans “Portrait In Jazz”,Miles “Jazztrack”. Dayton’s(the long-closed, prestigious collectors record store in Greenwich Village)got more of my money for rare lps than I’d like to admit-although the prices were NOTHING compared to today’s cost. I’d love to have some of those wonderful JUST JAZZ hours transferred to disc. That way I’d never have to worry about wearing them out from the guaranteed repeated listening sessions. Thanks, Ed-the music you introduced me to when I was 18 yrs old is still swingin’…and I couldn’t have done it without you!

  13. I feel the same way, even though our musical education might have taken different paths, Charles. And perhaps we were in Dayton’s on the same afternoon — I found that oasis around 1971 and spent a good deal of time there, buying review copies of new lps and occasionally springing for some twenty-dollar rarity from the magic wall. Thanks for writing! michael Steinman

  14. Marc Myers, of JAZZWAX, has written his own fine appreciation of Ed Beach (posted on Sunday, January 10, 2010. And Marc points out that Ed’s theme was Wes Montgomery’s SO DO IT! and that the music that softly played between selections was Wes’s D-NATURAL BLUES. Thanks, Marc!

  15. god bless ed beach a true artist of a jazz dj. when i became a jazz music person as a teen he was very much a part of it. i used to write down the names of every one he played, strange how i was thinking about him on my way to louis armstrongs house this past saturday and now i hear of his death today tuesday. ed beach was beautiful!

  16. Thanks for a good page. Ed was a humble guy who was always glad to hear that his show had an impact. An old good pic from Ed’s son is in the NYT obit (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/arts/14beach.html)
    and a fine piece from a close Oregon friend has just been posted too at http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/opinion/24346804-47/jazz-beach-music-radio-pizzarelli.csp

  17. I paid memorial tribute to Ed a couple of weeks ago in Jazz a la Mode, and recalled what a formative influence he was on me. I first heard Ed around 1970 when Just Jazz was being carried by a Boston radio station. And I remember that first time especially as Ed featured Commodore sessions by Chu Berry and Lips Page, Don Byas, the Kansas City Six, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, Lucky Thompson, and Sid Catlett’s group with Ben Webster. In the space of two hours, he gave me a glorious introduction to the wonders of small group swing.

    Clayton Riley wrote a long feature on Ed in the Sunday Times around 1972 in which Beach said, “I think jazz deserves a complete portrait of its existence. Two hours with an artist tells you about as much about the various worlds we inhabit as about the musical skill and consciousness that that artist possesses.” The article inluded a photo of Ed standing before his record collection, which was described as “what he possesses and what he is.”

    Ed had a theatrical flair and used language beautifully. I’ve done my best to honor his legacy in my own weeknight show for the past 26 years.

  18. Dear Tom,

    You and your programs come highly recommended by John Herr — I will certainly give a listen! Do you have more information on that 1972 story? I’d like to post it on the blog as a continuing tribute; I remember reading it with pleasure and that there was a tiny picture of Beach in it. Cheers and thanks, Michael

  19. Michael,
    The article on ed Beach, “He’s Just Wild About Jazz,” appeared on December 12, 1971. It’s 2000 words long and available for a fee on the NYT Archive , where it notes that the first paragraph of the article is missing. The picture is actually pretty good sized, 4×6.
    Tom

  20. I understand, as Jazzlives says, that the Library of Congress has an extensive or maybe even complete set of recordings of the Just Jazz programs. A project was begun to transfer the tapes to cds, but apparantly was interrupted. Somebody should ensure that project is completed so these irreplaceable treasures are not lost.

    I was told that one can listen to the tapes and the completed cds at the Library, but they’re not available for commercial use because of the permissions, etc. that Jazzlives relates.

    Do any intellectual property types know whether they might be played on non commercial radio?

    I think Newark’s Institute of Jazz Studies has only a small collection of recorded shows as does some West Coast community college whose name I’ve forgotten.

  21. dear michael, nice to meet you last night at the ear. I was at your site last year when news of the death of ed beach was released and I did leave a short comment. I am forever greatful for what ed beach gave me on the radio. by the way your sight is a veritable”jazz mine”

  22. Pingback: A TRIBUTE TO ED BEACH by DAN FORTE | JAZZ LIVES

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