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From “INFINITE PLAYLIST,” by Alex Ross

 From The New Yorker, August 10/17. 2009:

For a century or so, the life of a home listener was simple: you had your disks, whether in the form of cylinders, 78s, LPs, or CDs, and, no matter how many of them piled up, there was a clear demarcation between the music that you had and the music that you didn’t.  The Internet has removed that distinction.  Near-infinity awaits on the other side of the magic rectangle.  Video and audio stream in from around the world. . . . but these meandering journeys across the Internet soundscape can be taxing.  The medium too easily generates anxiety in place of fulfillment, an addictive cycle of craving and malaise.  No sooner has one experience begun than the thought of what else is out there intrudes.  Putting on an old-fashioned disk and letting it play to the end restores a measure of sanity.  This may explain why the archaic LP is enjoying an odd surge of popularity among younger listeners: it’s a modest rebellion against the tyranny of instant access.

At times, I enjoy “the tyranny of instant access,” and I think that in some small way my blog-videos have contributed a rivulet to the deluge, but I know well what Ross is writing about.  I propose (in my ancient way) that we take it back even one step deeper into the past, with One-Track Moments: where we play one recording a half-dozen times in a row to hear it deeper and deeper.  This, of course, is a poor substitute for the tactile thrill of placing the stylus once again at the beginning of the track, or (an infinitely more seductive pleasure, now half-denied us) of replaying a particular passage or even a moment — a series of three Jo Jones accents behind Tommy Ladnier, or the different ways Billie Holiday sings “Yesterdays” on her 1939 Commodore record, or the glorious pots-and-pans clatter Dave Tough makes on “Tappin’ the Commodore Till.”  Let us occasionally listen to jazz as they did in 1939, intently, intensely, dipping ourselves neck-deep in its pleasures, rather than moving through twenty-five tracks of a compact disc as if we were someone mowing a meadow, one strip closer to going home.  Try it!  It satisfies . . . .

SOUNDS GOOD TO ME

radio2Over the past forty years, I’ve spent many rewarding hours in front of the radio, listening to jazz.  My mother loved WPAT, a New Jersey easy listening station where the programmers had good taste and a real affection for Bobby Hackett.  Later, John S. Wilson played an hour of jazz once a week on WQXR.  Then, WRVR, with Ed Beach, Max Cole, and other luminaries; WBGO (thankfully still going strong with their jazz programming and “Jazz From the Archives,” often hosted by Dan Morgenstern).  There’s WKCR — with Phil Schaap, of course, but also Sid Gribetz, Ben Young, and others. Rich Conaty, of “The Big Broadcast” on WFUV and Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC still offer up the good noise.  Once in a while, I could even hear Humphrey Lyttelton on BBC shortwave.  And I am sure I have left someone out.

Thanks to Dave Weiner at Hofstra, who hosted his own “Swing Years,” I took my own leap into college radio, circa 1982.  I invented an hour-long show, “Rarities,” where I could play Thirties blue-label Deccas; consider the career of Lou McGarity, and amuse myself for a splendidly small audience.

Perhaps ten years ago, tuning around the bottom end of the FM dial, where the non-commercial radio stations huddle together for shelter, I heard an assortment of jazz records being played — no announcements, no explanation, and apparently no order.  I would turn to this station when I was ready to go to sleep, but (in that state of fuzzy half-awareness, so oddly precious) I noticed that some of their randomness seemed planned.  They would be offering the same groupings of music at the same time each night — for instance, an Arbors CD featuring Dan Barrett and Becky Kilgore.  Then the light bulb — admittedly one of low wattage — went on.  They had organized everything alphabetically by title: “I Thought About You,” “I Wished On The Moon,” “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me.”  Now, whenever I turn to the “Songs” listing on my iPod, I think of that anonymous radio station.

However, jazz on the radio is hardly proliferating now.  But some people have discovered that they can get around the costly necessities of a “real” radio station by means of the internet.  The OKOM people were perhaps the first to do this.

Now, I’ve learned that “PURE JAZZ RADIO” is coming on January 1, 2009.  Rich Keith, who also lives on this island, has let me know that his project will be to play jazz classics 24/7 with time for Frank Sinatra on Sundays.  Visit his site http://www.purejazzradio.com for more information. 

Some days I look at the pile of CDs next to the computer that have to be listened to so that I can review them, and those I’ve just bought, and think the heretical thought, “Is it possible you have too much music here?”  But even in those moments, a new jazz radio station devoted to jazz (!) is an enterprise worth investigating.  Good luck, Rich!