20 December 2007

Crow ~ As in Eating Some ....

Among the things I regularly find dismaying about Rochester is WXXI our local npr afiliate. It is, as I have said many, many times, the most boring public radio station in the country. I take it as a symptom of the city's deeply conservative culture. And nothing that I say below alters this general estimation. Consider the experience I report the exception proving the rule.

WXXI has more or less systematically done away with local programming, substituting homogenous feeds from various syndicated shows from National or American public this or that. Not long ago they rejected persistent requests that they run Democracy Now! basically because it is too critical and challenging. We wouldn't want to offer an alternative - especially in a town dominated by inane news outlets. One local show that WXXI has retained is "Mostly Jazz" hosted by Tom Hampson. If you listened only to this show as a way of learning about jazz you would think that the genre was invented and dominated by big bands led by white men, insipid white guitarists, and piano trios playing covers of pop tunes. I cannot recall ever hearing Hampson play Mingus, Monk, Ellington, Davis, let alone Coltrane or Coleman or less prominent or more contemporary black musicians (say, David Murray). I find that sort of mis-representation very difficult to swallow. After several years of irritation I began changing the station.

Then, a couple of years back. I read this profile of Hampson in The City Newspaper. It turns out that Hampson is a lawyer who, over the course of several decades, has been involved in several important local legal and political cases, as well as in trying to expand the scope of even more staid local broadcasting. More recently he has weighed in on the predictably outrageous efforts of the Republican dominated Monroe County Legislature to highjack the Public Defender's office as a source of political patronage [1] [2]. None of that makes his show on WXXI less irritating. But it does make me think he is an interesting, even admirable, fellow.

By now you will be wondering where all this is going. So I will come to the point. A week or so ago I hopped into the car. The radio was tuned to WXXI and Hampson's show was broadcasting. I didn't initially realize it was him though, because I came in in the middle of a cool number which, it turns out, was from the "Best Bets" CD (2006) by Trio East on the obscure Origin label. By the time Hampson came in after the tune it was too late. I'd had to admit that here, finally, he'd played something I really quite liked.

Of courses, things got even a bit dicier as I listed to Hampson describe Trio East. It turns out that the members of the group are all colleagues of mine. Rich Thompson, Clay Jenkins, and Jeff Campbell all are on the faculty of the UofR's Eastman School of Music. This forced me to recognize several embarassing (to me) things. Most obviously the band is local and my view of the local jazz scene is pretty dim. Second, this is a group of basically conservatory musicians and my general view is that conservatory training squeezes the jazz out of one's bones. (For example, I find Wynton Marsalis, the poster child for conservatory-trained jazz musicians, to be both boring muscially and sanctimonious in his pronouncements on the "tradition.") So, not only has Tom Hampson sold me on a new band, he has sold me on one to which nearly all of my prejudices would suggest I'd never give a second thought.

I picked up both "Best Bets" and another recent CD by Trio East "Stop-Start" [on the also obscure Sons of Sound Label (2005)]. The instrumentation - bass-trumpet-drums - allows Trio East to generate an expansive, open, angular sound. And they play a mix of original compositions and not-quite standards by the likes of John Coltrane, Mal Waldron, Ornette Coleman, John Abercrombie, Duke Ellington, and Lee Morgan. And the central place of the trumpet makes me think of my son Jeff who aspired to play this well. I look forward to getting out to hear Trio East live as soon as I am able.

And, of course, I owe the discovery to Tom Hampson. Thanks!

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Blogger Evelyn Brister said...

True comments about WXXI and their jazz programming.

However, they are affiliated with your very own WRUR, where "Open Tunings" does a better job of showcasing singer-songwriter music (and local musicians) than any other radio station I know of (even Austin TX's very notable KGSR). And as if Scot Regan's program weren't enough, there are student DJ's on weekday afternoons (I especially like Thursday's "American Remains") and other locally-produced programs may evenings.

Even when WXXI lets me down, I remind myself that this is the only town I know of with at least 5 quite decent public radio stations!

23 December, 2007 11:52  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Hey Evelyn! Hope you all are well. WRUR is a bit of a mixed bag. I do like a bunch of the local shows. But the range is dismal - I cannot really get the station way out here. And as for the student progamming, the Dean runs a mandatory pre-dj "course" making sure that they don't play anything too wacky or do anything hat might "offend" anyone. I also like some of the programming on WITR and WBER and WGMC and WEOS but again these are small-fry stations. I wish we could simply redictirbute resources away from WXXI to the smaller stations!

By the way David Cater who does the American Remains show is one of our graduate students!

have a great holiday. Jim

23 December, 2007 14:27  

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