Sunday, December 05, 2010

local treasure

Ken Wiley's "The Art of Jazz" radio broadcast comes on every Sunday afternoon on the local NPR station, KPLU, between three and six. Since I moved here I've never missed it, and in the 28 years he's been doing the show, neither has Ken. Today his playlist will be heavily into Dave Brubeck who turns 90 tomorrow, and in fact Wiley's second Brubeck "side" is spinning right now.

The fact is, Wiley is heavily into anybody who ever played jazz music in any and all its incarnations, and with one of the world's largest collections of 78 and 33 rpm records, each thoroughly scrutinized, catalogued, and cross-referenced, he is able to illuminate everything he plays in fascinating detail. Listening to Wiley week after week enables a listener to feel as if he is getting a bird's-eye, panoramic view of American musical history, with our social history as a subtext to the music.

"The Art of Jazz" provides Seattleites with an unparalleled opportunity to learn directly from one of the world's premier scholars in his field, and at no charge excepting our donations to our local NPR station, of course. I thought I knew pretty much everything about early jazz and blues, but every week Wiley introduces me to musicians, songs, and occurrences in jazz history I didn't know. And his knowledge of the moderns is just as strong as his mastery of the early history, because he truly loves it all.

The Time Magazine cover portrait of Dave Brubeck is by the Russian-born Boris Artzybasheff and appeared on November 8, 1954. As a sign of our disjointed times, Brubeck's penetrating gaze and cerebral-looking, high-rise forehead appeared sandwiched between weeks which saw the CEO of General Motors (whose name was W.R. "Bill" Blop or something like that), who made the cover on November first, and a bland hack who'd just been elected Governor of Pennsylvania, George A. Leader, who appeared the week after. Of the artist, the businessman, and the politician, the artist is the only one of the three still widely known today (although the unmemorable Leader is still alive). That says something about whose contribution to society is most valuable in this degraded time we live in.

No comments: