Program director Chuck Miller hired me in August 1995 as a jazz dj for NPR affiliate WGLT in Normal, IL. I would work two shifts of 3 or 4 hours programming jazz, broadcasting syndicated shows by both Branford and Wynton Marsalis via tape or satellite feed. While I had studied clarinet from middle school through to my 3rd year in college, I had only played jazz in my high school band, where we played jazz, classical, marching band music, salsa and traditional irish folk songs. Like most of the music I had grown to love from punk to jazz, I picked it up and learned about it in a vacuum (due to race, class and location, more on this later), through my own research as a teenager and young adult. So to have programs I could run from NPR and the biggest jazz library I had ever seen, my education grew ten fold in a matter of weeks! I did have constraints due to the format the music director wanted us to use, but I only saw it as a challenge to learn more within the styles and artists I chose. My education wasn’t over after this job. It would be almost two years until I would meet jeff parker and chad taylor. Like many stations at the time, they were pressed to gain more listeners and wanted to move toward a more adult contemporary and smooth jazz sound. While making that transition I was still allowed to explore and educate myself and the audience.
If music was a way for me to explore my identity, then jazz was how I found my blackness. However, not everyone was happy with my explorations and expressions. The constraints got tighter, no more Archie Shepp or any of that fire music. But with the support of Chuck who was a proponent of the kind of music I found inspiring I stayed on for the following semester even though I knew I wasn’t welcome. This time was integral to my development of my creative approach. My passion for jazz-Great Black Music was more important than feeling welcome by anyone at that station. That interest and passion was only recognized by one person and that was the guy that hired me and kept me on. So, as a DJ I valued communicating an idea or mood over ‘moving’ a crowd. Selections were more important than technical virtuosity.
But this job was also opened up problems of reception of what I was doing and would continue to this day. And that problem has a lot to do with race. Working as a DJ in an unpopular genre as a black kid barely 21 years old when no one listened to jazz. This was the Midwest (More Chronic than Illmatic). I had no right to have ownership over what I was doing or to be empowered or educated. But here I was playing my culture and my music. It is something I reflect on positively to this day. I stumbled across an air-check tape (similar to a demo-tape of promos and announcements recorded during my DJ shift) from November of 1995. I made the playlist from this tape. The playlist is a bit conservative compared to what I DJ and play live with musicians but no less informative of what and how I learned about jazz. It also gives one a glimpse into 3-4 hours of life of a young Black art student in central Illinois.