Ed Beach (1924-2009), one of New York's most beloved jazz disc jockeys whose radio shows on WRVR-FM in the 1970s are so legendary and revered today that digital copies continue to be swapped on the Internet like rare baseball cards, died on December 25th in Eugene, OR. He was 85.
Though Ed was born in Oregon, he wound up in New York in the late 1950s, appearing in the theater. But his honey-rich voice soon landed him on the radio where he steadily built a large following for his true passion: jazz. Ed's on-air delivery was halting and hip, as if delivered from a hammock. Much of the magic stemmed from Ed's ability to hold the sound of words at the end of sentences just briefly, which added a certain warm cadence to his banter.
Even a careful New York listener couldn't quite grasp the origin of Ed's accent. Its cool, arch sound seemed native, but there was an out-of-town inflection as well, like someone who moved to town and absorbed the street lingo. That's probably because Ed's on-air style was a virtual collage of New York's great disc jockeys. When Ed spoke, you could hear the spirit of "Symphony Sid" Torin, Fred Robbins [pictured], Mort Fega and other broadcasting greats who years earlier had helped create a nocturnal mystique for jazz clubs and jazz musicians. [Photo of drummer Big Sid Catlett flexing for platter spinner Fred Robbins, by William P. Gottlieb]
And like those earlier graceful disc jockeys, Ed always kept the focus on the music, not himself, relying on little-known details about artists to inform and entertain. Ed's show Just Jazz always focused on a single artist's work, frequently covering a specific period, complete with bio bits. Back in the LP era of the 1970s, virtually everything he played was rare since very little of the older stuff was on vinyl.
His show opened with Wes Montgomery's So Do It! But Ed also used Montgomery as his background music, with the guitarist running octaves softly while Ed relayed information about an artist or track. From time to time, Ed would pause momentarily just to let Montgomery's D-Natural Blues from The Incredible Guitar of Wes Montgomery seep through. Or to buy a second to grab information. Either way, it was cool.
It was impossible not to be swept away by the sound of Ed's voice, and like many jazz fans in New York who grew up listening to him, I never understood why Ed left to return to Oregon after WRVR changed hands in the late 1970s. There were stories about a farm and Ed's love for unplowed fields. Others said he had had enough big city living for one lifetime.
Way back in May 1973, when I was 17 years old, I wrote Ed a letter, probably to ramble on about how much his shows and the music meant to me. Ed, ever the jazz crusader, promptly wrote back:
"Very good to hear from a jazz enthusiast as young as yourself. I wish this marvelous music would capture the ears of several million more people in your age group. Good luck and convert some of your friends."
Hopefully today I'm doing Ed's work.
Jazz.FM91, Canada's largest jazz radio station in Toronto and a syndicator of JazzWax, just released an iPhone app (short for application). The app provides the station's live and web radio streams, jazz news, podcasts and more. You also can search for the music you hear at iTunes or browse the station's website while listening. For more information, go here.
Max Roach. My boy "Symphony Sid" Gribetz, the disc whisker with the Rolls Royce voice, tells me that WKCR today is featuring 24 hours of recordings by drummer Max Roach. You can tune in and dig Max's wax from anywhere in the world here.
Jazz's fizzling pizzazz. In response to my editorial last week on jazz's lack of stage excitement compared to today's pop acts, Peter Hum, jazz writer for the Ottawa Citizen in Canada, had a different take while taking me to task. Go here to read Peter's fine post.
Tune Danish. Reader Marla Kleman passed along this fabulous clip of Ben Webster and Charlie Shavers at Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen in 1971...
South African jazz. Photographer Paul Slaughter sent along this fascinating must-watch clip, featuring a mini-documentary on 1950s South African singer Dolly Rathebe (pronounced RAT-tab-ay) and the African Ink Spots. I can't stop viewing it. Jazz's reach and interpretations never cease to amaze.
Harry "Sweets" Edison. After the appearance of photographer Paul Slaughter's recollections in PhotoStory13, Grange Rutan, pianist Al Haig's widow and author of Death of a Bebop Wife, sent along the following e-mail:
"Back in 1990, I went to Trumpets in Montclair, N.J., to hear singer Billy Eckstine [pictured] and to interview him for my book. I arrived early with a friend to sit up front. We were seated at a table next to three black women in fancy church attire. There was an empty seat that their pocketbooks occupied. They even had furs draped over their shoulders. I think I even saw a muff.
"And there was Mr. B, long and tall in all his wonder, dressed in elegant gray with hankie, tie and shirt to match. He left me breathless. He took the battery microphone, closed his eyes and began to sing. By the first stanza, these elderly churchwomen were saying 'yes' as they began to fall apart and adore Billy. But just then, a man quietly lifted up their purses and sat down.
"All eyes for a heartbeat left the crooner and pounced on handsome 'Sweets' [pictured]. Billy opened his eyes, stopped the music and went over to hug him too. It was a moment to witness."
Jazz-pop connection. Tonight, jazz musician and writer Bill Kirchner will host a radio show on New York's WBGO featuring jazz musicians who have recorded jazz interpretations of pop and rock. The show will showcase recordings of pianists Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper, [pictured] and the Bad Plus playing the music of the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Kurt Cobain, the Bee Gees, Pink Floyd and others. Tune in here, from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT).
City Island. Director and JazzWax reader Raymond De Felitta (The Search for Jackie Paris) is writing a book—online at his blog, Movies 'til Dawn. The book's subject? The inside story behind the making of his latest movie, City Island, which will be released March 19. Raymond's posts feature on-the-set insights, behind-the-camera reflections as well as stills and clips of the cast, including Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies and Alan Arkin.
Left Bank Bearcats. Drew Techner has posted several videoclips at YouTube about the Left Bank Bearcats, a Philadelphia Dixieland ensemble that recorded three albums in the late 1950s. Drew's father, trumpeter Joe Techner, played in the group. You'll find a clip of the Bearcats' recording of When the Saints Go Marching In here with information researched and written by Drew. Here's an interview Drew conducted with Bearcats' trombonist Al Leopold...
CD Discovery of the Week. Alto saxophonist Oscar Feldman is from Argentina, and it shows. Feldman brings enormous edge, passion and a cosmopolitan sensibility to his new album, Oscar e Familia. His approach has a 1970's feel, but the result isn't rehashed fusion or re-heated Gato Barbieri. Instead, there's a seductive intensity to Feldman's intonation that grabs you from the opening track. In addition, all of his original compositions are well thought out and beautifully executed. Tracks like Mrs. Tangoholic and The Improvisers push with determination while his New Tango is deeply moving, especially with strings arranged by Carlos Franzetti. Everything about his album is sensational, particularly the musicians accompanying Feldman on the date. In particular, Manuel Valera lifts every track with his delicate Latin touch.
If you want to sample tracks, try New Tango and Astor Piazzolla's Triunfal. Dig the fire, the intensity and the celebration.
Oscar Feldman's Oscar e Familia is available at iTunes and CDBaby.com here.
Oddball Album Cover of the Week. Trumpeter Bill Berry recorded with Herb Pomeroy, Woody Herman and many other jazz musicians. But sometime in the early 1960s, he made this album for Parade Records. I have not heard the album, and I'm unfamiliar with the label. But clearly Parade lacked a design department. In the days before digital retouching, they seemed to have colorized his horn with India ink and then rephotographed the result, washing out poor Bill's head in the process. The result? Martian With a Horn.