Tom Reney no doubt remembers to the second how long it took me to respond to his letter of introduction in 1983. OK, so I dawdled — er, deliberated a little. In retrospect, it was time well invested in probably the best decision I ever made during my 35 year radio tenure.
I was Music Director of WFCR (now part of the New England Public Radio media empire), while also programming and hosting classical and jazz shows. Though my jazz radio chops were pretty solid, if I say so myself, it wasn’t as if I couldn’t have been improved upon. So, when I received a letter offering services from someone with both abiding love of jazz and a decent amount of radio experience, I was intrigued. A bit of flattery for my own work, indicating a potential kindred spirit who had done his homework, added to his attractions. And hey, a little ego-stroking never hurts.
Long story short, we at WFCR got more, much more, than we bargained for when Tom joined the roster in 1984. Three decades and thousands of swinging tunes later, Tom’s “Jazz à la Mode” remains not only essential listening for New England jazz lovers but a model program for How to Do Jazz Radio.
Would that all radio hosts brought Tom’s mix of impeccably high standards and joie de swing to their shows. You can listen to JALM with complete confidence, knowing that if the music is great, Tom will play it, and if Tom plays it, the music is great.
That Tom knows whereof he speaks when it comes to jazz (and blues, I should add) hardly need be mentioned. But his knowledge extends well beyond record dates and personnel. Like all art forms, jazz emerged not from a vacuum but from a confluence of cultures. You can’t really know the music unless you know where it came from.
And maybe that’s what separates Tom from other equally knowledgeable jazz hosts — the breadth and depth of literary, artistic and sociological understanding he can draw from, not for on-air disquisitions, but as a moral and ethical foundation for what he does and why it matters. These aren’t just notes, folks — these are people’s lives. And for the Tom Reneys among us, radio is not just a career, it’s a calling. If you haven’t added Tom’s brilliant blog to your subscription feed, please do.
This Sunday afternoon from 3-6 at the Community Music School of Springfield, NEPR will throw Tom a “Jazz à la Mode” a 30th anniversary bash (click for tickets and other information). One way to gauge the respect in which Tom is held by musicians is to take a gander at the roster of performers who’ll be “on the band,” as Tom would put it: Charles Neville, Karrin Allyson, Steve Davis, Avery Sharpe, Grant Stewart, Nat Reeves, Paul Arslanian, George Kaye and Jon Fisher. That’s about as solid a lineup as will be making jazz anywhere in the world this Sunday — and they’re right here, contributing to a good cause.
So congrats, old colleague and friend. And here’s to thirty more years of swinging that gone music!