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The perennial "bridesmaids" of the Nobel Prize for Literature -- writers pegged every year as likely candidates but who never win, Thursday on NPR's Morning Edition.
About the Program
Morning Edition is a mix of news, analysis, interviews, commentaries, arts, features and music, not to mention one of the most listened-to and most respected newsmagazines in the world.
Wendy Wright :: From Memphis to Motown
Wendy Wright has been on the radio at WEMU since April 2000. She served as host of 89.1 Jazz, Sunday mornings from 5-8 a.m. from 2000-June 2007 when she was asked to host From Memphis to Motown.
An Ann Arbor Native (Dicken, Slauson, Pioneer), Wendy holds a BA from U of M in Theater and History and has worked towards a MA in Arts Management from EMU.
Although her voice has been gracing the airwaves for some time, her face has been seen on the stages of Washtenaw County for even longer. She has won multiple awards for her acting and directing and was the Administrative Manager for the Ann Arbor Civic Theater in the 1990’s , as well as President of the Michigan Classical Repertory Theater.
Her love of jazz and blues is the direct result of her exposure to WEMU. After taking several classes from such luminaries as George Klein, Linda Yohn and Michael Jewett at the now defunct Depot Town Center, she was asked to join the board of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival on which she served from 1998-2002. After pestering Linda Yohn for about a year, she was asked to join the staff of WEMU in 2000 and she was soon subbing for Linda herself. With her extensive onstage experience, Wendy is frequently the go-to girl to emcee events on behalf of the radio station.
Although she loves jazz, her heart belongs to the blues and she truly has a passion for sharing new blues artists (especially the women) with the WEMU audience. Some favorite jazz artists include Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet, Eric Reed, Javon Jackson and Melvin Sparks. Some favorite blues artists include Howlin’ Wolf, Susan Tedeschi, Tab Benoit, Eric Bibb, Ruthie Foster and EG Kight. These lists are of course are never ending and ever changing.
Highlights during her time at WEMU have included interviewing Javon Jackson, emceeing at the Detroit International Jazz Festival, subbing for Linda Yohn during her extended leave, being called a “Blues Babe” by NPR Correspondent John Burnett, getting to create a new program from scratch, and meeting countless musicians and WEMU listeners throughout the years.
Oh, and she still reputedly makes the worlds best chocolate chip cookies.
Jessica Webster :: 89.1 Jazz
Jessica Webster came by her jazz obsessions at a very early age after hearing Fats Waller and the Manhattan Transfer when she was nine years old. In high school, while her friends were mooning over the latest pop stars, Jessica was collecting autographs from jazz legends and reading back issues of Downbeat magazine. Early encouragement from Carmen McRae and Art Blakey convinced Jessica that a life in jazz was the path for her. After moving to Ann Arbor at the age of 18, Jessica studied saxophone with the great Morris Lawrence, Jr., but put her horn down for good when Dr. Lawrence passed away unexpectedly. Six years clerking at the legendary Schoolkids’ Records was followed by twelve years as the national jazz buyer for the Borders chain, resulting in Jessica being repeatedly named one of the ten most powerful people in the jazz industry.
Jessica has been at WEMU since the day after her 20th birthday, and has loved every minute of her education at the feet of Michael Jewett, Linda Yohn, and the well-informed WEMU audience.
Jessica lives in Ann Arbor with her super-cool son, her patient opera-singer partner, a full-time cat (Rufus Harley) and a part-time dog (Ellie), in a house overflowing with records, CDs and music memorabilia. She spends her free time going to her son's soccer games, walking and biking to the Produce Station or the farmers' markets, cooking, and listening to all varieties of music.
Joe Tiboni’ s love affair with the blues began while he was a student at University High School in Ann Arbor in the 1960’ s, listening to blues records along with the rock and roll of the period. The early Ann Arbor Blues Festivals and the healthy live music scene played a major role in cementing the relationship.
A radio buff since his elementary school days in Philadelphia listening to AM Radio legends Joe Niagra and Hy Lit on WIBG, he began broadcasting in 1968 on WEAK, part of the Michigan State student network. Returning to Ann Arbor, Joe was a volunteer broadcaster at WCBN-FM at the University of Michigan for over twenty years, hosting the free-form show "It’ s Just About Playin’ Some Music, You Know?" and creating "Reel Live Music" and "Nothin’ But The Blues," the area’ s longest running all blues radio program. In December 2011, Joe will celebrate eleven years as host of the Big City Blues Cruise.
Joe is best known, perhaps, for his tenure as the proprietor of Joe’ s Star Lounge, the legendary Ann Arbor bar which played host to talents as diverse as Big Joe Turner, Sippie Wallace, Mose Allison, Country Joe McDonald, REM, The Violent Femmes, and Billy Bragg in its short lifetime. He has also served as entertainment coordinator for the Ann Arbor Art Fairs and created a critically acclaimed live music showcase at two Ann Arbor coffeehouses. Joe served on the board of the Ann Arbor Film Festival for 15 years and the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival for 11 years before reclaiming some personal time for more private pursuits like gardening and home renovation.
A charter member of the Krewe de WEMU, Joe looks forward to their annual trip to New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival and despite the upheaval wrought by Hurricane Katrina contemplates relocating there some day. In real life, Joe is a manager for Eastern Michigan University Dining. In his spare time, Joe enjoys performance art, live music and collecting and reading cookbooks.
Nik Thompson :: The Sunday Best
Music moves me. Music teaches me. Music saves me.
In my mixed-up, confused and wandering life nothing has come close to matching the steady influence that music has had on me throughout.
I’ve gone through all sorts of phases. My priorities change with the seasons. My favorite food today settles blandly on my palate tomorrow. But that music is integral to my being is steadfast, unwavering.
How best to put it? Music, despite its propensity to be eccentric and odd, makes me feel normal. It helps me with my bearings. It keeps me from driving of the road and into a tree.
I’m not trying to be over-the-top here. It is what it is.
And I enjoy all music. I’m an equal opportunity listener. Sometime while I was in high school jazz started affecting me. There isn’t a particular moment to pinpoint, rather it seems as though it happened in a huge, saturating wave. I was left soaking in the music. Years later and I still haven’t dried off.
I remember hearing Horace Silver for the first time on Michael Jewett’s program. It must have been springtime because I recall thinking that Horace’s piano sounded a lot like the summer coming on. I also remember strolling up to Encore Records, in Ann Arbor, later that day to buy all the Horace Silver records I could find. I think I bought a few of Coltrane’s too. And probably a Rahsaan Roland Kirk record. And some Mingus, definitely some Mingus.
Wonderfully, it was only the beginning.
That afternoon was the start of what has become a ten-year (and counting) infatuation with the art of musical improvisation.
It was also the beginning of my devotion and loyalty to public radio, as a listener, contributor, and volunteer.
Working now for WEMU, I put my whole heart into every hour I’m on (or off) the air. My goal is to reach out to jazz’s new fans, while respecting the tastes of the listeners who’ve logged decades loving this music. Whether it’s giving a young man his first taste of Miles, or turning a veteran on to fresh sounds from William Parker, it all comes back to spreading the love for jazz.
In 1999 I began at WEMU hosting Afterhours Jazz & Blues on Monday nights. Since then I’ve been the guest host for just about every program 89.1 broadcasts. After finishing school I began hosting 89.1 Jazz on Saturday mornings, before leaving the station to spend a year teaching English in a (relatively) small town in China. In 2006 I began writing for WEMU’s Blog Jam, a broad discussion post online at wemu.org.
If you’re still curious, I’m an Eastern Michigan University graduate, with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, History, and Writing. I’ve been married since 2005, and I can’t imagine how I survived beforehand. I love fishing, traveling, following Tiger baseball, reading William Faulkner, changing oil, spacing out to Bob Dylan, napping with Jack Kerouac, going crazy with Federico Fillini, loving my family, and hanging out with the KreWE de MU.
Marc Taras :: 89.1 Jazz & Cuban Fantasy and Co-owner of PJ's New & Used Records in Ann Arbor.
How It Happened
My parents enjoyed music. Mom used to sing to us as children and taught us the song as well. We had children's records. I remember being particularly enamored of an album of cowboy songs and a record whose songs taught lessons related to astronomy and space travel. Everybody liked the Beatles, but the record I pestered my parents about was the first album from the Kinks. They bought us a copy, and their reward was months of hearing me shout, "Oh, yeah!", as Ray and Dave churned through "You Really Got Me."
The first record I bought with my allowance savings was John Mayall with Eric Clapton: "Bluesbreakers". Clapton records his first vocals on this date, covering a tune by his favorite writer, Robert Johnson. By the time I was in 7th or 8th grade I had the Robert Johnson sides as well. Even though I remember pondering the parents' copies of Duke Ellington's "Indigos" and Lionel Hampton's "Silver Vibes," it would be a couple more years till I got to serious jazz - tuning up en route with bands like Traffic, and the first LPs by Electric Flag, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago Transit Authority.
I was a sophomore when Al Bray came by with Charles Lloyd's "Forest Flower" and John Coltrane's "Live at Birdland". The door opened easily and the room was full of love. I was comfortable and excited. Steve Cote had bought a couple hundred modern jazz classics from WABX Air Ace Jerry Lubin, who was leaving town. In the ensuing weeks Steve and I and a strange group of heads processed these albums in a delicious herbal daze.
Coltrane, Miles, Monk. Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp, Marion Brown and Albert Ayler. Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus. It was an amazing new ether, and it was just so right! I will always remember the impact of that first night of listening, which included four sides that are lasting favorites: Gary Burton's sublime "Country Roads and Other Places"; Gato Barbieri's riveting "Fenix," with its tango rhythms and hysterical shrieks and squonks; Harvey Mandel's magnum opus for progressive blues guitar, "Cristo Redentor," and Mose Allison's state-of-the-union, horn-driven address "Hello There, Universe". Man, was I on board that bus!
During high school I began building my jazz LP archives and attending concerts and club scenes like Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit. I did three terms at U-M before dropping out to join a band, which promptly disintegrated. In the five years before I returned to the "U," I began working in record stores as a jazz buyer and salesman and, eventually, a manager. During this period I befriended the legendary jazz drummer J.C. Heard, whom I heard regularly in clubs. He lived in my apartment complex. I remember staring at then-newly reissued sides with Ella, Billie, Sarah and All-Stars, which featured J.C., and thinking, "My God! This is the same cat! And he's so sweet!"
In 1980 I returned to Ann Arbor and with the help of Pell Grants successfully concluded my undergrad work in English Literature. When I returned to college I told myself it would be nice to get involved with radio and that I should keep my eyes peeled for the opportunity to open a record store. In the fall of 1981 my brother, Jeff, my friend, P.J. Ryder, and I opened PJ's Used Records, which survives to this day in our little corner of the world at Packard and State in Ann Arbor. A year later I was recruited by a friend to host a jazz program at WCBN-FM the student-run alternative radio service at the University of Michigan.
I met Arwulf and Joe Tiboni through my involvement at the store and WCBN, beginning personal and professional relationships that thrive crazily to this day. I began working at Schoolkids' Records around 1988 and was the senior employee when the Liberty Street location met its sad demise. Arwulf and I collaborated regularly during this period, performing poetry for two voices and working with various jazz ensembles. Joe produced some of these shows, and the three of us actively worked with the now-moribund Eclipse Jazz to promote their concerts and events.
I recall PJ's funding a solo concert from Foday Musa Suso and Mandingo Griot Society. We gave them dollars to bring Olu Dara to town for the first time. Likewise Geri Allen. Likewise James Carter! Hey, I can pick 'em for sure! And when they were tadpoles they came cheap - which was, and is, all PJ's could afford!
Somewhere in the mid-'80s I made the acquaintance of Linda Yohn, WEMU's morning jazz host, music director and another of my favorite human beings. I remember dancing dervish-like to George Adams and Don Pullen's quartet at Frog Island and hanging with the Linda basking in audio-afterglow. By the mid-'90s she was approaching me to take over the 5-8 a.m. Saturday morning jazz program on 89.1. This turned out to be a pretty cool scene and after a few years of seasoning she offered me the high honor of the Saturday night shift. I guess that's about the long version of the short of it...except to mention that Alberto Nacif told me that doing a pilgrimage to Cuba would change my life! Hey, Al - you were so right!
So to Al B. and Steve, Jeff and PJ, Arwulf and Joe, Linda and Al, all my other friends and all the musicians: Thanks for shaking up my world. This really is the music of life itself, and with careful attention it will help us all learn how to love. And that's really what it's all about.
Mary Catherine Smith :: Brazilian Sol
Mary Catherine grew up in Petoskey at a time when jazz and music from other cultures could not be readily found in northern Michigan. Fortunately her mother had a pretty decent collection of vinyl, including some jazz recordings from the ‘50s, and so began her interest in jazz. It wasn’t until later that she became enamored of the music of Brazil.
When she was in 10th grade, she and one of her friends convinced their parents to let them travel to Recife, in northeastern Brazil, instead of going to Florida for their senior-year spring break. They wanted to visit an exchange student who was living with the friend’s family at the time. The only condition their parents made was that they pay for the trip themselves, so the two determined teens worked hard for two years to earn the money. Mary Catherine and her friend bought their tickets and went on the journey of a lifetime.
After spending almost a month in Recife, she knew that she had to return as soon as she humanely could. So, the following year Mary Catherine quit college and took off for Brazil again, this time spending 7 months in Recife teaching English and learning to speak Portuguese. (Of course the music, especially samba and forró, captured her soul.) A few years later she returned to Brazil to study at the University of São Paulo (USP) while working toward an undergraduate degree in Brazilian Culture at the University of Michigan.
Since then Mary Catherine has traveled to Brazil whenever possible, spending much of her time in Rio de Janeiro. She works with the cultural organization Baixo Santo do Alto Glória, which is located in the historic area straddling the Glória and Santa Teresa neighborhoods of Rio. BSAG is a “Ponto de Cultura,” a core component of Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil’s Cultura Viva program.
She was involved with the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival when it was re-established in 1992 and for several years afterward. She has also been a part of the Cultural Exchange Network of Detroit which produces the annual Detroit-based Concert of Colors. Since Brazilian Sol hit the air, she has coordinated and led workshops and lectures about Brazilian culture and music for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and the University Musical Society.
Today Mary Catherine goes to as many live shows as she can, especially those of the free jazz/improvisational nature. She lives in Depot Town with two felines, one of whom is named Guinga after the Brazilian composer/musician.