89.1 WEMU

Meet The Staff - Jessica Webster

Mar 15, 2016

WEMU's Jessica Webster: another "student that found WEMU and turned it into a love affair" story

If you listen to WEMU, then you're automatically part of the "In Crowd."  Our listeners and supporters make the station hum, and our hosts know and love this energy.  That's where Jessica Webster comes in.  She's been with WEMU for a few years, but recently she's come to Sunday afternoons and taken possession of the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. time slot as the host of "The In Crowd."  Here's a glimpse into what makes her tick.

 What's your current (and past) position - Host of The In Crowd, Sundays at 3. I started at WEMU when I was 19 years old, as an overnight radio host, playing jazz to night owls, cab drivers and janitors from midnight to 5 in the morning. Over the years I've worked as an intern, worked in operations writing copy for the logs, hosted a vocal jazz show called The Sweetest Sounds, and a Saturday afternoon show called Midday Jazz. 

 

In case you were wondering where in the world Jessica Webster went to high school.
  

Where did you grow up -  Born in Seneca Falls, NY (birthplace of women's rights!), went to high school in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, and have lived and raised a family here in Ann Arbor for the past 25+ years. I never intended to stay in the Ann Arbor area when we moved here in my late teens, but I soon discovered that it's a pretty special place. 

 What's your alma mater - Eastern Michigan University. I was all ready to head off to the east coast for school, but Linda Yohn pulled me aside at an event and said: "I know you want to study music marketing out in New York City, but EMU has an Arts Management program that's similar...and if you go there, I can hire you to work at WEMU!" I like to joke that Linda was tired of all my Carmen McRae requests and thought that giving me my own show would get me to leave her alone, but of course she was actually giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. What a gift that conversation ended up being!

 What was your major at EMU - Arts Management and Marketing

 Do you have a favorite WEMU program - That's like asking who my favorite child is. Well, ok, that one is easy for me - I only have the one. But at WEMU, our strength is in the variety of voices and passions, and I love all of the shows we have on the air. I listen to WEMU just about all day, just about every day. Linda Yohn has been a mentor for me for more than half my life, and she always starts my day off right. And I find that I'm often stuck in the car, driving my teen to activities during All Things Considered, and Lisa Barry is excellent company during those times!

 How did you find WEMU - I was 17, and I had just moved to Ann Arbor - in fact, was still in the hotel as we waited for our temporary housing - when I stumbled across WEMU on my Walkman. This was the first jazz-focused radio station I had ever heard, and I couldn't believe my luck that it was in my new hometown. Two years later, I couldn't believe my luck that I got to host my own show on that amazing station. And here I still am, nearly 25 years later.

 What's your day job - In my day job, I'm a reporter for MLive and The Ann Arbor News, covering life and culture across Michigan. My primary focus has been food and restaurants, and I'm really enamored of the food scene in this area. At WEMU, I share music and stories with listeners. I usually walk in the door on Sunday afternoon with my records all picked, since I have more than 10,000 jazz recordings in my personal collection. What I love about doing this show is that it gives me the excuse to comb through this collection all the time, pulling out gems and rediscovering lost favorites. 

  

Interior of eve the restaurant in Ann Arbor.
Jessica Webster took this mouth watering picture of the brisket bowl from Ricewood in Ann Arbor
  

Where do you love to eat -  I've got the places where we eat pretty regularly - Fraser's Pub is our neighborhood bar, and their burgers and craft beer selection (and the fact that we can walk there) are a big draw. For takeout, we've been going to the new Vietnamese restaurant, VKitchen, a whole lot. When we're going out for a special meal, Logan and eve the restaurant are favorites.  But right now, I'm cheering about the return of the Pacific Island barbecue food truck that parks behind Morgan & York: Ricewood. That's some seriously good food.

 Do you have a song stuck in your head -  "A House Is Not A Home" from Mavis Staples' first solo record on Stax. That Bacharach song has gotten lots of beautiful readings, but the Mavis's version kills me. Kills me. You can tell she's feeling every word.

 What album do you think we should sit down and listen to - "Carmen Sings Monk" by Carmen McRae. The first time I saw Carmen live, she was singing the material that eventually ended up on this record, and it blew me away.  I've listened to this album so many times, I can sing along not just with her singing, but with every saxophone, piano, bass...and even drum solo. 

 Do you have favorite shopping destinations - Encore Records, but I can't let myself go too often, because apparently I have "too many records already." I might also have too many books, but I'm a regular at Literati in Ann Arbor. 

 

Jessica Webster sending you a smile all the way from Iceland
  

What are your favorite vacation destinations - Get me near a large body of water, and I'm instantly happy. I love the sounds and the smells and the feeling of the water, and I can feel my blood pressure go down as soon as I'm near. Our family motto is "experiences, not things," and we've been trying to prioritize travel for the last few years. I fell in love with the pace of island life in Key West a couple of years ago. We spent a wonderful week exploring neighborhoods in Paris (and seeing some great live jazz!). But perhaps my favorite recent vacation destination was Iceland. I'm already plotting a return trip. Next stop: Rome!

 What accounts are your "must follow(s)" on social media -  My kid takes some pretty great pictures of food and buildings on Instagram.  I try to follow a wide variety of people with a broad selection of perspectives in Twitter. I don't want to live in an echo chamber, and I think it's important to understand how other people are interpreting life and current events. 

Mavis Staples hanging out with Jessica's son.

What was the last movie you saw -  "Mavis!" - the excellent Mavis Staples documentary on HBO.  Be prepared, though. You'll need a box of Kleenex when Mavis talks about missing Pops.

 What's your most memorable WEMU moment - Hosting a show with pianist Monty Alexander. Or maybe...talking about James Brown on the air with Christian McBride. Or...maybe being moved to tears by a story John Patitucci told about the death of his child when he was a guest on my show. Or...one of the times Janis Siegel co-hosted the show with me.  I have to say that every single time someone tells me that a selection of music that I've chosen to share has resonated with them...every time someone tells me that the music brings back an important memory...every time someone calls and says "what was THAT??" is a memorable moment. Connecting people with music that makes them happy is one of my biggest joys.

 I love public radio -  ...because the programs are designed to appeal to listeners, not to advertisers. Because public radio is a reflection of its listeners.  And because it's authentic.