Jazz on my adopted city’s airwaves officially went on life support about a year ago, when Pacifica-affiliate WPFW (89.3-FM) decided to drop America’s “original art form” from its “Jazz and Justice” format. It’s still a shock. How could this be happening in D.C., a former “Chocolate City” once known for its vibrant jazz scene? There is no easy answer to that question. But if, like me, you’ve been mourning the demise of jazz radio, I’ve discovered a remedy: Jazzism (a katzpheno mix), a weekly podcast from disc jockey Brian “Katzpheno” Phoenix. The show promises to celebrate “jazz culture with news, views and inspiration for your daily walk” — and it delivers.
I tuned in for the first time one evening about a week ago, while relaxing in my living room after a busy day. The first cut, Donald Harrison’s “Well You Shouldn’t,” drew me in immediately, with its percussive groove and melodious sax. Next up was Maurice “Mobetta” Brown. Although I wasn’t familiar with Brown — a Grammy Award–winning trumpeter-rapper-producer — “Time Tick Tock” demonstrated why jazz aficionados call him a millennial to watch for his seamless marriage of bebop to hip hop. My favorite number, however, was “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly,” by Lizz Wright, a jazz/R&B singer whose rich alto I discovered a few years ago. “Sit back, relax and take a step beyond. …” Wright could have been singing this positivity anthem just for me.
Meantime, Phoenix uses a steady hand to guide the listener on this journey. He’s never intrusive — his focus is jazz music, its history and culture, not his persona. Phoenix also has a rhythmic, low-key presence — “keep jazz in your life, not strife, and everything’s gonna be all right” — which adds just the right touch to his history-laced repartee. Phoenix’s knowledge of the genre is comprehensive. Did you know, for example, that Wright’s “Open Your Eyes,” is a cover of the more up-tempo version by Brazilian, jazz fusion singer Flora Purim — perhaps best known for her work with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.
Jazzism (2.7) had me in such a mellow space that I forgot to start dinner. I was two-thirds of the way through the set when my son and hubby started whining and hinting, respectively, about being hungry. So I listened to the rest of the show (which can be downloaded to your iPhone, iPad or Android) in my kitchen. No longer in mourning, I heated veggie burgers and leftovers with a smile on my face.
Download or listen to Jazzism (a katzpheno mix) online via STITCHER.
Nicole Crawford-Tichawonna is a writer/editor based in Washington, D.C.