Happy In Bag

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Just Jazz

Just Jazz might have been the worst radio program I’ve heard. And I loved it.

For 23 years, the KCUR offering broadcast moldy swing music by Vic Damone, Stan Kenton and Marilyn Maye. For months, it’s been a sad echo of its former self, as its hosts, Ginny Coleman and Ruth Rhoden, have been waylaid by health concerns. The Kansas City Star reported today that the next Just Jazz show will be the last.

Ginny and Ruth’s show was the region’s most important forum for the jazz community. Local musicians including Mike Ning, Gary Sivils, and their all-time favorite, Tommy Ruskin, received attention every week. Most shows also featured a guest or two, such as a local jazzman pushing his new release, or the Folly Theater’s Doug Tatum discussing a new jazz concert series.

Because I’m under the age of 60, I didn’t really listen to Just Jazz for the music. Ginny and Ruth’s musical tastes solidifed in the early 1950s, and their palates never evolved. The attraction for me was the banter between Ginny and Ruth. Complete opposites, they openly detested each other.

Hilarity ensued after each show’s traditional opening big band number. The sniping commenced immediately. Ruth was flighty and absurdly disorganized. Just reading the credits of a song properly was a challenge. Ginny, meticulous by nature, didn’t hesitate to correct Ruth’s errors. As Ruth’s clarity declined, Ginny became downright cruel. She would chide Ruth’s inability to announce a song, or would mock Ruth’s poor memory. Awkward and painful, it made for terrific entertainment.

My favorite Just Jazz moments occurred when the hosts would unwittingly play a number that strayed from their clearly defined tastes. In the last year, for instance, they aired a piece from a new Wayne Shorter CD. It lasted about three minutes, before Shorter’s brilliant explorations were unceremoniously silenced by an outraged Ginny, who didn't hesitate to voice her displeasure.

Jazz has become a decidedly unpopular music. So I won’t chide KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, for no longer having a single program dedicated to the music. Still, I fondly recall KCUR’s nightly jazz programming in the early ‘80s, when experts like Chuck Haddix and Rodney Franks turned me on to Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.

KCUR might consider offering streams of vintage Just Jazz shows online. I can’t bear the thought of never again hearing Ruth sigh ecstatically about a "swinging chart," or chortling as Ginny reminds Ruth that Louis Bellson played drums, not trombone. Each Just Jazz show ended with the pair attempting, and rarely succeeding, to simultaneously intone the program’s name.

Just Jazz. Keep swinging, ladies.


  • At 3:44 PM, Blogger Xavier Onassis said…

    Dude! I used to listen to Just Jazz all the time. I cannot fathom how just today, it dawned on me that I hadn't heard the show in a while. I searched for "Just Jazz" on jcur.org and came up goose eggs. So I googled "just jazz kcur" and I'll be damned if this blog entry wasn't the 2nd or 3rd link that popped up! Just thought you would like to know!

  • At 4:24 PM, Blogger Happy In Bag said…

    This interesting tidbit saddens me more than it amuses me, XO. Seems like the two of us are about the only guys interested in the subject.

  • At 8:34 PM, Blogger Xavier Onassis said…

    Ah well. At least we remember. I agree with your characterization of Jenny and Ruth. It was apparent that they hung out together and went listening to music together. But they bickered like an old married couple! "Fuck you, we never owned a De Soto!! You're thinking of the Nash Rambler!!"

    I can't believe that it took me two years to realize that they were actually off the air!

    I also remember an old guy who had a swing music program on KCUR. Can't remember his name or the name of the show. Saturday mornings, I believe. Any idea?

  • At 9:00 PM, Blogger Happy In Bag said…

    The guy I most miss was named Dick Wright. He had a Saturday jazz show on KANU out of Lawrence. Really sweet guy; kind of a loveable goof. Maybe that's who you're thinking of...

  • At 10:31 PM, Blogger Xavier Onassis said…

    I don't think so. Doesn't ring a bell.

    Who'd have thunk you'd have this many comments on a two year old post!


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