JAZZ – David Muse – Jazz Radio Aficionado

In Washington, DC WPFW 89.3 FM is and has been an institution for the genre of jazz since 1977.  The essence of the independent station has encouraged and given its DJs the freedom to play all forms and artists under the genre (as well as other music), so for The Classics – JAZZ it was important for me to interview one of these jazz ambassadors.

I approached DJ 2-Tone Jones (who along with other DJs produces a weekly hip hop show on WPFW called The ILL Street Grooves) about who to interview and he immediately put me onto David Muse.  Muse (the name says it all) has a weekly jazz show on the station, has been a radio jazz DJ since the age of 13, and has a commanding knowledge of the genre’s history.  Thanks David for your time and check the read below:

Growing up, who were some of the first artists/groups that you were listening to?

My parents loved to dance, so you could hear Jimmie Lunceford, Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, The Duke or even a group that was well known in this area and to the Black Troops overseas that traveled with the USO, The Sweetheart of Rhythm, which was one of the hottest all female big-bands of that time. My sister and brothers had me listening to everything from Paul Robeson on wax doing “Emperor Jones”, Charles Earland, Minnie Ripperton when she was with an all girl group, Funkadelic, Betty Davis, radio drama and so many more. It did not stop with my families household, uncles, aunts and cousins always had music and the best was my cousin Bo-Peep and Diz. Spending a day with Bo-Peep, no telling who would stop by for a few hours or days could be any of the greats that came to town. One Saturday, Miles walked in. I knew who he was at a very young age. He played and my cousin recorded him on reel-to-reel that day. I never heard any of that come out on an album. Ketter Betts, Sarah Vaughn. My brother Vince would take me to one of the hottest spots while in my early teens called “Ed Murphy’s Supper Club” on Georgia Ave. in DC.

Describe the feeling you got when you were first exposed to jazz?  What was it about the sound?

I have never known a moment without Jazz and other music that was somewhat related. All I can tell you about feeling the music is that inner peace and reflection knowing that you are connected with some of the most thought provoking, spiritual music that has ever come along. I guess because of the relation between early Negro Spirituals and field songs that something within me gave me great comfort.  Even today, no matter how many times I may have heard a tune each one brings forth memories and experience that are part of who I am.

When you were younger did you play any instruments and did you have any aspirations of becoming an artist and or starting a group?

I wanted to be a professional musician, played the clarinet like my older bro, Leonard. That led me to the tenor and bass sax. My favorite still is the contrabass clarinet. Only two musicians play that, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Eric Dolphy. I knew I would not make a lot of money playing, but I still just wanted to be with the music. I just happen to find another way of always being wrapped-up in the music.

What was it about radio that sparked your interest in joining the WAMU program in junior high?

I wanted to know how things worked and at that time in junior high as well as elementary school. I had a very technical mind. I wanted to know how it worked and one trip was all it took. I listened to my Bro, Vince, Damu Williams and Gerald Lee play music on Saturdays while I volunteered with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum restoring aircraft for exhibit. My sister who has always been a big influence in my life told me, “do what makes you feel good and love.” What great advice. WAMU gave me that chance and in 1980 they gave me a chance to host “Spirits Known and Unknown” and I never looked back from that day on.

Can you talk about your experience at WAMU and what you were doing?  Did you happen to interview any of the up-and-comers or jazz greats of the time?

I learned from all that were there, but best of all were the programmers that I got to be around. Besides those who I worked with directly, others taught me a lot about radio and music. Rusty Hassan is at the top of that list. What an enriching time in my life. I did a number of interviews: Ketter Betts, Lamont Johnson, Amhad Jamal, Nancy Wilson, Terry Callier, Gay Bartz, and a woman that in my book was somewhat overlooked by some, even by the listeners – Dorthy Ashby who played the harp as a jazz instrument. Only 2 women ever tried that and the other is Alice Coltrane. I interviewed a number of local artists too. I always thought that was more important sometimes than the ones known outside of DC. Everyone that sat behind the mic made a point to include as many local and not so well known artists music in the show. Even street musicians were invited to play and be interviewed for all to hear.  It got to a point that even very famous musicians and others, when they came to town, would listen and call to say how they were enjoying the music. The Last Poets had to be one of the biggest highlights.

At that time, who were some of the popular jazz artists whose music you guys were playing?

Anyone you can think of including those that played boss-a-nova, swing, be-bop, avant-garde, spoken word and sometimes film makers: The Last Poets, Shirley Horn, Eloise Greenfield, Nikki Giovanni, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Chano, Milton Nascimento, Jorge Ben, Fela, Miriam Makiba, Hugh Masekela, Franco and the TPOK Jazz, King Sunny Ade, Danny Gatton (from DC), Leon Thomas (Jazz Yodeler, bad ass Brother).

How did you come to the realization that radio is what you wanted to do?

It was not hard. It was a chance to try something that an introvert like myself could get into. It was not to be famous, or even make a name for myself, but to make sure that I did what I could as a young person to help keep this music alive and well. It is the music of love and struggle of a people that led me into radio.

While doing radio in Atlanta you mentioned that you began to play jazz influenced African, Afro-Cuban, and music from the West Indies.  Early on, how important was it for you to have a wide music knowledge base?

Very important. It really started with my time at Spirits Known and Unknown. Brazilian was a big thing in radio during the 60’s and 70’s. I did not know how the listeners in Atlanta would take to such an introduction of other forms of traditional Black music. Hearing music from other places including Ireland helped me realize the broader scope of music and what it had to offer. Closing your ears is closing your mind to the wonders and possibilities that exist in the Universe. Even now I listen to “Rap” from other countries and you would be surprised at how “Black American Music” born from struggle and oppression has changed the world. Los Cubanos from Cuba are one of those groups.

Before Bobby Hill approached you about WPFW what were some of your earliest memories of the station?

More than just my competition, they were there 24/7 to help keep and other art-forms of music alive. WHUR in its early days were a public college station and they played jazz, Morgan State Univ. out of Baltimore in the early 80’s; and it was a kinship between all on air. We knew we had a mission and we made the best of it. It was fun to be on-air doing your show and tuning into another station checking out what they may be playing, even to the point of calling and saying, “you kickin ass over there.” Try that now!!!

Talk about your experience working at PFW and how has it helped to expand your range of jazz?

Simply, more music that I have not heard by artists that I know of and don’t know of. Even some of the “Cipher Shows” open your eyes at what they present. That’s good radio.

How important is it for you to be able to play such a diverse range of jazz and other music?

If you want to hear the same thing over and over every hour, go commercial. Variety is the Spice of Life.

How important would you say a station like PFW is for jazz?

If it goes off air, there are no stations in DC that play jazz that much. Hope you can get Morgan’s Station.

The jazz DJs at PFW really seem to have fun doing their shows.  What are you looking to accomplish or what do you want your listeners to walk away with from each show you do?

Inform, entertain, and enlighten. As well, I want them to tell me what’s good and bad about what I offer them. It’s a two way program with me. I don’t know everything, but I want to continually learn and experience all that life has to offer and that includes music.

What do you attribute to the creativity of early jazz (and or all music) album covers?

I don’t know, but whoever they were that came up with the concepts should get the prize for doing so. Would you ever buy music that came in a white cardboard wrapper. No info?

When you were younger what were some of the record stores that you bought vinyl from and talk about the experience you had searching for new music – not knowing what it sounded like just buying wax because of the art?

Wax Unlimited in my neighborhood (Edgewood Community in NE DC), Waxie Maxie, Olsen Records and Tapes Limited, and most of all yard sales and Flea markets. Believe it or not small corner stores in our neighborhood along with liquor stores. You could find some real gems for a dollar or a dollar twenty five. Damn those were good days.

For those that don’t know – what are people who don’t listen to vinyl missing?

The real sound of music. As humans we don’t hear or see in “digital.” Our world is an analog world. You feel the warmth and energy of those playing, no matter what the setting for the recording. Not until the advent of digital recording and video did we even think there was another way to hear and see art. Now, so many think they are getting what really took place. Younger generations are really missing out on one of the greatest forms of recording. “Pop,” “tick,” “hiss” and some sizzle (sounds) make you feel like you were there.

What are your feelings on jazz sampled hip hop tracks?  Do you have any favorite tracks and or artists/groups?

It’s a good thing and helps in a way to keep the originals alive and if when you hear that sample and don’t know you might find out what the original was by whom and when it came out. It opens a new world of music. Not old music, but classic beginnings. Digital Underground sampling Parliament Funkadelic (Funk-a-teer the core), Tupac – When My Homies Call – sampled from Herbie Hancock’s first solo album “Mwandishi”, Guru and Jazzmataz, which he caught some grief over was a good jazz and hip-hop. There are so many others that I can not name but if you hear a sample you should find out how created it and listen to the original.

For you, why is jazz an important genre to American culture and the world over?

Besides Native American, African, African (Black) American Music and Art, no other art forms have come to these shores. Everyone on the planet has so much respect for these art forms and suck it in more than our own folks sometimes. It has been and still is the basis for so much in music; that others have tried to duplicate it and they can’t. It’s from the struggle of our existence. The world would be dead without our art and music. We know its roots from the shores of Our Mother Land to this place of enslavement. Our Music talks to us and other’s like no other – you laugh, cry, remember and just get away to a place that know one can go to but you. Other music comes and goes but Jazz and its roots have and will always stand the test of time. It can change, but stay the same within its core. Don’t ever forsake the past and think that the future is all there is. When you reach back, the call goes out to The Ancestors of us All and they come forth.

About gmoney77

My name is Gerald Watson and I do lifestyle marketing for various companies/agencies. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the people I work with, the work I do as well as the shit I see on the regular.

Posted on November 2, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. David, this is TRULY informative, inspiratonal, and incredible!

  2. Amazing Dave!! Thanks for the many years of being a cultural ambassador through jazz. Have to follow up on some of these artists.

  3. Bro’:

    Bo Peep’s spirit must be deeply diggin’ and treasuring these words. Lots of rich history captured in this piece and we both share amazing Miles Davis stories. Keep pumpin’ the music all across the planet. Proud of you and the energy and knowledge you put into keeping this music in the whirlwind.

    Yo’ Sista,

    Daphne

  4. Phenominal David. Your insight into the music as well the spirit of it touching you and you receiving it is a testament to your parents and your family in general. I have had the pleasure of knowing all of the Muses and can say that they are a family of honor, cultural bearing and a thoughtful perception of and perspective on our people on earth. Inspired by generations of black and brown folk who contributed mightily to the progress of the world, this family soars.
    Thank you David for finding yet another way of channeling your family to us through your love of “spirits known and unknown”

  5. David,
    This is truly a phenomenal post! You never seem to amaze me at your knowledge and history of Jazz. Nicely done.

    Peace,
    Lisa

  6. David,
    As always..you have been my creative source engine for my favorite form of music. My ol friend I can remember hearing your voice on the airways when I needed some sleep, but just had to listen to just a bit more before I closed my eyes. I can still hear some of those shows in my head. Dave, as I told my dad a long time ago. ” Here is a young man that has ears like yours” Thank you my brother..for all the years, and the years to come🙂

    Carl

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