Albert Camus once said, "One's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those one or two great and simple things, in which their heart first opened."
"To me," says Dan Karcher, one of over a dozen long-time hosts on WBGO, "this applies to not only the true jazz musician, but the listener as well."
Like most of WBGO's on-air staff, jazz has always been in Karcher's life. "Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington and others, and beginning with Nat Cole as my first love, they've been in my life (or rather, in my ears) since I was a child," says Karcher. "At a time when my peers were digging into 'pop,' I was digging into Louis 'Pops' Armstrong."
"What IS that you're listening to?" they would ask, "It doesn't make any sense."
My reply was simple (to me), "Certainly it does. Think of it this way, think of the need of having taken leave of it, if only in order to actually hang onto it."
"Hang onto... what?"
Jazz is a process, not a result. This is what differs from popular music, which I don't degrade or criticize, there's plenty of other artists outside of jazz that I admire, Richie Havens, Nick Drake, Jim Morrison and so many others.
But what differs here is of coarse they're playing music; incredible music, however the true jazz artist (musician) is in the process of exploring the notes, embracing the space in between those notes, improvising not only melody, but the process of thought and the landscape in which that process allows the music to emerge, be it accompanying musicians, emotions of the moment, or the space they are in.
They are in fact, and literally, "making" music. That's what jazz is, the process not just playing music, but of making music in real time.
And it is the space they are in, both literally and figuratively, that paints the canvas we as WBGO listeners are not only fortunate, but privileged, to hear. A hundred decisions are being made at any given moment. In our digital age a computer makes thousands of decisions at any given moment. But what computers cannot contemplate is meaning. The true musician, the painter, the writer, the choreographer, will sit at their palate of art, whether or not there are ears to listen or eyes to view, and will create that art out of need far beyond that of desire."
My all time favorite composers are Aaron Copland, W.A. Mozart and Johann Bach. Yes, classical musicians. In classical composition and performance, there are of course a certain series of notes played in certain period of time. Copeland was of course well aware of this, and used that space perfectly, there was always a specific result he envisioned, and he always executed his compositions with precision and profound result. Mozart; the same, but not without controversy and criticism. Mozart was often accused of writing "too many notes." Charlie Parker had also been accused of playing too many notes at times. Amadeus would have adored and embraced Bird. I'd bet my mic on it. And I know for a fact that Parker loved Mozart. Were it not for the inconvenience of the time/space continuum, it'd be great to see those two kick it back at Birdland or Massey Hall. And bring in Diz and Moody, because if you put those four fellas on the stage at the same time, it's going to be nuclear.
Now Bach, now he's an interesting study. Best known for his Preludes and Fugues, the Goldberg Variations (of which Glenn Gould was obsessed with), his Mass in B Minor, the Brandenburg Concerto, et al, Bach was not known for "Romantic Ballads" as say Beethoven was, but what few know is that Bach was in fact a profound improviser. Many of his compositions were a result of his improvisations.
If one was to put some of these fellas together in compliment, I'd have to say it's "Copland meets Dave Brubeck," "Mozart meets Charlie Parker," and "Bach meets Keith Jarret."
Now entering his 20th year at WBGO, Karcher's radio broadcasting experience began in Birmingham, England on Radio BHN with a program entitled "American Heart Beat," a countdown of America's Top 40 hits.
"That, was a struggle. With a title such as "American Heart Beat," at least for me I would expect the format to be jazz. After all, is jazz not the true American heart-beat?" asks Karcher, "However, the program was pre-formatted, saving me from having to select the music to air. "They just dug my American accent to host an American themed program abroad."
Returning to the USA, Karcher years later reunited with radio once again at Philadelphia's jazz station WRTI for a brief time, then to Princeton University's WPRB. He then came to WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM in 1997.
Off air, in a rather bizarre twist of fate and circumstance, Karcher has worked as a film designer (www.danielkarcher.com) and is best known for his work on "The Blair Witch Project" in which Forbes Magazine awarded Karcher's work on Blair Witch the "best media campaign, ever."
But Karcher's home, and his heart, will always remain with jazz, and more-so with his family at WBGO.