Gary Walker

Host, Morning Jazz and Music Director

In jazz radio, great announcers are distinguished by their ability to convey the spontaneity and passion of the music. Gary Walker is such an announcer, and his enthusiasm for this music greets WBGO listeners every morning. For the past 22 years, this winner of the 1996 Gavin Magazine Jazz Radio Personality of the Year award has hosted the morning show each weekday from 6:00 -10:00. And, by his own admission, he's truly having a great time.

"It's rare that I don't want to get up and come in to work in the morning. I really love this job, and I don't think everyone can say that." Walker declares with satisfaction. He's probably right in that assumption. But listeners preparing for work each morning with Gary on the radio will no doubt admit, he makes it easier to head off to work no matter how we feel about it.

His love of jazz is apparent, and he says it's a feeling that began during adolescence growing up outside of Detroit in the mid 1960's. He remembers his dad bringing home a new radio with an FM band.

"This was pretty new at the time. Almost all of radio was on AM," recalls Walker. "There were only two stations on this new FM band, and one played jazz. They often broadcast live from a club known as the Twenty Grand, and though I can't remember the artists, I will never forget the feeling of that music. It seemed that the musicians and the crowd were having such a great time. I just wanted more of that feeling."

His next recollection is of an occasion when his mother dropped him off at the record store. He had planned to buy a novelty pop album that day. However, amid the display posters and album covers promoting new releases, Gary noticed an album by Henry Mancini entitled Music From Peter Gunn. He sampled a few cuts in the listening booth, and enjoyed what he heard. It was the first jazz record he would buy.

"I didn't know it was jazz, I just knew I liked it," he says. "Frankly, I believe most of us approach jazz that way - we discover it by accident."

Though he may have learned about jazz by accident, his interest in the music grew deliberately. While his peers were listening to rock and roll, Gary aggressively sought jazz. He listened to Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis and other cutting-edge artists. He was a finance major at the University of Texas at the time. He remembers passing the campus radio station, and noticing that everyone had so much fun. He soon abandoned finance and graduated with a degree in Mass Media. He continued his studies at the University of Akron in Ohio where he was a radio announcer on the school's jazz radio station. He continued to hone his broadcasting skills, and became proficient at the technical aspects of radio production.

Soon he moved to New York City with plans to broaden his career endeavors. Within five weeks he landed an announcer's position on Saturday mornings at WBGO. The station was new then, but Gary remembers it as a special place.

"My first day here, I ran into Mercer Ellington (Duke's son)," recalls Walker. "I couldn't believe it...one of the greatest band leaders around, and he was sitting right here. Around the same time other great artists would drop by regularly. I met Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and Dexter Gordon."

After 24 years with WBGO, legendary artists continue to visit the studios, many to join Gary during Morning Jazz. He believes their visits are part of what set the station apart from other jazz stations. However, he also believes that other jazz 88 announcers, producers and programming staff contribute to the distinction of the station.

"I think we're the best jazz station in the country, perhaps the world," he says plainly. "I think that because of the knowledge we have here, the fun we have here and the music that is created here. No one else does what we do."

No matter how gratifying Gary finds his work, nothing brings him as much joy as his 20 year old son, Nate. From early visits to Jazz 88 with his dad, his son became a first year trombone player in the school band. Gary says, "Nate knew I was going to interview Wynton Marsalis and told me, 'Dad, tell Wynton I'm playing the trombone, but next year I might switch to trumpet.' When I passed this information on to Wynton, Marsalis' response was, 'you tell your son if he wants to elevate his social status, he should make that change as soon as possible!'" Just a note: Nate still has a trombone and Wynton has more social status. Nate's dad has neither, but loves his work at Jazz 88!

Ways to Connect

Frank Jerke

One day, reading a story to my son Nate, who was 2 at the time, I asked if he'd thought about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He gave me a studied look, paused, and replied: “I think a doctor.” I beamed, and the studied look remained as he continued, “or maybe a turtle.” Startled, and at the same time welling with laughter, I wondered: when exactly did we lose this ability to wander? To simply be? 

Courtesy of the artist

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel was born in Paris and raised in Fontainebleau, the home of Impressionism and Django Reinhardt.

It's the perfect dual influence that Stephane embraces, taking the gypsy master's creativity, pushing it forward, and avoiding being categorized as a museum-piece player.

Mark Seliger

Bettye LaVette's new album of Bob Dylan tunes is titled "Things Have Changed."

Indeed they have, and for LaVette each change has informed the depth of her musicality. Early days in Detroit at the conception and birth of Motown. A top 10 R&B hit, "My Man — He's a Lovin' Man," at the tender age of 16. A role on Broadway alongside Cab Calloway, in the Tony Award-winning musical Bubbling Brown Sugar.

John Abbott

With her new album, Beloved of the Sky, pianist Renee Rosnes is once again inspired by her natural environment.

That's a subject with multiple implications: the natural world, her home life, an array of sense memories. They're all transformed by Renee’s depth of pianism, and through amazing exchanges with saxophonist and flutist Chris Potter, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lenny White.

Guitarist Andreas Varady first impressed his bass-playing father by learning Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" when he was 4. His mentor, producer Quincy Jones, became a fan when Andreas appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival at 15.

Kahmeela Adams

What is it that gets any musical organization to the 25 year mark?

Luck, for sure, but that's eclipsed by the creation of great charts, articulate and soulful playing, and a sound unification that goes way beyond theory.

WBGO

Growing up in Chicago, pianist Greg Spero knew by the fifth grade that he wanted to make music his life. Encouraged by his piano-playing father, he would eventually team up with Miles Davis keyboardist Robert Irving III; work with the Buddy Rich Big Band; morph the music of Miles with Radiohead; and tour the world with electro-pop artist Halsey.


Jazz at Lincoln Center

As the world’s premiere jazz institution, Jazz at Lincoln Center has a combined mission: advancing awareness of the music, giving it new expression, and raising money to keep it all going.

The organization's annual gala, typically packed with guest stars, serves all these purposes. It's only unfortunate that most of us cannot be there. That is, until now.

courtesy of the artist

When saxophonist Ken Fowser looks over his shoulder, he hears and feels the rhythms of his Philadelphia birthplace: Jimmy Heath, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Philly Joe Jones. It's a collective spark that has pushed him forward over a dozen-plus years in New York and numerous recordings. Fowser, never one to back away from the scalding sessions at Smoke and Smalls, has been dressing up club stages across the country with his soulful sound.

courtesy of the artist / Sunnyside

 

Every time he plays, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery brings a sense memory that includes early days in the church choir in New Haven, Connecticut; the wisdom and watchful eye of the legendary Jackie McLean; time spent with The Mingus Big Band, Ron Carter and Tom Harrell. 


Chris Tobin / WBGO

The Baylor Project — a flagship of the vocalist Jean Baylor and the drummer Marcus Baylor, partners in music as in marriage — will be in the running for two Grammy awards this month. Tellingly, the nominations are in different genre categories: Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Traditional R&B Performance.

With his new album, Reaching Out, trombonist Michael Dease clearly demonstrates why he’s met the high level of musicality demanded by discerning bandleaders like Christian McBride and Jimmy Heath.

With this album Dease salutes the genius of legendary pianists Cedar Walton and Kenny Drew, as well as his former trombone teachers Conrad Herwig and Steve Turre. 

Roberto Polillo / CTS Images

Wes Montgomery was one of the world's most accomplished jazz musicians, beginning in his late teens. He went on to perform worldwide, with a catalog of recordings that had significant influence on just about every guitarist who followed.

David Sanborn
David Sanborn for WBGO News

Legendary saxophonist David Sanborn and his quintet performed two shows at B.B. King's in New York City Friday night.

WBGO's morning host Gary Walker spoke with Sanborn about the musician's career and thoughts on jazz and an upcoming internet series called "Sanborn Sessions."

Sanborn doesn't want to be put in a genre box.

Ebru Yildiz for NPR

I have a friend who loves gypsy guitar music so much she said she’s going to build a campfire in the backyard, light it, and wait.

Some folks feel pretty connected to their Django Reinhardt. The Django practitioners are just as passionate (maybe without the campfire), with a burn that brings legions to hot clubs, and festivals where the Sinti style lives.

C. Taylor Crothers / Concord Jazz

Chick Corea and Steve Gadd have a musical connection over 50 years deep. So when the iconic keyboardist and legendary drummer found time last year to reunite in the studio I immediately thought of Corea's albums The Leprechaun and My Spanish Heart, and the concert I hosted in Cleveland in 1981 featuring music from the Three Quartets, with Chick, Steve, Eddie Gomez and Michael Brecker. Some nights you’re so glad you showed up.

BENEDICT SMITH / Courtesy of the artist

When the Hammond B-3 organ guru Dr. Lonnie Smith returned to Blue Note Records in 2016, there was an obvious evolution from those hip Blue Note albums of the late 1960s. With his latest, All In My Mind, Dr. Lonnie comes right at us with what he calls “my brotherhood”: a trio featuring guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake.

Erin Baiano

When Cassandra Wilson sings a story, it’s heartfelt and soulful, brimming with that Wilsonian introspection. She’s sung new insight into Miles Davis, the Great American Songbook, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Robert Johnson. Her originals come from a place deep inside.


AFP

On Friday, ECM Records made its catalog available on major streaming services, in an expansion of its partnership with the Universal Music Group. This made an ocean of material more widely available, including classical and world music.

But the trove is of special importance to jazz fans — like WBGO's music director, Gary Walker, and its director of programming, Steve Williams, who supersized this edition of Take Five with 10 tracks from as many unmissable ECM albums.

Steven Sussman

Houston Person possesses a huge tenor saxophone sound. When encountered live, he's guaranteed to leave you with some very PERSONal moments, more soul than you came with, more good feelings to take with you.

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

A pair of great pianists, Helen Sung and Isaiah Thompson, recently stopped by Morning Jazz to play and chat about what moves them to move us.

Sung was in the first class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, studying with Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath and Clark Terry — with all of whom she would one day play professionally. She has just returned from China, performing Monk’s music to packed houses in Beijing and Shanghai. After Monday’s performance with the Mingus Big Band at Jazz Standard, she and the band will travel with Mingus’ music to Tokyo for a week.

used with permission

When I was a kid, Halloween meant dressing up with my friends and looking for the spots with the best candy, stopping for pranks along the way — which, if attempted now, would land me in some sort of correctional facility to contemplate that idle-mind/devil's-workshop thing. Now that I'm older, I'm stuck handing out rather than filling up when the ghosts and goblins come knocking. But if Halloween has a different sense of rhythm now, some of the best Halloween ear candy hasn't changed.

Nina Simone, “I Put a Spell on You”

David Tallacksen / WBGO

Saxophonist Chico Freeman started his jazz life as a kid on the front porch of his Chicago home, peering in the open window as his father Von, and his guitarist uncle George held jam sessions that started by day and lit up the night.

Chico would go on to tour with McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Dizzy Gillespie and Bobby Hutcherson — and work with blues giants Buddy Guy and Memphis Slim. It’s all there, which is the reason so many listeners readily go where Chico steers the ship; it’s guaranteed to be an engaging musical journey.

Greg Allen

Thelonious Monk changed the way musicians approach jazz. It's not a legacy to be viewed in a museum, but a living body of work for artists to challenge themselves today, finding new arrangements and expressions, surprising themselves at every Monk call and response.

Motema

Arturo O’Farrill makes music steeped in the pantheon of Afro-Latin culture. He can’t help it. It’s in his DNA.

Adriana Mateo

Adrianna Mateo grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, surrounded by an early love of photography: her mentor was her father, Roberto, an internationally known Director of Photography.

She came to New York in the early 1990s, focusing her lens on emerging musicians including Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, Benny Green and others. Many exhibitions later, Adriana’s new coffee table book AM Jazz has arrived, featuring stories and candid photographs, culled from her travels around the world. 

With roots firmly in jazz and blues, tinged with a pop sensibility,  guitarist Larry Carlton has appeared on hundreds of recordings. In addition to his own, he has added just the right touch to the recorded works of Steely Dan, Bobby Bland, The Crusaders and Quincy Jones, in addition to the multi-platinum jazz group Fourplay. On Lights On, Carlton's six strings meet up with Europe's SWR Big Band for a live date full of originals, some Miles, Steely Dan and more.

Sandrine Lee

The commonplace exercise of hailing a New York City cab became a career-threatening situation for guitarist Mike Stern last year. Tripping over some construction debris, he broke both arms, also sustaining significant nerve damage in a freak accident that halted his world-class career.

Chris Drukker

Dave Stryker's recent efforts have been jazz hits. His two Eight Track albums, and a salute to former employer Stanley Turrentine, have earned this guitarist new fans while giving him plenty of room to move. Strykin' Ahead is Dave's new date, and it puts him in the studio with organist Jared Gold, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer McClenty Hunter, who proved to be such a hip combination on Eight Track II.

Saxophonist Eric Alexander wrote the tune "Iron Man"as a salute to Harold Mabern. It's one of 10 tracks on that Memphis-born pianist's new recording, To Love And Be Loved.

The album features Mabern with Alexander, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, bassist Nat Reeves and percussionist Cyro Baptista. It also reunites the pianist with legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb; these two giants played together briefly in Miles Davis' band in 1963.

Pages