Michael Bourne

Host, Blues Break and Singers Unlimited, Critic-at-Large

Michael Bourne has been a presence on WBGO since the end of 1984. He's hosted the popular Singers Unlimited, Sundays 10AM-2PM, since 1985. He’s nowadays hosting the Blues Break, Monday-Friday 2-4PM. Michael is also a senior contributor to Down Beat, with the magazine since 1969. Doctor Bourne earned a PhD in Theatre from Indiana University -- which comes in handy when he's a theatre critic for the WBGO Journal.

"I became a jazz jock by chance," says Michael. "I was working on my doctorate in Bloomington. I'd been an occasional guest on the jazz show of IU's NPR station WFIU. When the regular DJ was going on vacation, the program director asked me if I'd like to fill in on the show. That was the summer of 1972 and I'd just survived my doctoral exams. I needed to do something fun, plus they were going to pay me to play records on the radio. I was supposed to fill in for four weeks, but the four weeks is now almost 45 years! I was offered the gig and I stayed until 1984. WFIU was a mostly classical station, but I played everything else, especially jazz, but also blues, Brazilian and Irish music, singers and Broadway musicals."

How he came to New York and WBGO also involved some chance. "I came to New York every summer for theatre and jazz, especially for the George Wein festival. I often stayed with my Indiana school friend Kevin Kline. When I first stayed with him, he was still beginning as an actor. When I came in 1984, he was a bonafide movie star. I also left a tape of my WFIU show with Wylie Rollins, then the program director of WBGO. I'd been thinking about venturing to New York for years, but I didn't know when or how. And on one fateful day in September 1984, Kevin called and said he'd be on location for a while and I could have his apartment for several months if I wanted to come to New York. That very afternoon, Wylie called and offered me work at WBGO. I couldn't resist what seemed a sign that New York was meant to be. My first shift was filling for Rhonda Hamilton on the afternoon of New Year's Eve, 1984."

Bourne's passion for music began early in his hometown of Saint Louis -- but not for jazz. "I was a boy soprano. I wanted to be an opera singer when I grew up. I was crazy for Wagner especially. I eventually eased into Gilbert and Sullivan, then the Broadway shows." Bourne's passion for jazz came about -- again -- by chance. "When I was a junior in high school, my chem lab partner and the kid behind us were always talking about jazz. I remember a very animated argument about whether Miles Davis or Sonny Stitt was hipper. I asked them what was a good jazz record to begin with, and one of them said Dave Brubeck's Time Out. I bought the LP at a grocery store the very next day, and when I heard "Strange Meadowlark" I was addicted to jazz. I bought more records at the grocery store, and soon I was listening to Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, the Modern Jazz Quartet. I even became a drummer as I fell in love with Art Blakey and Max Roach.” He connected jazz and theatre in 2016 co-creating and performing “The Brubeck Songbook” with singer Hilary Kole and the Brubeck Brothers.

Bourne continued his love for theatre as an undergrad at what is now called Truman State. He came to graduate school at IU in 1967, and while working at WFIU he finished a PhD. in theatre -- but he enjoyed being a jazz jock so much that he stayed on the radio rather than become a professor somewhere. "I always meant to work in the New York theatre as an actor or a playwright or a critic, and when I first came to WBGO, I was also working on two musical theatre projects. Both shows crashed and burned just as they were about to happen, and I didn't want to be an always struggling actor, so my theatrical career became only critical."

Bourne became a frequent contributor to the WBGO Journal early on. Though he mostly reviews theatre, he's also written about movies, art museums, baseball, beer, and his travels (from his favorite park in Oslo to his favorite pub in Dublin). He hosted WBGO's syndicated show, The American Jazz Radio Festival, for five years, and he's hosted or anchored 22 of WBGO's New Year's Eve broadcasts. Michael filled in on countless shifts at all hours until finally settling into the Afternoon Jazz shift. "Ironically, just after I'd come to WBGO, Rhonda Hamilton asked me what I wanted to do at the station, and I remember laughing and saying that I wanted her shift in the afternoons. And now she's on mid-days, and here I am right after Rhonda."

While nonetheless working six shifts each week on Jazz 88, from 2001 to 2006 Michael also jocked on the "Broadway's Best" channel of Sirius Satellite Radio. He's been an active arts and travel journalist, especially for Down Beat. He edited Corsage, a tribute to his favorite mystery author, Rex Stout -- "the most fascinating individual I've ever known," says Michael. He edited the mini-magazine Hennessy Jazz Notes from 1992-1997 . He's written countless album notes, and in 1997 Bourne produced four CD collections of Mark Murphy songs for 32 Jazz.

He's also been a correspondent for the Bon Voyage newsletter. Traveling became his greatest passion after his first trip overseas in 1986. Bourne hosted the Jazz Yatra festival in Bombay. "I was almost 40 and I'd never left the United States. The culture shock was staggering, but I fell in love with the world -- a full-tilt epiphany! -- and I've been traveling ever since. I've always felt most alive when I've been 'elsewhere' -- far from home, far from work, far from myself." Michael also hosted the jazzfest in Amsterdam. "I was the MC for Stephane Grappeli on three continents: Bombay, Amsterdam, and Carnegie Hall." He's been a WBGO travel host on trips to Brazil, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, and the Caribbean. Montreal every summer is Michael's jazz home away from home. "I first went in 1992 and I've been virtually adopted by the festival ever since. In recent years I've not only written about the festival for Down Beat, I've also been a judge for the festival's group competition, and I've broadcast live from Montreal on WBGO." To celebrate his 20th year in Montreal, the festival honored Michael by christening the press room Salle de Presse Michael Bourne. "I only missed the festival in 2006, because of a heart attack — and I was angry, not because of the heart attack, but because I missed Montreal!" Other festival favorites over the years have included Umbria Jazz in Perugia, the NorthSea jazzfest in The Hague, fests in Antwerp, Copenhagen, Berlin, Warsaw, Chicago, and New York. "What's been especially heartening is how often I've encountered Jazz 88 listeners from all around the world. I remember a jazz lover in East Berlin weeping at the thought of a radio station that played jazz 24 hours a day. Since then, the Wall came down, and now everyone can hear us on the internet, including in no-longer-East Berlin" Traveling offers other delights for Bourne beyond the music, including his passion for great paintings, the Dutch masters especially, and for great beers, the Belgian masters especially. "I'm a Nederlander at heart." He'll happily go anytime to Amsterdam, Antwerp, London, Rome, or anywhere in the U.S. where his beloved Cardinals are playing baseball. "Pops" also enjoys hanging with his grand-kids, Nora and Luke, in Chapel Hill.

He's returned to performing in recent years -- that is, for people who can actually see him. He's hosted "Lyrics and Lyricists" concerts at the 92nd Street Y. He's been a host and the musical director for the "Jazz on the Mountain" festival every January (since 2000) at the Mohonk Mountain House in the Hudson Valley -- where he's frequently performed what he sometimes calls "jazz acting" with drummer Michael Carvin, singer Hilary Kole, and in the "Parlor Games" musical criss-crossing that's a festival finale on Monday mornings. He co-wrote and directed the show Singing Astaire, a celebration of the Fred Astaire songbook at Birdland. And after more than 20 years, he's nonetheless "with you" on WBGO.

"A listener said to me that she read that I used to be an actor, and she asked me 'Do you ever act anymore?' And I said 'Every day on Jazz 88!’” The Daily News asked Michael when he turned 65 if he'd ever retire. "I said 'From what?' I get paid to play records and go to shows!” He turned 70 in 2016 and nonetheless plays on on 88.3FM and wbgo.org …

Ways to Connect

Van Gogh's Ear
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater Critic reviews the off-Broadway production of Van Gogh's Ear at Pershing Square Signature Center. The show is presented by the Ensemble for the Romantic Century.

redbulltheater.com

Michael Bourne has off-broadway reviews from 'The Government Inspector' and 'Curvy Widow'.  To hear the review, click the link above.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater critic Michael Bourne heads back to Shakespeare in the Park for the latest production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Money Talks
Michael Bourne for WBGO

WBGO Theater critic Michael Bourne reviews Money Talks.  The musical comedy is playing Off-Broadway.

Benoit Rousseau

“I think this was a vintage year,” said Andre Menard, one of the founders of Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, and a friend of mine for 25 years.

Pipeline
Michael Bourne for WBGO

WBGO Theater Critic Michael Bourne reviews Pipeline at Lincoln Center Theater.

Allison Au performs at FIJM
Valerie Gay-Bessette for FIJM

I quit buying Cuban cigars in Montreal 20 years ago. U.S. Customs back then was just inside the airport entrance — and, before 9/11, security was not much more than a look at one’s passport. I’d brought back Cuban cigars before without an agent objecting, but one morning in the '90s an agent…objected. When he asked matter-of-factly if I’d bought any, I openly said “Yes.  Two.” 

“You have two choices,” he said with a shrug. “You can throw them in this trash can,” he said with a smile.  “Or you can go out on the sidewalk and smoke them now.”

1984
Michael Bourne for WBGO

Theater Critic Michael Bourne has his thoughts on the politically edgy 1984 on Broadway.

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have adapted the iconic George Orwell novel for this production at Hudson Theater Broadway.

Victor Diaz Lamish for FIJM

Especially at the finale of a great concert, an audience can become what I call The Beast. Insatiable.  Ravenous. Wanting more. And more. And more.

Artists often have an encore plotted, often playing the greatest of the greatest hits. But sometimes encores can become anti-climactic.

Rubber duckies whirled through the air. One red. One yellow. One green.

And then she sat the green one on her head. And the yellow one on a little boy's head.

He didn't know what to do with the duck, but he was happy. So was his brother. So was his mother.

UZEB Play FIJM
Victor Diaz Lamich for FIJM

25 years ago, I first came to Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.

25 years ago, the jazz/rock trio UZEB played the first Grande Evenement.


Water sprinklers in streed
David Tallacksen

"Je reviendrai a Montreal"  is a popular song of Montreal-born artist/icon Robert Charlebois. 

"I will return to Montreal," he sang, and I have said (have sung) the same every year as I've headed back after Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.   Except ...

I don't ever leave.  Not really.  Not in my head.  Not in my heart.  After 25 years, being in Montreal for me is like being with friends you have not seen in years, or like going home to be with your family.  They're a constant,  a presence in your life.  You're always home.

atlantictheater.org

Not every New York theatre is a grand palace. WBGO theater critic Michael Bourne is staying busy after the Tony Awards.  You can hear his stories of watching productions in places like churches and warehouses by clicking the link above.  

Early in her musical career, in the ‘90s, Diana Krall played a regular gig on Saturday evenings in Boston. When she drove down to New York City on Sunday mornings, she’d plan the trip so she could get close enough to hear the FM signal of WBGO in time to hear Singers Unlimited. She’s been hearing herself playing piano and singing ever since on WBGO.

Nowadays, she can listen to wbgo.org during her travels around the world or in her hometown, Nanaimo, British Columbia. “I listen to you all the time,” she said when she came in for a recent session with a killer band, featuring frequent quartet-mate Anthony Wilson on guitar, along with bassist Robert Hurst, drummer Karriem Riggins and violinist Stuart Duncan.

Selwyn Birchwood's new album, Pick Your Poison, is a soulful collection of genre-bending blues and roots. Birchwood, a guitarist and vocalist, recently dropped by the Blues Break for a live in-studio performance — and sat down with host Michael Bourne to talk more about this new album and his current tour.


Tony Awards
Michael Bourne for WBGO

The Tony Awards will be presented on Sunday.  WBGO Theater Critic Michael Bourne gives us an idea of what we can expect.

Click above to hear Michael's thoughts.

Come From Away
comefromaway.com

Theater critic Michael Bourne selects this season's best musicals. 

Click above to hear Michael's picks.

Broadway
Michael Bourne for WBGO

 

It’s time for the theater awards. Theater critic Michael Bourne looks at the nominees for Best New Play on Broadway.

Click above to hear his choices.

Coco Montoya's latest album, Hard Truth, covers a variety of emotions. From songs about gambling and drinking to warnings about how "The Devil Don't Sleep," it contains the kind of direct storytelling the blues is famous for.

Listen to Montoya with host Michael Bourne on the Blues Break, where he talks about this new album, upcoming performances, and the inspirations behind his music.

Anastasia
Michael Bourne for WBGO

WBGO Theater Critic Michael Bourne reviews Anastasia and has some thoughts on the Tony Award nominations.

The Public Theater
The Public Theater

This season on Broadway has been, to say the least, active. Same for off-Broadway, says WBGO Theater Critic Michael Bourne, especially downtown on Lafayette Street.

Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer is one of the most versatile singers in jazz and song. She can sing (always delightfully) vocalese, standards, gospel, doo-wop, a kaleidoscope of “pop” songs, bossa novas, and then some. Requinte Trio is a new group she’s been working with recently, featuring pianist John DiMartino and guitarist and vocalist Nanny Asiss.

Miss Saigon
Michael Bourne for WBGO

WBGO's Theater Critic Michael Bourne reviews the new musical Amelie, musical revival Miss Saigon and play revival The Price.

Lynne Harty

Singer and composer Theo Bleckmann shapes his voice into an array of subtle orchestral colors. In this visit to Singers Unlimited, he talks with Michael Bourne about his new album, Elegy, as well as his work for the stage and collaborations with a jazz mentor, Sheila Jordan.


Hear Judy Niemack and pianist Dan Tepfer as they stop by Singers Unlimited to chat with Michael Bourne about their new album, Listening to You. They'll also share a few tunes live in our studio — including an impromptu take on a standard.  

Shakespeare, Robert Johnson, Freddie Mercury, and David Crosby are just a few of the names that pop up in this lively conversation with Becca Stevens, as she shares songs from her latest album, Regina, live in our studio on Singers Unlimited.


 

Rob Paparozzi is a virtuoso of the harmonica, and played a box full of harps — different sizes, different keys — when he came to WBGO for a talk on Michael Bourne’s Blues Break. He’ll be the featured soloist on May 11 when the New York Philharmonic performs Henry Mancini’s score to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, along with a screening of the film.

 

Paparozzi recently played in the City Center Encores revival of Roger Miller’s musical Big River: Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He’s also performing with a reunited Blues Brothers band. 

Coco Montoya is the Sherman Tank of blues guitar.  Powerful. Explosive. Maybe he thunders so much from starting out as a drummer. One of his first gigs was (after a chance encounter) playing drums for blues master Albert Collins. He spent five years on the road with Collins, who taught him to be a guitarist.

Barbara Carroll was definitive. As an elegant pianist. As a sophisticated singer. As a beautiful lady. And like another great Lady, her good friend Billie Holiday, Barbara Carroll was down-to-earth and always swinging.

Elvin Bishop called his first Alligator album Big Fun.  Aptly-titled. He’s always having fun. And his newest Alligator album continues in the same spirit, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio. He was having so much fun jamming with a couple of friends, guitarist/pianist Bob Welch and percussionist/singer Willy Jordan, that they became a band.

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