WHRB Friday Jazz Sessions

Live show keeps radio exciting and pertinent

Radio broadcasting has been around since the 1920s, when it was primetime entertainment, but has since been in tough competition with other attractions like television and increasingly accessible internet options like YouTube and torrent downloads. Though radio offers a unique experience for the listener, many find the medium increasingly anachronistic.

Consequently, stations like the student-run Harvard Radio Broadcasting (WHRB) are driven to offer more programming options to encourage listeners to tune in. One such program is WHRB’s weekly Live Lunch Jazz Fridays sessions. Musicians from the mecca of local and professional jazz talent play on-site as the station broadcasts their performance live; the sessions serve as an opportunity for musicians to share their creativity and as a window onto the vibrant Boston music scene for listeners.

General manager Carl A. Pillot ’12, who was last year’s jazz director, said he resurrected the jazz sessions in spring 2010 from an unfinished project of his predecessor Isaac Shivvers ’10-’11. Pillot created the performance schedule from a number of musicians Shivvers had contacted and from responses from a number of music schools around Boston. “There were a lot of people interested in playing,” he said.

The WHRB sessions host a wide range of musicians, including professional bands and local students like jazz pianist Malcolm G. Campbell ’10 and saxophonist Kazemde A. George ’12, both enrolled jointly at New England Conservatory and Harvard. Although Pillot could not say how many people tuned in, he said that the radio station targets the whole Boston community in addition to Harvard students.

For musicians, playing live on radio offers a unique performance experience free from the influence of an audience. Saxophonist Kevin Sun ’14, another NEC/Harvard joint concentrator who played on air earlier this month and a Crimson magazine editor, said, “[It] is actually more relaxed to play on the radio than to play in a concert hall or a venue like a club. You could make the case that it’d be more sterile to play in that environment because there’s no one goading you on.”

The live session also allows touring groups to gain publicity for shows. “If groups have an event coming up in Cambridge, we like to fit them [in] and promote that event, so it’s beneficial for them,” Pillot said. Bands like Jeremy de Jésus, featured on the show last Friday, always try to find opportunities to perform when they’re not studying at the Berklee School of Music and New England Conservatory.

Despite the range of genres and live programming offered, according to Sun, WHRB listenership is limited to a smaller but dedicated community of music aficionados. “I think reasons for that may include the lack of time,” he said. “Students—they don’t listen to the radio. I also think students aren’t aware that there’s a 24-hour student radio station that can be streamed online.” He added, “if you’re doing work and just want to listen to music, just go on the website and put on the stream and put the music on the background and study or work. You never know what you might find. That’s the great thing.”

This idea particularly resonates with the Live Lunch Jazz Friday program. The diversity of musicians in these regular sessions offers both new and experienced listeners the opportunity to discover up-and-coming musicians as well as new fusions of jazz and other genres. The show is especially conducive to jazz performances, as live broadcasts allow the listener to hear the live improvisations so essential to the music. In addition to the live jazz sessions, which air weekly at 11:30am, WHRB 95.3FM hosts rock concerts most Fridays, airs the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday performances from New York City, and plans to launch live classical sessions in the near future. With a number of live performance programs in several genres, the station allows listeners to venture out from their musical comfort zones and explore the many vibrant genres of music.

—Staff writer Vivian W. Leung can be reached at vivianleung@college.harvard.edu.

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