Steve Conrad on KJZZ's Record Stash, Nina Simone, Collecting Soundies, and How Shane Kennedy Inspired His Crescent Ballroom Gig
Although it's been more than five years since Steve Conrad pulled a regular air shift on local public radio station KJZZ, the 38-year-old disc jockey still gets many chances to share his love of jazz, blues, and soul songs on vinyl.
Stan Hillhouse Steve Conrad
From time to time, Conrad says he helps out fellow KJZZ jock Blaise Lantana create special jazz programming for the station. He also can be occasionally found behind the record decks at local swing nights, as he's a die-hard devotee of both the musical genre and dance form. And on Sunday night, Conrad will lug some of the many jazz, blues, and soul records from his vinyl collection down to the Crescent Ballroom's lounge for an evening of classic hits.
We recently spoke with Conrad about his love of jazz, as well as what sort of gems are housed in KJZZ's in-house record collection, and how local DJ Shane Kennedy helped inspire his upcoming Crescent gig.
How long have you been a jazz fan?
Well, I really started learning about the music when I was first attracted to the big band era, the early stuff from the 1930s and 40s, not the over commercialized big band music. Specifically when people think of Big bands they think of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, the bands that were super...like Harry James and the Dorsey Brothers and all that. I actually found music that...I was attracted to the kind of music that wasn't played in the mainstream by African American artists and wasn't sold in stores of wasn't played on radios, what they called Black Label records back in the 30s and 40s...Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald. Those were eventually sold as you got more socially aware and segregation ended and all, the things that kept that music from getting in stores and on radio.
Where did you go from there?
Then as I worked for KJZZ and did an overnight show. So I got to really appreciate the music while working there and got into cool jazz and Miles Davis and loved John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman and all these great musicians that I really hadn't been opened up to. It was through the radio station, I went in thinking, "Hey, I would introduce and play more of this big band music," and it kind of expanded both of our horizons where I was trying to play really unknown bands that I hadn't heard on KJZZ when I first went to work there. And then got introduced to so much because they have a fantastic jazz library there.
How many records are in their stash?
I would say at least 5,000. It's huge.
Are you going to sneak any records out of KJZZ's collection for your Crescent Ballroom gig?
(Laughs) I won't be taking anything from library but because I've been in there before and fell in love with certain [albums], I would get the vinyl version. So I have a lot of stuff from KJZZ but it won't really be like tuning into KJZZ.
Are there any gems in KJZZ's collection that you would kill to have yourself?
If I fell in love with something I saw there, I pretty much found it on my own later. They have some great Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie recorded live back in the 70s. There's still quite a bit that I don't have that KJZZ has. They have thousands of CDs and records in there. But anything that I played that I just had to have I write down and look it up and get it downloaded. Now I have two terabytes of just music on iTunes, which is huge. It would take me forever to get through every single song in there but I know the ones I love and I through that collection from time to time.
Do you bring in things from your own collection when you work with Blaise Lantana?
Yeah, KJZZ has more music but I'll actually bring music to the library from time to time. I'll find a new artist that's not getting radio play anywhere else, or I'll go to an event out of town and meet the band and bring a CD back. There's a lot from San Francisco, Seattle. Tuba Skinny, I met them on the streets of New Orleans. You can only get their CD if you hear them play live. They don't sell it anywhere else. It's not on iTunes, but it's this great street band and in fact a singer that used to be with them, Meschiya Lake did finally record an album separately and was named by NPR as one of the five greatest voices of 2010 when she came out with that album. It's really difficult to get that music anywhere else except just being there.