WWOZ's decision to cut its 11-year-old brass band show from its weekly lineup has fueled a debate between the station's volunteer, on-air personalities, and the salaried management staff.
The two-hour Brass Band Jam program aired from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays until Aug. 28. Two DJs alternated as hosts: Edwin "King Tut" Burks and Bruce Ward, "The Duke of Tchoupitoulas." Both were notified by a letter from WWOZ Program Director Dwayne Brashears that the show would be "on hiatus for the foreseeable future."
Burks announced the move during his show on Aug. 21. "Right after I did the show, the phones were lighting up," Burks says. "The brass bands have always been very supportive -- the Soul Rebels, ReBirth, they were always behind it. I just don't know why the show was canceled. I'm trying to find out for myself.
"It doesn't make sense to me," Burks continues. "There are a couple of shows on the station that are about music from other parts of the world, but the Brass Band Jam caters specifically to New Orleans culture, to music that's taken real seriously here."
The show enjoyed a strong following in what is one of the city's most historic music communities. "I loved it," says Philip Frazier, co-founder of the ReBirth Brass Band. "It's a really important part of New Orleans culture. People who listen to the show, they don't just hear ReBirth. They hear the younger brass bands, too." When Frazier heard the show was canceled, he thought it was a joke. "I heard it through one of the musicians," he says. "I heard the show was capped and I said, What?' I thought he was joking about it."
WWOZ management believes that the move will actually help the brass bands. "I've been here six and a half years, and in that time I've had seven people do that show," Brashears explains. "They burn out on it because there's such a limited amount of the music available to them. Not all brass bands have CDs. We decided to reenergize that time slot by moving New Orleans Jam Session from its 10 p.m.-to-midnight slot on Saturday night to 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will feature brass bands, so a lot of the same music will be played, but we'll bring the bands in live."
The Hot 8 Brass Band will perform on the newly formatted New Orleans Jam Session.
"We wanted to move the jam session to an earlier time," says Brashears, "because it was difficult for the bands to come on that late and still play their regular gigs at night. We're trying to give these groups an opportunity to be heard."
Blues With Peggy Lou will move up and into the spot vacated by New Orleans Jam Session, from 10 p.m. to midnight. A new show, Blues With Ross, will occupy Peggy Lou's old midnight-to-2 a.m. slot.
Besides incorporating live music, Brashears says New Orleans Jam Session will remain substantially the same. Hosts Bill Taylor -- one of Brass Band Jam's previous hosts -- and Freddie Blue will continue to feature horn-based R&B and guitar-based blues. Taylor often featured brass band music during his shift.
Nevertheless, the importance of Brass Band Jam as a community forum is stressed by several current WWOZ DJs, who would not go on record for fear of reprisals. "All of the most interesting daytime personalities have been weeded out," says one current WWOZ host.
Musician Davis Rogan, aka DJ Davis, started Brass Band Jam in 1993, which he notes as a pivotal time for the music with ReBirth and the Dirty Dozen needing to be showcased. The show was moved to Saturday from Sunday "so I could go to the second lines on Sunday.
"It seems weird to nix this show," says Rogan, who was fired by Brashears last August for what according to Brashears were behavioral issues and failure to adhere to the station's format.
"Arguably, there are a limited number of album releases from brass bands, so you might say they have to play the same songs over and over," Rogan says. "But I thought they did a good job of bringing other things into it to give it depth."
Rogan, who says he was canned for playing rap music on the air, points to the show's content and mission: "I think it's done well. It was a place for the second-line clubs to announce their parades. It was a real circle of community radio." Brashears insists that the lines to the community remain open, including second-line information. "That's still there, in the same time period," he says. "Nothing is changed in terms of the opportunity to spread the word about community events. (The change) is not going to necessarily increase the amount of brass band content on the station, but I don't think it will decrease, either. It's an evolution."
- Philip Frazier of ReBirth Brass Band says WWOZ's recently canceled Brass Band Jam is an important part of New Orleans culture: "People who listen to the show, they don't just hear ReBirth. They hear the younger brass bands, too."