Friday, December 11, 2009

The Only Constant is Change

If there's one thing that's true about radio, it's that you seldom get to say goodbye. For instance, in my life I've worked at seven stations and never been given the chance to do a last show. Management just doesn't like the “final show” idea.

That is why AccuRadio, Inc., the company behind, is a business unlike any other I've encountered in my career in broadcasting, and it's entirely in a good way. Take, for example, the fact that they're allowing me the chance to put up this final blog, knowing it's my opportunity to say goodbye.

Recently, I received an offer to program and host the midday show on WLFM 87.7, the over-the-air radio station which replaced WNUA 95.5 as Chicago's Smooth Jazz station this past May. The opportunity was, quite simply, too good to pass up.

My voice and name will slowly disappear from this site over the next few weeks. However, because of a unique arrangement between my current and future bosses, I will continue to work on the music at ChiTownSmoothJazz. I will still be here but behind the scenes, making sure the music remains true to our original vision for the site when it was launched this past June. isn't going away. And, of course, Danae Alexander will continue to be the familiar, welcoming voice that invites you into just about every channel here.

Last but definitely not least, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to every listener who's discovered us during the past six months. The support and encouragement Kurt Hanson, President of Accuradio, and I received along the way were remarkable and indicated to us that we were doing something right. You made the entire endeavor worthwhile. The countless emails, phone calls and comments in they take each one seriously.

Thank you for listening. To you and your family, we wish you all the blessings of a wonderful holiday season.

Rick O'Dell

Operations Manager – Smooth Jazz

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Smooth Groove Christmas Show Next Sunday

Bryan Lubeck is one of the most underrated musicians in Chicagoland. If you've seen him in action at, say, Walter Payton's Roundhouse in Aurora or "Smooth Jazz at South Shore" in Michigan City, Indiana, over the years, you know the depth of this man's talent. Most of us, however, have never had the pleasure of being there when Bryan has strapped on his six-string. Now, here's your chance, this coming Sunday, December 13.
Bryan will be performing his annual "Smooth Groove Christmas Show" in Merrillville, Indiana, at the Merrillville United Methodist Church, at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are only $15 at the door.
All proceeds will be donated to Bryan's annual charity effort, "Coats for Kids and Families," which has already given away more than 1,100 coats to needy area residents.
ChiTownSmoothJazz is proud to feature Bryan Lubeck on our "Smooth Jazz Christmas" and "Christmas Instrumentals" channels with his music on the stellar holiday CD, We Three Strings.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Ever since I can remember, my two sisters and I were given identical "nighties" to wear on Christmas Eve. I realize now how very wise my Mother was to give us something to look forward to on the eve of the BIG DAY. It was a wonderful distraction that helped to dissolve some of the angst we felt over that "naughty and nice list" thing.

Even though our parents are no longer with us, we have kept the tradition going. We each take a turn providing the "nighties" for Christmas. Over time the family has expanded ( marriages, children ) so the "nighties" have evolved into T/sweat shirts with a theme. We've let our creativity flow turning what was an adorable yearly photo-op of three little girls into a group of ten holiday revelers trying to stop laughing long enough to even take a photo!

It's my turn this year and I've just put the finishing touches on ten T-shirts. The theme is.....
oh, I forgot it's TOP SECRET....that's part of the fun. No one can see them until Christmas Eve.
I have to confess that, although I'm a "grown up", the level of excitement my Mother initiated years ago still exists.

I shared this with you to let you know that, in the midst of the current economy where everyone is cutting back, holding on to a simple, inexpensive tradition can turn frowns into smiles and warm family memories.

Wishing you the happiness that simple pleasures bring this holiday season and always.

Danae Alexander

An Evening with Ramsey Lewis

It's been years since Ramsey Lewis and his Trio performed their "Home for the Holidays" series at a downtown venue (how I miss that!), so we'll take Ramsey live any way we can get him in the month of December. Ramsey will be performing a benefit concert for the Supporting Excellence Endowment tonight, Friday, December 4, at the UIC Forum.

For tickets and information, click here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nominees for the 52nd Grammy Awards

We applaud these ChiTownSmoothJazz artists on their Grammy nominations announced yesterday:

Chris Botti - In Boston (Best Pop Instrumental Album & Best Long Form Music Video)

Hiroshima - Legacy (Best Pop Instrumental Album)

Booker T. Jones - Potato Hole (Best Pop Instrumental Album)

The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman - Modern Art (Best Pop Instrumental Album)

Spyro Gyra - Down the Wire (Best Pop Instrumental Album)

Beyonce - "At Last" (Best Traditional R&B Performance)

Jim Brickman - Faith (Best New Age Album)

Philippe Saisse - At World's Edge (Best Contemporary Jazz Album)

Randy Crawford & Joe Sample - No Regrets (Best Jazz Vocal Album)

The winners will be announced Sunday, January 31, 2010. The full list of nominees is available here.

Congratulations to our Dave Koz Christmas Concert Ticket Winners

Each of these loyal ChiTownSmoothJazz listeners be joining us Saturday night at the Auditorium Theater for Dave's reunion Christmas tour:

Nakiah Brown
Leanne Delia
Teresita Dinnsen
Kinnin Flores
Enya Masangkay
Yolanda Sartin

For your tickets and more information on the show, please click here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's Christmas Time in the City (and Suburbs)

These perennial Chicagoland favorites ought to take the edge off holiday season stress:

Daley Plaza in the Loop invites children to bring their holiday wish lists and have their picture taken with Santa at their Santa House while mom and dad stroll the annual Christkindlmarket through December 24. More information here.

Adler Planetarium presents its final "Star of Wonder" through January 3rd.

Brookfield Zoo's 28th annual "Holiday Magic" runs weekends in December.

Lincoln Park Zoo presents "ZooLights" with free admission through January 3rd.

The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe features the Wonderland Express and miniature Chicago landmarks through January 3rd.

The Promenade Bolingbrook presents "Symphony in Lights," 250,000 LED lights synchronized to the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, through December 31.

Navy Pier presents "Winter Wonderfest" every day beginning December 4th.

Win Tickets to "Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Jazz Christmas" from ChiTownSmoothJazz!

Santa Koz is Coming to Town December 5 at the Auditorium Theatre

ChiTownSmoothJazz has six pairs of tickets we're giving away next week. To enter, send us an email to with the following:

1. Your name and daytime phone number.
2. "Dave Koz Concert" in the subject line of your email.

We'll select six entries at random with each winner receiving two tickets to the concert. Entry deadline is Tuesday, December 1, 2009. (To enter by mail, send a postcard with your name, address and daytime phone number to:

Dave Koz Concert
400 North Wells, Suite 408
Chicago, IL 60654)

To purchase tickets to the show, click here.

You won't want to miss the show. Dave will be appearing with the original lineup from his first Smooth Jazz Christmas tour back in 1998: pianist David Benoit, guitarist Peter White, trumpeter Rick Bran and singer Brenda Russell. It promises to be a wonderful, festive night.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Traveling Music

One of our loyal listeners, “SaxFan” in Louisville, Kentucky, asked in the Shoutbox last week for a few CDs which would make for good listening during those long holiday driving trips. In the car I prefer a CD that has decent energy and a fair amount of hit material. Here are a few that I've always enjoyed listening to through the years while we made our way over the river and through the woods:

Acoustic Alchemy – Reference Point (GRP)

David Benoit – Best of, 1987-1995 (GRP)

Chris Botti – The Very Best of Chris Botti (GRP)

Boney James – Sweet Thing (Warner Bros.)

Jazzmasters – The Greatest Hits (Trippin' 'n' Rhythm)

Joe Sample – Spellbound (Warner Bros.)

And some festive holiday season fare:

The Very Best of Christmas (new release for 2009) (Trippin' 'n' Rhythm)

Making Spirits Bright (featuring G. Albright, R. Elliot, D. Krall and more) (GRP)

Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy)

Boney James – Christmas Present (Concord)

Diana Krall – Christmas Songs (Verve)

Dave Koz & Friends – A Smooth Jazz Christmas (Capitol)

Eric Tingstad & Nancy Rumbel – The Gift (Narada)

Peter White – Songs of the Season (Columbia)

Have I left out anything? Drop me a note (; I'm also on Facebook), and I'll add your suggestions to the list.

Rick O'Dell

Operations Manager –

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Win a Gift Pack of The Year's Best New Releases

We're giving away holiday gift packs featuring the year's best new releases in Smooth Jazz. Included among the CDs in each gift pack is my pick for the year's finest new holiday CD, The Very Best of Christmas on Trippin' 'n' Rhythm Records.

The Very Best of Christmas features Paul Hardcastle, Tim Bowman, Gregg Karukas, U-Nam, Oli Silk and others performing our favorite songs this time of year.

To enter, it's very simple. All you have to do is send me an email to Please include:

1. Your name.
2. Your email address. (And we'll never sell your email address to a third party.)
3. Where you listen to

(You can also enter by regular mail with a letter or postcard to: Rick O'Dell, ChiTownSmoothJazz, 400 North Wells, Suite 408, Chicago, IL 60654.)

We'll select winners at random starting soon.

What's New at

Just added to the playlist:

Cindy Bradley - "Bloom"
CD: Bloom (Trippin' 'n' Rhythm)

Smooth Jazz has always suffered from a shortage of talented women musicians, so it's a treat to introduce this Buffalo-born trumpeter on her major label debut.

Craig Chaquico - "Songbird"
CD: Follow the Sun (Shanachie)

Yes, it's the melody made famous by Kenny G, a tune that's become a standard of Smooth Jazz. For the first time, we get to hear a guitar playing the lead. Much like Paul Brown's take on "Winelight" and Norman Brown's read on "Skating," the effect is ear-catching.

Paul Hardcastle - "The Circle"
CD - The Collection (Trippin' 'n' Rhythm)

Paul's son, Paul Jr., who up to this point has been featured occasionally on his father's CDs only in the liner notes, steps forward to make a statement of his own--on saxophone. That's the younger Paul Hardcastle making a memorable first impression playing all the sax solos.

Everette Harp - "Texas Groove"
CD - First Love (Shanachie)

Doing a little "background check" on the big man, I was stunned to learn this is his 17th year in Smooth Jazz, his debut coming in 1992. Since then, he's lost a ponytail but gained a consistently powerful tone that cuts through on his ninth CD.

Brian McKnight - "What I've Been Waiting For"
CD - Evolution of a Man (Koch)

He's no longer just a smooth crooner. Add in a successful morning show on radio (KTWV/Los Angeles) and his new "Brian McKnight Show" on TV, and you've got a multi-media star in full bloom.


Rick O'Dell
Operations Manager - (

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Smooth Jazz Christmas Your Way

If 22 years of playing Christmas music have taught us anything, it's this: listeners take it very seriously. People absolutely know what they like when it comes to the music of the holiday season. Requests start coming in as early as mid-October, and they don't stop until about the time the final present is unwrapped Christmas day.

That's why, as we launch the first ever SMOOTH JAZZ CHRISTMAS channel at, we want to make sure we're doing it right. When you have a moment, please consider these questions:

What are your favorite holiday songs?

Which ones should we absolutely add to our Christmas music channel?

At the same time, which Christmas songs should we avoid playing?

Some titles and artists would be most helpful.

Drop us an email:

We'll be incorporating your suggestions into Smooth Jazz Christmas this holiday season, and we'd really appreciate your input. Thanks!

Rick O'Dell & Danae Alexander -

Monday, October 26, 2009

Coming Soon . . .


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's New at

Just added to the playlist:

Greg Adams - “Five to Eleven”

CD: East Bay Soul (Ripa)

If you were a fan of Tower of Power back in the day, you've been enjoying the music of Greg Adams for a long time, just as I have. Upon leaving the group he founded in 1995, the trumpeter and composer released a solo album that has become a Smooth Jazz standard: Hidden Agenda. His new CD, East Bay Soul, is his fifth solo project and embodies a little of everything he's capable of: urban rhythms, soulful ballads, a Tower of Power throwback track or two, and some tasty smooth jazz on “Five to Eleven.”

Ashling - “Jazzman”

CD: Sweet Feelings (SF)

This first generation Irish-Canadian was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, but has lived most of her life in San Francisco. Her solo debut features saxman Gerald Albright on the title track as well as the song you'll hear on ChiTownSmoothJazz, a fresh take on Carole King's 1974 hit. I've often wondered why no one else ever took a crack at this song, which seems to be right in the pocket both lyrically and texturally for Smooth Jazz.

The Sax Pack - “Can't Help Myself”

CD: The Pack is Back (Shanachie)

The trio doesn't miss a beat on their sophomore CD, bringing us a handful of energetic original tracks that pick up right where their first CD left off. When Steve Cole, Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and company hit the road in support of the new release, try and catch them in action. It'll be an evening of unexpected pleasures, right down to the razor-sharp wit and humor of each of the three headliners.


Rick O'Dell

Operations Manager -

Friday, October 9, 2009

From Rick's Smooth Jazz Notebook

As I put the finishing touches this week on the music for the new Sunday Brunch channel, thoughts were popping into my head left and right. Since I know many of you go way back with me when it comes to Smooth Jazz, I'll share with you what I was thinking as I uploaded one vintage track after another into our online music library.

  • There's an awful lot of darn good instrumental music from the late '80s and early '90s that doesn't get any kind of airplay anymore. I can understand that over-the-air radio has given up on it, what with the sad state of Smooth Jazz on terrestrial radio. But it's scarce on the internet too, and there's no reason for that. That's why I had to bring back the Sunday Brunch.
  • Anyone out there remember the group Uncle Festive? They were Barry Manilow's touring band in the '70s and '80s and, with crowds going wild for Barry, they even had their own fan club. By the middle 1980s, the quartet was performing on its own. Drummer Bud Harner went onto become one of the leading record reps in Smooth Jazz.
  • A listener once described Lonnie Liston Smith's “Quiet Moments” to me as “the national anthem of Smooth Jazz.” Indeed, it embodies everything we love about the genre. But another tune of Lonnie's, “London Interlude” is, to my ears, equally mesmerizing and a vastly underrated track.
  • I know we liked going deep into CDs when the format started, but Horizont's Silent Moon was exceptional, even for that era. When I got to the station in 1989, WNUA was playing six tracks from it. You better believe I added all six to the Sunday Brunch channel.
  • Between 1986 and 1992 Acoustic Alchemy did some unbelievably compelling stuff, making them one of the pillars of the “New Adult Contemporary” radio format, as it was called back then. Greg Carmichael and the late Nick Webb were creative geniuses at their peak. Today, their CDs of the period, such as Natural Elements and Reference Point, still hold up extremely well.
  • On the other hand, some material from the early days of the format just doesn't hold up as well, mainly because it was poorly produced, sounding like it had been recorded in a garage. The New Adult Contemporary format in its early days had a reputation of playing just about everything that came its way, and sometimes it was to our detriment. If anything's changed from the late '80s, it's the production values.
  • Smooth Jazz has more than its share of one-hit wonders, including a French keyboardist named Serge Blenner. Played for only a brief time on WNUA between 1987 and 1989, his “Love Talk” is unique for its use of a human laugh track. And he actually makes it work. Listen for it here.
  • What was in the water up there in the Pacific Northwest? A large number of key artists in the early days of Smooth Jazz hailed from there: Kenny G., Jeff Lorber, Dan Siegel, Tom Grant, just to name a few.
  • If any tune could ever be called “smoldering,” it's Santana's “Aqua Marine.” Speaking of Santana, another of his tracks from that time in his career, “Love Is You,” has to be one of the greatest rock-influenced instrumental melodies ever.

Have a track from the early days of Smooth Jazz that you find especially moving or interesting? Tell me about it, and I could add it to my Notebook and the Sunday Brunch channel. Drop me a line at this address:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Congratulations, Pam and Jim!

When major characters on a TV show get married to each other, I've learned it's nothing to celebrate. Even as a nine-year-old, watching Maxwell Smart marry Agent 99 on the original Get Smart, I felt something wasn't quite right. The idea of a wedding didn't fit a show that had gotten me hooked because of its gadgets, secret agents and world takeover plots. And Get Smart is just one example. I can't think of a single show that got better after two of its main characters got married.

That being said, I'm strangely optimistic about tonight's episode of The Office, where we get to see Jim and Pam finally tie the knot. Maybe it's because it's totally believable--we've all seen an in-office romance or two blossom and go all the way to the altar, just as Jim and Pam's has. Maybe it's because their courtship was so charmingly, innocently depicted on screen during the first two seasons that I've been rooting for them ever since. Maybe it's because John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer are creating characters who are so much fun to watch on screen. Or maybe it's because they're headed down the path we knew they'd be going eventually, and once they do, we can move onto their next (mis)adventure.

Usually, when a show decides to weave a wedding into its plot lines, it's a sign that the well of creative inspiration is running dry. I don't think that's the case, however. Jim and Pam's big day makes a lot of sense, and it happens to be just the latest in a series of hilarious plot points in another strong season of The Office. I know what I'll be doing at 8:00 tonight. Don't call me then.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Our Music's Not a Priority to Big Radio


Smooth Jazz lost another station this weekend. Detroit's WVMV, which had been around since December of 1995, switched to a Top 40 format this past Friday.

The owners of WVMV, CBS Radio, were quick to put a positive spin on the format change, issuing a statement on their website saying, new media and new technologies have given us the chance to still keep this [smooth jazz] programming on the air.”

So, how will the format be kept on the air? “Get an HD receiver, and you'll still hear us.” Without an HD receiver, though, the only way to listen to WVMV will be their audio stream. And, be it HD Radio or internet, it'll be only the remnants of WVMV, because the station no longer features the full complement of announcers.

Moreover, when it comes to a radio format, do you know what being shifted over to HD radio means? It's the equivalent of “You get to keep your job, but we're transferring you to Nome, Alaska.” As a format, when you're sent off to HD land, it's all but over--HD is where radio formats go to die. So, “still being available on the air on HD radio” isn't exactly the gift you might think it is.

This isn't as much an indictment of how corporate radio operates as it is just another example of how little the Smooth Jazz fan means to them when it comes to over-the-air radio. They're in the business of making money, and they obviously don't believe Smooth Jazz is a moneymaker anymore. It's as simple as that.

Thankfully, we have internet radio riding to our rescue. As conventional over-the-air radio stations have dropped the Smooth Jazz format, internet radio has rushed in to fill the gap. As a result, Smooth Jazz fans have never had more and better choices than they do right now—on the internet. Think about it. Just a few years ago, if you were a listener of WVMV (or, here in Chicago, WNUA), that was the only station you could turn to for Smooth Jazz. If they were playing songs that weren't your cup of tea, well, you had no other station to switch to. These days, by listening on the internet, you give yourself choices. Lots of them. Twelve channel choices for Smooth Jazz here at, for example.

So I say, let Big Radio wipe Smooth Jazz off the face of the over-the-air radio dial. The listening's better—much better—here on the internet.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Koz Christmas Concert Tickets

Tickets are officially on sale for Dave Koz & Friends, A Smooth Jazz Christmas. Here's the link.
Dave's Christmas elves this year include David Benoit, Peter White, Rick Braun and Brenda Russell. We'll get to see them at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre on Saturday, December 5.

Smooth Jazz Q&A

Lately I've heard some jazzy-sounding jingles playing in between songs on ChiTown. Were they done by Smooth Jazz musicians? (Lois - Brookfield, Ill.)

You could say that. They were composed and produced by a group called The Inline Six, a talented Chicago-based ensemble. Led by Jay Martini and Mitch Germaine, The Inline Six is as much at home creating jingles for ChiTown as they are playing impassioned renditions of smooth and "rough" jazz numbers, R&B, rock and blues.

They'll be in action next on Saturday, October 17, at Old Chicago/Elk Grove Village, 1000 Busse Road. And you can follow them on Facebook as "The Inline Six."

Is the Dave Koz and Friends Smooth Jazz Christmas concert all Christmas music? (Susan - Chicago, Ill.)

No. It's about 60% Christmas classics (along with Dave's spirited Hanukkah song) and 40% non-holiday tunes. The non-holiday material is made up of the Smooth Jazz hits by the individual performers in the band (Rick Braun, Peter White, David Benoit and Brenda Russell).

Dave and the band are able to move effortlessly from Christmas songs to non-Christmas songs and back in a show that's festive and fun from beginning to end.

Special pre-sale tickets are available through 10:00 pm tonight (Thursday, October 1) by clicking here. The official on-sale will be tomorrow morning (Friday, October 2) at 10:00am.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Smooth Way to Bring in the New Month

One of the area's best kept secrets, guitarist Bryan Lubeck, will be performing at Walter Payton's Roundhouse tomorrow night. Bryan and his band skillfully play Latin, pop and Smooth Jazz in one very tasty blend.

It's worth a trip to Aurora to see Bryan, and make sure you take a stroll around the Roundhouse while you're there.

Click here for more information.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Santa Koz is Coming to Town

Rick Braun, David Benoit, Brenda Russell, Santa Koz, Peter White . . . they're all coming back
This one's an automatic. The show that needs no introduction. The one can't-miss event on the concert calendar. The one that everybody waits for every year. It's the concert that, when it was over, listeners were phoning and emailing me about for weeks at WNUA.
Dave Koz & Friends' Smooth Jazz Christmas. It'll be back in Chicago Saturday, December 5, at the Auditorium Theatre.
This year's show will be especially memorable because it features the original stars of the first Smooth Jazz Christmas tour back in 1997: Dave, trumpeter Rick Braun, pianist David Benoit, guitarist Peter White and vocalist Brenda Russell, perhaps the greatest touring ensemble in Smooth Jazz history. listeners can take advantage of a special pre-sale for tickets. Starting tomorrow morning (Wednesday, 9/30) at 10:00am and running through 10:00pm on Thursday, use this link (and then the password HOLIDAY) to order the absolute best seats in the house.
Following the pre-sale, tickets will be available starting at 10:00am Friday, October 2.

Any plans this Saturday night?

Jim Brickman returns to the area this Saturday night, October 3. See him at the Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University in University Park. For tickets and information, click here.

Jim puts on a surprisingly wide-ranging show, where he blends music, anecdotes and inspiring conversation into an uplifting experience for all ages. You might even get to meet his mom, who lives on the North Shore and has been known to attend performances by her son when he's in town.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let's Do Brunch . . . Again

"The Sunday Brunch" is back . . . at

I'll never forget the day: February 22, 1987. Eight o'clock that morning. "The Sunday Lite Brunch" made its debut on WCLR 102-FM to the strains of Chuck Mangione's grand tune, "Bellavia." For the next 22 years, listeners in Chicago were able to begin their Sunday mornings with the paper, a cup of coffee and the mellow music of "The Brunch," as we at the station liked to call it.

Little did any of us working on the show know it that day, but "The Brunch" would be the start of a remarkable relationship between listeners in Chicago and Smooth Jazz music. The show would be the first in Chicago to showcase contemporary instrumental music and vocals in a blend we know as the Smooth Jazz radio format today.

If you weren't around, listening to beginnings of the Brunch in early 1987, allow me to give you a little history. The "Sunday Lite Brunch" was born out of a gut feeling on the part of two radio executives at then-WCLR, General Manager and Program Director, Chet Redpath and Dave Ervin, respectively. Quick aside: do you remember WCLR? Perhaps a TV commercial from the time will refresh your memory.

(These days, WCLR is known as WTMX. Incidentally, when they changed call letters from WCLR to WTMX, they canceled the Brunch and turned me into a free agent. Fortunately, I was able to sign on at WNUA, where I continued the Sunday Brunch until 2008.)

Chet and Dave had heard about a new radio format about to hit the air in Los Angeles, and they wanted to be the first to bring it to Chicago. Rather than risk converting WCLR's entire format--which had been very successful--to something still unproven, they decided to take a chance on Sunday morning. Their idea made sense: what better time of the week to test a show featuring mainly mellow instrumental music? Since I was the host of the 8:00 am to noon time slot on Sundays, they came to me with their idea--of trying out a show comprised of contemporary jazz, New Age music and an eclectic assortment of vocals, just as KTWV would be doing in Los Angeles.

In early February of 1987, I was making frequent trips to record stores in search of music for the Brunch. I'd scour the Jazz and New Age sections of the store and grab the entire catalogue of the few artists I already knew (Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson, for example). Then I'd ask someone in the store to point me in the direction of some of their own favorites in those categories. That's how I first learned about the great old Windham Hill and Narada artists of the middle '80s. In an hour, I'd be back at the station with a stack of albums (yes, vinyl!) that WCLR Music Director Suzy Mayzel and I would listen to, track by track, on the turntable in her office. It took a couple weeks, but we had the makings of our first Brunch playlist--nearly a hundred tracks.

The Wave, KTWV in Los Angeles, made its debut on February 14, 1987. One weekend later, "The Sunday Lite Brunch" premiered in Chicago, on February 22. Chet and Dave opted for a quiet launch, something unheard of today. There had been no promos leading up to that moment, so we took the audience completely by surprise at 8:00 am that day. And surprised they were. Pleasantly surprised. By the time I got through with my first on-air break, where I welcomed listeners to "The Sunday Lite Brunch, a brand new program on WCLR," all my phone lines were ringing. I answered the first call. It was a woman saying she liked the idea of the new show. I took a second call. Another encouraging, positive comment. I took a third. Same thing. On and on it went, call after call. As I played more and more music, listeners continued to call in. Around 9:00, the hotline in the studio rang. It was Chet Redpath, asking what kind of reaction we were getting to the Brunch. I couldn't get it out fast enough: "It's unbelievable, Chet--people are LOVING the music!"

Through the spring and summer of 1987 the warm reaction we were getting each weekend grew into a white-hot buzz. Positive calls and letters to the station numbered in the hundreds without a single complaint. We offered a free program guide to the show ("The Sunday Lite Brunch Menu"), and we had a thousand requests by the end of the summer. Ratings on Sunday morning were rising. Clients were lining up to sponsor the show. Dan Miller of Crain's Chicago Business and Robert Feder of the Sun-Times surprised us with positive reviews in the paper that were most welcome for a fledgling program. When Mr. Feder described the Brunch as "being as close to perfect as any radio show," I felt that we had arrived. The entire WCLR braintrust and I agreed: in all our years in the business, we'd never seen a reaction like this to any new show we'd been part of. When WNUA finally hit the air August 3 with their full-time format of the music we'd been playing on Sunday morning, they would be trading on the unprecedented amount of goodwill that had been built up toward the format in the listening community the past six months. If Sunday morning was any indication, Chicagoans adored the format. And they have--for 23 years and counting.

Over the years, the mixture of music that both the Sunday Lite Brunch and WNUA started out with evolved, as radio formats always do. What began as a blend of 30% contemporary jazz, 30% New Age and 40% pop/rock/folk/R&B vocals in 1987 was nearly a 50-50 blend of contemporary ("smooth") jazz and pop vocals by 2009. The New Age content and the eclectic vocals had all but disappeared. A certain segment of the listening audience that had been drawn to the Brunch and WNUA in their early days because of the rich variety of sounds, textures and colors became disenchanted with the direction the format had taken. Sadly, there was no longer a radio show or station in Chicago catering to their musical preferences. I heard early and often from this part of the WNUA audience while I was working for the station, and I sympathized with them because of my affection for the music that had made the Brunch so popular during its early days. There wasn't much New Age music on WNUA anymore, but I was still enjoying listening to it at home, just as they were. I harbored a wish that someday there would be a place where I could bring back all of those wonderfully unique tunes that were missing on commercial radio.

Fortunately, with the arrival of the internet, variety has returned to the listening landscape. With over-the-air radio being forced to play it safe because of economic concerns, the internet has become home to music that would never see the light of day on the AM and FM dials. Our new Sunday Brunch channel, at, is a good example. In creating the new Brunch, I went back to my original playlists from 1987 to 1993 to build the musical foundation. I then added material that, had we been able to keep to the original concept of the Sunday Brunch with New Age music, we would have automatically added to the playlist along the way.

It is a great pleasure to be able to resurrect the Brunch. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of listening to it as I did gathering up all the old songs from the original show. And, as was always the case with the Brunch, if you have personal favorites you think would be appropriate for our channel, please let me know what they are. List them in the Shoutbox, or drop me a note ( anytime.

Whether you're a former listener from the WCLR days (I know at least a few of you are still out there!) or someone who's just now discovering the Sunday Brunch, thank you for listening. It's a little bit of Chicago radio history I hope will never go away again--at least not if I have anything to do with it.

Rick O'Dell

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's New at

Santa Koz is coming to town December 5. Tickets go on sale this Saturday.

Just added to the playlist:

Boney James - "Touch"
CD: Send One Your Love (Concord)
John Klemmer--remember him?--was a fixture in contemporary jazz back in the '70s. He was a musician, poet, philosopher and something of a renaissance man, a thoughtful artist of many layers. Now, nearly 35 years after John Klemmer caught the ear of the jazz world with his debut "Touch," Boney James reminds us of why so many of us were entranced by the tune in the first place.

Jessy J - "Tropical Rain"
CD: True Love (Peak)
This is Jessy's much anticipated follow-up to her chart-topping debut, Tequila Moon.

Paul Jackson Jr. - "Easy Like Sunday Morning"
CD: Lay It Back (Branch)
Paul is one of the busiest first-call studio musicians on the left coast, and no wonder. The late Luther Vandross dubbed him "The Picasso of Guitar" for his uncommon abilities on the six-string. Here, Paul delivers the old Commodores' song that's ideal for our new Sunday Brunch channel.

Jackiem Joyner - "I'm Waiting For You"
CD: Lil' Man Soul (Artistry)
Virtually unknown back when he was touring with Marcus Johnson and Bobby Lyle from 2001 to 2004, Jackiem is establishing himself as a rising solo star of Smooth Jazz. This is his breakthrough CD.

Dave Koz - "And Then I Knew"
CD: Dave Koz Greatest Hits (Capitol)
You won't want to miss the Smooth Jazz concert event of the year, Dave Koz & Friends' Smooth Jazz Christmas, coming to the Auditorium Theater December 5. Dave will be bringing the original group with him: Rick Braun, Peter White, David Benoit and Brenda Russell. Tickets will go on sale September 19 at

Phillip Martin - "Realization"
CD: Realization (Zephryn)
It's new talent coming into Smooth Jazz that will guarantee the future of the genre, and Phillip, a native Hoosier, shows great promise on his latest CD.

Paul Taylor - "Burnin'"
CD: Burnin' (Peak)
Seems like just yesterday Paul was making his Chicago debut at the House of Blues as a member of Keiko Matsui's traveling band. Here in 2009, he's firmly established as a groove master whose live performances have raised the bar for passion and romance.


Rick O'Dell
Operations Manager,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Worth The Drive Up to West Bend, Wisconsin, This Weekend

If you've never made it up to the annual Kettle Moraine Jazz Festival, you ought to think about it. Since 1998, Kettle Moraine has brought top name Smooth Jazz talent to West Bend, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee. During my time at WNUA, we sent dozens of listeners to the annual festival. They came back with glowing reports of the fun they had attending the many concerts and enjoying the hospitality of the fine folks who put on the Kettle Moraine festival every September.

Here is the lineup for this year's fest:

Friday, September 11

Guitarist Craig Chaquico (5;15pm)
Saxophonist Warren Hill (7:15pm)
Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons (9:15pm)

Saturday, September 12

Saxophonist Najee (3;15pm)
Guitarist Joyce Cooling (5:45pm)
Saxophonist Walter Beasley (8:15pm)

Tickets are $75 for either day or $125 for both days. To reach them by phone, call (877) 271-6903.

In my experience, the listeners I spoke with who had the best time at the fest got themselves a hotel room in Milwaukee for Friday and Saturday night and attended both days without the pressure of having to drive back down to Chicago after each day's performances.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What's New at

Just added to the playlist:

Joyce Cooling - "Grass Roots"
CD: Global Cooling (Group 2 Productions)
One of my favorite musicians (and people) in Smooth Jazz, Joyce has done it again--put together a recording brimming with sunny, inviting melodies. This is the seventh CD for one of our genre's most consistent artists. Of "Grass Roots," Joyce writes, "Touching down lightly in the Caribbean, 'Grass Roots' mixes just a hint of reggae with bluesy guitars and a horn section to create a track that swings like a shuffle with an island twist."

Nick Colionne - "The Big Windy Cat"
CD: No Limits (Koch)
It was only a matter of time before Nick penned a composition with this title. It seems whenever he's on the road, another musician will refer to him as "the cat from the Big Windy." Without a doubt, Nick is a worthy Smooth Jazz ambassador for the city, bringing a dash of Chicago cool to wherever he performs.

Andrew Neu - "Next Time I Fall in Love"
CD: Try Something Neu (Nu Groove)
Looks like third time's the charm for the saxman from Philadelphia, whose third solo CD ought to be his breakthrough recording. Andrew Neu ("new") has Bobby Caldwell providing vocals on this track. Bobby should be intimately familiar with them, since he wrote the song in the mid-'80s.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chicagoland Events for the Holiday Weekend, as heard at

Labor Day Weekend always means live jazz in Grant Park

It's Jazz Festival week in Chicago, starting with the popular jazz club tour on Wednesday, September 2. Visit 14 jazz clubs for just $30. Click here for more information. Then, it's three days of free live traditional jazz in Grant Park, September 4-6. For more information, click here.

The 20th annual African Festival of the Arts takes place at Washington Park, 51st Street and Cottage Grove, September 4-7.

It's the Last Fling on Naperville's Riverwalk, September 4-7.

The 30th annual Taste of Polonia happens at the Copernicus Cultural Center on Lawrence between Milwaukee Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway, September 4-7.

The 39th annual Schaumburg Septemberfest brings live music to the Atcher Municipal Center, 101 Schaumburg Court, September 5-7.

And we've got the annual Bash on Wabash, South Wabash at East 14th, September 5 and 6.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Chicagoland Events for the Week Ahead, as heard at

It's the last Smooth Jazz blast of summer, "Smooth Jazz at South Shore," featuring Richard Elliot, Jonathan Butler and Rick Braun, at Washington Park in Michigan City, this Saturday, August 29.

Taste of Highland Park and the annual Port Clinton Art Festival in downtown Highland Park, August 28-30.

The annual Viva Chicago Latin Music Festival in Grant Park, August 29 and 30.

Taste of Greece 2009 on Halsted Street between Van Buren and Monroe, August 29 and 30.

The Fleet Feet Sports Supersprint Triathlon and McDonald's Kids Triathlon at Foster Avenue Beach, Sunday, August 29.

The Bucktown Arts Fest at Senior Citizens' Park, Oakley Avenue and Lyndale Street, August 29 and 30.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Forty Years Ago This Month

August 15-18, 1969 - Bethel, New York

David Sanborn was there.

David Sanborn could fill a book with all the unique experiences he'd had in his career. When he came by the WNUA studios in 1995 and joined me on the air during my midday show, little did I know, however, that we'd spend some time talking about something I wouldn't expect coming out of the mouth of a Smooth Jazzer. The man told me he played Woodstock! Yup, the original one--the one that's marking its 40th anniversary this month.

In the late 1960s David was a member of the famed Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was booked to perform at Woodstock on Sunday, August 17. He recalled for my audience and me that day the group had to fly into the park in a helicopter, since the freeway was closed. It was a sight he won't soon forget, he and the band "coming over the hill and seeing half a million people below, all spread out on this field." Never before had he seen a crowd that size.

The whole experience must have left a positive impression on David. He left Butterfield's group in 1971 and moved to Woodstock, where he lived until the mid '70s, when he relocated to Manhattan.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chicagoland Events for the Week Ahead, as heard at

Summer weekends are winding down, but there's no shortage of weekend fun in Chicagoland:

The 8th annual Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (above), on Glenwood Between Lunt and Farwell, August 21-23.

Lakeview Music Fest, at Sheffield and Addison, August 22-23. (773-868-3010)

The Lincoln Park Firemen's Cook-Off, the Lincoln Park Market, 2500 North Clark Street, August 22-23.

The 60th annual Greek Festival at the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2727 West Winona, August 21-23. (773-561-5992)

And next weekend, "Smooth Jazz at South Shore," featuring Richard Elliot, Jonathan Butler and Rick Braun, at Washington Park, Michigan City, Indiana, Saturday, August 29.

Ring A Bell?

I'm sure you remember the TV commercial showing a father joyfully rolling through a department store on a shopping cart singing "It's the most wonderful time of the year". The "father" is ecstatic that the kids would soon be going back to school.

Some of you have already experienced this "wonderful time". Your kids attend year-round schools. For the rest of you, it's just around the corner.

Each year it takes a minute to realize that you're actually sipping a cup of coffee and the only sound in the room is the soundtrack of your life coming from ChiTown Smooth AHHHH.

Whatever else comes your way that day, this moment is ALL YOURS. Enjoy. Meantime we'll look for a Smooth Jazz version of "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year".

Smoothly yours,
Danae Alexander

Friday, August 14, 2009

Smooth Jazz's Summer Swan Song

Jonathan Butler

Rick Braun

Richard Elliot

For several years it's heralded the end of summer for Smooth Jazz fans in a big way. "Smooth Jazz at South Shore" is an incredible evening of live music on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan in Michigan City, Indiana. This year's event features three performers who never disappoint: powerhouse saxman Richard Elliot, smooth-as-silk trumpeter Rick Braun and awesome singer/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Butler as "Jazz Attack" on Saturday, August 29, at 7:30 p.m.

"Smooth Jazz at South Shore" was the brainchild of Bernie Scott, a local businessman and proprietor of The Joy of Flowers in Michigan City. Through his tireless efforts each year, Smooth Jazz fans in Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland get to enjoy an evening with the genre's premiere artists, and several important charities in the area benefit from a portion of the proceeds. It's a definite win-win for Smooth Jazz and several worthy organizations. Last year's event, for example, raised over $100,000 for the Sand Castle Shelter for Children and Families, the Stepping Stone Shelter for Women and the American Red Cross, LaPorte County Chapter.

My wife, Lori, and I attended our first "Smooth Jazz at South Shore" concert last August, when Nick Colionne and Mindi Abair were the headliners. Bernie and his staff put on such a good show that we're looking forward to being back this year. We hope you decide to come join us, too. I guarantee you'll enjoy their hospitality and, with the excitement of "Jazz Attack," I can think of no better way to wrap up our summer.

For information on tickets, please click here. See you on the 29th!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chicagoland Events for the Week Ahead, as heard at

The annual Air & Water Show at North Avenue Beach, August 15 and 16.

Edison Park Fest, around the Edison Park Metra station in the northwest side neighborhood, August 14-16.

Windy City Ribs Festival, with live music and good food, at Union Park, 1501 West Randolph, August 14-16.

Green Music Fest at Eckhart Park, 1330 West Chicago Avenue, August 15 & 16.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's New at

Peter White - “Bright”

CD: Good Day (Peak Records) (Release date: 9/8/09)

One of our favorite six-stringers is back with a CD of original compositions, drawing from what Peter describes as “my backlog of material—songs that I'd never finished, some going as far back as ten or fifteen years.” Peter adds, “I discovered that I had a lot of gems that I really wanted to show to the world.” The first single, “Bright,” is dedicated to the memory of Wayman Tisdale.

Here's "Rick's Pick to Click," the track I feel has the best chance to stick:

Jonathan Fritzen - “VIP”

CD: VIP (Nordic Night Records)

Multi-instrumentalist (but mainly pianist) Jonathan Fritzen hails from Stockholm. This is his second solo CD, and--here's my prediction--it's going to be his Smooth Jazz breakthrough track.

Freddie Washington - “In the Moment”

CD: In the Moment (RFW Records)

This is our introduction to the talented bassist currently on tour with Steely Dan. You can catch Freddie in action with the group at their Chicago Theatre shows August 31 through September 5.


Four80East - “Roll On”

CD: Roll On (Native Language Records)

The Toronto-based group made their debut in 1997 with “Eastside.”

Nils - “Up Close & Personal”

CD: Up Close And Personal (Baja/TSR Records)

It's another cool west coast groove by the guitarist whose past hits include "Pacific Coast Highway" and "Summer Nights."

You'll hear all of these fresh, new tracks just added to the playlist.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chicagoland Events for the Week Ahead, as heard at

The annual Ginza Festival, a celebration of Japanese culture, at the Midwest Buddhist Temple on West Menomonee, August 7-9.

Lollapalooza takes over Grant Park with music and art, August 7-9.

It's the annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic on King Drive from 39th to 51st on August 8.

Enjoy your week and weekend!

Monday, August 3, 2009

On This Date in Smooth Jazz History

The date was August 3, 1987. It was a Monday then, just like it is today. The time was 5:00 p.m. Do you remember where you were, what you were doing? Do you have an alibi?

I was working for what was then WCLR (these days it's called "The Mix"), sitting with Assistant Program Director Suzy Mayzel and Program Director Dave Ervin in his office back when their facility was up in Skokie on Gross Point Road. We were all gathered around the stereo, listening intently for the launch of a new radio station. For the weeks leading up to August 3, 1987, there had been much talk in the local and national press about the new radio format that would soon be coming to Chicago--a format that had taken Los Angeles and San Francisco by storm a few months earlier. Based on contemporary instrumental music and eclectic vocals, "Music for a New Age" as a full-time format was set to debut in Chicago at 95.5FM at 5:00.

To the strains of David Sanborn's "Chicago Song," WNUA 95.5 made its debut that August afternoon. Little did we know at the time that the station would become a Chicago staple and enjoy a magnificent run that would take it all the way to May 22, 2009.

The launch of WNUA was especially significant to me, because I had been hosting a weekend show on WCLR that featured essentially the same music. My show, "The Sunday Lite Brunch," debuted in February of 1987, six months before the start of WNUA. In just those few months on the air the Lite Brunch show had received such good reviews in the local papers and an outpouring of support from listeners (a thousand letters in the first six months) that I knew we were onto something. And, as soon as I heard the first few notes of "Chicago Song" coming from 95.5, I realized that, presented as a 24/7 format, "Music for a New Age" would have incredible potential.

"The Sunday Lite Brunch" would continue on WCLR through February of 1989, when it fell victim to a format and call letter change at the station. Another New Age outlet which took to the air in 1987, 106.7 "The Wave" (WTWV) in Des Plaines, would also hang on for a couple of years before switching to Christian Contemporary music. By 1990, WNUA was the only Chicago station in the format, a distinction it held until May 22, 2009, when it flipped to Spanish Adult Contemporary.

The 23 year history of WNUA was marked by memorable music, exciting contests and events and an audience whose devotion to the station was second to none. For Danae Alexander and me (and everybody else who was on the air) it was easily the best experience of our careers.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Listener EMailbag

Got a question or comment that won't quite fit in the Shoutbox? Post it here!

(from Linda - Pastorelli Foods, west side)

"Can you now play a song that's longer than the [version] you played on WNUA? Is all this music from your personal collection? Sorry about being nosy, but I'm just curious."

Thanks for reminding me about that--and for noticing! With the heavier commercial load they carry, terrestrial radio doesn't have time to play the longer versions, which are generally the album cuts. On the contrary, here at ChiTownSmoothJazz, we're going to try and play the unedited, longer versions wherever possible.

As for my personal collection, yes, I've brought in quite a few of my own CDs from over the years to feature here. So much of the older material in Smooth Jazz and New Age is out of print and nearly impossible to find. When we get requests for it, I'll generally look in my collection at home and then bring it into the office to play on the air here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chicagoland Events for the Week Ahead, as heard at

Rachelle Ferrell and Phil Perry perform at the Country Club Hills Theater Saturday, August 1.

The 28th annual Heritage Jazz Fest Weekend at the South Shore Cultural Center, August 1 and 2.

The Saugatuck-Douglas Jazz Festival in Michigan, July 31 and August 1.

The 37th annual Fiesta Del Sol in the Pilsen neighborhood, 1400 West Cermak, July 30 through August 2.

The Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival on Milwaukee Avenue from California to Ridgeway on the northwest side, July 31 through August 2.

Northalsted Market Days on Halsted between Belmont and Addison, August 1-2.

The 15th annual Retro on Roscoe, featuring the Windy City Chili Cook-Off, 2000 West Roscoe, August 1-2.

The Gold Coast Art Fair on Superior, Huron and Erie between Clark and Wells, July 31 through August 2.

Enjoy your week and weekend!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The New Normal

In this state of ecomomic flux we're in (how's that for spin), one suggestion is to "reinvent" ourselves using the talents we already have.
I know a Smooth Jazz devotee who lost her job as a city landscape planner. Her job hunting attempts fell flat. Soooo she studied for and passed a test that certified her as a "green" landscaper and two weeks later, tahdah, a job !
I had worked in terrestrial radio for (mumble,mumble) years and am now, as you know, contributing to Chitown Smooth using my "talents" and redirecting them into a new, innovative medium. Can you say happy?
Hope these stories inspire you to do the same if need be. I mean you're already reinventing the way you listen to Smoth Jazz by logging on to Chitown Smooth and are realizing, if I may be so bold as to suggest, all the fabulous perks your getting ! So glad you're here !
Yours Smoothly,
Danae Alexander

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chicagoland Events for the Week Ahead, as heard on

Will Downing and Lalah Hathaway perform at the Country Club Hills Theater on Saturday, the 25th.

David Sanborn will play the Arcada Theater in St. Charles on Sunday, the 26th. (630-587-8400)

The 52nd annual Venetian Night celebration at Monroe Harbor on Saturday, the 25th. (312-744-3315)

The Taste of Lincoln Avenue, from Fullerton to Wrightwood on the near north side, Saturday and Sunday. (773-868-3010)

Wicker Park Fest, on Milwaukee Avenue between North Avenue and Wood Street, Saturday and Sunday. (773-384-2672)

Enjoy your week. And, remember, you can take the music with you to the beach or anywhere on your iPhone or Blackberry Bold, Curve or Storm with

The Listener Emailbag

Got a question or comment that won't quite fit in the Shoutbox? Post it here!

(from Lucinda in Beverly)

"I'm going out west soon on a summer vacation. Where can I find Smooth Jazz stations to listen to west of the Mississippi?"

At one time you could find a station practically everywhere you went on vacation. There were hundreds of them from coast to coast. Sadly, we now have fewer stations in the format than at any time since the late 1980s, when Smooth Jazz started. Here are the big ones that are left in some popular travel destinations (all are FM):

Cleveland - WNWV - 107.3
Detroit - WVMV - 98.7
Las Vegas - KOAS - 105.7
Los Angeles - KTWV - 94.7
Milwaukee - WJZX - 106.9
Phoenix - KYOT - 95.5
Sacramento - KSSJ - 94.7
San Diego - KIFM - 98.1
Seattle - KWJZ - 98.9
Tampa - WSJT - 94.1

Have a safe trip.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Note To Our Listeners

How wonderful to be able to communicate with you again!

I've known Kurt Hanson, the driving force behind Chitown Smooth Jazz, for many years. I've always been impressed with his "out of the box" thinking and entrepreneurial spirit. When I heard he had filled the Smooth Jazz void sweeping the country, I couldn't wait to be a part of it.

What a listener's dream! I know you've always wanted to program your own music and now you can! Another big listener's dream come true, not having to endure loooong interruptions between songs. A quick one-liner and back to "the soundtrack of your life."

Kudos to Kurt Hanson and everyone involved with Chitown Smooth Jazz.

Welcome back Smooth Chicago, around the country, around the world!

Lots of Love,
Danae Alexander

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