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.

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