WTJU Jazz Profile: Brian Keena

For more than a decade, Brian Keena has hosted The Jazz Messenger on Friday mornings. And for the last few years, he has been the primary scheduler of WTJU’s annual Jazz Marathon. And  It always starts with a blank slate… seven days and nights of programming to fill up.  “I don’t do it alone,” says Brian. “People respond really positively and offer up incredible show ideas… That’s the takeaway: a group effort for the greater good.”

In anticipation of WTJU’s upcoming Jazz Marathon, we asked Brian about his experience of WTJU and jazz.

What do you hope listeners take away from this year’s Jazz Marathon?

I hope that listeners appreciate all that the volunteer DJs bring to the table. It’s a group effort, in and out of the Jazz & Blues Department.

The DJs provide incredible programming out of their love for music all year round, and jazz marathon time is a chance for many of us to geek out on artists and styles. I hope that listeners understand that it’s a group effort by DJs from every department. For example, rock DJs Don Harrison (promos) and Dave Moore (t-shirt design), have been working behind the scenes for months, putting out really creative ideas. Rus Perry, who just finished up a successful run of Jazz at 100 Today, put together a fantastic overnight program with the theme, “The Class of ’21”. We have world class local musicians who are donating their time and talents for their love of the station, and to elucidate our listeners.

Our tireless engineer Lewis Renning spends many hours editing promos and keeping the tech end of things going. And Gayle Poirer takes my mess of a spreadsheet and creates a work of art. So that’s the takeaway: a group effort for the greater good.

What shows are you hosting during this marathon? Why’d you choose these themes?

I will be hosting two shows on Friday. One with former Jazz Director Charlie Curtis, looking at the fertile jazz year of 1961. There is a plethora of music from that year. Later that day, I’ll be up to no good with Rock’s Bad Boy Don Harrison as we look at the storied career of Keely Smith. Hijinx shall ensue.

Due to Covid-19, we have had to alter our live music offerings. Thanks to John D’earth & company, The Wavelengths, and Art Wheeler, we will be able to bring some live music to the airwaves. I’ll be behind the scenes for at least one of those shows.

How did you come to love jazz music?

My parents both listened to jazz when I was a kid. It was the pop music for them. I was fortunate to meet good music teachers in middle and high school who cared about carrying the tradition forward. And I was extremely fortunate to study for a couple years with an unassuming brilliant session jazz guitarist/instructor named Eddie Berg, who instilled an interest in standards and theory with all of his students. He cracked things open for me.

When and how did you first get involved with WTJU?

I got involved as a volunteer back in the [former WTJU manager] Chuck Taylor era in 2006. I grew up in a time where AM radio was king, where radio programs were legendary, and music was the focus, and I love the medium. I still can’t believe they let me into the studio.

How do you choose what you’re going to play?

Assuming you mean what I’m going to play for a show? I always know what I’m going to start my show with. Sometimes there is a theme sketched out. I bring enough music to allow for improvisation because I like to create the bulk of the show on the spot.

Why have you stayed involved with WTJU over the years?

Like I said, I love the medium. I think radio is changing but it is definitely here to stay, and I like to be a part of it. Plus it gets me out of work on Fridays.

Why should someone donate to WTJU’s Jazz Marathon?

First and foremost for the love of this music. Jazz is everywhere and evolving. That’s the standard answer, right? But really, the fact that you can hear this music over the air and on the internet says something big about TJU. We have a large cadre of volunteer announcers who bring you their music, day in, day out, pandemic, rain, snow and heatwaves.

Radio stations like WTJU are an anomaly, and unfortunately, a rarity. Look, the way I see it, this country is on a march towards homogenization. You know what I mean. Commercial radio is like the any exit on any interstate in any state here in the U.S. The same fast food joints, the same retail giants. Stations like WTJU buck that trend, just like when you get off the interstate and drive through the heart of a place. Stations like TJU are worth supporting. Period.

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