Saturday, April 13, 2013

FM Farewell

Multi-reedist Herb Steward blowing tenor for a studio shot probably taken in the mid-'40s, around the time he was playing for Artie Shaw. His big break came in 1947 with Woody Herman. Photo from "Black Beauty, White Heat"

Never let it be said that we here at Gems are not an eclectic bunch. Everything from the AACM to ... well, to this offering, can be found here. And since I'm in a sentimental mood and thinking about jazz radio, I thought I'd post this LP of "beautiful music" by Herb Steward.

Platter mavens searching the boxes at one of WJFF's
music sales. At 50 cents apiece, a collector could buy a
cartonful and still have enough left to buy donuts and
coffee at the snack table. WJFF photo
Why the mood? Well, I've just ended my 23-year stint as a jazz radio host at WJFF 90.5 FM in upstate New York's Catskills. The reasons aren't really important, but it's been a wonderful run and an experience that has allowed me to meet many great musicians and hundreds of jazz enthusiasts over the years. 

So, I thought I'd pay tribute to my former radio station by offering a rare item purchased at one of WJFF's legendary music sales. It's music that was meant to be pretty, just as the album's title proclaims, and while it was probably heard in some of the better highrise elevators and dentist offices of the 1960s, it mirrors my sentiments about my departure. Bittersweet, in a word.

A few of the sides picked up by Gems at the
most most recent WJFF music sale. Someone
dumped a lot of vintage Kenton ...
So here's Herbie Steward, one of the original "four brothers," the sax quartet that recorded a number of lush hits with Woody Herman in the mid-'40s, including the Jimmy Guiffre tune from whence comes their name. Along with Steward in the original section were Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Serge Chaloff. Those gents went on to have distinguished jazz careers. But Herb eventually fell out of sight, getting lost in the LA studios. He seems not to have appreciated developments in the music much beyond the innovations of Lester Young, and eventually lost interest in the form. While Pres ain't a bad place to stop, it's unfortunate that Steward didn't keep at it back in the day. He had a great tone and, as is evident here, was also a master of the clarinet and baritone. Not unlike his Herd-mate Guiffre.

Herb Steward recorded a number of nice singles on his own for Roost in the 78 era. Some of those are available on various tenor sax compendiums, but this recording is his sole LP effort in the modern era. It's pretty tepid stuff jazz-wise, but the arrangements (by one Dick Hazard and a mysterious string section with rhythm) are competent and pleasant enough, and you can hum along with the melodies. And, if you're in a reflective mood, it's ... so pretty.

This gem required only a minor cleaning up of the sound. The file comes, as always, from the original vinyl. Thanks, WJFF!



So Pretty
Herb Steward
Herb Steward, ts, cl, bar; unknown string orchestra and rhythm section; Dick Hazard, arr.
Los Angeles, CA; March, June 5, 1962
Ava/Choreo Records A-9

1. Indian Summer
2. Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?
3. Remember
4. With All My Love
5. Memphis in June
6. I'm Coming Virginia
7. When Day Is Done
8. Lovely Melody
9. Among My Sounvenirs
10. So Pretty (Hazard)

Find it here:

Yours truly at the mic in WJFF's
Master Control a few years back,
producing my long-running jazz
program, "Crosscurrents."

Photo by Myra Winner


  1. Thanks David for this rarity. Any plans for the near future regarding broadcasting?

    1. Alas, no offers from Clear Channel yet, Baron. But things change over time and someday I might be back on WJFF's air. Or maybe on WKCR -- with the almighty Schaaperini! That would be an honor ...

  2. Many thanks for Herb Steward~

  3. David, Thank you for the share and I'm sorry to read that your time at WJFF has run its course (for the time being at least). I only got to hear a few podcasts of the show, but liked what I heard. If you end up kicking it with Brother Schaap at WKCR, you will know you have made it for sure! Good luck with whatever comes next and thank you for sharing a bit of your life with us here at Gems. It is much appreciated.

  4. Brother JC, you made my day! Many thanks for your kind words. I would love to share the air with ol' Phil over at WKCR. But for now it's a real pleasure to swap sides and comments with all the folks out there in the ether. Gotta love the jazz life ... !