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Friday, August 14, 2015

Where in the world is Jim Clark?

Last Thursday night Jim Clark, host of South Dakota Public Radio's "Jazz Nightly" suddenly quit.  Someone at the station posted a notice on the program's Facebook page,  saying they were surprised but respected his decision. That is all that the station has said.  All references to Jim Clark have been deleted from SDPB's web site,  and when one click's on "Jazz Nightly,"  the message "Access Denied" comes up.

His sudden departure with no word about why or to where is  like a scene in George Orwell's 1984, when the protagonist comes to work one day and finds a colleague gone with absolutely no evidence that he had ever been there.  He was said to have been vaporized.  

The departure leads to inevitable conjecture.  To those who are familiar with the politics and culture of organizations such as South Dakota Public Broadcasting, there are two likely possibilities.  One is that Jim Clark got fed up with something or somebody to an intolerable degree and decided to end the relationship right then and there.  The other is that somebody found a way to force a resignation.

Judging from the language used in the Facebook announcement, the former seems more likely.  Jim Clark was not treated well by SDPB.  In 2011, when legislative budget cuts seemed to require a staff reduction, the management  decided Clark was the on-air talent that had to go.   The station also said at the time it was also cutting the Education and Outreach Department, and other cuts in engineering, television and marketing.  

However, in March 2012, Clark returned to SDPB and "Jazz Nightly' resumed.   After being conferred the distinction of being the only on-air talent to be dumped, it surprised many people he would return.  And he had been there for ten years.  The situation is one in which it is obvious that someone in the organization was not a fan of Uncle Jimmo.  What the circumstances  were for his return, besides finding the funds, was never revealed.  But after another three years, Uncle Jimmo is gone again.  Vaporized.    

Jim Clark was an on-air personality that continued the tradition of the jazz disc jockey that presented a special kind of music to people.  When I was in college in the early 1950s,  jazz had come to carry a a vital message.  It was the accompaniment for our troops in World War  II and carried forward the culture that originated it into confronting the internal battle for civil rights in our own country.  Charlie Parker and Dizzy  Gillespie had created new musical horizons that inspired people to reach for new social horizons.  The desegregation orders were being issued to the military, while returning black veterans found themselves bound again by Jim Crow.  Disc Jockeys spread the music which carried the sounds of change throughout the nation.  Names such as Symphony Sid, Jimmy  Lyons, Daddy-O Daylie, Al "Jazzbo" Collins, Jean Shepherd played the music for the change of a nation.  Jim Clark carried on that tradition for 15 years on South Dakota Public Radio.

I tell the story of the culture shock I experienced when I moved to Aberdeen to teach at NSU.  In many ways Aberdeen and South Dakota were and are culturally desolate.  If you wanted to listen to music, the choices were country and shlock rock.  Occasionally, I could pick up a radio signal from afar that carried some sounds of jazz.  At that time, a pubic radio station in Fargo played 24-hour jazz, but the FM signal seldom carried down to Aberdeen.  Sometimes in the deepest dark of night, the need to hear the freeing sounds of jazz was so urgent that I would get in the car and drive north toward Fargo until I could pick up the radio signal and listen to some comforting jazz.

Northern State was also a source.  Professors in the music department encouraged students to explore jazz.  They had contests for high school jazz bands which used to feature a performance by major jazz talent, such as Woody Herman.  (Duke Ellington once played the Northern homecoming dance.)  Among those professors was Jack Berggren who martialed the support of music lovers to bring public radio to northeast South Dakota.  His efforts proved fruitful, and in addition to bringing classical music to the region,  jazz programs were featured.  One of the first would play entire albums by featured players. 

Jim Clark brought some production talent to "Jazz Nightly" in 2001.  Many years in the past, disc jockey shows were put together with the help of music programmers who paid attention to things such as pacing, variation, themes, etc., to keep the attention of the audience.  Jim Clark did that.  As good jazz disc jockeys do, he was always meticulous about announcing the players and the date of each selection.  In addition, he posted a playlist of each song he played so that listeners could go back and find recordings which particularly interested them.

Uncle Jimmo also played a good representation of the various forms of jazz.  He featured artists and played numbers that reflected their development and influence.  His selections adhered to one quality:  they had to swing.  He avoided playing what I call academic jazz, which one can arguably question if it is actually jazz.  It uses improvisation, sometimes employs jazz chord progressions and rhythmic structures,  but just doesn't swing.  It does something jazz should never do;  it bores musically.  Jim Clark never permitted that to happen.

So, where in the world is Jim Clark?  Wherever he is, we hope he is out there somewhere working up a playlist to bring the music to people in desolate places who need the comfort and reassurance of the creative energy of jazz.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jim Clark always reminds me of Leigh Kamen, a "Jazz DJ" I used to enjoy listening to on Minnesota Public Radio. Another thing about Uncle Jimo - along with his great selection of music, he also frequently featured local South Dakota jazz, & featured some fine South Dakota fine jazz musicians. Thanks Uncle Jimo. Gonna miss you.

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