Jump to content

Michael Bourne R.I.P.


Recommended Posts

Josh Jackson of WRTI is reporting on Facebook that Michael Bourne passed away at the age of 75 last night.  The afternoon jazz slot that I host here at WFIU in Bloomington, IN was Michael's from 1972 until 1984, when he left for New York City and ultimately landed at WBGO, making a global name for himself as a DJ.  Still much-missed and loved by older listeners here in Bloomington who remember hearing him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Michael Bourne, 1946-2022

I am  heartbroken to learn of the passing of broadcaster and journalist Michael Bourne, who died Sunday at age 75.  

Michael is best known for his decades as a signature voice of WBGO-FM in Newark, the jazz station for metro New York, where he was on the air from 1984 until just recently. But for a dozen years before that he was a fixture on WFIU-FM in Bloomington, Indiana, where I grew up. He was one of the most important figures in my early jazz education. Every afternoon his daily program, "There," opened new horizons for me. He introduced me to more music, from staples of the jazz canon to au courant releases, than I could ever recount. He had impeccable taste and a distinctive vocal cadence. When I did volunteer jazz radio programming on WEFT in Champaign in 1985-87, I imitated his pacing and copied some of his favorite phrasing  -- "And upfront, on the tenor saxophone, Dexter Gordon." I still have the tapes -- they're amusing. 

More importantly, Michael was my first true mentor as a writer. I was in an accelerated English class as a sophomore in high school.  For our big project in the spring, our teacher paired us up with experts or professionals in the community. I was already interested in writing about jazz, so I got matched with Michael. 

I would go over to his tiny one-room apartment and he'd talk to me about criticism, writing profiles, his radio work, his work for Downbeat, the importance of reading widely. I can't tell you how significant all of this was to me. There are still ways that I think about criticism that come directly from Michael and that I pass along to students today with my own little spin. Borrowing from Aristotle, Michael said a critic should always ask three questions: What is an artist trying to do? How well is he or she doing it? And was it worth doing in the first place? Michael edited things I wrote; so much red ink and all of it necessary! Just by observing his life up close, I was able to envision what a life for myself might look like in the arts, even if I didn't end up pursuing a career as a performing musician.

I remember so much of those visits to his pad. To prepare for his radio show, he would time everything out with a stopwatch and write out his scripts longhand. But he wouldn't read them verbatim on the air. He'd use them as guides, speaking off the cuff to maintain an air of spontaneity. His written notes ensured that he didn't forget major points or historical details. He told me great stories about his encounters with folks like Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Hutcherson, and others. The one that sticks out most is Dizzy in his boxers in a Chicago hotel room, sitting on the bed, smoking a joint, watching some soap opera he was addicted to, and yelling at the TV about how "that woman is a bitch!" 

Michael was definitely an eccentric -- a Falstaffian presence who knew his Shakespeare literally -- he had studied acting in college and earned a Ph.D in theater at Indiana University. He grew up loving opera, especially Wagner, but he also collected comic books as a kid. In fact, he had torn all of the covers off his childhood comics and plastered them over every square inch of the ceiling of his apartment. Quite the interior design choice. I remember thinking, "Wow, you mean you're allowed to do that as an adult?" A great lesson to learn at age 15.

I asked him once why he liked jazz. Besides telling me the music that got him interested in the idiom in the first place -- Dave Brubeck's "Strange Meadowlark" and Art Blakey's "Bu's Delight"   -- he had an interesting perspective and way of expressing it. He said he liked jazz best because about 70 or 80 out of every 100 jazz records released were worth hearing, while only 40 or 50 of every 100 classical records released were worth hearing, and 15 or 20 pop records out of every 100 were worth hearing. Whether you agree or not with the sentiment, what a clever and creative way to make the point!

Through the years, whenever I met someone from WBGO, I would always ask them to give Michael my regards. I only spoke with him once since I was a kid. This was in fall 2019, when I was at WBGO  doing an interview with Nate Chinen about my book, "Jazz from Detroit." A station official called him and handed me the phone, and I was able to express my appreciation. What a gift to be able to tell him what he had done for me. I was also able to inscribe a copy of my book for Michael and place it in hands that made sure he got it. 

The bumper music on his afternoon program in Bloomington, bridging his show and the start of "All Things Considered" was Joe Farrell's 1970  recording of "Follow Your Heart" -- a great song written by John McLaughlin. Follow your heart: That's certainly what Michael did with his life. R.I.P.

Edited by Mark Stryker
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Mark Stryker said:

He said he liked jazz best because about 70 or 80 out of every 100 jazz records released were worth hearing, while only 40 or 50 of every 100 classical records released were worth hearing, and 15 or 20 pop records out of every 100 were worth hearing. Whether you agree or not with the sentiment, what a clever and creative way to make the point!

Ha, I agree with this. Sorry to hear about your friend, Mark.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bourne's own summary of his life:

https://www.wbgo.org/wbgo/2022-01-07/shards-of-a-jazz-life-by-michael-bourne

Gotta love this pull quote:

Toots often recorded harmonica solos on already-produced tracks of new albums. He didn’t call these gigs "soloing." He called these gigs "peeing."

One day in New York when we were headed to lunch, Toots asked "Do you mind if I stop at a studio and pee on Vanessa Williams?" And he did.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...