Tom Reney

Jazz à la Mode Host

Tom has been producing Jazz à la Mode since 1984.  He began working in jazz radio in 1977 at WCUW, a community-licensed radio station in Worcester, Massachusetts. Before his career in radio began, Tom had many formative experiences hearing and meeting some of the icons of jazz and blues, all of which ignited his passion for sharing the music with others. Tom earned a BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he majored in English and American Studies.

In addition to his hosting duties at New England Public Radio, Tom writes NEPR's jazz blog and produces our JazzBeat podcast, and lectures occasionally on music and cultural topics at UMass, Amherst, Smith, Hampshire, and Mt. Holyoke Colleges. He and his wife Margaret live in Holyoke.

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Jay Geils died on April 11 at his home in Groton, Massachusetts, at age 71, from what police determined were natural causes. The guitarist lent his name to one of the hardest-working and most popular rock bands of the 1970s and '80s, and his death is making headlines everywhere. While Geils was born in New York and raised in New Jersey, the J. Geils Band got its start in Worcester, where Geils, harmonica player Magic Dick, and bassist Danny Klein attended WPI and first teamed in a campus-based jug band.

The legendary Claude Jeter made one of his final appearances as leader of the Swan Silvertones at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. The Silvertones founder was 52 at the time, and he would live another 42 years, but by then he'd tired of the ceaseless travel and modest reward of the gospel highway.

It took a "country boy" who "stayed out all night long" to create the modern Chicago blues. With his 1948 Aristocrat release, "I Can't Be Satisfied" b/w "I Feel Like Goin' Home," Muddy Waters transformed a pair of songs he'd first recorded on the Stovall Plantation in Mississippi into the urgent, amplified sound of post-war urban blues.

One of the most substantial biographies I’ve read in recent years is the 2009 publication that Helene LaFaro-Fernandez devoted to her brother Scott.  The great bassist is best known for his work with the Bill Evans Trio between 1959 and ’61, and for the tragic car accident that claimed his life on July 6, 1961, two weeks after the trio’s legendary performance at the Village Vanguard. LaFaro burned like a meteorite, rising to the top rank of bassists in a few short years and working with a Who’s Who of jazz greats in the compressed time frame preceding his death at age 25.

Arthur Blythe
Stuart Nicholson

They call me a producer/host in the staff directory at NEPR, but this week, like many others, I feel more like a eulogist. Two days after writing a memorial tribute to my friend and jazz radio colleague Steve Schwartz, word came that Arthur Blythe died on Monday, at 76. The San Diego native had been sidelined with Parkinson's since 2005, but for a few decades he was one of the most potent forces in the music. I hadn't seen Blythe since the mid-'90s, but I heard him as often as possible after his arrival in New York around 1975.

My Irish-born grandmother lived by admonitions and apothegms. "There is nothing as virtuous as a man without the price." "Paper never refused ink." "A fool and his money are soon parted." Whenever I contemplate Ben Webster, I keep hearing Nana Reney's brogue intone another humbling rejoinder, "When the wine is in, the wit is out."

Steve Schwartz
WGBH

Friday night, as I was noting Day 30 of a cold virus, my friend Steve Schwartz was admitted to Seasons Hospice in Milton, Mass.

James Cotton, R.I.P.

Mar 19, 2017
Jason Marck

James Cotton, the blues harmonica great renowned for his long tenure with Muddy Waters and the high-octane energy of his own festival and nightclub shows, died on Thursday, March 16, in Austin, Texas. Pneumonia was the cause of death at age 81. Cotton was born in Tunica, Mississippi, on July 1, 1935. His father was a rural preacher who died when James was five, and his mother played rudimentary harmonica in imitation of barnyard animals. Cotton heard the real thing when he caught a broadcast of Sonny Boy Williamson’s local daytime radio show.

Today is Ruby Braff’s 90th birthday anniversary. The cornetist was born in Boston in 1927. Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Lester Young were his heroes. By most accounts Ruby was a prickly personality, but on all accounts he was a player dedicated to beauty. Great songs never failed him. He called his aesthetic, “adoration of the melody.” Ruby made a ton of records, not a throwaway in the bunch.

LADY DAY IN NEWARK, 1957
Jerry Dantzic

The New York Times last week posted an album of rarely seen photos of Billie Holiday. The pictures were taken by Jerry Dantzic in 1957 during her engagement at Sugar Hill on Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. As the Times blog by John Leland notes, Billie had been denied a cabaret card for nearly a decade at that point, and without it she was unable to work in New York establishments that served alcohol, i.e., nightclubs.

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