Like a broken record: Jesse “Chuy” Varela on Jazz 91

After every vocalist he plays, he says, “That was the beautiful voice of [name of artist].” Yes, all vocalists no matter who they are have a “beautiful voice” according to Chuy regardless of how much annoying and wobbling vibrato they sing with and or with pitch problems. They’re all a “beautiful voice.” One wonders: Has Chuy ever studied voice? What about ear training? His Latin Jazz programme on Domingo/Sunday is weak on Latin jazz that sounds distinctly like Latin Jazz. Other than his theme music, most of what he plays until 4.30pm is what he plays on any other programme. His closing music doesn’t sound at all like Latin Jazz. The Latin Jazz segment doesn’t start until about 4.30pm. So he waste 2.5 hours of the Latin Jazz programme playing what one hears him play any other time. Does he forget which show he’s supposed to be doing? Why have a show called Latin Jazz that’s promoted from 2-6pm on Sunday’s when half of that time is not Latin Jazz, with few exceptions? Just because the composer’s surname is of Latin ancestry doesn’t make it Latin Jazz. Change the starting time of the Latin Jazz programme to 4.30pm.

Hola a todos. I’m sure he’s a nice guy; he seems to be. He has a calming voice. Maybe that’s part of his appeal with listeners and with station management, although Chuy is part of the station management so he’s not likely to be going anywhere no matter how monotonous and on auto-pilot he sounds. I used to like him as a radio personality. But being a new listener to KCSM Radio at that time, I must not have noticed the annoying things about him that I notice now.

Chuy is absolutely predictable when on the air as if reading from a prepared script and his script is the same every show. Reminds me of the late Ray Taliaferro. In Ray’s latter years, if you had heard one of Ray’s shows you’d pretty much heard them all, but he suffered from dementia which none of us knew about at the time.

Chuy plays a group of pieces. After the last piece plays, he comes on and tells us “what a beautiful, beautiful piece, just wonderful, wonderful. That was by the great [name of artist].” Then he tells us about the “cast” that performed the music. Actors performed the music? Really? No, he’s using the wrong word — they all do on KCSM (it is station policy to refer to musicians as a “cast,” rather than what they are, an ensemble? — when he uses the word “cast” because musicians are not referred to as a “cast.” The word “cast” has nothing to do with music. Look it up. A group of musicians is called an ensemble, not a cast. Cast is the language of the theatre when listing the actors. Then he refers to “the one and only [name of artist].” Well if he or she is “the one and only” he/she won’t be confused with anyone else so why even say “the one and only?” Has Chuy never thought of that? But he says that frequently. Then he concludes with “And you heard it hear on KCSM with Jesse Chuy Varela.” Does anyone care where they heard something? Do they care who played it? Why is that important? It’s as if Chuy is trying to make it all about himself in addition to the music that he gushes over.

By comparison, on classical music stations, they usually just announce the piece played, give the credits and that’s that. The announcers don’t give any opinion of the piece played. That’s for the listener to decide. The announcers don’t gush and gush over it and tell the audience what a great and beautiful piece it was and who played the CD in the studio, as if anyone cares!

Then there’s Chuy who gushes and gushes over every piece he plays, even the most monotonous music where you think the CD is stuck because it’s the same boring measure over and over and over and over. Pieces like that are just bad music and show a lack of creativity by the composer. And when using adjectives to gush over the music it’s “great, great” “beautiful, beautiful” and “wonderful, wonderful” with Chuy. I think that listeners can make up their own mind whether they like the music or not and whether it’s “great, great, beautiful, beautiful, wonderful, wonderful. Listeners don’t have to be told what to like. In fact, while writing this, I heard all of these things that I’m writing about after he played a group of pieces. I heard “the one and only” and “great, great, beautiful, beautiful, wonderful, wonderful” and of course the usual “you heard it hear on KCSM.” The station must have a directive that says: Give our brand name (KCSM) as often as you possibly can.

I guess the station’s manager likes to have at least one person seemingly on automatic pilot. Fortunately, the other people on the station are more spontaneous and original. I have those that I especially like.

But with Chuy, you know what he’s going to say before he says it. He gushes over every piece of music and “album” — isn’t the word “album” outdated? — he plays. According to Chuy, there’s not one bad piece of jazz music ever composed or played, even the pieces that play the same measure repeatedly where it sounds like the CD is stuck. Even that is “just beautiful, beautiful, wonderful, wonderful, great, great music.” And every vocalist he plays has a “what a beautiful voice” even the ones with the most annoying wobbling vibrato where I have to turn the radio off. (For those who don’t know: Noticeable vibrato is often used to cover up pitch and vocal problems). But it’s critically important to know that, “And you heard it hear on Jazz 91 KCSM with Jesse Chuy Varela here with you until 6.” Is it important to know that he’s with you until 6? Sort of sounds like he’s sitting the listeners doesn’t it? Like a babysitter.

Chuy’s Latin Jazz programme is also “hit and miss.” I do like his theme music. I believe that’s by Dizzy Gillespie. Sometimes that seems like the most Latin piece he plays. In other words, you won’t likely hear Celia Cruz played. Unless I’ve missed it, I don’t think he’s ever played her on the Latin Jazz programme which is hard to believe. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say I must have missed it! Although: I don’t think so. Let’s just say that Celia is not a big item on the programme if he has played her. Sometimes his show is good with genuine Latin jazz, at least for a short time. Other times I say to my radio: That piece doesn’t sound remotely Latin. Have you forgotten what show you’re doing? What is it doing on the Latin Jazz programme? Just because of the composer’s surname? It’s as if he forgets what show he’s doing so he plays something that doesn’t sound remotely Latin that he would play on any other show. Flute pieces come to mind. He loves solo or ensemble flute pieces where the flautist is the soloist. But most of the time those pieces don’t sound Latin at all. They’re usually mood pieces.

Even mi amigo/my friend has noticed this, and he doesn’t really listen to Chuy. I pointed these things out to him and just casually listening he said he’d noticed them as well, so I don’t know how most of the listeners haven’t noticed them either. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Update (the week of 23 May 2021): I did appreciate Chuy’s interview with Pat Metheny which was aired earlier in May 2021 during pledge drive. That’s when special things are aired to bait/entice listeners to support the station. It’s interesting because any other time Chuy rarely plays the music of Pat Metheny unlike some of the others on the station. But nevertheless, I appreciated the lengthy interview with Pat.