KCSM’s Latin Jazz Programme

Shouldn’t a Latin Jazz programme sound Latin throughout?

Update 6 September 2020:  I used to like Chuy, but these days I have to turn him off.  I can’t take him anymore.  It’s as if he’s on automatic pilot and just mindlessly says the same thing after each piece of music or each set he plays.  After every piece he plays, he says “What a beautiful, beautiful, great, great, wonderful, wonderful piece.”  Or a version of that but two adjectives (“beautiful, beautiful”) are always together.  And when one says the same thing about every piece that’s played, it all loses its meaning because not all pieces are “beautiful, beautiful” or “great, great.”  The same goes for the musicians or ensemble which Chuy insists on referring to as “An all-star cast” as if he’s talking about a sports team.  Ugh.  He’s too much for me.  The word cast is of the theatre.  The cast of actors.  The musical term he should be using is ensemble, but I guess that doesn’t have enough hype for Chuy.  I don’t know why he feels he needs to constantly “sell the music.”  The music speaks for itself and listeners are intelligent enough to know what they like and whether it’s “beautiful, beautiful” or “great, great” or “wonderful, wonderful” or “extraordinaire” and all the other adjectives Chuy drags out and over uses.   I think I’ve said all of this somewhere else but it bears repeating.  End of Update.

It’s his Domingo/Sunday afternoon 4-hour Latin Jazz programme on KCSM, and he’s playing solo flute music (again) and the piece he’s playing doesn’t sound remotely Latin. The host of the programme and Music Director at KCSM, Jesse “Chuy” Varela, seems to love solo flute music since I’ve noticed that’s one of the staples that can be heard throughout his weekly programme, especially in hours one or two. Or it’s a piece with lyrics en español which also doesn’t sound remotely Latin. Just because a piece is en español doesn’t make it Latin jazz, and just because the surname of the composer is Latino also doesn’t make it Latin jazz. Depending upon the show, often what I hear Chuy play in his first two hours on his Latin Jazz show, he would play any other time of the week (M-W, 2-6PM). And he seems to love some repetitive pieces where it’s the same measure(s) over and over which seem to go on forever, which causes me to turn the radio off. I say: STOP IT. It’s damn monotonous. It shows a lack of a composer’s creativity to write/repeat the same measures over and over. It’s lazy. Who wants to hear the same four notes repeated over and over endlessly? It’s not good music.

I’ve been slow to write this article — because I don’t like to be critical of people, unless I feel it’s deserved — and I was hoping that things might change/improve. But they haven’t.

When Chuy’s programme sounds distinctly Latin, I enjoy it. But often I’m saying to myself: That sounds like what he or any of the other hosts would play any other time of the week or day. Why is he playing that on the Latin Jazz programme? It’s as if he forgets what day it is and what show he’s hosting, so one hears him play music that isn’t remotely Latin or Latin-sounding on his Latin Jazz Show, particularly in the first two hours of the show. Instead, it sounds like his Monday through Wednesday afternoon show. So if you’re expecting to hear Celia “Azúcar” Cruz sing “La Vida Es Un Carnaval,” particularly during the first two hours or so of the Latin Jazz programme, you won’t hear that, unless he happens to read this and then plays it so he can say he did play it!

Interestingly during pledge breaks I noticed that his programme is distinctly Latin-sounding all 4 hours. How convenient. Is that when he “pulls out all the stops” thinking that the (new) listener — if they become a member — will think that what they’re hearing is what they should expect to hear every week? Well don’t count on it, because that’s not the case. But other times (when they’re not having a pledge drive) it’s not 4 hours of distinctly Latin-sounding music, especially after his theme music. Not at all. I like his theme music, which does sound distinctly Latin. As I’m writing this, he’s playing disco music on his Latin Jazz programme. The disco music is not Latin at all. Nor does it sound Latin, and it’s not en español either. I sometimes wonder: Has he forgotten what show he’s hosting? I would expect to hear occasional disco on his other shows, not on the Latin Jazz programme.

If the thinking at the station is: Listeners don’t want to hear 4 hours of distinctly Latin jazz, then change it to a 2 hour programme, instead of having the first two hours sound like all your other programmes and the last two hours kicking in with more distinctly Latin music.

This reminds me of a Russian Piano Festival that used to be held in San Francisco. Most of the pieces performed were not from Russian composers. What made it a Russian Festival was the surname of the pianists! Damn odd. What nut dreamed up this type of festival? The manager of the series with a Russian surname? Maybe it’s just me, but on a Russian Festival I expect to hear a plethora of Russian music. I couldn’t care less what plot of land on this Earth the artist came out of the birth canal on, and that does not matter to intelligent people. That gets into ugly nationalism as I wrote about here. So, quite a bit of what Chuy plays has to do with the composer being Latino, even if the piece doesn’t sound remotely “Latin.”

The distinctly Latin-sounding repertoire he plays isn’t usually until the last couple of hours. I don’t understand that. There’s no shortage of distinctly Latin music repertoire that he could play nonstop after his opening theme music for the full four hours week after week.

So, if you want to hear the distinctly Latin music part, tune in from approximately 4.00pm on and maybe you’ll hear what you may have expected to hear from the beginning of the programme, minus his Latin theme music.

And is there really a need to cheer lead or gush over every piece of music that Chuy plays? That’s what he does. It’s as if he’s the Marketing Director as well for CD companies. When I’ve listened to other radio stations they just tell you the name of the piece and the artists. They don’t usually give their opinion of a performance or seemingly try to sell it by saying, “what a beautiful, beautiful piece.” The listener can determine that on his/her own. And most of what Chuy plays he describes as “wonderful” or “beautiful.” He reminds me of the late Ray Taliaferro who would do the same thing on his jazz programme. He would sit in the studio with Vernon Ailey and gush over every piece played. I wouldn’t mind it on occasion, but not after every piece played. Chuy also often refers to the “cast” of performers. A cast? I think the word is ensemble. That’s what it’s called in music when you have a group of musicians together. Ensemble. Not a cast. A “cast” is a group of actors in a play or television programme, although I have unfortunately heard some classical music performances promoted where the announcer hyped and gushed over “the outstanding cast of soloists” (meaning vocal screamers from the screaming opera genre). I’ve heard that on some classical music stations. Again, it’s a marketing gimmick. And to what purpose does that serve KCSM? Do they somehow get money from the sales of CDs that listeners might buy from having heard something on the station heavily promoted as “wonderful” or “beautiful.” I don’t think he’s ever played anything that wasn’t described as such. It would be interesting to hear him say, “That performance you just heard is okay, but it’s not the best performance of the piece that I’ve heard, which I’ll be playing later on.” No, I don’t think you’re likely to hear him say that.

As I’m concluding this article, Chuy is playing a piece that he could easily play any other time of the week. It doesn’t sound “Latin” at all other than some male backup singers who come in with some español lyrics. Mi amigo/my friend came around while I was writing this and he listened a bit. He said: No, that doesn’t sound Latin to me. Not really exciting. Maybe they should change the name of the programme to “Sunday afternoon with Chuy, and some hints of Latin Music.” Chau.—el barrio rosa