WCBN station ID promos by Sun Ra, Dexter Gordon, Dewey Redman, and other jazz greats surface online

MUSIC

Johnny Griffin at Hill Auditorium, 1978

The uncropped version of the photo of Johnny Griffin that ran with the rampaging review of his 1978 concert at Hill Auditorium. Photo by Larry E. Wright/The Ann Arbor News.

The best thing about WCBN is the music, obvs. Nearly every time I tune into 88.3 FM, I hear something that catches my ear, or is new to me and makes me want to dig deeper, or reminds me of a band I forgot about.

The second best thing about WCBN is the vintage station ID promos. (Sorry, sports-talk guys. I'm sure your show is fab.)

Some of the clips feature the DJs doing skit-like or audio collage promos, but many are voiced by a multitude of musicians, both famous and not-so, telling you that when they're in Ann Arbor, they listen to WCBN.

But as far as I know, the only place to hear these small gems is to listen to the station -- until now.

Patrick Shawl uploaded eight WCBN station ID promos to Soundcloud featuring some major jazz artists: Sun Ra, Dewey Redman, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, Percy Heath, George Cables, and Stanley Cowell. None of these clips are wacky, or even in the upper echelon of some of the WCBN promos I've heard, but they sent me down a rabbit hole in an attempt to ID the IDs.

There's no notation of the years these were recorded, or at what shows, but some sleuthing turned up clues and it seems like many of them were taped at the 1978 Ann Arbor Jazz Festival, which Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra played on September 23:

Also on September 23, The Ann Arbor News published a concert review of Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin headlined "Jazz rampage rocks the Hill." The tenor sax greats played Hill Auditorium on September 22 as part of the jazz fest and reviewer Jim Kane loved the show -- at least the parts with Gordon and Griffin; he called trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's set "anti-climactic." But Kane's lede was all climax: "Two sax maniacs by the names of Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon went on a musical rampage in Hill Auditorium Friday night and devastated the place." RIP Hill! Glad they could rebuild. Also glad they were able to capture Griffin and Gordon big-upping WCBN:

Griffin cut another station ID by himself, but it sounds like it may have been recorded in a different place, or at a different time. Maybe even at a different concert altogether, but I can't find any documentation that the Chicago-born, Netherlands-based Griffin played Ann Arbor again. Meanwhile, the show at Hill was Gordon's third A2 show in less than a year having previously played The Power Center and The Earle.

Pianist George Cables was a member of Gordon's quartet that night at Hill, so it's likely he recorded his WCBN clip that evening, too:

Pianist and Toledo native Stanley Cowell went to grad school during the mid-'60s at the University of Michigan and was a member of bassist Ron Brooks' trio then, but it doesn't appear he played at the 1978 Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. But in 1975, several years after he moved to New York City, Cowell joined the Heath Brothers band, working with saxophonist Jimmy, bassist Percy, and drummer Albert aka Tootie. The Heath Brothers' 1976 album Marchin' On! features Cowell on kalimba (thumb piano) during the "Smilin' Billy Suite" and he plays the instrument on his own song "Travelin' Man" from his 1976 album Regeneration. The latter is the tune playing in the background as Cowell voices his promo:

So we can assume Cowell, Percy Heath, and Jimmy Heath's promos were cut sometime during or soon after 1976. It was likely during a Heath Brothers gig since Percy plugs the group in his promo -- and he also alludes to the group's 1978 album, Passin' Thru

I couldn't find a reference to a Heath Brothers concert in Ann Arbor in 1978 or 1979, but I kept digging and I figured out when the promos were likely recorded. On his website, drummer Keith Copeland lists a number of 1979 Heath Brothers concerts that he played in place of Tootie, who left the band in 1978, and a few of the shows were in the Midwest, including Oberlin College in September, Ohio State University in October, and a PBS fundraiser in Chicago in December. But he doesn't list any Michigan shows. But The Concert Database lists the Heath Brothers as having a four-night stand at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit from October 25 to October 28, 1979, so I'm guessing this is where WCBN got their cuts.

The only promo that has eluded my semi-educated guesstimate of the exact year is the one by saxophonist Dewey Redman:

According to The Concert Database, Redman played 19 dates in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and East Lansing between 1973 and 1988, either as the headliner or with Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, and Old & New Dreams. But the song playing in Redman's station ID is "Turn Over Baby" from his 1982 album The Struggle Continues. While the record was recorded in January of that year, it wasn't released until November, so that rules out the promo being from Old & New Dreams' May 22, 1982, concert at Rackham Auditorium. According to the Database, Redman then played in Detroit on June 10, 1983, probably at the Detroit Institute of Arts; then on March 17, 1984, at U-M's University Club; and finally, at The Ark on January 29, 1988. Redman died in 2006, so it's possible he played more gigs around here after 1988, but my guess is he recorded his WCBN bit at either the 1983 or 1984 show.

It appears that Shawl clipped these promos from The Duke Is On the Air, which ran for 24 years on WCBN and was hosted by Dave Crippen. (You can read a lovely tribute to Crippen here, written by arwulf arwulf in February 2001.) On YouTube, Shawl posted three complete editions of Crippen's authoritative Ellington shows:

I haven't found any concert recordings that correspond with the dates of my WCBN station ID identifications, but I'm happy to jump back down that rabbit hole if some resurface.


Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.