For those who aren’t familiar with Savage Content’s Jazzology, it’s our jazz trivia series where guests compete head-to-head to test their jazz knowledge. Every episode, we invite two guests to compete against each other for a chance to win $100. The winner returns the following episode to compete again with a new contestant. Viewers not only get to learn fascinating facts from the world of jazz but also experience a fun and friendly competition between two seasoned jazz enthusiasts.
The man of the hour, Willard Jenkins
Willard Jenkins has been our marvelous trivia host from the beginning, crafting the questions to give jazz fans a good challenge. He is recognized and respected in the jazz community under his Open Sky Jazz banner. Jenkins has dedicated his career to the arts and the world of jazz. His many titles include artistic director, arts and music consultant, writer, producer, educator, broadcast journalist and now web series host.
Check out our Q&A with Willard below to learn more about him and what got him to where he is today!
Q: How did you fall in love with jazz?
A: My dad’s record collection was my original gateway. Reading those LP jackets, absorbing the liner notes, and after a while paying attention to the personnel on those records expanded my knowledge. That at-home indoctrination also included listening to Cleveland’s – now-rare-24-hour commercial jazz station WCUY. Record stores were also bread & butter in stoking my interest. For example, I might hear something great in my father’s record collection on a recording led by a particular artist, and in enjoying that music, I might hear something good from one or more of the sidemen/women on that recording. So, the next time I visited the record store I might scan the stacks for something by that particular sideman who stood out in my listening. From there my knowledge and interests expanded.
Q: What is one instrument you always love listening to?
A: I have to say the trumpet since I took a stab at playing the instrument in middle school. But I never got serious enough about the need to practice to go anywhere on the instrument, preferring instead to be out on the playground with my boys.
Q: How did you get your start in music journalism?
Writing for the student newspaper The Black Watch at Kent State University.
Q: Will you tell us a little about your latest project Ain’t But a Few of Us?
A: I started writing about jazz in earnest in college, initially for our Black student newspaper at Kent State University. From there I got opportunities to write locally in Northeast Ohio, and eventually on the national and international levels. Whenever I found myself among groups of journalists – whether that was as part of the press pool covering jazz festivals or wherever – I found it increasingly interesting that I would most often be the only writer of color in the jazz press corps. After a while, I began to question how it was that a music that was unquestionably a product of the African experience in America, appeared to be almost exclusively the domain of white male writers (the gender disparity being another issue).
Through attending arts conferences – such as the former JazzTimes Convention and the annual International Association of Jazz Educators conferences – I slowly began to meet the occasional jazz writer of color. So, in 2010 I started publishing a series of interviews in my blog the Independent Ear (www.openskyjazz.com) dialoguing with Black jazz writers. That series eventually morphed into the current book Ain’t But a Few of Us (through Duke University Press).
Q: In putting the book together, what were some steps you took when you began writing your book? How did you approach the material?
A: (See my answer above). Expanding on that, once it became apparent that perhaps there was a book in this Ain’t But a Few of Us online series, I further edited what had appeared online, filled in the blanks with further communications with those contributors, and conducted interviews with others whose work came to or was brought to my attention who had not appeared in the Independent Ear series. Later I divided the book into sections – e.g. Freelance Magazine Writers; Authors, etc.
Q: Where can people buy Ain’t But a Few of Us?
A: Ain’t But a Few of Us is available online at Amazon.com and at the Duke University Press site: www.dukeupress.edu; as well at the hippest retail outlets.
Ain't but a Few of Us cover
Q: What’s a significant moment or conversation with a jazz great that you treasure?
Through my writing, I’ve had a number of “significant” encounters with jazz greats, including interviews with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Lester Bowie, Betty Carter, and hundreds of others. But what stands out the most is the 10 years I spent traveling with and interviewing NEA Jazz Master pianist-composer Randy Weston for his as-told-to autobiography African Rhythms (2010 Duke University Press).
Q: Who is a musician you admire?
A: Many, but first and foremost is the ancestor Randy Weston (see why from my previous answer). Randy opened up a new world for me.
Q: Are there any upcoming projects you’re really excited about?
A: Yes, I’m excited for the 2023 edition of the DC Jazz Festival (Aug. 30-Sept. 3). I’m excited about forthcoming book signings, talks, and panel discussions for Ain’t But a Few of Us, and I’m anticipating the launch of two Savage Content projects: No Regrets: the Billie Holiday audio documentary series, and Songs of Loss, Justice, and Hope.
We hope you enjoyed reading this fascinating Q&A with Willard Jenkins. When it comes to jazz, Willard is my favorite jazz enthusiast, so you’ll be seeing another Q&A with him coming to the blog soon. We’ll also be sharing a “Willard Recommends” in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe to our page to receive notifications when we post new blogs!
Thank you for reading and thank you to Willard for being so kind in answering my questions. Until next time!
Compiled by Kristen Petronio
Written Answers by Willard Jenkins