Also known as "BP with the GM," (translation: "Bob Perkins with the Good Music"), Mr. Perkins has been in the broadcasting industry for more than four decades as an on-air host, and is now commonly referred to as a Philadelphia jazz radio legend.
BP broke into the radio business in 1964 when he landed an on-air job in Detroit. In 1969, his hometown of Philadelphia beckoned him back with a gig at rhythm-and-blues station WDAS, where he worked for the next 19 years. He joined WRTI in 1997.
In addition to his job as jazz host, BP writes numerous columns and commentaries on jazz for local publications in Philadelphia. He also hosts concerts at jazz clubs and at regional festivals.
BP was awarded the 2002 Mellon Jazz Community Award. And in 2007, he was honored with a proclamation for his outstanding contributions to Philadelphia's jazz community by Mayor John Street, Philadelphia City Council, and the House of Representatives in Harrisburg. Wait two seconds and you'll hear about yet another award bestowed on "Ol' BP," as he calls himself.
Hear Bob on Monday through Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 pm, and on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm. Bob is also the voice behind our Great Migration series.
This year, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of the first Great Migration, the movement of millions of African-Americans from the rural south to other parts of the U.S. that promised greater social and economic justice and opportunities. The migration included many excellent jazz musicians, some of whom became household names. For these artists, the Great Migration not only promised greater social and economic opportunity, but also provided inspiration for their creative expression.
Witnessing certain events, and meeting certain people earlier in life, can sometimes become meaningful as time goes by—especially when the witness goes on to become a writer, historian, or otherwise chronicler of life’s personalities and events.
I’m not sure what year I became a June Christy fan, but it must have been during her later years with the Stan Kenton band. I liked Kenton’s innovative approach to jazz. I first saw the band perform at Philly’s Academy of Music in the early 1950s. Christy was a member of the band at the time, but I don’t remember seeing her that night. At that time, almost everyone went to see Kenton’s trumpet virtuoso Maynard Ferguson—whose high notes on the instrument threatened to bring rain.
Many talented souls in various walks of life have departed the planet well before their loved ones thought they should have. The abbreviated stays of the gifted makes us ponder what other wonders they might have contributed, had they lived.
Oliver Nelson comes to mind. He was less famous than Clifford Brown or Charlie Parker or John Coltrane, all of whom were innovators and pioneers and who died well before their time. But Nelson was not only a gifted multi-instrumentalist but also a top-flight arranger and composer. He advanced the careers of many performers, and not just those in jazz.
I first heard of Nelson in the early 1960s via his composition “Stolen Moments,” which became a jazz classic. A few years later I broke into radio and began hosting a jazz program. He then became an even more familiar name to me, because I played his music on the air.
Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” with Nelson on tenor saxophone, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, et al.:
Oliver Nelson was born into a musical family on June 4, 1932 in St. Louis. He played piano at age six, and several years later, the saxophone. He got his first major job with Louis Jordan while still in his teens, playing alto saxophone and arranging. Military service called, and he joined a band in the Marine Corps. While traveling in Tokyo, he heard the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, which he credited with whetting his appetite to become more advanced as an arranger.
After the military, Nelson studied harmony and theory at Washington and Lincoln Universities and privately. He moved to New York City and made music with Erskine Hawkins, organist Wild Bill Davis and a host of other established musicians. He also landed a job as house arranger for the Apollo Theater.
Prestige Records signed Nelson to a contract, and he recorded six albums for them. He later moved to the Impulse label and recorded The Blues and the Abstract Truth, a landmark LP that included “Stolen Moments.” It’s a work of art. With the likes of pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Roy Haynes, Eric Dolphy doubling on also sax and flute, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, and Nelson on tenor sax—how could it not be the monster that it was? It still is.
Doors began to open. Not only was he producing and arranging for Nancy Wilson, James Brown, the Temptations, Diana Ross, organist Jimmy Smith, and other well-known artists, he was also composing for TV shows, including Ironside, Longstreet, and The Six Million Dollar Man (for which he wrote the theme). He also arranged the music for the motion picture Last Tango in Paris.
Those close to him knew he was spreading his gargantuan talents too thin by racing from the East Coast to perform with his jazz group, then to the West Coast for music-arranging jobs. Their concern for his well-being turned out not to be an abstract truth: Nelson suffered a massive heart attack in Los Angeles in 1975, and died at the age of 43. The word was that he had literally worked himself to death. So, Oliver Nelson, like some of his ever-youthful jazz predecessors, left while still having much more to say. But he, like they, kicked up a lot of creative dust prior to departing.
One of his best CDs (besides The Blues and the Abstract Truth) is one he shares with vibraphonist Lem Winchester, Nocturne. Oliver Nelson’s solos on “Azur’te” and “Man with a Horn” please the ear and massage the heart.
In that bygone era when radio was king, the drama known as The Shadow was one of the best. The dulcet voice of the announcer preceded each program with the question, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” He then finished off the quiz with a sardonic laugh, and the clincher, “The Shadow knows.”
David Newman is a fairly average name. But insert the nickname “Fathead,” and there you have a memorable handle—especially when the person is an entertainer. An odd name is one way to get attention. Musician David Newman must have caught on to this early in his career as a professional musician, and advanced by keeping the derogatory but attention-catching name of David “Fathead” Newman.
Don't be mistaken: Philadelphia is complimented far and wide. The City of Brotherly Love is our well-known handle, and our fine-eating places are the talk of other towns. Also peculiar to the area are those gastronomic delights known as hoagies, soft pretzels, and cheese steaks. We've got Billy Penn; we've got the Liberty Bell.
Art Blakey was to the small band what Duke Ellington was to the big band, meaning that over the years Blakey’s small groups—like Ellington’s big bands—produced a great number of jazz artists, many of whom became jazz legends.
Very often with famous entertainers, only the first name is sufficient for identification. This happens particularly in the genres of jazz and standard/popular music. When a hip person wants to say something about a well-known artist, they may refer to that artist as Sarah, Billie, Ella, or Carmen. The latter of course is a reference to Carmen McRae, dubbed by jazz critics, writers and fans, "The Singer’s Singer."