Ray Smith’s Jazz Decades

From WGBH comes this news:

On Friday, Feb. 26, Jazz Decades host Ray Smith passed away at the age of 87. Since coming to WGBH in 1972, Ray produced more than 1,900 episodes of Jazz Decades. This beloved staple of 89.7’s Sunday evening schedule showcased Ray’s encyclopedic knowledge and extensive personal collection of ragtime, blues, swing, and the great jazz of the 1920s and ’30s. We are proud to continue sharing Ray’s love of music through archived episodes of Jazz Decades, on 89.7 every Sunday at 7pm and online anytime.

What a wonderful show. “Jazz and I grew up together,” Smith said in an interview at the WGBH site.

The Globe profiled him on his 35th anniversary on WGBH in 2007:

“When bebop came along, I went along with the crowd, and then I said, ‘What am I doing? I’m going to go with what I like.’ ” A self-described “moldy fig,” or traditional jazz purist, Smith returned to that first love, the music of the 1920s and ’30s. That was the music that took him through World War II and a successful career in advertising.

Along the way, it led him into two hobbies: drumming (he was the original drummer with the New Black Eagle Jazz Band) and playing traditional jazz on the radio. Beginning in 1958, on Framingham’s now defunct WKOX-FM, he started spinning records on air. Most of his music was on 78s then…

After he and his wife moved to South Carolina in 1997 Smith kept producing his weekly one-hour show for WGBH from his home studio.

In a tribute in the Taunton Gazette Charles Winokoor writes:

Everything Ray played on his show was so proudly archaic and seemingly out of step with current popular fare. That’s only natural when one considers he specialized in recordings dating back as far as the early 1920s.

For those Ray Smith fans out there, and there certainly are plenty, you know what I mean when I say it was like losing a dear and unique friend.

It doesn’t require talent to appreciate good music, and it certainly doesn’t take a genius to be able to come into a radio station and play it.

But it’s a special person not only who has an encyclopedic knowledge of a musical genre (in his case, early- to mid-20th Century jazz), but also the ability to both educate and delight the listener.

You can listen to a 24-hour stream of “Jazz Decades” and an archive of past shows at the Jazz Decades site at WGBH.


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