Jazz and Vocal Standards? Mary Foster Conklin Regales WFDU with A Broad Spectrum

03/22/2017 09:03 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2017

For this listener it was either classical, opera, musical theatre or pop-rock. Imagine my delight when I first heard the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald sing Ellington, or June Christy request “Something Cool?”

That aural journey had to be satisfied with creating a CD collection, as the internet did not yet dominate, and the standard bearing WQEW was converted to a Disney station. New Jersey’s public radio jazz station, WBGO’s signal was not as strong as one would have liked, and it did not concentrate on pure vocals.

Then the internet seemed to explode with almost too much content. Between streaming shows and YouTube, what’s a baby boomer to do? We are used to scarcity, or at least having to pick our music from a reasonable selection of what was available. That is why a curator like Mary Foster Conklin and her colleagues on WFDU are so vital. They have the taste and experience that can educate the new listener, and satisfy the more seasoned one.

Mary’s program, A Broad Spectrum, is a delicious double-entendre. Broad as in the reach of artist’s and their repertoire, is it a showcase of broads (er, women). Mary quotes:

“A Broad Spectrum is a jazz-based mix of standards, blues, pop and originals composed and/or with lyrics by women who inspire—you'll hear both instrumentalists and vocalists (with airplay of male artists too, in the Honorable Men-tion slot).”

I was hooked from the start, hearing women’s voices, both old and new and yes, an occasion dude or instrumentalist. 

Does four hours a week seem short? Take a gander…This is just one hour from 1/22/17. The beauty of the whole thing is that the listener can spread the experience out within two weeks (archived) of the initial (Sunday nights 3 p.m.-    7 p.m.) broadcast. Listen, then repeat.

Cynthia Hilts — Jam & Toast/Lyric Fury (2017)/Cynthia Hilts Andrea Claburn — Bird on a Wire (Timeline)/Nightshade (2017)/Pat Matheny and Andrea Claburn Terri Lyne Carrington — Unconditional Love/The Mosaic Project/Geri Allen Irene Kral — Just For Now/Just For Now/Andre Previn and Dori Langdon José James — Dragon (feat. Becca Stevens)/While You Were Sleeping/Becca Stevens Richie Cole — Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most/Richie Cole Plays Ballads & Love Songs (2016)/Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman Suzanne Pittson — True Visions (True Colors)/Out of the Hub: the Music of Freddie Hubbard/Freddie Hubbard, Suzanne, Eric & Evan Pittson Natalie Cressman & Mike Bono — I Look to You/Etchings in Amber (2016)/Natalie Cressman Mark Murphy — Seesaw/Sings Mostly Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman/Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields Harry Allen — The One for You/The Candy Men (2016)/Harry Allen and Judy Carmichael

Mary Foster Conklin, herself, is an award winning singer and recording artist who has been flourishing in the Jazz/Cabaret word for a couple of decades. Writer Terry Teachout singled Mary out for praise in a New York Times Arts section profile and she has been gathering up loyal fans in the highly competitive and specialized world of jazz/cabaret performance. I chatted with her briefly…

MBG: What medium of performance did you start in? Were you in musical theatre?

MFC: I was more a serious actress who sang on the side in bands, rather than a musical theatre person. I moved on to get a job as a vocalist in a big band, which played a big part in getting me more involved with singing jazz. I started to do serious club work in the early 1990’s.

MBG: In what way have you evolved to include radio programming along with your singing?

MFC: Before coming to New York, I was a DJ in college for three years—played everything from Steely Dan, ELP, Frank Zappa and Jethro Tull to Horace Silver and the Sex Pistols.  My tastes were all over the map back then, very eclectic. Much later on I got involved with WBAI. David Kenney and I had done a few programs together over the years with me, first as a performer. Then we did a program together that was devoted to The International Women in Jazz, where I functioned more as an interviewer.  In March 2015, he was literally barred from doing his show on International Working Women’s Day, so he “volunteered” me to do his show that weekend.  I had three days to come up with a program. Then I remembered that I’d performed several evenings of songs composed by/or with lyrics by women under the title of A Broad Spectrum, so I ran with that concept.  Did such a good job with that program that David invited me to sub for him. It was a lot of fun to return to radio.

MBG: And WFDU?

MFC: My pal Russ Kassoff had a show on WFDU HD2 called the Jazz Deli on Saturday mornings, and last fall I heard that the station was looking for jazz DJs for the HD2 internet programs. I pitched the concept of A Broad Spectrum which was accepted, so I first went on the air at the end of February, 2016 and have been doing the show ever since.  It airs live on Sundays from 3 p.m.-7 p. m., and the shows are archived for two weeks on the website.  I call it Music by Women Who Inspire – Composers, Lyricists,Vocalists, Instrumentalists plus the men with the good taste to play them.

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