PDXdixiejazz is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of dixieland jazz music.
Serving the Greater Portland and Vancouver Area
Not to worry. Just dial up 89.1 FM.
Phil Brenes will have you up and
Toe-tapping in record time.
Your email address contains the words "doctor jazz". Do you have a license to practice?
"Yes, in two states. I was a pediatrician by profession. Two years in the military, one year in private practice. Then twenty-six years with Kaiser Permanente and another five years as associate professor of Pediatrics on the faculty of Oregon Health and Science University -- teaching, managing clinics and seeing patients. I retired in 2003."
You nailed us there, Doctor Brenes. Actually, the question was in reference to your present occupation as a disc jockey, or deejay. Is that what they're still called? Or are they "CD jockeys" nowadays?
"At KMHD radio, we refer to ourselves as 'on-air hosts'. That way, we can carry our noses just a little bit up in the air. Disc jockeys may eventually become totally obsolete when everything is computerized and all you have to do is touch a button or screen. However, being called a disk jockey is just fine with me."
As you're well aware, many of your listeners are Portland Dixieland Jazz Society members, and likely curious about your background. How did you come to hook up with KMHD? And when?
DR. Phil Brenes,AKA Doctor Jazz, sorts through a selection of recordings for his weekly trad jazz show on KMDH FM radio.
"I've been with the radio station nearly thirteen years now, starting when we were at Mt. Hood Community College. I began by helping with the fund drive and was given the opportunity to make a demonstration tape, after only two weeks on board. That resulted in a four-hour show on Mondays, playing the full spectrum of jazz. I did the Monday program for a little less than a year and then substituted for other hosts on various days. Later on I hosted a show called 'Jazz Dialogue', doing live audience interviews with jazz musicians from around the world who happened to be passing through Portland, as well as local artists. That lasted three years. Then I had another regular four-hour show on Thursdays, again playing the full spectrum of jazz for a few more years. Then I picked up the Trad Jazz Show while I was still doing the Thursday show, and did both for awhile. Now it's strictly trad jazz.
"All this activity really broadened my worldview of jazz and its many complexities.
But not to be alarmed -- my true love was and is trad jazz. I grew up in San Diego, in a music-filled house, radios blaring and records playing. My mother was a pianist, and I later studied classic piano. My older brother was heavy into dixieland and swing, so listening to his collections of records was my introduction to that style of music. As I grew older my interests broadened, but at the heart of it -- at the end of the day -- my thoughts always returned to traditional jazz. My first live jazz? Sneaking into Mickey Finn's as a teenager, and wading through all the peanut husks on the floor trying to get up close to the house band. Another watering hole was the Honey Bucket, where Bart Hazlett played a snarly trombone."
When you hear the phrase "trad jazz", what all does that encompass? And where do you draw the line?
"For me, the definition of "trad jazz" includes -- but is not exclusive of -- the New Orleans sound of small groups, usually four to six instruments. Cornet, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, banjo/guitar, tuba and drums. There are several variations of this instrumentation that also includes other reeds. For instance, a saxophone-like instrument, a piano or other rhythm devices such as a washboard. I'm pretty loose in my definition because there are different schools of thought as to what is considered trad jazz. So in fairness to my audience, I try to do my best to satisfy their tastes. To do that, I need to address the influence of jazz performers from Chicago, New York and Kansas City, to name a few locations.
"Besides the instruments, you have to factor in rhythm choices, types of arrangements, and improvisation. Add to that the three or four-part polyphony,
where there are three or four counterpoints being played -- usually a combination of cornet and/or trumpet, clarinet, trombone and sometimes a sax. Usually the cornet -- or trumpet -- is the lead instrument, while the trombone creates a counter melody line below the cornet at the same time that the clarinet is playing a contrasting harmonic line above the cornet. The banjo or guitar can be used both as a chordal instrument or as a rhythm instrument, using a two-four back beat.
"To boil all that down, on my show I mention up front that I feature trad jazz as well as other jazz from the first half of the twentieth century, plus every now and then a little of this and that. All of which gives me a fair amount of elbow room to play a variety of music that is not strictly traditional jazz."
What kind of detective work is involved in tracking down twenties and thirties jazz recordings? Do you welcome unsolicited contributions from your listeners -- or do you rely solely on your own sense of smell?
"I have a library that contains more than 400 CDs, a quarter of which I purchased and the rest inherited, so to speak. Plus, a hundred or so vinyl LPs from which I select individual recordings. Adding them all up, close to 5,000 songs. As for listener requests, I neither encourage nor discourage them. When somebody calls or emails with a request -- my jazz library not being portable -- I'll later search for the song at home and then play it the following week."
The thought just occurred that it might be nice to introduce a few of the many historically important jazz performers that you've featured on your show -- find out what they have to say. Friends of Phil's, as it were. Would that be OK?
"Something fishy's going on here..." (sniffs the air).
LOUIS ARMSTRONG: "Well...mop my brow. If it ain't Doctor Phil, the man with the pills for your ills."
...as transcribed by Tony Welch
EDWARD 'KID' ORY: "Do what Ory say, or it"s off to St. James Infirmary with you."
MUGGSY SPANIER: "This here's a double helpin' of 'Auntie Skinner's Chicken Dinner', with a side of collard greens."
RED NORVO: "Quick! -- somebody get Doctor Phil. I can't straighten up and fly right."
EDDIE CONDON: "About your radio show, Doctor Phil. Be extra careful when you pronounce my last name."
BENNY GOODMAN: "Don't feel worth a toot today. Too much (burp) clarinet marmalade. Better give Doctor Phil a call..."
JACK TEAGARDEN: "Hey, Phil. It's me -- Big T. You got your Vitaphone recording machine turned on ??? "
FATS WALLER: "That be Phil Brenes on the dance floor. Mercy mercy mercy -- he done fainted! I better slow down."
LIONEL HAMPTON: "Not to worry, Lionel. I know I can get you on the next Phil Brenes show. So cheer up!"
IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?
DOCTOR PHIL McGRAW: "I'm throwing in the towel. There's only room for one Doctor Phil -- and that's YOU !!! "
"As for coverage, KMHD reaches out past Salem to the south, and north past Longview a ways. Not sure of the station's range going east or west. But what's important is that if you go to the KMHD website -- KMHD.org -- you can listen to the show live, no matter where you are. I get phone calls from listeners in a number of distant states, even foreign countries like Australia. I once listened to Bill Fetsch, my immediate predecessor and the original doctor jazz who emceed the show for quite a number of years, while I was traveling in Germany. There he was -- live and in real time."
How many recordings can you crowd together in a two-hour long show?
"I'd say around thirty songs, as an average."
Have you ever -- for novelty's sake, if nothing else -- repeated the same song in sequence? That is to say -- played a certain song title, but recorded by more than one band?
"Yes -- I did exactly that just yesterday. 'It Don't Mean A Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing.' First rendition by Duke Ellington, with Ivie Anderson on the vocals, from 1927. Then skip ahead forty years to 1967; the Rooftop Singers -- a popular folk music group. Finally, from 1999, Dick Hyman, lifted off the soundtrack of Woody Allen's movie 'Sweet and Lowdown'. I like to do that from time to time -- different bands, different interpretations of the same song."
Your on-the-air formula incorporates both music and historical data relating to the recordings themselves. This aggravates some, even as it pleases others. How are you able to balance the combort level between talk and turntable time?
"From the feedback I get, plus a bit of snooping here and there, it's become apparent that the great majority of listeners are content in that regard. In fact, I can honestly tell you that I often get compliments regarding this or that historical tidbit, and not just praise for the music alone. No different than dining. You really like something, you want to learn all about the ingredients that make it special. So I think I've struck a happy medium. That's my hope, anyway.
"As for listener support, we've stayed on a pretty even keel over the years. If anything, we've gradually gained both in listeners as well as fund contributors. So I think our kind of music will be around for awhile." *
Can you name another listener-supported FM radio station anywhere in the country that devotes itself entirely to jazz, of whatever kind?
"There might be as many as twelve, if that. And fewer still that are on the air twenty-four seven. The thing that makes KMHD really unique is that there's forty-five to fifty on-air hosts who volunteer their time. That would otherwise add up to a hefty payroll. You could search the world, and not find even a quarter of that number of unpaid volunteers on a single radio station."
Do you have a favorite band? And beyond that -- a particular recording that you fancy?
"I'd be hard-pressed to answer that one. More precisely, I've got favorities -- plural. Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, Firehouse Five Plus Two, Anything by Fats Waller. Salty Dogs. The list goes on. I have to watch myself, or I'd play their recordings over and over."
How much time and attention is required on your part to put a Sunday broadcast together?
"I do the show either one of two ways. About half are pre-recorded and the other
half live. If I'm busy-busy, I pre-record. Figure four to five hours. Live programming takes two to three hours. Add to each an hour's travel time. I plan ahead, four to six weeks in advance. The 4th of July is coming up, and I had lots of fun with that one. Stan Freberg -- the king of satire. Hear him criticize Betsy Ross's handiwork. I like to spice things up, given the opportunity."
"Sometimes I start the show with a get-'em-up-and-running opener. Crash-bang.
Or maybe I'm gentle as a lamb. I tend to play the older historical jazz pieces at the beginning of the second hour -- expand the commentary a bit. Whatever my mood, I try to match it musically."
Just for the record: the diminished seventh chord comprises frequencies that are equally spaced when considered on a logarithmic axis, and thus divides the octave into four logarithmically equal portions, each being a minor third. Do you find fault with that?
"Could you repeat that? I got off track a bit at the diminished seventh, due to my diminished capacity..."
*Join Phil Brenes each and every Sunday morning for The Traditional Jazz Show,
9-11am, KMHD fm 89.1. You'll know you've safely arrived when you hear his opening theme song: " Hard-Hearted Hanna."
Dr. Jazz's Satisfied Patient