10:27 am
Mon June 11, 2012

Radio-Active Jazz: Willard Fields and the Return of Local Jazz to WHQR

In the quiet of the WHQR music library, on a slow Sunday afternoon, Willard Fields sat across from me at a large writing desk. His easy manner reflects a life doing mostly what he feels passionate about – radio and jazz.

Fields speaks with pride about his father who was one of the first black broadcasters in the Midwest, but music, it must be said, is what lit Fields' path in broadcasting.

"I was in San Diego, on my way to register for music classes at San Diego City College, when I passed by a door with a sign that said 'Telecommunications Department,'" Fields said. As he wandered through radio, television and recording studios, Fields said something took hold.

"When I picked up a catalog at the registration table, I turned to telecommunications classes and registered." Within his first semester, Fields was tapped to host a three-hour jazz shift on KSDS , the college's public radio station that has since become one of the biggest jazz & blues broadcasters on the West Coast. "They saw something that I didn’t," Fields said, adding that enthusiasm won out over nerves.

After college, Fields became a radio gypsy, crossing the country from San Diego to Jacksonville, Florida, and points in between, playing every kind of music one could find on mainstream stations. "There are only so many Jazz stations," Fields said. "I just wanted to do radio."

Though interested in all musical genres, Fields has always been a true believer when it comes to Jazz. "I know it sounds cliché but I don’t care. Jazz is America’s music. Jazz reflects all the cultures of America. It came out that hardcore need to improvise and find expression. Americans should be proud of Jazz. Just go to Europe. People, all over the world, respect and embrace Jazz. It is an extremely important part of Americana."

As for playing Jazz on the radio, Fields is equally clear and passionate. “There’s no place for music Nazis in Jazz,” he said, noting that Jazz has too many tints and hues, flavors and textures to represent only one style or school. Fields doesn’t play favorites. Even if he’s not in love with a particular arrangement or a certain performance, he’s aware that it may bring someone else that much closer to appreciating the next track, and the next.

Jazz on radio has significance beyond the studio according to Fields. “The jury’s still out on this, but I think that Jazz radio should nurture and enhance the Jazz community as an outlet for pushing the music forward. Wilmington is growing to point that we really are becoming a city. People will want the things a city needs,” Fields said.

From macro to micro and back, Fields wants to bring listeners “From 8 to 80, blind, cross-eyed, cripple, crazy and normal people, too,” closer to the essence of the music called Jazz.

Catch Jazz with Willard Fields at from 11 to midnight Fridays and from 10 to midnight Saturdays on 91.3 WHQR.

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