Many regard former WNUA DJ Denise Jordan Walker as the ‘Oprah Of Jazz’. That may sound like quite a label to live up to but she is currently combining her exceptional people skills with an in depth knowledge and love for smooth jazz to realize what, for her, started out as a dream. That dream is to help the real fans of the genre get close up and personal with some of today’s greatest smooth jazz artists, not just in terms of the music that they play but also by scratching away at the celebrity to find the person that lays within. The vehicle by which she is making that happen is her Candid Jazz and Conversations (CJ & C) series that, in part, was born out of the frustrations she felt by the increasing difficulty smooth jazz artists have in gaining exposure in the Chicago-land area.
Quite simply Candid Jazz and Conversations (CJ & C) is a unique chance for fans to witness some of their favorite artists perform and talk, both about their music and their lives. The setting, the 400 seater auditorium of Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Illinois, is deliberately intimate and the opportunity that the audience get to ask questions from the floor can offer incredible insight’s of artists who previously seemed distant and inaccessible.
Indeed, for Denise Jordan Walker, CJ & C is all about the fans. Her aim is to get the music to real people and admission is by invitation only from a database that now exceeds 4000 e-mail addresses. It’s a list that, by recommendation and referral, is growing all the while and the next step will be a re-launch of the CJ & C website. This will enable tickets to be purchased on line and snippets from previous events to be accessed.
Totally typical of Jordan Walker is the huge personal energy that she brings to the project and every artist who attends CJ & C is afforded the opportunity of additional publicity. This often includes spots on local television and personal appearances in the Chicago area. Gerald Veasley, who came to town expecting to appear in front of a handful of people, was overwhelmed by the interest and passion demonstrated by the packed audience and Najee couldn’t believe it when Jordan Walker did the deal for him to play the national anthem at the Chicago Bulls game in the United Center. With artists over the last twelve months who have included Jonathon Butler, Nick Colionne, Kirk Whalum and the Laws family of Ronnie, Hubert, Eloise and Debra the word is certainly out and the schedule for 2006 is filling up fast.
Not only that, in true Denise Jordan Walker style, she is branching out. Further venues are being added in Gary IN and Milwaukee WI so that when she brings artists to the mid west she can stage two or even three events on consecutive evenings. The power in reaching out to smooth jazz lovers not always best served by the music played on local radio is being recognized elsewhere too. Jordan Walker is exploring the possibility of taking the format to locations as far apart as Philadelphia, Kansas City and the St Lucia Jazz Festival. Her magic formula of creating a fan-base without radio support can only be good news for smooth jazz artists who find that airplay is not as easy to come by as it once was.
Denise Jordan Walker has already provided the genre with one significant legacy. She admits to being the person who first coined the term ‘smooth jazz’. Back in 1989, when WNUA Chicago was still struggling to find an identity, it referred to its output as ‘music for a new age’. When, on the air one day, Jordan Walker happened to refer to a David Benoit track as relaxing music, as ‘smooth jazz’, it met with initial push back from the stations management but within a month WNUA had began to describe itself as a purveyor of smooth jazz and smooth rock. The rock vanished and the rest is history but Denise Jordan Walker, with her infectious enthusiasm and a passion for her subject, is now making history all over again. She describes herself as a creator of ideas and with Candid Jazz and Conversations she has hit upon a sure fire winner.
Next up at Prairie State College is the excellent Nelson Rangell on March 30, 2006. In addition, the first event in Gary IN will be on April 1 at the Marquette Pavilion, Miller Beach where Nick Colionne will be the featured artist. For more on Candid Jazz and Conversations go to www.candidjazz.com