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Radio Legend Studs Terkel On Piano Jazz

In addition to interviewing people around America for his radio program on WFMT, Studs Terkel was also a noted jazz historian.
Steve Kagan
Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
In addition to interviewing people around America for his radio program on WFMT, Studs Terkel was also a noted jazz historian.

Though he's remembered for his intense interest in the lives of everyday folks, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and Chicago radio legend Studs Terkel was also a great lover of music, and especially jazz. His first book, Giants of Jazz, featured literary portraits of the likes of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

Studs and Marian McPartland were good friends, having first met in Chicago when cornetist Jimmy McPartland introduced his new bride/piano player to the Windy City scene. Though McPartland appeared on Terkel's radio show several times over the years, he joined Marian on Piano Jazz only once, in 1992. That program was originally recorded as one of our bi-annual fundraising shows. A seasoned public radio personality, Terkel was no stranger to the pledge drive. Yet, so much history and knowledge came out of this hour that we decided to remove those fundraising elements ("Your support keeps this program on the air!") and create a new version of the program.

We enlisted NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, a friend, fan and colleague of Terkel's, to give the show the familiar Piano Jazz structure, and we were delighted that he threw in a few of his own remembrances and at least one impression of Studs. This is the first time this program has been rebroadcast since its original airing. This version also includes a few tunes that, for timing reasons, didn't make it into the original broadcast.

With two seasoned interviewers in the room, it's sometimes hard to tell who is interviewing who. McPartland discovers the genesis of Terkel's life in radio, and Studs gets Marian to talk about her upbringing in England and her USO tours through Europe with her husband Jimmy. The two share memories of Bix Beiderbecke and Alec Wilder and McPartland plays a few relevant tunes, including Wilder's "While We're Young" and Beiderbecke's "In a Mist." McPartland ends with a soulful musical portrait that perfectly captures the humor, charm and unique character of the legendary Studs Terkel.

Studs Terkel died Oct. 2008 at the age of 96.

Originally broadcast in 1992.

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David Lyon