Night Lights made its debut on WFIU four years ago almost to the day–or night, as it were–with a program called Let Freedom Ring that aired on the eve of the July 4th holiday. I had been working at WFIU for exactly two years, subbing for weekday afternoon jazz host Joe Bourne and producing WFIU jazz specials such as Bix Beiderbecke: Never the Same Way Twice and Jump for Joy: Duke Ellington’s Celebratory Musical. When the syndicated “Worldwide Jazz” show that we carried on Saturday evenings suddenly ceased production, I proposed Night Lights as a replacement to our station manager, Christina Kuzmych. Luckily for me, she signed off on it (many other station managers would have been tempted to simply fill the slot with an overnight network feed), and I rather hurriedly came up with a show name (taken from Gerry Mulligan’s composition and album of the same name), an opening theme (Mary Lou Williams’ “Miss D.D.,” a tribute to her society friend Doris Duke, from Williams’ album Black Christ of the Andes), and a pilot program.
That show, Let Freedom Ring is now archived for online listening. It consists of jazz tributes to freedom with a civil-rights slant, including Charles Mingus’ “Freedom,” Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” Miles Davis’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and (shades of this week’s Rene Marie controversy) Charles Lloyd’s recording of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Listening back to the program now, I’m pained by my delivery (I like to think I have more snap and verve now, and a little less of the druggy late-night jazz-dude tone) and the meandering introduction of the program’s musical theme…but the set-list holds up pretty well and hopefully still makes for good July 4th jazz listening. I’m still grateful to WFIU for the opportunity to do this show, and I’m very grateful to the listeners from all over the world who’ve tuned in, e-mailed, contributed, and supported the program and the website in many different ways. A happy long holiday weekend to all…and good listening for the week ahead.