All That Jazz
Published Oct 1, 2009 8:00 AM
By day, Rob Bamberger '74, M.A. '74, is an energy policy specialist for the Congressional Research Service, studying fuels and minerals and analyzing the pros and cons of proposed legislation. But every Saturday night, Bamberger cuts loose. That's when his alter ego, the radio deejay, can be heard spreading the good news of vintage jazz around the globe.
Since 1980, Bamberger has been the creator, producer and host of "Hot Jazz Saturday Night," a three-hour program showcasing jazz, big band and swing from the 1920s, '30s and '40s.
Each week, Bamberger spends about 12 hours preparing for his show, selecting from the 20,000-plus albums in his Virginia home — from Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw to Benny Goodman and Bix Beiderbecke — and producing program notes that listeners can read online. On Saturday afternoons, he stacks the records and CDs he plans to play on a luggage cart and lumbers down to WAMU, the NPR affiliate in the nation's capitol, from where Bamberger's program is syndicated internationally.
"This music is less and less about nostalgia. With every passing day, we are losing the people for whom it was a lived experience. But, you didn't have to be there. The appeal of the music is timeless," Bamberger says.
"People have sometimes said to me, quite apologetically: You know, I really don't know anything about jazz. And I say, that's great. You're just the listener I want," he adds.
Indeed, Bamberger has found an interesting way to put two history degrees to good use.
He doesn't like to be thought of as a pitchman, but he's just as passionate a proponent of public radio as he is pre-war jazz, and it was the need for public funding that got Bamberger his start at WAMU.
The year was 1978, and Bamberger, a few years out of school and longing to reclaim the deejaying of his days at UCLA's KLA radio, proposed to WAMU that he be allowed to do a special during their fall fundraiser about the life of Fats Waller, about whom a popular Broadway show, "Ain't Misbehavin'," had recently been produced.
"That's how I came to be on the air the first time in October 1978," Bamberger says. "And then I did some additional spots during membership campaigns and then they let me do a few more specials, which I did on Bessie Smith and Jelly Roll Morton. And then they offered me an hour on Saturday night."
Three decades later, Bamberger is still spinning records — and still discovering old artists that he wants to share anew.
Can't wait until Saturday night? Music fans can listen to "Hit Jazz Satuday Night" anytime at http://wamu.org/programs/hjsn/.