Guest Column: A tribute to Ed Beach

A relatively new Jazz Collector reader, Dan Forté, has asked if he could write a guest column in tribute to the late Ed Beach, so here’s Dan. The accompanying picture of Ed Beach is courtesy of Marc and Evelyn Bernheim/Rapho Guillumette

A Tribute to Ed Beach, or How I Got Hooked into Jazz and Vinyl Collecting, By Dan Forté

Time: Mid-Late 1960s, Weeknights, live from 6-8 pm
Place: The Big Apple/ WRVR, 106.7 on the FM Dial
Cue-Up Opening Theme Music:  Wes Montgomery’s “So Do It” from his Oct. 12, 1960 Riverside LP Movin’ Along, RLP 342; 9342 Stereo
About 30 seconds into the theme, the imposing voice of our subject lets us know we’re listening to “Just Jazz, Ed Beach with you, for the first part of a two part feature on….”

And, like magic, we knew we were in capable, swinging hands and all was well with the jazz world. Unlike some other long-winded jazz jocks who liked to impress their listeners with their knowledge of jazz minutiae and didn’t know when to shut up and just play the music, Ed always knew it wasn’t about him. Rather, it was ALWAYS about the music.
Ed Beach passed away quietly on Christmas Day 2009 in Eugene, Ore. just three weeks shy of what would have been his 87th birthday.  If you dug jazz and lived in New York City from 1961-1976, you were blessed to hear “Uncle Ed” and his Just Jazz program on radio station WRVR, call letters standing for Riverside Radio, as in the Riverside Church, with studios located in upper Manhattan at 85 Claremont Avenue.
Ed was trained as an actor and he also had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz. Every time you listened to his meticulously researched show, you knew you were in for a treat.  For every live, two-hour program that Ed produced,

he put in more than six hours of research, air checking and timing-out each and every track, always giving credit where credit was due, mentioning track names, recording dates, sidemen, album titles, and record labels. His shows were such a huge hit among the NY jazz cognoscenti, that legions of Ed’s listeners took to taping his two-hour JJ broadcasts instead of buying the vinyl he played, thereby depriving jazz musicians of income.  As a result, Ed, interviewed in an April 12, 1964 piece by Sherwin Smith in The New York Times Magazine, implored his listeners to continue supporting jazz and its musicians by buying their LPs and to refrain from taping his shows.

The Just Jazz phenomenon was an exhaustive audio archive culminating in more than 570 shows totaling 2,112 hours and covering artists literally from A-Z:  from bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik through pianist-composer, Denny Zeitlin and of course, everyone in between, with “Old Uncle Gabchin” at the helm of each and every broadcast.

Personally, when it comes to jazz, I always like to say my father planted the seed but Ed Beach was my on-air professor of continuing education.  Now in my mid fifties, I stumbled upon Ed and WRVR quite by accident.  It was 1968, and, as a teenager, having become disillusioned with the acid-rock movement, began to channel surf on my hi-fi and came across the opening theme of Beach’s show by guitarist Wes Montgomery as well as the show’s under theme (also by Wes:  “D-Natural Blues” from The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery:  January, 1960; Riverside RLP 320; 1169 Stereo). I was floored by Wes’s unorthodox octave and single-note playing with his thumb and shot-off a quick letter to Uncle Ed inquiring about Wes’s recordings.  Wes tragically passed away in June of 1968 of a heart attack at age 45.  In his own inimitable way, Ed, not knowing I was a teenager, responded on WRVR stationery (I still have his letter) stating the following:

“Dear Mr. Forté:
I don’t know where you buy your records, but the Schwann Record catalog lists numerous LPs by Montgomery from Riverside to Verve to A&M.  Hope this helps.
Sincerely,
Ed Beach”

Unbeknownst to Ed, this was the start of my over 40-year, jazz vinyl collecting odyssey.  I began to spend hours (and money) scouring the dusty LP bins in Sam Goody, King Karol, EJ Korvette and of course, the out-of-print Mecca for jazz in NYC, Dayton’s, for Wes Montgomery albums. Once I collected all of his vinyl output, I began to jot down more and more choice LPs that Uncle Ed played on his Just Jazz shows and my jazz record collection began to multiply quicker than rabbits. As for WRVR, the station eventually went to an all-country music format in September 1980 (the changeover was shocking because no one expected it).  One moment, jazz DJ Batt Johnson was playing Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the next moment the station was spinning Waylon Jennings’s “Are You Ready for the Country.” The station’s call letters also changed to reflect the switch: WKHK.

Fast forward:  While I was the Blue Note Jazz Club’s international director of publicity and marketing from 1992 to the end of 2001, I tracked down Ed, who had resigned from WRVR in 1976 soon after the station was sold. I’ll never forget calling him for the very first time.  It was really a kick because he spoke on the phone as if he was still doing his show on the air.  I told him who I was and we immediately hit it off. Ed had just donated all of his JJ programs to the Library of Congress in Washington and we joined forces for the common good trying in vain to package these programs as a comprehensive audio history of jazz.  Unfortunately, massive legal issues like paying royalties to the estates of deceased jazz musicians on every tune dictated otherwise.  Remember, these broadcasts were originally intended as one-shot, single-air broadcasts and were meant for nothing else.

Regardless, Ed and I became fast pen pals.  I was privileged to befriend one of my jazz idols.  Every time I received his “scribblings” or handwritten letters in the mail, I knew I was in for a treat.  Ed used graph paper and wrote with an ancient Smith Corona typewriter, a leaky pen or sometimes both.  He used every available inch of paper, including all four sides.  It was like deciphering a buried treasure map!  In every envelope, he would also cram loads of classic cartoons from his beloved New Yorker magazine, sort of like getting bonus tracks on today’s CDs.  I still have and cherish all his letters, in which he reminisces about his glory years at WRVR, his liberal political views and his jazz favorites, tenor man Johnny Griffin being one of them.

Knowing I was also a big fan, he even sent me a bunch of his personal, ¼-inch reel-to-reel tapes of some of the Just Jazz broadcasts, containing, as Ed used to fondly say, some “real up tempo swingas.”  Being the nut that I am, I booked supervised studio time with Jim Czak, owner of the famed Nola Penthouse Recording studios on West 57th Street in Manhattan and had them dubbed onto CDs so I could listen to them forever. About one month before he passed, I phoned Ed.  I knew his body was failing him but for the very first time, so was his voice.  I had a feeling it would be the last time we spoke. Sadly, I was right.  Subsequently, I’ve been in contact with his son, Mark, who, incredible as it sounds, never heard his dad’s JJ broadcasts.  Mark Beach, who is in his mid-forties and also resides in Eugene, Ore., was just a small child during Ed’s reign over the New York jazz radio waves. To rectify the situation, I sent him dubs of a few JJ shows and, like everyone else who heard him, he, too, was floored.

Before Ed died, I told him that countless jazz lovers owed him a huge debt of gratitude for his dignity, integrity, irreverent, dry humor and most important, for instilling in us a lifelong love of jazz.  Amazingly, although he was behind a microphone continuously for 15 years in a major market like New York City, Ed never really knew how many lives he touched and inspired.  Mine, of course, being just one of them….
Whether known by his many nom de plumes as “Ashley Seadrift,” “Sacheverell Seaworthy,” “Old Uncle Gabchin” or “Sam Seashore,” Ed Beach will always be a special part of my life. On behalf of all the others whose lives he touched, we will be forever grateful.  Thanks, Ed, rest in peace.  To paraphrase his immortal words as he went into a dreaded on-air commercial:  “Yeah, let’s break it right ‘ere….”

26 comments

  • A great column, Dan. I read it with pleasure 🙂

  • Nice job with the story…

  • One thing that I read kept bothering me for a while, Dan. I quote: “Ed had just donated all of his JJ programs to the Library of Congress in Washington and we joined forces for the common good trying in vain to package these programs as a comprehensive audio history of jazz. Unfortunately, massive legal issues like paying royalties to the estates of deceased jazz musicians on every tune dictated otherwise.” Now I am wondering: did you ever try again to get some of these shows out in the open after the initial legal issues nightmare? Or is the only way to listen to these shows by visiting the Library of Congress? On the other hand: there must have been a lot of listeners taping the show, so has anyone already bumped into a site where maybe they have put some of his shows online as (“grey”) downloads? Isn’t it just shocking to find out that because of legal issues this material from Ed Beach will never be available again to the public besides going the Library of Congress?

  • Mattyman: First, thanks for your comments and kind thoughts. Glad it struck a “responsive chord” in your memory bank!

    During the early-mid 1990s, I believe, Mr. Beach was gracious enough to donate his entire Just Jazz tape file/archive to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. After the LOC took possession, they were laying dormant, uncatalogued and unshelved in a what we thought to be a protected, cool, not too dry place. According to one of Ed’s letters to me, the first 2/3rds or so of the show’s tapes were recorded on new ten-inch reels in the early-mid 1960s.

    Our main concern was that if these tapes were NOT protected, they would soon deteriorate, with oxide flaking off the recorded sides.

    Once Ed advised the LOC’s music division VP/Curator Jon Newsom of this, they got right on it and began the long process of cataloging/shelving/protecting the tapes. Don’t know if they ever dubbed them to CD.

    We made Mr. Newsom aware of our intended plan to make educative use of the top 53 or so musicians (soloists, bands, singers) that could encompass a JJ audio history of jazz, we hoped to make available to many of the country’s top colleges and universities with serious jazz departments. Ed decided on the artists and was concerned because of the many serious artist omissions that didn’t make his cut.

    To make a long story short, when I was at the Blue Note Jazz Club, I had legal access to the top entertainment/royalty attorney in the business. The huge hurdle was paying royalties and/or obtaining legal clearances from the owners and estates of the copyrights of each piece of music played on Ed’s shows. Only after consulting with him, did we nix the plan we had for these reasons that were given in my column. Ed at that time was in his late 70s and suffered from painful osteoporosis and assorted other maladies of old age and just did not want to proceed after receiving the best legal counsel on the project.

    The LOC still has the entire JJ tape file in its possession and to my knowledge, while there was a great deal of talk about doing something worthwhile with them at that time, nothing has. I do know that at some point, the LOC said they could get around all the legal issues by rebroadcasting the shows on public radio or via the LOC Internet, but have no knowledge if they ever did. As mentioned in my column, many of Ed’s loyal listeners always had there personal reel-to-reel decks going while JJ was originally broadcast so there are tapes out there.

    Some good news! The best place to get copies of his shows are via a small local 2-year college in Portland, Oregon called, Clackamas Community College, where another complete archive of Ed’s JJ show exists in their music department. This time on cassette tapes. These copies were recorded and donated to the college by a local friend and fan of Ed Beach (also since deceased). While the college has them cataloged and protected under lock and key, for the price of dubbing and supplying them with CDs, people can get copies of their favorite Just Jazz shows simply by inquiring.

    One other source is a guy named Tom Scarano. Here is his Web address:

    http://tomscaranomusic.com/news1.html

    Tom, a NY state-based jazz pianist, has numerous Just Jazz broadcasts in his possession and sells CD copies of them to JJ fans. Ed knew of Mr. Scarano and was upset that he was trying to make money for personal gain off of his shows but again, was too old and tired to do anything about it….

    My apologies for such a detailed response, but I thought your question warranted one. Hope I answered it and thanks again for reading.–Dan Forté

  • Self Edit: The following sentence should read:

    As mentioned in my column, many of Ed’s loyal listeners always had their personal reel-to-reel decks going while JJ was originally broadcast so there are tapes out there.

    Sorry.

  • Well, Dan, thank you for your elaborate answer. I truly appreciate it. I read and re-read your reply and although I see some possibilities to obtain original Ed Beach shows after all, I still can’t get past the thought that here we are talking about a VAST catalogue of high quality, super dedicated and professionally hosted radio shows focusing on that one style of music we all love so much: Jazz, all the while realizing that if one wanted to hand this magnificent heritage to the public, he/she is going to run into major legal b.s. -Yes I know that artists should be paid for their hard work, yes I know that you can’t just pass ‘stuff’ on to everyone without paying fees, but I mean, hell folks, it’s exactly all that legal mumbo jumbo that makes it impossible to get this material out in the open again! Let’s be honest here: most of the artists featuring in Ed Beach’s show are probably six feet under by now. To what extent will their families really ‘profit’ from an officially packaged audio history of Jazz in 2011? I don’t mean to be mean here, but over here in The Netherlands we had the same debate about certain “lost” radio seventies funk shows from back in the days and guess what? After major debates about all kinds of legal issues, fees, rights, etc etc, a few bold people stood up and simply posted their reel to reel tapes and cassettes (all “ripped” to their hard drives) on their own blogs and webpages for everyone to download. I can tell you: hundreds of true aficionados here in The Netherlands couldn’t be happier and we’re all happily sharing the good stuff, just like we would have done in the good old days when copying or handing out your own cassette tapes was a rule of thumb instead of a crime. Because let’s face it, folks: what is the moral difference between recording a radio show on tape and passing it on to a friend or downloading an ever so old radio show from the sixties from the internet, burn it on a CD-R and pass it on to a friend? To me it’s still a “raggedy” old radio show, recorded on tape if you ask me… Anyway, Dan, still I’d like to thank you for your reply and I’m certainly going to be on the prowl for Ed Beach’s material. After all a young cat like me that was born in 1971 would still like to hear the good stuff from an era that I never really was part of, but that gets more interesting by the day! 😉

  • Dan: thank you for posting your column! As a european , and 40 years old, i never knew about him.
    It is a great feelin’ when i hear about smething like this, and it is also a tribute to Ed Beach that is , as i red in your column, well deserved!!!
    great job Dan!

  • Dan –

    Very much enjoyed the piece, your love and respect of the art form comes shining through!

    Did you ever write about your time at the BlueNote?
    I bet you have some stories that would be of interest to all of us.

    Thanks for introducing me to Ed.

  • Well, Dan, if it’s true what PJ Roberto says, that you worked at Blue Note, then indeed please do tell us more about that, too! 😉

  • Oh, the stories I could tell….

    Yes, Pete was correct, I was the Blue Note Jazz Club in NY’s international director of publicity & marketing from 1992-end of 2001. Quite simply, the gig of a lifetime! I was very close with many of the legends of jazz. Unfortunately, most have passed away since then.

    If you ever are able to get a hold of Milt Jackson’s last CD on Qwest called “Explosive” with the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band, he wrote a tune for me on that album based on my nickname for him called “Major Deagan, Blues for Dan.”

  • Pingback: A TRIBUTE TO ED BEACH by DAN FORTE | JAZZ LIVES

  • I was in my early ’20s back in 1969 when I finally left my parents’ and moved into my own apartment in Brooklyn Heights. It was then that I discovered Ed Beach and WRVR on my FM tuner. I open reeled tape quite a few shows as he turned me on to so many great jazz musicians. I loved when he would give a short “weather” break in that wonderful baritone voice: “Ït’s 32 degrees in dirty old New York.” Those two hour shows were a daily highlight. Thanks so much for the remembrances.

  • I love Ed Beach.

    If there be a heaven, he is in there.

  • I remember the understated approach to everything. That and the crazy nicknames: “Ashley Seadrift” and “Sam Seashore”.

    Ed used to collect New Yorker cartoons and send them in lieu of Christmas cards every year.

    A beautiful guy. Thanks for your thoughts, Dan.

  • I listened to Ed in the 1960s too.

    Later, I got to know him when he lived in Portland and then more so when he moved to Eugene, Oregon where I still live.

    Ed’s birthday is coming up: January 16th

  • Wonderful piece remembering a hero of mine, Ed Beach. Not to overstep here, but equally important to WRVR and jazz at the time was the amazing Max Cole, who had passed away I think a few years before Ed. Again, like Dan, my first jazz teacher was the albums that I listened to that my dad had bought and my education continued listening to Max and Ed on RVR. Their knowledge of the music was unsurpassed. I always remember listening in awe to the anecdotes they would have about particular sessions, whether from liner notes or third-parties, and it informed me and my listening for the decades that followed. The only one to approach their encyclopedic knowledge of the music after RVR ceased playing jazz was Phil Schaap of WKCR. One day years later flipping through the dials I found Max Cole presiding over a classical broadcast and his stories about classical music and composers were as well informed as the ones he told about jazz. It floored me to think he had just as much knowledge about classical music as he did jazz.

    Again, great piece and thanks for bringing back memories of a great time in jazz history.

  • I was a high school student in NYC during the early 70’s. I had the good fortune to have Ed Beach as my day time tutor and Van Jay as my tutor at night. WRVR was my university of Jazz. Thank for the insight and information about Mr. Beach. Like Mr Forte I too started my Jazz vinyl collection with the guidance of Ed. Beach. Thing that impressed me the most about Just Jazz was the information about the music, the artist and the social setting that Mr. Beach articulated so succinctly. I hope that some day Just Jazz will be available on the net.

  • I was a graduate student at Cornell Medical College beginning in the fall of 1969. I had Ed Beach on the radio most afternoons. He really brightened up the day and I learned alot about jazz while learning biochemistry. I also remember “Sam Seashore” and other identities. I am glad to hear his shows live on and it is fun to read other peoples memories of JJ.

  • Dan: Thanks for this. I cherish my memories of Ed, echoing those already posted. In the early 60’s, Ed was also on Saturday nights. My parents never had to worry about me getting into trouble…those 5 hr marathons on Saturday night. I vividly remember a month of Saturdays featuring Trane! Beach was my idol growing up, and is still an inspiration today!

    On another related matter, I am trying to track down info on Del Shields. Anyone have info or links?

  • I was also deeply influenced by Ed’s programs, but I heard them in Boston. I think it was WBUR out of Boston University.

  • Thanks for the tribute. Ed Beach deserves this, and a whole lot more. It’s exactly like you said: listening to him was truly an education in jazz.

    I listened to him 1960-1963 on WRVR. I would come home from school when I was in 6th-9th grades and tune him in. As a kid, I was always fiddling with a radio knob wherever I was, in the kitchen, in the car, in my bedroom, etc., absorbing all kinds of music without regard to genre, or anything else. All I knew or cared about was whether I liked it or not. If I didn’t like what was on Ed Beach’s show, I would check out the rock and roll on WPRB from Princeton Univ. or the classical music on WNCN. There was a wealth of music on the radio in the greater New York metropolitan area back then.

    Ed Beach played complete discographies. For instance, he devoted 2 or 3 consecutive shows to the recordings of Thelonios Monk, 1953-1955. He would back announce by giving a precise, clinical description of each and every tune: the personnel, how many bars, whether it was a blues, order of solos, and date and place of the recording. His repertoire was as broad and deep as jazz itself. Just to give a sampling, I learned about the music of Eddie Condon, Willy the Lion Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Jimmy Guiffre, Jerry Mulligan, Wes Montgomery, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. etc.. It never felt like a lecture, never felt like he was talking down to me. Rather, he leavened everything with a dry understated, hip sense of humor that was always a pleasure to listen to.

    There never was or has been since anyone like him. For instance, Phil Schaap on WKCR also plays jazz discographies, but is, by comparison, charmless, boring, laborious and endlessly verbose. Ed Beach’s mike breaks, by contrast, were short, to the point and always fun, revealing the play of an intelligent, witty, spry mind and humbly hip soul.

  • I grew up on 50’s pop and then as a teenager on pop rock, acid rock and heavy metal. I started listening to more blues as I entered my 20’s and then, in the very early 70’s, I stumbled on Ed Beach’s show, Just Jazz, one night while scanning the radio dial in Boston. I was hooked immediately. I found his show, and jazz, irresistible. It quickly became my favorite musical form I have been listening to jazz almost every day since. And I have never forgotten Ed Beach’s Just Jazz since I found it that night scanning the dial, 44 years ago.

    Thanks Ed.
    R.I.P.

  • i got into jazz music around the time jimi hendrix died, and cream broke up. the drummer in my band turned me onto it, and, i started listening to wrvr. the greatest radio station that ever was. it not only played jazz music, but it gave it’s listeners an education. i drove a truck from 72-77, and, i got to listen to wrvr all day. my favorite radio personality was ed beach. i got an education in jazz music, that i don’t think i could have gotten from a university. sometime after 75, things started happening to wrvr. radio jingles for the station started playing, new hosts such as hershel, g keith alexander, rob crocker et al started being on the air, and ed beach, max cole, van jay, les davis were moved around, and a different genre of jazz was being pushed on the station, like the new” singing sensation,” jazz guitarist, george benson. the black birds and some others. then the unthinkable happened around noon, not even sure what year it was. early 80’s? cowboy music started playing one right after the other. i was crushed. i still am. i have been listening to wbgo since those days, which is a good radio station. but couldn’t hold a candle to wrvr.

  • geoffrey wheeler

    Starting in the late-1940s up to the 1980s, when a lot of jazz radio disappeared, I listened to many jazz presenters on radio, and, to me, the best was Ed Beach because he provided exactly what I wanted–a wide range of music with informed commentary to put recordings in context. I lived in Brooklyn at the time time, not far from the old Navy Yard. I taped a few of Ed’s broadcasts to preserve a record of what his programming and voice were like. I was deeply disappointed when I learned he had gone off the air.

  • Ed Beach was my hero. While attending Columbia University, not very long after the tumultuous spring 1968 student demonstrations, I became quite ill and had to take a semester off to recuperate at my parents’ house in Brooklyn. After a few months of bed rest, I began practicing piano and gradually built up a little strength. During that time of mostly reading, watching television and most importantly, listening to music on vinyl and radio, I listened religiously to Ed Beach; I think at some point his Just Jazz programs were broadcast on WRVR twice a day, and sometimes repeats of two-part shows were played back to back., so I knew there airchecks of his shows. Nevertheless, I used my trusty TEAC reel-to-reel, that I kept at my bedside, to record probably over a hundred shows, and then listened to them again and again. I dubbed some of these to VHS Hi-Fi tapes in the 1980s.

    An early FM radio freak, I had discovered WRVR a few years earlier, when I was listening (and taping) from WOR, WKCR, and NY pacifica outlet WBAI. But it was while I was bedridden, and studying jazz as a listener, that Ed Beach was my lifeline, and continued to be from 1968 through the 1970s. I think that WRVR continued to play Ed’s shows into the late seventies, and I was crestfallen when WRVR began playing pop-oriented jazz, and then horrified when the station was sold by Riverside Church and eventually went country. I’ve always been interested in what the LOC was going to do with his tapes. I’ve tried to dub as many of the shows as I could, however, now the VHS tapes are in danger of deteriorating. I still maintain my Pionee RT-909 reel-to-reel, mostly to co plate the process of dubbing and digitizing my Just Jazz treasures. I pray that they will be made available online via University libraries. I would never want to profit from the music on my tapes, but would like to share the joy of having Ed warmly leading us through the history of these great artists.

  • geoffrey wheeler

    I listened to Ed Beach on radio many times and trusted his knowledge of jazz and its presentation implicitly. I taped some of his programs for reference but used his playlists as a guide to records I might want to buy. I came to Ed’s program after listening to a wide variety of jazz DJs in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, starting during World War II. Unfortunately, I did not get to hear Goodman broadcasting live on Camel Caravan shows. That came decades later with LPs, CDs, and tapes. To me, Ed Beach was the ideal presenter of jazz on radio!

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