The Duke of Jazz Reflects on 20 Years at AMR
The smooth sounds of Grover Washington Junior’s hit Winelight have become synonymous around these parts with one thing: Light’s Out Jazz on Allegheny Mountain radio. Recently, I sat down with the Duke of jazz Pete Pitard to talk about his 20-year anniversary as the host of the show.
Q: How are you doing Duke?
A: Fine considering that I just retired and this Covid-19 pandemic has been hitting us. I’ve been at home just kind of grooving along with my home collection of smooth jazz.
Q: Talk about winelight, what made you pick that song and stick with it for the intro for so long?
A: I borrowed it from KFIM in San Diego, many many years ago. Art Good was on every night and he used it as his theme song. I fell in love with it. Now, besides the fact that Grover Washington Jr. really is the father of this smooth jazz movement; he took fusion jazz and improv jazz and blended it together to come out with this melodic sound, so he’s really the father of it.
Q: Have you always been a jazz enthusiast?
A: Yes, although when I first started out (when I was 16 years of age) the little place where I lived in Barstow California had a radio station and a group of us radio club members played what was then rock and roll.
Q: When you started out who were some of the musicians you listened to?
A: Louis Armstrong and that kind of groove, Miles Davis and that kind of thing but this really caught my interest. My girls Katie and Susan thought that I was just out of my mind because it was music without words.
When I got here, as a teacher, I heard about the radio station. Jeanette Robinson worked in the library and so I got to talking with her and she said well why don’t you come over sometime and we’ll show you. Jeanette worked the first two hours on Wednesday evening with her Americana music. She was also kind of my producer because she would go out and get these smooth jazz artists to send free samples like they do now. I started out with some of my personal collection and then grew that and then smoothjazz.com which is a service that checks and sees how many records are playing and comes out with the top 100 list, which I usually use, contacted me and said we want you to be a contributor, so I said whoa, you realize I’m only once a week and they said yeah. When Jeanette retired I took over the six to ten PM slot.
I asked Pete’s to talk about some of the connections he’s made in the jazz community over the years.
A: Dave Koz, he’s contacted me a couple of times now. He’s in rarified air: in fact, he’s coming out with the new album here in a couple of days. When I was living in San Diego, Fatburger, a Small jazz group that plays smooth jazz was one of the groups I got interested in. In fact, I didn’t realize it but my former wife actually taught the guy in Fatburger English in high school, and so we kept up a connection. They are starting to come back now.
Q: In the 20 years that you’ve been doing the show, have you noticed or seen a change in the genre?
A: No. In fact, a couple of years after I got started the genre kind of faded out. There was a big turmoil and a lot of strife. Several stations dropped this kind of music format. In fact, we were among the only ones playing smooth jazz. Now, it’s starting to come back and but it’s been the same kind of music.
Chuck always refers to it as a lot of saxophones and guitars, and of course Chuck and Heather do their jazz show on Tuesday nights. And that’s true, although there’s also piano, but it’s been pretty steady and pretty much the same. There’s a lot of indie artists that are up and coming that are starting to get into this genre.
Stay tuned for part two of the story in which Pete talks about some of his highlights over the 20 years and has a message for anyone interested in volunteering.