By Myrna Daniels
THE JAMES JANISSE INTERVIEW
By Myrna Daniels
LA Jazz: Where were you born and when? And tell me about your family and where you lived.
JAMES JANISSE: I was born in Houston, Texas on May 4, 1951. My father, John M. Janisse and my mother Estelle L. Janisse and I lived with my maternal grandmother Lucinda Wilson in Houston. My father was in the U.S. Marine Corps and had shipped off to Camp Pendleton during the Korean conflict at the time of my birth. When he returned home he brought my mother and me to California tohave a better life. Jim Crow laws weren't as severe in California as it was in Texas. My three younger Brothers, John , Julius and Joseph, were all born in California in subsequent years. We first lived with one of my aunts who had already made the migration to California and we settled in Los Angeles and later as my dad found better employment in the aerospace industry We had a pretty good life. we attended Catholic schools and had a very good life.
My dad followed his only brother into the field of longshoring. As a dock worker he often came into possession of items being shipped into country that were damaged in transit and the longshoreman routinely were able to buy those items at substantially reduced cost from agents of the companies importing different products. One such item that my dad brought home was a stereo record player that an AM/FM radio in it. I'll never forget that day when he brought it home and set it up in our house. When he turned it on, he immediately tuned to a station that was playing the same kind of music that he and my mother, my aunts and my uncle played on their Victrola record players and the first voice I heard was that of none other than Chuck Niles.
He had tuned it to KNOB coming out of signal Hill in Long Beach. I was first struck by the voice of Mr. Niles and detailed information that he passed along to his listeners. This was in the the late 1950's.
LA Jazz: Did you get exposure to music at school?
JANISSE: It was interesting that while attending elementary school the only music that you're exposed to in Catholic school was the music of the church. It wasn't until we began attending public school in Junior High that I was exposed to music in school. However, I was exposed to a great deal of Jazz, Blues and Gospel music in my home. My mother played piano in church but was unable to teach us at home because we didn't have one. In Junior High I got introduced to all of the instruments but was drawn to singing in the Choir at church and the glee club in school. I never pursued it in ernest because I was more interested in playing sports, which I did with great relish.
LA Jazz: What kind of music did you hear at home on the radio? .
JANISSE: We listened to Jazz on the radio when my dad was home and what was then Doo Wop (it was referred to as "race music" back then) and my mother would play various Blues and Gospel records on the record player. We didn't listen to much else on the radio unless my brothers and I would play with the tuner to listen to whatever else there was on the radio. That was where I heard the first rock 'N Roll on a station called KRLA. My dad would scold us for not turning it back to his beloved KNOB. Then he discovered a Jazz station where Chuck Niles had moved to in L.A. known as KBCA. This was in the early sixties and boy was I ever hooked on this music.
LA Jazz: Did You ever want to become a musician? .
JANISSE: I didn't ever consider becoming a musician while I was growing up and pursued an academic approach encouraged by my parents, who saw potential in me to be more than what they were and achieved. I studied hard in the basics, played intramural sports, built model airplanes and developed a love for record collecting, Jazz record collecting. I worked in the evenings shining shoes at a local barber shop, cut lawns and sold programs at the Coliseum for Dodger and Ram games and earned the money for my dad to take me to Dolphins of Hollywood and later to other records stores after Mr. Dolphin was killed and the store closed. My collection was modest and I had a few Dexter Gordon albums and Wes Montgomery and Erroll Garner too. I didn't have to buy a lot of different hings because my dad kind of guided me to the good stuff. He had everything else including a plethora of Charlie Parker and Charlie Christian and Count Basie, Dinah Washington etc. I guess that that explains my passion for Bebop.
LA Jazz: What was your reaction to the radio programs that you heard? .
JANISSE: I loved the music that I was listening to. It was the same music that I was hearing at home but more of it by people that I had never heard before. I ran with a crowd as a teenager who were all listening to radio station KBCA. It was at 105.1 on the FM radio dial and everybody just referred to it as "105". It was glorious. I knew about Charlie Parker,Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane & Wardell Gray. I listened and learned about Ray Brown, Miles Davis Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey. My father would educate as to whom to listen for and he and I would go to Dolphins of Hollywood and other record stores to purchase those artist’s albums.
In listening to "105", It was Jay Rich on the way to school in the morning, Bob Cole in the mid morning, Jim Gosa at Noon, Chuck Niles in the late afternoon and Tommy Bee in the evening, followed by Rick Holmes till midnight. Believe it or not, the overnight guy was Dr. Bobby Rodriguez. He got drafted in 1969 and Sam Fields did the overnights. I loved to listen to all of them but Jay Rich, Chuck Niles and Rick Holmes were probably my favorites. Jay had a particular style and a number of catchy phrases, Chuck was Mr. Basso Profundo and Rick was as smooth as anybody who's ever been on radio. There was also a radio station, I think it was KFI that played big band Jazz through the day. that's where I first heard Johnny Magnus with his famous weather forecast that was called "The Weather With A Beat", which was an imaginary jet aircraft flight, complete with jet aircraft sound effects, that took off from LAX and proceeded across the country with Johnny giving the weather conditions all across the country to the back ground music of "Cute" by the Count Basie Orchestra. He completed this imaginary journey and returned to LAX. It was legendary. Johnny is now on KJAZZ on Saturday mornings and I listen to him and remember those days as he now does a program that he calls "Swing Time." And he does it with the same flair that Johnny Magnus was known for.
LA Jazz: Were you ever told that you had a great voice for radio as a DJ or announcer? .
JANISSE: I actually was told that I had a good voice for radio early on in my first year in High school. I had a music appreciation class at Jordan High School and the teacher Mr. Butler concentrated on the origins of music in America and outside of my band classes and choir classes I learned about the origins of Jazz and the early players of the music like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Buddy Beldon and many of the vocal groups like the Mills Brothers, The Tornados, which he was a part of, the Ink Spots etc. He would ask me to announce the recordings of the different records in my best imitation of the DJ's that I heard on the radio.
The following year I transferred to Locke High School. Locke High had just been built and I lived in the new district that was drawn up that required that I go that school. When I got there it was all new everything including a public address booth that had a campus wide PA system and there was a turntable in it. I asked the principle at the time James Taylor if he would consider playing music during lunch time. He thought about and he came to the student council and voted to do it. I immediately volunteered to do Jazz and my good friend Reuben Johnson stepped up to do R & B. This was unheard of at all of the other high schools and we loved it. Reuben did R & B one day and did Jazz on the other day and we rotated like that for a semester and they let some of the other students participate That’s my real first taste of being a DJ. When I graduated from Locke High School I went to Harbor College for a semester to get some of the credits that I needed to go to a four year college. While there an old friend, Hazel Barber reached out to me and asked if I would do at Harbor college what I did at Locke. I agreed to do a Jazz hour that was broadcast at the student union for an hour a day at Noon. I had a real good education about how to do a radio program beyond just playing records. I did a short campus news program and a preview of the sports events and other campus happenings. The transmitter only covered the immediate campus but it was a lot of fun.
I went into the military soon after that first semester as part of the last draft in our country and I served in several capacities, none of which had any relation to radio or broadcasting not counting as a radio/telephone operator in the field as an infantry soldier. I finished my tour of duty and came back after two years to go to UCLA using my G.I. Bill. I wound up pursuing a course of study that took me into the industrial and manufacturing world and I put radio broadcasting on hold.
After some 15 years of working as an industrial engineer, I decided that now was the time to reeducate myself in the world of radio broadcasting. In looking for a low cost institution I found The American Radio Network. A small instructional facility that gave me the basics of radio broadcasting from how to do radio announcing to resume writing and job interview techniques. I learned everything that I needed to know to go into radio broadcast work and while still there, I asked for and received a tour of radio station KLON that resulted in an application for employment and an interview with then program director Jay Roebuck. Two days after I interviewed for a spot at then KLON, the overnight host, Will Thornbury suddenly passed away.
Jay called me to fill-in and I responded well enough that I was given the Friday and Saturday overnight slots. During the next two years 1991 and 1992 I did the shows from Midnight to 6 am. Occasionally I filled-in for some of the regular daytime DJ's that were at KLON at the time. It was how I met Chuck Niles, Sam Fields, Bubba Jackson Ken Borgers and Helen Borgers as well as, Roy Daniels and Jose Rizo. I learned from the best people in the business about playing the music that I loved to hear. It was Bubba Jackson who encouraged me to not bring my own recordings toplay on the air. He told me that if I did that I would never learn what was in the Library. He was so right.
Chuck would hip me to what Bebop was really all about and Sam Fields, who would lead by example, helping me to learn to not be technical, just play good stuff that you like. Ken Borgers took a chance on me and gave me my first day part doing the 10 am to 2 pm after 5 years on the overnight.
LA Jazz: What was so enjoyable about being a DJ? Did you do on-air interviews?
JANISSE: The most enjoyable part of being a DJ was being exposed to way more Jazz by way more people than I had ever heard or heard of and topping off much of that was being able to do on-air interviews with so many greats in the world of Jazz who lived and performed here in the Southern California area. I did many interviews with Gerald Wilson, Teddy Edwards Ray Brown and Andy Milne just to name a few. At the time Helen Borgers was the official interview person at the station because she did a specialty show that was all about interviewing all of the major artists that came through. It was called "The Artist Corner".
Many of the interviews I did were artists who were willing to come down to the station in the middle of the night because my shift turned into the longest duration for a program as my show was from midnight to 6 am Monday through Friday. Surprisingly, there were many Jazz guys and gals who were up for coming down to Long Beach State where the station was located. Usually after a gig or a session. It was the job of a lifetime.
The hours tended to rough but I was having the time of my life being able to get to know people like Ray Brown, who played with Dizzy and Bird during the birth of the bebop era. Teddy Edwards, one of the first players of the tenor saxophone to actually play bebop. Gerald Wilson who was very gracious with his time and his stories that he told during our interviews in the wee hours of the morning. I was able to cultivate very good relationships with some of my favorite artists.
I was honored to be able to act as a master of ceremonies where I would introduce various artists at various clubs and festivals. Ella, Freda Payne Barbara Morrison, Judy Wexler, Nancy Wilson Cathy Segal-Garcia, Carmen McRae and Lorez Alexandria, just to name a few. I was honored to host Jazz At Drew for 15 Years coming into contact and becoming friends with the likes of Milt Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Ernie Andrews, Joe Williams, The Claytons, and many many more. I was also hosting the Playboy Jazz Festival Community Event Series. It was a series of weekend concerts, at various parks and auditoriums around town that led up to The Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. What a wonderful experience that was. I even got to fill-in for the introduction of some acts at the bowl. Cos wanted to leave early and asked me to introduce Ray Charles. WOW!! I wound up actually introducing a fellow who in turn introduced Ray but I was thrilled be able to that on the biggest stage that I had ever been privileged to be on.
LA Jazz: How did you start doing internet radio? ?
JANISSE: Management changes at the station prompted me to part ways with the station and pursue other interests. While doing a few other things I got an idea to see if there was a way to do a jazz radio program on the internet. It was a new media to me and I had heard of music on the internet but no one was doing an actual Jazz Radio program. So I went back to The American Radio Network to find out how it could be done. They were doing internet radio with several stations that they built for internet radio. Once I learned how to do it I started a one hour program that led to a two hour program. I met a most wonderful lady, Erin Davenport, who owned a server that she ran out of Dallas, Texas and she offered me a three hour program at a fee that I could afford and I began doing the program from Noon until 3 pm every Friday KEBNradio.com. I hustled for every bit of commercial support that I could find. Joe Dobbins a local Jazz promoter in L.A. had become an insurance broker and had heard of my program. He contacted me and offered to buy commercial airtime and away I went with a very supportive sponsor who absolute loved the Jazz that I was playing. I parlayed that into a two hour program that I did Monday through Friday with a new owner Phea Kennedy, who bought the station from Erin.
Run Right Insurance is still a commercial sponsor of "The Wonderful World of Jazz", which is the title of the program on www.kjmjradio.com .
In between a lot of this I did two other programs. "The World of Jazz" and "Jazz Beat" for Continental Airlines and United Airlines respectively. In 2014 I met with several radio people at the funeral for Jay Rich and they were putting together a network of "Internet Radio Stations," For the first time in my career I could see a bigger picture and my wife Vanzella inspired and encouraged me to go to the next level and expand what I was doing. So I used the sponsorship that I had and pitched the idea of going to a full time service to the sponsors that I had. Among them was Garrett Morris of "Saturday Night Live" Fame. He stepped up and told me that if this was what I wanted to do that he would support it by coming on board as another major sponsor. I began putting together a concept for a radio station with an associate, Tony Lewis.
Tony builds internet radio stations and built mine to be able to operate independently utilizing a part of his network server. We built it to be available with a concept that I had come up with that provides a continuous stream of Straight Ahead jazz and Blues complete with the requisite announcing that provides the listener with information about the leader of the band and all of the supporting sidemen. Something that Jazz fans always want to know and no one was doing it. I am now filling that void.
And the station is available by going to my website and clicking on the icon that says CLICK HERE! If you have internet access anywhere in the world, you can listen for as long as you like.
LA Jazz: Are you confident of the future? ?
JANISSE: I am very confident that I can continue to make what I'm doing even more relevant for more people and as more people listen, more people find out and we're up from 80 people listening a year ago in and around L.A. to well over 8,000 people worldwide. From a goodly amount of big cities in the U.S. the Bahamas, The Virgin Islands and various listeners in East and Western Europe. I am proud and happy with what I and some very wonderful people have accomplished.
LA Jazz: How do you get feedback? ?
JANISSE: I use social media, as well as, email and simple telephone calls to get feedback, requests and so on.It's always interesting coming in at the end of the day to go through the various Facebook, Messenger and email postings for the comments, suggestions and requests so that I can answer each one.
LA Jazz: Finally, I was so surprised that you are singing at Barone's Restaurant in Van Nuys! I'm not surprised that you can sing because I've always thought that you have one of the best voices in any field. How long have you been singing there? Tell me about your singing gigs and are you having fun? ?
JANISSE: I'll tell you, I went out to Barone's in May with my lovely wife of 16 years, the fair Vanzella. We went out to support Jimmy Spencer and have a nice Italian supper and dig the Jazz that he puts down out there. As it turned out Jimmy was running late to the gig and Karen Hernandez, who plays piano for Jimmy out there and other places, asked me to fill-in for Jimmy until he got there. She knew that I could sing and had been encouraging me to do more of it. Well, I sang two or three songs and she told me that Jimmy had called and that he was not going to make it before the end of the set. She asked me to finish the set. We figured out a number of songs that I knew by heart and the corresponding keys and like that we finished the set and Jimmy got there almost as if on cue.
Jimmy's manager took care of our supper tab in gratitude for doing doing him a solid and on the following Monday I got a call from the restaurant owner Tom Monteleone. He had heard the last number that I did and was impressed enough to get with Karen Hernandez, about who I was and if I was for real. It turned out that he had an open night for another Jazz singer to kind of compliment the night that Jimmy did and he asked me if I would do it.
I humbly accepted the opportunity to do it and made my debut on June 28th and I have performed on subsequent fourth Saturdays of every month. I next appear on October 1st as part of Chester Whitmore's "The Lord of the Swing" production at the Ford Theater where I will host and sing a song called "Keep The Coffee Hot!" originally performed and recorded by "Scatman" Crothers. I am honored and humbled to be asked to do this and I'll do my best to entertain.
It's a lot of fun being able to sing the songs that I played on Jazz radio for the past 25 years. I owe a great deal to Jimmy Spencer Karen Hernandez, Billy Paul, Ernie Andrews, Barbara Morrison and a host of wonderful people who have shepherded me on this journey . Most of all I owe a great debt of gratitude to my loving wife who continues to push me to next level.