Apostle of Jazz

Radio legend, jazz lover and gentleman Leigh Kamman passed away last Friday at 92.

Leigh was a rare individual in many ways, but particularly in the world of radio where the microphone amplifies the voice and also inflates the perceptions of listeners about the qualifications of the person doing the talking. The medium itself adds authority whether you deserve it or not. If you’re just smart enough to walk around the outside edges of a topic, many listeners will assume you know everything inside. Careers have been built on this.

Leigh Kamman was the real deal. With him, you got a radio host who actually knew what he was talking about. When it came to jazz, he was a true devotee, and his primary interest was in sharing the art and uplifting the performers. I can’t recall hearing Leigh say a negative word about anyone except himself. I think about that when I read music reviews where critics use their pedestals to bash performers who don’t live up to their expectations.

As a radio host, I admired Leigh for his ability to set a scene and transport a listener to someplace new. He did the most essential thing when enveloped you in his world. As the Jazz Image theme music – Django’s Castle – began each Saturday night, I waited with great anticipation for the moment when the music would fade and he’d step in with that voice to take us to an unexpected location. “Hanging upside down over the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth” was my all-time favorite. Just hearing the music by Gerry Mulligan’s band takes me back there – you can listen and fill in with your own Leigh Kamman memory.

I know several people who worked directly with Leigh on his MPR program, The Jazz Image. Each one was grateful for the experience, none more than Tom Wilmeth, who wrote this fine profile for the Jazz Times.

One of my favorite quotes is this one, where Tom captures Leigh’s inherent modesty:

Leigh consistently kept the focus on the music, and never on himself. He had spoken to Duke Ellington on numerous occasions, first as a 17-year-old fan at a train station! But he wouldn’t think of dropping this fascinating nugget into a conversation in order to impress. I had worked with Leigh close to three years before I heard him mention, in passing, about speaking with Charlie Parker. I froze at the tape deck with reel in hand. I asked him to expand a bit, but he drifted away to another subject.

When you know a lot about something you can use that information to intimidate others who are less knowledgable. I have seen smart people who are also enthusiasts of one sort or another wield volumes of minutiae to demonstrate that no matter how big a fan someone else might be, they are a MUCH, MUCH BIGGER fan. I guess there must be a good feeling that comes out of that, but I doubt that it lasts long.

Leigh Kamman was a distance runner – he had lived the life and had the history and the raw material to be that guy who made you feel inadequate and dumb, but he was principled and like a superhero, he used his immense power only for good – opening minds, gaining converts and spreading his love for the art form of jazz.

In what area are you an enthusiast?

42 thoughts on “Apostle of Jazz”

    1. Thanks for the question, Emory. And while it is certainly true that I work at KFAI, my job as News Director is to stay off the air and let our volunteers have the spotlight. I’ve been somewhat successful at that, though KFAI is going through a rough financial patch and a staff restructuring, so my job will be eliminated by the end of the year as the station takes some necessary steps to remain solvent.
      So the real answer to your question is – there are no plans for me to return to the radio right now, but I’m grateful for the long and very satisfying on-air lifetime I had with Tom Keith and my friends on the Morning Show.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. public radio is not all its cracked up to be. business is not all its cracked up to be. public radio as a business is not all its cracked up to be.

        the other thing i feel like i know something about is business. unfortunately i have become an expert in how to watch it do the death spiral in a number of variations. i always have another idea but man it would be nice if this one is the one that takes. i am keeping my fingers crossed. i hope someone figures out that dale is a comodity worth pursuing and plugging into some equation. leigh was a gentle voice of jazz dale is the gentle voice of our blog where we have all gotten to know him better than the radio ever let us.
        i am sad to hear that the kfai community figures out the best way to move toward survival is to fire the news department, good god. whats left there. i listened to the end of the irish show and thebegining of the india music show tonight while i was picking up my daughter in the downtown art of minneapolis where i can get a kfai redio signal. i was wondering if they cared about a following at all with the production and show offering they dream up. and now this. i give up. maybe bill kling and his set of priorities had enough of a success formula that machavelli and dale can learn something. i sure a sorry dale. damn…


      2. Bless your heart, Dale, for maintaining your equilibrium and such a great attitude. You had an extraordinary run at KSJN, but finding yourself with another eliminated job after such a short time at KFAI has to be tough. I take comfort in knowing that you’re both resourceful and wise; I know you’ll muddle through somehow.


  1. thanks dale,
    leigh was a treasure we got to appreciate, when i first heard him i asumed the show must be being piped in form new york or somewhere national and when i discovered it was a local show i was proud that we had such a phenomenal jazz aficionado in our midst. that low key laid back delivery with the ability to tell a story that made you want to hear more every time. the music was great but you didnt want him to hurry off to the tune. tell a bit more , ask another question int he interview, recall another moment form the memories that flow so richly from the days when these giats walked among us.
    is any of that stuff on tappe? i cant imagine that any of the relevance is lost in time. it all matters and appeals as much today as it did as he spoke it.


  2. i forgot to answer the question,
    i enjoy hats. i got into them almost accidentally on ebay and now i am all in with an ebay hat store with thousands of hats i have accumulated over the years.
    i used to think i could never part with such a wonderful hat. now i realize that there are many wonderful hats and if i pass this one on the next one will hold the same fascination and enjoyment and the one i pass on can bring pleasure to another hat enthusiast. its kind of a cool thing to be involved in. it leads to other areas of fashion where i am involved in sports coats, top coats, shoes, boots and tobacco pipes too but the hats are the backbone the other areas work around.
    fedora, western panama and now i discove ladies are starting to wear fedoras and the ladies headwear is something i have touched on but not gotten into in a big way seems to be a new direction we are going into. i think we will try to introduce fedoras to ladies rather than become the hatters to the ladies of high fashion like those of the horse race scene in my fair lady. i love the decadence but thats not where i live today. fn stuff though dont you think? bogart and roy rogers are one thing, these ladies are quite another

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Thanks for the highlights of Leigh Kammen. I miss hearing him on the radio on Saturday nights. He owned that time slot, and to my mind MPR has never found anything to top off the week like that show did–I always thought of that show as the cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the hot fudge on top of the ice cream–it just finished the week beautifully and with such luscious style.

    Dale, Lou and I sat in front of you at Leigh Kammen’s retirement celebration–Gus was an early teen and kept rolling his drink bottle into our feet. You kept apologizing and I kept saying, “Kids are like that.” We had a nice chat about Leigh then, too. It was a great send off show.

    My enthusiasms: Gardening, hanging out with my grandchildren, eating good food (way tooooo enthusiastic), my area of therapy–it works!

    On Nov. 18 I must turn my enthusiasm into productive knowledge when I have to take a test for National Credential in Philadelphia. (See me wringing hands and pacing.)


  4. Good morning. When I was younger I was a big jazz fan. I still very much enjoy listening to jazz. I don’t have a long history of having listened to Liegh’s show. I did listen to it regularly during the last few years it was on the air and greatly appreciated the unique way he presented the recordings of all the great jazz musicians. I especially liked his interviews, usually done by phone, with some very outstanding jazz players.

    Since my earlier days of concentrating on jazz listening I have branched out into following a wide range of music. I am very pleased to have an outstanding musician in my family, my son-in-law, Zack Klein. Going to hear live performances by musicians is by far my favorite activity. Currently the musician I go to hear most often is Zack. However, I very much appreciate all the good music that is available in the Twin Cities and I am glad that I am now living close to many places where this music is preformed.


      1. My interest in jazz came before I started gardening. Developing an interest in jazz was a major turning point in life. I gardening is a close second to jazz on my list of favorite things.


  5. Pretty obvious by this point, my area of enthusiasm is science fiction and fantasy print and media, with a lengthy side excursion into anime fandom. I’ve been the willing and unwilling audience to many other people’s enthusiasm. Personal highlight of such encounters would probably be dinner at the same table with editor and superfan Forrest J Ackerman at (I think) CONvergence several years ago–Uncle Forry was a never-ending font of stories about SF writers and fantastical filmmaking, although he rarely talked about himself, which was a shame. Lowlight? Hard to choose among so many. Probably the time I asked someone at Minicon about her costume, thinking it was from a book I wasn’t familiar with, only to have her explain to me that it was the garb of a species of lion people from another plane of existence that had adopted her and were teaching her to be a healer. Oh, and she also knew exactly when she was going to die, or rather when she was going to transition to be with her alien friends. I have no idea what happened to her, but I have certain suspicions.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks, Dale, for this lovely tribute to Leigh Kamman. One of the great voices of MPR’s past. Leigh’s ability to verbally transport you to another time and place was unique, Just as the LGMS left a huge void when it went off the air, so id Leigh Kamman when he signed off The Jazz Image for the last time.

    Will have to ponder what, if anything, I’m enthusiastic about.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kamman was one of the all-time great voices of jazz radio. I spent countless Saturday nights falling asleep listening to his mellifluous tone and savoring his exquisite taste in music. I’m a huge jazz fan, but compared to Leigh Kamman, I’m barely an advanced beginner.

    I’m also a wine enthusiast, a golf enthusiast (some say “golf nut’), and a wilderness enthusiast, but there are too many interesting aspects of life for me to become an expert in anything. Plus I have a low threshold of boredom. 😉

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I didn’t even particularly like jazz, and I would turn in to hear Leigh Kammon, his voice, and his presence, and still miss him in that time slot. I once called in (mid-week) to ask him if he knew an old tune that had been running for days in my head; he asked me to hum it for him, and didn’t know it by name, but was pretty sure it was a big band number (which I was able to confirm later on)… it was fun talking to him even briefly.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I never liked Leigh’s show as well as I liked Leigh, and the best part of his show was always the introduction. While Alice Bab’s floated mysteriously behind him Leigh would spin fantasies about all the scattered people who would receive the signal of his jazz show. I can remember when he rhapsodized about reaching listeners in the tiny town of Cornucopia on the edge of mighty Lake Superior. Leigh believed in the magic of radio. He was in love with the medium that sent invisible messages of music to people all over the upper midwest who chose to spend part of their week next to the radio, sharing a common love for music.

    I appreciated Leigh’s constancy. He fell in love with jazz when he was young and that was the most vital music in his world. So did others, but Leigh never fell out of love. He was passionate about jazz decades after the rest of the world had tired of it. He loved as I tend to love, with pure loyalty and endless appreciation for romance.

    Above all, I identified with Leigh’s sense of romance. Even when i could not share his passion for jazz I could share his ability to be romantic and trying to give that romance back to others. My great romance has been my love for the natural world, and I only wish I had been as appealing about that as Leigh was with jazz. It used to make me sad to see how passionate Leigh was about a musical form that was getting stale and unpopular. But that just made it more dramatic to see the constancy of his love for jazz. He loved well.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I told Sandy, the jazz fan in our family, that Leigh Kamman died. She said “Who’s that?” Wrong answer. Even when I explained, blankness.
    Enthusiasms are an extravagance for the young.
    PJ mentioned LGMS. That show was not only an enthusiasm, but it generated in me enthusiasm. I have lost a taste for music of all kinds. Hardly ever listen to any form. My CD’s are on my list of what next to get rid of.
    For those in the know, and I was not until 30 minutes ago, my daughter and s-i-l are at Wahlburgers


    1. I’d suggest that regular listeners to the LGMS and The Jazz Image weren’t exactly of the same demographics – although there may have been some overlap.

      I’m not a huge jazz enthusiast, but what I liked about Leigh Kamman’s show was that he made the music so accessible. He made me want to listen -carefully – and learn more. Having grown up in Scandinavia, where, for some unknown reason, jazz was huge, I was very familiar with The SweDanes. I had been lucky enough to see them twice in concert, they were so much fun. When I first heard that unmistakable voice on The Jazz Image, I was hooked.


    2. sorry to hear your love of music is sliding clyde. sounds like a funk or an aggravated reaction to the pain your going through,. i hope you come around. it was fun to listen to your music preferrences while doing the bike rides and your questions about which john gorka album to buy and th like. its hard to realize that the world changes and i would like it to stop.changing on me. its hard for me to comprehend not enjoying music. it would be like not enjoying a beautiful sunset or a breathtaking view of fog in the morning river valley not a big deal just a little sad


      1. I am a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast. Henry VII & Elizabeth Tudor. Religious architecture. Jasper Fforde. Michael Chabon. Sarah Vowell. Fundamental Latter Day Saints (this would be a “know too much about” as opposed to enthusiast, but it’s like a train wreck for me… can’t look away). Travel. Reading. Cooking. Crafting. Gardening… where’s the line between “enthusiasm” and “hobby”???

        Liked by 1 person

    1. When you promised to make us glaze over with your enthusiasms, I anticipated one of my secret weaknesses: a raised, glazed doughnut, one of those giant puffy rings of pastry covered with a skin of sugar. I love ’em so much I could eat a sackful so fast you would wonder where they went. When I was in high school I worked in a shop across the alley from a Maid Rite restaurant (ex-Iowans will know it). Lunch each day was two giant chocolate glazed doughnuts washed down with a mug of sharp, hearty root beer. The mug was so cold little bits of moisture would make ice balls on it. That cost 97 cents. I put the other three pennies in a peanut vending machine. Ah, to have the metabolism of a teenager!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. My daughter is full of enthusiasms, especially for travel. After the long slog of s-i-l finishing seminary and a very hard fall for hard deaths and many funerals for both of them, they are in New England for the 15th anniversary. Of course, on the way to the airport the funeral home director called and was having trouble with the idea that she was on vacation. She loves doing things like going to Wahlburgers. For supper they will eat at Mystic Pizza after doing Mystic seaport.
    At the other end of the country my son’s 30 minute bus ride took 3 hours this morning.


  12. Leigh Kamman had a rare quality in common with the best teachers I ever encountered. I’m thinking especially of an American history prof at Grinnell named Joseph Wall, but there were so many others. That rare quality was the ability to serve as models for intelligent enthusiasm. Joe Wall cared deeply about American history and he was able personify a good historian faced with a complex story. Even if students couldn’t bring themselves to care about the issue the way Joe Wall did, they saw him caring and had a magical glimpse of what it is like to care–to really care–about history. As I said above, I couldn’t care about jazz like Leigh Kamman did (and I once made a two-year project of really trying) I could at least resonate to the way he loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

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