Ray Smith | Jazz Decades


Ray Smith  Ray Smith

"Jazz and I grew up together."

From John Voci, General Manager of WGBH Radio.

On Friday, February 26, 2010, Ray Smith passed away at the age of 87. He leaves Marilyn, his wife of 61 years, three children and jazz fans everywhere.

Ray came to WGBH in 1972 and over the next 38 years, he produced more than 1900 programs.

Ray first produced the Jazz Decades in 1958 for WKOX in Framingham, Massachusetts making the show one of the longest running programs in Boston radio history.

Ray was an accomplished drummer and a member of many traditional jazz bands including the Black Eagles, the Yankee Rhythm Kings, the Jazz Decades and the Paramount Jazz Band. For many years, he regularly performed at the Sticky Wicket Pub in Hopkinton.

A native of Melrose, Ray was a decorated veteran for his service during the Second World War including being part of the invading forces during the battle of Iwo Jima. In 1989, Ray retired from a career as a graphic designer and in 1997; he left New England for Hilton Head, South Carolina where he continued to produce his program.

Ray had an encyclopedic knowledge of ragtime, blues, swing and the great jazz of the 1920s and 30s. His passion for the music he loved was infectious. We remember Ray for his music but he was also one of the nicest and most gracious men that you could hope to meet. We invite you to post your comments and remembrances at our Jazz Decades page online at WGBH.Org.

Because of the archives, the show will continue both on-air and online for some time to come but we’ll all miss our colleague and friend Ray Smith, our guide through the Jazz Decades.

More about Ray Smith

On April 13, 1922, Bailey's Lucky Seven recorded the Carolina Rolling Stone Blues - and I was born. Jazz and I grew up together. First musical experience (and only training): learning to read single notes as a boy soprano soloist in a church choir. As a teenager, I taught myself to play piano by ear. Later, in my 40s, drums. I was the charter drummer in the Concord Junction Golden Redeemer, the Black Eagles, the Yankee Rhythm Kings, the Rent Party Revelers, and my own Jazz Decades and Paramount Jazz Bands. My first broadcast: April 1958, WKOX, Framingham, Massachusetts, a daytime commercial station. When it was sold to a rock 'n' roll syndicate, Jazz Decades moved over to WGBH in August 1972 without missing a beat.

First album I ever owned: Albums were for rich kids! In 1936, my first 78-rpm recording was by the Mound City Blue Blowers playing "I Gonna Clap My Hands," backed by High Society. It is still in the Jazz Decades library.

Five desert island albums: With today's hi-tech, I'm sure I could store the best part of the Jazz Decades collection — augmented by a solar-powered battery charger!

Favorite podcast: I started with a hand-wound Victrola and bamboo needles — what's a podcast?

Greatest place to hear live muic: I have played hundred of venues in the last 40 years, from Friday Harbor to Bar Harbor to the British Isles. Nothing has ever replaced, in fond memories, Foster Yeadon's Sticky Wicket Pub in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where I devoted many nights and Sunday afternoons, both as a spectator and a performer.

Most memorable concert: Turk Murphy's concert at Carnegie Hall, Jan. 10, 1987, with Jim Cullum's Jazz Band of San Antonio and the Hot Antic Jazz Bands of Paris. I put together a party of 40 Boston jazz aficinados in a minibus, and we made a weekend of it with fantastic seats right on stage. It was a magical night hearing the great music and viewing the magnificiently refurbished Carnegie Hall — and the reaction of the full house audience. Turk Murphy lost his long battle with cancer four months later, in May 1987.

Favorite movie about music/musicians: Amadeus. Nothing comes close to it! Jazzwise, The Cotton Club, with Ellington's music arranged by my longtime friend Bob Wilber.

Favorite book about music/musicians: The late Dick Sudhalter's learned tome, Lost Chords. Gunther Schuller's The Swing Era comes in a hair-breadth second.

When not listening to jazz, I listen to classical: The 3 Bs... The FIVE...and especially Katchaturian, Prokifiev, Shostakovich. Movie scores: Herrmann, Korngold, Morricone, Rozsa, Steiner, Waxman, Hans Zimmer. New digital recordings by the City of Prague, Moscow, Royal Scottish Symphony Orchestras, plus Gerhardt's landmark National Philharmonic Series.

Finest moment on the air: The night Jazz Decades almost caught A Prairie Home Companion in total dollars during a pledge drive!

Most embarrassing moment on the air: I don't remember any, but thanks to Ray Fallon — my audio guardian for 26 years — if I did have one, you would never hear it.

If I weren't a radio host, I'd be what I was before I retired 21years ago — a graphic arts production head with Onicom Advertising. Music and radio have always been a "closet" hobby, an avocation I never let interfere with my #1 priority, my family, nor my professional career. I am proud I have spent 51 gratifying years playing my beloved music on the air!

The best part of my job (hobby!) is: I've said it many times: the intellectual, adventurous,  diverse, and loyal WGBH listening audience and the WGBH professionals who have made it all possible.

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