Interview: JC Pagan of The Blue Note Hour
The Face Behind the Voice: JC Pagán
JC Pagán hosts The Blue Note Hour, Mondays at 7 p.m.
The first time I met JC Pagán, he lifted the sleeve of his shirt to show me a tattoo of the Blue Note logo on his left biceps. The proof of his passion was inscribed on his flesh. That was the moment I knew I was with a true jazz fan. Now, two years later, JC is the host of KRTU's The Blue Note Hour, a specialty program dedicated exclusively to recordings on the Blue Note label. I recently caught up with JC on a rainy afternoon in the Trinity University library. We talked about how he first came to appreciate the music, the role of jazz in his life today, and his expectations and vision for the genre. Take a few minutes to get to know JC Pagán, host of KRTU's The Blue Note hour. You can also find him on the radio every Monday night from 7-8 p.m. on 91.7 FM. - Kate Rawley Warters
For you, what is jazz?
JC: Everything. Jazz is everything to me. I don't think I can't sit here and describe what jazz is for everyone, but for me, jazz is life. It is my daily routine. I wake up with it. I go to sleep with it. In my profession as a creative in advertising, jazz has influenced me professionally. It inspires me with ideas to solve client's problems and needs. It also inspires how I live my life and how I think.
Describe your show. What should listeners expect to hear when they tune in next Monday?
JC: It's the Blue Note Hour, so of course they are going to hear Blue Note.
When did you first become interested in jazz?
JC: It all started with Blue Note. In 1994, a coworker introduced me to the album Blue Train by John Coltrane, and I was like, wow, this is amazing. Being a graphic artist, I was inspired by the album art of the Blue Note records, and I started exploring jazz music through the album art. I would find an album with art that inspired me, buy the album, and listen and learn about the music. It wasn't until I had made my way through the Blue Note collection that I started to branch out and listen to other jazz musicians and albums. As a graphic designer, the music was so enhanced by the visual art that accompanies the Blue Note albums. The Blue Note album covers designed 60 years ago still have artistic relevance today. They are still hip and significant.
Do you have any favorite musicians or albums?
JC: Well, Blue Train by John Coltrane is a personal favorite. It is what started it all for me. And of course anything by Art Blakey is a favorite. Just talking about Art Blakey right now gets my foot tapping. You can't help but start to move when you listen to his music. I am inspired by A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. It is challenging music, but it is so full of everything that makes jazz moving. One of my favorite album covers is Blue Train, because Francis Wolff captured the essence of John Coltrane in the photograph.
How did you develop the concept for the Blue Note Hour? How has your programming changed and evolved?
JC: I started by putting together broad, general themes, like a show on trumpet players, or a show featuring drums. But lately I have been gravitating toward featuring a particular Blue Note artist per show. I may put together a set that includes songs from all different albums, time periods, and styles, but the set will always tell a story about that particular artist. I want my show to feel like an education. Not only that, but I want it to feel like a journey for the listener. I think about what I am going to play long before I get into the studio, and I try to keep the talking to a minimum. I want to give my listeners just enough information to give them a context about the artist and the music, but overall, I just want the jazz to speak for itself. The jazz always speaks for itself.
Why Blue Note? What sets the label apart from other jazz record labels?
JC: What set's Blue Note apart? It's the history, and the classic sound. Blue Note has been a leader in its genre since it started 70 years ago. I think the label's indie standing allowed them to take chances, and those chances helped develop the characteristic sound of the genre. Other labels, like Columbia and Atlantic, couldn't take chances and break out of the mainstream the way that Blue Note could. But being an indie label let Blue Note takes chances and experiment. As a result, Blue Note stayed true to the ideals of jazz.
You have the Blue Note logo tattooed on your arm. Tell me about that. What does that tattoo mean to you?
JC: I like tattoos. I have a few, and on my left biceps, I have the Blue Note logo with the number 1577. It's the catalogue number for Blue Note's Blue Train album. It is the one album that John Coltrane did for Blue Note Records. My tattoo doesn't say Blue Note or anything, just the oval with the box. It's a great conversation starter.
For those who say that they don't like jazz, or for those that have not been exposed to it before, which albums or artists should they listen to?
JC: I always introduce new listeners to jazz with the classic stuff - really straight ahead music from the 50s and 60s, especially Blue Train and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. As for the idea that smooth or contemporary jazz is a good way to introduce a new listener, I say no, get rid of it. Burn that stuff. I already burned all of mine because it is not authentic jazz. There is no substitute.
Do you think listening to jazz over the radio on KRTU is different than listening to jazz on CD or MP3? How?
JC: Live is the best way to listen to jazz. When you witness the music being performed live, you can see the creativity and energy of the musician as it happens. I like to tell people to imagine a giant white canvas in front of the stage, and to see the music as though the musician is painting a picture with their sounds. It's like watching Jackson Pollock paint or something. There is spontaneity and creativity to the way the music is performed live, and it is unique every time.
If you can't see jazz live, I say you listen however you can, whether it's on KRTU over the radio, on vinyl, or on CD or MP3. The nice thing these days with iTunes is that we can download one song at a time and create our own playlists to suit our moods and tastes. Sometimes I want to listen to an entire album from one artist, but sometimes I want to put together something special for a particular occasion, like a playlist for relaxing at night or a playlist for work.
You are active in social media. You use Facebook, Twitter, and your own website to share your program via the World Wide Web. Tell me a little bit about how you are received online? Do your Facebook fans differ at all from your San Antonio listeners in how they hear and interact with the music?
JC: Social media is another source and another outlet for listeners to interact with the Blue Note Hour. I only have one hour a week with the audience, so social media is a way for me to take the one hour show and expand it into a 24/7 experience. It's also a place for me to interact with the audience. I can provide playlists, information about the Blue Note label itself - who's touring, what artists are up to - and receive emails and feedback from listeners. I love posting videos and being able to visually showcase the new artists and old footage of Blue Note performers too. I think it is important to be an advocate for jazz in as many ways as possible, and social media let's me do this. Unfortunately jazz does not get the same media coverage and attention that other genres do, so I feel a responsibility to put the information out there, so that people have a place to come in and get a dose of jazz in their lives, whenever is most convenient for them.
Find The Blue Note Hour online at JC's personal site at www.mrjcpagan.com/thebluenotehour
Where do you find the music you play on your show?
JC: I bring in music from my own Blue Note collection. I used to pick up so many records in this record shop in L.A. that had a huge collection of jazz. Also, when I lived in Puerto Rico the Borders there had an enormous, exceptional collection of jazz for sale. The Borders stores here don't have that anymore. They are cutting back on all of their music, and especially the jazz.
What is the most rewarding part of hosting the Blue Note Hour on KRTU?
JC: I love getting phone calls from listeners during the show. People will call up and tell me how much they are digging on a tune. Sometimes they will tell me about a time in their life when they heard the music performed live, or about a special time in their past when they discovered the sound. It means a lot to me that I can bring people back to that good moment in their history. The best part for me as a host is knowing that I have been able to give that experience to listeners.
You have several kids in your life. How do you share jazz with them, and what are their reactions?
JC: Music is a big part of our lives at home, all kinds of music. But we listen to a lot of jazz. They go to sleep with jazz every night. And we have a lot of jazz album art in our house. I like to put on the music and show them the art from the album, and say "Look, this is Art Blakey that you are hearing. See." Someday, 20 years from now, I hope they can put on a classic jazz record and remember hearing it as children and say "Dad used to play this all the time."
You told me a wonderful story about playing A Love Supreme for your unborn baby. Tell me more about why you did that, and what effect you think it may have had on your baby.
JC: My youngest son is named Ian Coltrane, and before he was born we would play A Love Supreme for him every day by putting the headphones on my wife's pregnant stomach. When he was born I designed his birth announcement to reflect the look of a Blue Note album. I think listening to jazz in the womb has made him a calmer, more mellow baby.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about KRTU 91.7 FM?
JC: We are so lucky to have this station in San Antonio. I have had the opportunity to travel to many of the great jazz cities around the country - New York, L.A. and Chicago - and truthfully when I listen to KRTU, the programming rivals any of the world's most notable jazz stations. KRTU does a phenomenal job. And jazz radio is not something that is everywhere. We are very lucky to have the station here in San Antonio.