Star-studded show honors KCSM jazz radio host Melanie Berzon


When the jazz world wants to celebrate one of its own, there is an age-old ritual that is best carried out when the person is there to enjoy the performance.

After serving for 26 years in the management of the Bay Area jazz station, KCSM-FM 91.1, first as director of programs and then director of operations, Melanie Berzon may have mixed emotions about her retirement. . But it’s a safe bet that no one at the Freight & Salvage extravagance on July 8 celebrating it will appreciate music more.

While her lead role at the San Mateo resort has been backstage, Berzon is also a familiar voice on the air as co-host of Jazz in the Afternoon. Her dedication to this art form and the musicians who create it is evident every time she is behind the microphone. The show’s impressive lineup features many of the region’s most important improvisers, while also reflecting its adherence to allied jazz currents, particularly R&B, soul, and Latin American music.

The tribute includes pianist Tammy Hall’s trio with drummer Ruthie Price and bassist Ruth Davies and legendary jazz and blues singer Barbara Dane, still a powerful force at 92. Velvet-toned singer Melanie DeMore adds another jerk of soul. “When she opens her mouth and sings a note, you’re at church or crying,” Berzon said as she filled her KCSM desk at San Mateo College.

Jackeline Rago and Donna Viscuso’s VNote program, which has refined a singular synthesis of jazz and Venezuelan folk rhythms, and the hard swinging Montclair Women’s Big Band complete the busy program. The concert is a fundraiser for KCSM.

“It’s not about me,” Berzon said. “It’s about the artists and the station. These are women and men who need to be heard, all together on the same stage. It is the bill of a lifetime.

Considering the importance of the actors involved, one could easily watch the program without realizing that the event focuses on female instrumentalists. These are just a few of the meanest gamers out there, but Berzon deserves some recognition for their importance, having spent over four decades on radio insisting that female musicians get a fair share of the limelight.

“I can’t think of a single person in the entire Bay Area who has done as much to promote women in jazz as Melanie,” said trumpeter and jazz activist Ellen Seeling, who co-directs the Montclair Women’s Big Band with saxophonist / composer Jean Fineberg. “I know she went through a lot of frustration and fought for more airing for women.”

Seeling and Fineberg first met Berzon around 1987, when their New York fusion group Deuce performed at the Boston Globe Jazz Festival, and she invited them for an interview on WGBH. She had been hired by the Boston Public Station as an engineer, but under the tutelage of jazz television veteran Eric Jackson, Berzon began putting on her own shows.

At a time when female jazz musicians fought fiercely for visibility, Berzon put her airtime to good use. “You can tell when Mel is on the air by her attention to the players,” said KCSM program director Alisa Clancy. “She lost her parents quite young and she is very sensitive to people who are going through difficult times and knows how music can bring comfort to people. I think she programs accordingly.

Berzon credits his older brother for turning her into jazz through two period albums in 1958, Ahmad Jamal’s live trio session “At the Pershing” (Argo) and Nina Simone’s debut album ” Little Girl Blue ”(Bethlehem). “I loved show music and folk, pop and rock, soul and R&B,” she says. “Nina was an open door to jazz. It was all about emotion and feeling and the melody for me.

By devoting her life to the defense of music, Berzon responds in the same way, as she believes that music has supported her in the most difficult times. “The radio saved my life when I was lonely and depressed, which I was a lot,” she says.

She moved to the Bay Area in 1990, when KPFA-FM 94.1 hired her as Program Director, and in 1993 she took over the same position at KCSM. As confident as she was in management, going on the air gave her a serious case of sham syndrome.

“I was a wreck doing my first shows,” she says. “I knew R&B, soul and female music, but with jazz I knew I was an impostor. I was working with Dick Conte, Alisa Clancy, Chuy Varela, and Clifford Brown Jr. So I took Fred Berry’s jazz history class here in college and read liner notes. I’m still not Alisa or Chuy, but I learned a lot from being here. I’m just the luckiest person in the world.

Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected]


When: 7:30 p.m. July 8

Or: Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley

Tickets: $ 24 to $ 28, 510-644-2020;

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