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Series hopes to introduce jazz legends to new audience

| Friday, July 8, 2005

Larry Rosen wants to become the kind of friendly figure that once introduced record store customers to new grooves in jazz.

"If we can do that, if we can become a trusted name, people will come back," says Rosen, one of the originators of the upcoming "Legends of Jazz" show.

A preview of the show will be broadcast 3 p.m. Sunday on WQED-TV. It had its national premiere in June on Public Broadcasting Service stations across the country. It is the predecessor of a 13-episode series set to begin in January.

"To do something on TV is really necessary," says Rosen, one of a trio that founded LRSMedia LLC, the production firm behind the program. "It's important to bring the music to the jazz fans."

Rosen may be better known as the partner of pianist-composer Dave Grusin in the founding the GRP Records. In this project, however, he is joined by pianist Ramsey Lewis and Lee Rosenberg, whom Rosen describes at the chief financial officer of the project.

The hour-long preview will feature Lewis talking with singers Nancy Wilson and Jon Hendricks, sax stars James Moody and Paquito D'Rivera and concert promoter-festival founder George Wein.

Wilson is enthusiastic, but cautious about the show. Jazz seldom make a television appearance these days, she says, so she is excited that Rosen and his crew are pushing the issue.

But, she warns, marketing and promotion are keys to success even on public television.

"People will watch if they know it's there," she says. "But if they don't the show won't get good numbers. And you have to put it on at a time when people can watch."

In the future, the 30-minute series shows will have Lewis talking with stars of the genre and trying to get a look at where the music is going, Rosen says. For instance, the episode on the trumpet will be built around Clark Terry and will examine the work of figures such as Chat Baker. But it also will look at the present-day playing of Roy Hargrove.

That is the important part of the series, Rosen insists.

Decades ago, commercial radio, TV variety shows and informative record-store clerks all helped advance jazz by showcasing it. That doesn't happen anymore, he says, because radio is too formatted to allow various genres on a show. TV is less interested in jazz because it isn't popular enough to be a good sell, and record stores are disappearing in the download revolution.

That's what led him and Lewis to begin looking at a way to get jazz back on the air.

They were impressed at the sales of recordings connected to the Ken Burns' "Jazz" series, which indicated there was a market out there for jazz.

Rosen and Lewis began work with the International Association of Jazz Educators and were able to get Chicago's WTTW, a PBS station, interested in co-producing. They also found sponsors in Verizon and the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Initiative.

At first, the show was going to start in the fall, Rosen says, but it was pushed back to January so it could run to the beginning of a series of Legends of Jazz concert tours hosted by Lewis.

Those concerts would be aimed at the summer jazz festival season. Additional Information:

Details

'Legends of Jazz'

3 p.m. Sunday, WQED

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