Tom Reney

Jazz à la Mode Producer/Host

Tom has been producing Jazz à la Mode since 1984.  He began working in jazz radio in 1977 at WCUW, a community-licensed radio station in Worcester, Massachusetts. Before his career in radio began, Tom had many formative experiences hearing and meeting some of the icons of jazz and blues, all of which ignited his passion for sharing the music with others. Tom earned a BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he majored in English and American Studies.

In addition to his hosting duties at New England Public Radio, Tom writes NEPR's jazz blog and produces our JazzBeat podcast, and lectures occasionally on music and cultural topics at UMass, Amherst, Smith, Hampshire, and Mt. Holyoke Colleges. He and his wife Margaret live in Holyoke.

Charles Lloyd interview

Mar 15, 2021

In Part 3 of Tom Reney's interview with Ricky Riccardi, author of Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong, they discuss Armstrong's tour of England in 1932, and his European sojourn in 1934-35; his top billing in the movie, Pennies From Heaven; his groundbreaking achievement as the first African American host of a network radio series; and the controversy over his 1938 recording, "When the Saints Go Marching In."

In part two of Tom Reney's interview with Peter Guralnick, they discuss three of the subjects of Guralnick's book, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing: Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and country music legend, Dick Curless, whose career began in the late 1940s in Ware, Massachusetts.

In 2015, Tom Reney spoke with Peter Guralnick about his biography, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock & Roll. And now in a two-part Jazz Beat, he’s interviewed Peter about six of the American music legends who are profiled in Guralnick’s new book, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures In Music & Writing: Robert Johnson, Skip James, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Dick Curless and Ray Charles.

By Yooni Brook

In Part Two of Tom Reney's conversation with Ricky Riccardi about his new book, Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong, Riccardi discusses Armstrong's skirmishes with Prohibition-era gangsters and managers; the trumpeter's triumphant return to his birthplace of New Orleans in 1931; and the massive archive of self-documentation in letters, scrapbooks, and tape recordings that Armstrong left for posterity.

Tom Reney spoke with Louis Armstrong biographer Ricky Riccardi about his new book, Heart Full of Rhythm, The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong. In the first of a multi-part interview, they discuss Armstrong’s breakthrough in the early 1930s as a popular artist; his first recordings of Broadway show tunes; and the mixed response that Armstrong received during this period from critics in the U.S. and Europe.

Tom Reney spoke with drummer Joe Farnsworth about his new album, TIME TO SWING. In his liner note essay for the album, veteran drummer Billy Hart describes Farnsworth as "one of the rhythm philosophers.” Listen here for the South Hadley, Massachusetts native discussing his experiences working with Junior Cook, Harold Mabern, Lou Donaldson, Cecil Payne, Eric Alexander and Wynton Marsalis.

Tom Reney interviewed Sonny Rollins in August 2020 for a project honoring Yusef Lateef’s centennial. Sonny enjoyed a long friendship with Yusef, and he considers the late saxophonist a mentor and spiritual inspiration. The 90-year-old Saxophone Colossus also discusses his groundbreaking work of 1958, THE FREEDOM SUITE, and elaborates on interviews he’s recently given The New York Times and The New Yorker about living by the Golden Rule.

Charlie Parker
William Gottlieb / Library of Congress

Today marks the centennial of Charlie Parker's birth. Born August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, Kansas, and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Parker died at the 5th Avenue home of Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the so-called Jazz Baroness, on March 12, 1955 at the age of 34. Now 65 years later, the saxophonist known as Bird (or Yardbird) remains one of the most heralded and mythical figures of 20th century music. Among Bird's many admirers, Lennie Tristano was especially respectful of his character and astute in his assessments of the saxophonist's music.

Bob Dylan

I've just listened all the way through Bob Dylan's "Murder Most Foul" for the first time. I'll move on to the rest of his new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, this weekend. A musician friend says it's "heavy and spooky," and he's got me eager to hear, "Goodbye Jimmy Reed." I've always taken Dylan in moderate measure, given him plenty of time. For 60 years, he's been our chief chronicler, and in his long ballad for JFK, the music and mood are stately, elegiac, and emphatic, which feels right both for his subject and for the state of the nation today.

JALM hosts, the Green Street Trio, and a nationally-known figure in Blumentha
Photo by Joyce Skowyra

Tom Reney spoke with Paul Arslanian on May 6 about his career in jazz. Paul is a veteran pianist who's been a highly visible figure in jazz in Western Massachusetts since 1984. In 2010, he was a co-founder of the Northampton Jazz Workshop, and since then, he's produced a series of weekly performances that feature a guest artist who plays with the Northampton-based Green Street Trio. Arslanian is the Trio's pianist, which also includes bassist George Kaye and drummer Jon Fisher.

Ellis Marsalis, Jr., pianist and patriarch of the world's most famous jazz family, died on April 1 at 85. He'd been hospitalized with Coronavirus symptoms. New Orleans currently has the most concentrated Covid-19 death rate in the nation.

Archie Shepp
Montreal Jazz Festival

The documentary, Miles Davis: The Birth of the Cool, will be shown in the American Masters series on PBS on February 25.  The film includes a scene in which Archie Shepp recalls an encounter he had with the trumpeter at the Village Vanguard on Thanksgiving weekend in 1965. The scene is brief and only scratches the surface of what proved to be a disruptive event in which Shepp defied Miles by storming the bandstand and sitting in with his group.

Champian Fulton.
Janice Yi / Courtesy Champian Fulton

Champian Fulton was hailed by Francis Davis in the Village Voice in 2007, the year of her debut recording, as "the best new singer I've heard this year-- make that several years."

Tom Reney spoke with Bennie Wallace for Jazz Beat a few days before concerts that the veteran tenor saxophonist was scheduled to play in Connecticut in October 2019. 

Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges
Jan Persson / CDJ

"Tell 'em what happened! Tell ‘em what happened!” Duke Ellington exhorts Johnny "Jeep" Hodges in this 1957 performance of “Jeep’s Blues,” at a dance concert in Carrolton, Pennsylvania.

Tom Reney and Christopher Lydon
Courtesy of Open Source

Jazz Beat host Tom Reney appeared on Open Source with Christopher Lydon on WBUR. They discuss jazz and r&b and classical music and Tom Reney reveals eight essential recordings and one book that he would take to a desert island. 

Dr. John

Malcolm John Rebennack, Jr., who was better known as Dr. John the Night Tripper, died on Thursday, June 6, at age 77. Among his many musical associations, he was a featured member of the RCO All-Stars, a group that drummer Levon Helm formed after the break-up of The Band. Great but short-lived, RCO made one album and a memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1977. There the principles— Dr. John, Levon Helm, and Paul Butterfield— were introduced by host Broderick Crawford.

As befitting the legacy of Duke Ellington, who led his renowned orchestra for nearly 50 years and criss-crossed the globe as an unofficial musical ambassador, there are Duke Ellington Society chapters in Toronto, Stockholm, London, and Paris, in addition to New York, Los Angeles, and Ellington’s birthplace, Washington, D.C. I’ve been a member and have attended several of TDES’s gatherings at St.

Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Roy Haynes, Open Door, New York City, 1953
copyright Robert Parent / The New York Times

A few weeks ago (March 8, 2019), the New York Times ran a piece entitled, “Is This the Greatest Photo in Jazz History?” I was immediately struck by the silly conceit of declaring anything the greatest (except, that is, for the ice cream made from dairy cows at a local farm that I’ve assiduously avoided since February 5, 2017), but of course I read on. Robert Parent’s photo depicts Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Roy Haynes, playing at the Open Door in Greenwich Village on September 13, 1953.

Muddy Waters
Don Brownstein / Chess Records

Today is Muddy Waters's 106th birthday anniversary. Born McKinley Morganfield on April 4, 1913, Muddy was raised on the Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi, before moving to Chicago in 1943.

(r-l) Lennie Tristano and Charlie Parker with Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, and Max Kaminsky, at Birdland, 1949
copyright Herman Leonard Photography, LLC / Herman Leonard Photography, LLC

Among Charlie Parker's many admirers, Lennie Tristano was especially respectful of Bird's character and astute in his assessments of the saxophonist's music.  The blind pianist recognized Parker as the single most important innovator of modern jazz, and rejected the commonly held view that bebop was formulated in a workshop-like atmosphere at Minton’s and Monroe’s and other after-hours venues.

Nat King Cole Centennial

Mar 18, 2019

Nat King Cole was born on March 17, 1919. For his centennial, I'm posting a couple of recordings by the great singer-pianist, and a rare photo of Nat with Dick LaPalm. LaPalm was an advance man and factotum for Nat between 1950 and '65, and then a tireless advocate for his legacy and a friend and counsel to the Cole family until his death in 2013. Nat and Dick are seen in the photo walking along Michigan Avenue in LaPalm's hometown of Chicago. He's a giveaway in profile, but even from behind, there can be no doubt that this is Mr. Cole.

Three of the four gentlemen in this photo were guiding lights in my Worcester youth. Howie Jefferson (far left) was a great tenor player who could have been a contender on the national scene but chose to stay close to home and ply his trade at weddings and bar mitzvahs and GB gigs galore.

Ed Bickert, the renowned Canadian-born guitarist who was a prominent figure on the Toronto jazz scene, died on February 28 at 86. I learned of Bickert through his great work with Paul Desmond on Pure Desmond (1975) and with Ruby Braff on the trumpeter's Sackville sessions in Toronto (1979), and took additional notice when Dave McKenna played on his 1989 release, Third Floor Richard.

Buddy Bolden's Blues

Mar 7, 2019
Jelly Roll Morton
Hogan Jazz Archive / Tulane University

Jelly Roll Morton immortalized the most mythical of New Orleans jazz pioneers in his composition, "I Thought i Heard Buddy Bolden Say." He recorded it twice in 1939, first for RCA Bluebird with a band that included New Orleanians Sidney Bechet, Albert Nicholas, Wellman Braud, and Zutty Singleton. Four months later, on December 16, 1939, he recorded the tune as "Buddy Bolden's Blues" on a solo session for General Records. It was later released in an album by Commodore.  

Notwithstanding the bold and daring recordings made by Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, and other musicians who found common cause with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and early ‘60’s, jazz was absent from the musical proceedings at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Josh White, Bernice Reagan (later a founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock), and Peter, Paul & Mary were accorded the musical honors.  However, no less a figure than the event's headliner, Dr.

Allison Miner at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1991
The Times-Picayune

Here's a moving film tribute to Allison Miner, a beautiful spirit who made a major difference to the preservation and perpetuation of the musical culture of New Orleans between her arrival in the Crescent City in 1967 and her death in 1995 at age 46. Allison was instrumental in establishing the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, albeit with a sexist-driven subordinate role and title that she discusses in Amy Nesbitt's film.

Joseph Jarman
Marilyn Yee / The New York Times

Joseph Jarman, who died on Wednesday, January 9, at 81, was an icon of free jazz and best known for his long association with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in Chicago, Jarman played woodwinds (saxophones, flutes, and clarinet) and was a founding member of both the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and the AEC.

Duke Ellington's Azure

Jan 7, 2019
The Mediterranean Off the Coast of Sardinia, December 2018
David Reney

My brother David, who lives in Paris, took this photograph during a trip he made to Sardinia after Christmas. His email subject line read “Azure,” which immediately brought to mind Duke Ellington’s song of that name. Ellington described Azure as “a little dulcet piece which portrays a blue mood.” Blue was Ellington's favorite color. When his autobiography, Music Is My Mistress, was published in 1973, its dust jacket was brown. That had been his least favorite since 1935, for he was wearing a brown suit on the day his mother died.