April was Jazz Appreciation Month and VOA celebrated in two ways: by holding a jazz concert and dedicating a studio to its legendary jazz broadcaster, Willis Conover
. For more than 40 years, from 1955 to 1996, Conover’s Jazz Hour
program brought what he called “America’s Music” to millions of people around the world.
Both the concert and the studio dedication took place on April 29 at VOA’s Cohen Auditorium. Like any good Conover program, there were words of praise and plenty of great music. VOA Director David Ensor reminded the audience that in addition to being a VOA treasure, Conover is also a national treasure. His interviews with such jazz greats as Art Tatum, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, among others, are now in the National Recording Registry. The tradition of broadcasting jazz continues at VOA today, Ensor said, with the Jazz America
program hosted by Russ Davis.
The music part of the celebration started with Heather Maxwell and Her Trio. When not singing (and swaying) in front of a mic, Maxwell is often talking into a mic as host of another long-popular VOA program, Music Time in Africa
. The U.S. Navy Band, the Navy’s Premier Jazz Ensemble, continued where the Maxwell Trio left off, playing the music Conover loved, including some original pieces as well as works by perhaps his all-time favorite, Duke Ellington, whose “Take the A Train” opened and closed every Jazz Hour
The plaque dedicating VOA’s Studio Four in honor of Conover describes him as “a true legend of international music” who “used the jazz he loved to bring people together." The VOA concert did that and more – there was even some dancing in the aisles.
Legendary VOA Jazz Radio Broadcaster Willis Conover & Some of his Guests