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Show Notes:

Today's mix show spotlights a number of recent reissues I've been listening to. For a number of years now the Fat Possum label has been issuing the field recordings of George Mitchell who roamed the southeastern states making recordings over a twenty year period from the 1960's up through the early George Mitchell Collection1980's. My first introduction to Mitchell's music was on Arhoolie's wonderful Blues My Blues Away Vol. 1 & 2 which featured music by Joe Callicott, R.L. Burnside, Houston Stackhouse, Robert Nighthawk and others. Prior to these records Mitchell's recordings appeared on LP's on specialist labels like Southland and Revival. Fat Posssum has been releasing these on 7" vinyl, for a total of 45 volumes which have also been repackaged as a box set. Some of these recordings have been repackaged onto CD and it appears just about all the recordings are available as digital downloads though emusic and Amazon. To be honest, Fat Possum's reissue of these has been rather frustrating and confusing which is why I held back on picking some of these up. I finally decided to pick up the The George Mitchell Collection box set which contains all 150 songs on each of the 45 7-inches spread out over six CD's plus a bonus CD by artists Fat Possum didn't know enough about to include in the original 7" set. I have to admit I've been a bit obsessed with these remarkable recordings and also picked up a couple of the individual CD's plus downloaded a number of songs that don't appear on the box set. On today's show we give you a small taste of these and I plan on doing an entire show around these recordings in the future that will hopefully include an interview with Mr. Mitchell himself.

From the other side of the pond I received three volumes from Chris Barber's Blues Legacy Series which contains newly discovered performances circa the late 1950's and early 1960's by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I'm not all that surprised that these recordings surfaced (it seems to happen with some frequency) but that doesn't negate the importance of these recordings which should be of major interest to blues fans. I've also been grabbing up the the Blue Horizon series which Mike Vernon seems to be reissuing at a fast clip. Blue Horizon was a short lived UK label (1966-1971) which cut records by artists like Otis Spann, Champion Jack Dupree, Johnny Young, Eddie Boyd, Furry Lewis among many others. This has been an excellent reissue series with great notes, excellent sound and all with previously unissued cuts. The series is particularly valuable as theViolin, Sing The Blues For Me original records are long out of print and highly collectible (meaning expensive!). Today's show features selections from Johnny Young and Curtis Jones who both cut fine records for the label.

Plenty of country blues today from 1920's and 1930's as well as latter day country blues from the 1960's and 1970's. We kick things off with some blues featuring violin including two cuts off Old Hat's marvelous Violin, Sing The Blues For Me. Old Hat puts out wonderful collections of blues and roots music and I find myself going back to their releases quite often. One violin blues not included is Peg Leg Howell's "New Jelly Roll Blues" featuring the terrific alley fiddle of Eddie Anthony. We close our show with sides by Son House, Tommy McClennan and Jazz Gillum. Gravel voiced singer Tommy McClennan wasn't exactly a refined bluesman, not even a particularly good guitar player, yet he had a very powerful and charismatic style. His "Cotton Patch Blues" opens with a striking image:

I left my baby in Mississippi, picking cotton down on her knees (2x)
She says babe you get to Chicago alright, please right me a letter if you please

Jazz Gillum had a more urban style and was also a fine lyricist as he proves on the humorous "Whiskey Head Buddies:"

Can't see why my whiskey head buddies
They all thinks I'm Santa Claus
'Cause I'm too young to grow white whiskers
And don't wear red suits at all

Among the later country blues is a selection by Piedmont stylist Alec Seward a close associate of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. "Blues All Around My Head #2" comes from Late One Saturday Evening which was recorded at a house party in 1966 and was never intended for commercial release. It's a jam session with Seward up front, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and washboard player Washboard Doc. Another San Diego Blues Jamgreat document from the era is Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. 1 & 2 on Arhoolie. This a marvelous set of studio performances from artists appearing at the 1969 Memphis Blues Festival like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Othar Turner, Furry Lewis and others. Another interesting collection featured today is San Diego Blues Jam. The San Diego blues scene largely escaped notice until Lou Curtiss met Thomas Shaw, who helped him locate most of the other artists on this CD. We play a cut by Bonnie Jefferson, a fine rural blues woman originally from Arkansas who unfortunately cut only a handful of sides. Another fine performer from this period was Bill Williams. Blue Goose issued two albums by Williams in the early 70’s: Low And Lonesome and The Late Bill Williams Blues, Rags and Ballads (posthumous). Ragtime guitarist Williams was born in 1897 in Richmond, Virginia. He developed his ragtime style early but didn't work professionally but rather went to work on the railroad. While living in Bristol, Tennessee in 1922, Bill met the legendary Blind Blake and worked as Blake's regular second guitarist. Williams didn’t cut his first records until he was in his 70’s and passed in October of 1973.

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For the last few weeks I've been captivated by the recordings of George Mitchell who made some remarkable field recordings throughout the South over a twenty year period beginning in the early 1960's. Many of these recordings have appeared on specialist labels like Southland, Revival, Flyright, Arhoolie and Rounder but are long out of print now. Several years ago the Fat Possum label acquired the Mitchell archive and has been reissuing the recordings through a variety of formats including CD, 7-inch record and digital download. While I admire Fat Possum for issuing these recordings, which will be of interest to a very narrow audience, their reissue of the material has been frustrating. They started the reissue program with single CD's of artists like Fred McDowell, J.W. Warren, Joe Callicott but eventually settled on putting the records out as series of 7" records (45 volumes in total) which seems a sure fire way of limiting their impact. Furthermore they have issued some more single artists CD's of folks like Cecil Barfield, Leon Pinson and Buddy Moss but these now seem impossible to locate. It seems a good chunk of the Mitchell collection (including many sides not on the box set) is available through eMusic and Amazon as digital downloads. I finally decided to pick up the The George Mitchell Collection box set which contains all 150 songs on each of the 45 7-inches spread out over six CD's plus a 24-track bonus CD by artists Fat Possum didn't know enough about to include in the original set. Also included is a well written booklet. I have to admit I've been a bit obsessed with these remarkable recordings and also picked up a couple of the individual CD's plus downloaded a number of songs that don't appear on the box set. Here, then, is the first of a two part trawl through these recordings as we look through the first three CD's.

Mitchell wasn't the only one roaming the south in the 1960's in search of blues; there was folklorists and researchers such as David Evans, Sam Charters, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Art Rosenbaum and others. Some were hunting for the famous names who made records in the 1920's and 1930's, others were seeking to fill in biographical blanks regarding some of the older musicians coveted by collectors and then there were those, like Mitchell, who were seeking to record whoever they could find. Mitchell did record some of the famous artists of the past like Buddy Moss, Furry Lewis, Will Shade, Sleepy Johns Estes and was the first to record artists who would achieve later fame such as R.L. Burnside, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Othar Turner and Precious Bryant. While the blues revival was picking up steam with newly discovered artists like Son House, Bukka White and Mississippi John Hurt hitting the circuit, Mitchell's recordings were a sort of a parallel undercurrent to the more famous artists. What Mitchell recorded in the rural communities of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi in the 1960's was a still thriving, if largely undocumented, blues culture. Mitchell had the passion and drive to seek out these folks, and unlike some folklorists didn't use the music to reinforce his own theories, he simply let the musicians speak for themselves and judging by the recordings they clearly responded to Mitchell's sincerity (being a southerner probably didn't hurt as well). Mitchell came along at the right time as he relates in the notes to the LP South Georgia Blues by William Robertson aka Cecil Barfield: "As late as 1969 a country bluesman who at least occasionally played could be located in most small towns of Georgia. In 1976, there are very few active blues musicians left in the state! In the short span of seven years, one of the world's most vital and influential forms of music as it was originally performed has all but died out in Georgia, and probably in the rest of the South as well. …Most bluesmen have either died or fallen into ill health accompanying old age, and the younger generation of rural blacks long ago turned their backs on the blues." It was also, he noted, the Church who claimed many bluesmen as well as the lack of financial incentive to play the blues that was the music's death knell.

 The most striking musician on the first disc is Cecil Barfield, and I agree with Mitchell's assessment that he was some kind of genius. Mitchell called him "probably the greatest previously unrecorded bluesman I have had the pleasure of recording during my 15 years of field research." Using the name William Robertson, in fear of endangering his welfare checks, he cut the LP South Georgia Blues for Southland in the mid-70's with several other tracks appearing on Flyright's Georgia Blues Today (reissued by Fat Possum with the same title and liner notes). I imagine Barfield is an acquired taste but to me he is simply mesmerizing; his music, with his droning, lightly distorted electric guitar coupled with his powerful mushed mouth, nasal singing, is hypnotic. Barfield has some originals but his genius is in the way he transforms well known songs by Frankie Lee Sims ("Lucy Mae Blues"), Lightnin' Hopkins ("Mojo Hand"), J.B. Lenoir ("Talk To Your Daughter") and others into something startlingly original. Only four songs by Barfield are on the box set although I was so taken with his music I downloaded all his songs on Amazon (George Mitchell Collection Vol. 2, Disc 3 & 4), 43 songs in all!

The sheer depth of singular talent is consistently surprising. Take John Lee Zielgler recorded in Georgia in 1978 and Lonzie Thomas recorded in Alabama in the early 1980's. Zielgler achieves a a gorgeous, fluid slide technique from his unorthodox style (he was a left-handed guitarist who played a right-handed guitar upside-down). His three numbers not only feature his slide work but also his beautiful high pitched voice backed by the wonderful spoon player Rufus Jones. In true field recording tradition you can hear little children playing in the background. More of his sides can be found on George Mitchell Collection Vol. 5. Thomas plays some fine finger picking reminiscent of John Hurt but not as refined, and possesses a deep, rich voice as he delivers old time numbers like "Rabbit On A Log", "Raise A Ruckus Tonight" and showcases some slide on the fine "My Three Woman."

Teddy Williams and William "Do Boy" Diamond were both recorded in Canton, Mississippi in 1967 on subsequent days. Diamond was a basic guitar player but possessed a great, relaxed voice. "Hard Time Blues" is a magnificent number, sharing the same haunting quality of some of Skip James' numbers. More of his sides can be found on George Mitchell Collection Vol. 5. It's suggested the older Williams may have taught Diamond, and he too is a powerful singer in a similar style. Mitchell's trip to Mississippi in 1967 was an extremely fruitful one and in addition to the above artists he recorded stunning sides by Houston Stackhouse (in a trio with Robert Nighthawk and Peck Curtis plus Carey "Ditty" Mason on some sides). It was a fortuitous recordings as Nighthawk died a few months later followed by Mason in 1969 and Curtis in 1970. These highly regarded sides have been issued before on Arhoolie and Testament. In addition there is some unissued material by Nighthawk and Stackhouse that should be of major interest to collectors. Also recorded during this trip were some powerhouse sides by Fred McDowell and harpist Johnny Woods and the wonderful Joe Callicott who's long been a favorite of mine. Only three songs apiece are included by each artist but each has full length CD's available on Fat Possum, both of which come highly recommended.

Other older, established players Mitchell recorded were Buddy Moss in 1963 and Dewey Corley in 1967. Mitchell found Moss through Peg Leg Howell (who he also recorded although his sides have not been reissued). Moss was part of the the great Atlanta blue scene of the 1930's working with Barbecue Bob, Curley Weaver, Blind Willie McTell as well as recording prolifically between 1933 and 1941. He was a forgotten man when Mitchell recorded him but the six sides included here find him in superb form. A moody and difficult character (a 1976 interview with Robert Springer was titled So I Said 'The Hell with It: A Difficult Interview with Eugene 'Buddy' Moss) his comeback never took off like it should, although Atlanta Blues Legend recorded in 1966 and issued on Biograph is quite good. Jug band veteran Dewey Corley is also in good form playing vigorous kazoo and one-stringed bass backed by Walter Miller on guitar on three loose, fun numbers.

Disc three features a trio of fine players from Georgia recorded in 1969: Bud White, Jim Bunkley and George Henry Bussey. Like many of the artists Mitchell found, none were professional musicians but all are quite good. White was a percussive guitar player with a high, rich voice, Bussey had a light, gently propulsive style and good voice while Mitchell describes Bunkley's style as a"frolicking" sound in contrast to the harder Mississippi style. Both Bussey and Bunkley were paired on the 1971 album George Henry Bussey and Jim Bunkley issued on Revival.

Mitchell also recorded a fair number of religious material including gospel singers and marvelous slide players, Leon Pinson and Green Paschal, both who play stirring gospel inflected blues. Pinson worked with the great singer/harmonica player Elder Roma Wilson early in his career and reunited with him when Wilson was rediscovered in the 80's, with the duo having a fair bit of success on the festival circuit. Pinson is a major artist with fine understated baritone and a ringing slide style. The stunner is "What God Can Do" sung in a beautiful crooning style, dipping occasionally into falsetto. It only lasts a minute-and-a-half but the depth of feeling resonates long after the song concludes. Paschal was a rough expressive singer and exciting, percussive slide player who comes across as a less intense version of Son House.

Cecil Barfield – Lucy Mae Blues (MP3)

John Lee Ziegler – If I Lose Let Me Lose (MP3)

Lonzie Thomas – My Three Woman (MP3)

William 'Do Boy' Diamond – Hard Time Blues (MP3)

Leon Pinson – What God Can Do (MP3)

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Gatemouth Moore

The world lost not only a great blues and gospel singer in May 2004, but a truly charismatic, larger than life figure when Arnold "Gatemouth" Moore passed in Yazoo City, Mississippi at the age of 90. Gatemouth summed up his talents as a blues singer this way: "I am one of the ultra-men blues singers. I am not accustomed and don't know nothing about that gut-belly stuff in the joints…I put on tuxedos, dressed up, sang intelligent…Without a doubt, and I'm not being facetious, I'm the best blues singer in the business with that singing voice. Now I can't wiggle and I can't dance, but telling a story, I don't think them other boys are in my class." Often labeled a blues shouter,with his perfect diction and huge, mellow, enveloping voice he was more accurately a blues crooner of the highest order. His heyday as a blues career was short lived, cutting a couple of dozen sides between 1945 and 1947 that saw release on Gilmore's Chez Paree, Savoy, National with his final records cut for King at the very end of 1947. His most famous number was the immortal "Did You Ever Love A Woman" although his output was consistently high cutting should-have been-classics like "I Ain't Mad at You Pretty Baby", "Walking My Blues Away", "They Can't Do This to You", "Highway 61 Blues" backed by swinging big bands featuring top flight jazz musicians such as Budd Johnson, Jimmy Hamilton, Harry Carney, Tiny Grimes, and John Hardee. His blues career came to a close in 1949 when he had a religious conversion on stage at Chicago's Club DeLisa. After walking off stage he eventually became a preacher, gospel disc jockey and gospel recording artist.

Inexplicably in 1977 he stepped back briefly into the world of blues cutting Great Rhythm & Blues Oldies Vol. 7, an exceptional album despite it's generic title. The album was produced by Johnny Otis and issued on the Blues Spectrum label. According to the notes: "Three years ago in Los Angles, Moore startled his longtime buddy, Johnny Otis, by announcing his intention to record some of his old blues. 'You can't do that, Gate, you're a minister,' Johnny protested. 'Yes, I can, ' Moore countered, 'I'm not going to be a blues singer again but it is part of my heritage and I want you to produce it.'" On the surface this is an easy album to overlook; firstly it's not available on CD, there's that generic title and a program of remakes of older material. Yet Gatemouth was in dynamic, inspired form, backed by spirited support from Johnny Otis and his son Shuggie.

Good old fashioned blues singing, the ability to really sell a song, to tell a compelling story to your audience don't seem to be the attributes favored by white fans who value instrumental prowess and equate sophistication with commercialism. Gatemouth puts on a clinic of good old fashioned blues singing on this album, refashioning his old material and delivering some fine new compositions. The album kicks off with the chugging"I Ain't Mad At You, Pretty Baby" sung with gusto. The number was first cut in 1945 and based on a real life incident as Gatemouth recalled: "I was in Washington D.C. when I wrote that one. A woman had just taken her shoe off and busted her old man across the head with it. As the cop car came to take her away, the guy ran up behind it, blood still running from his forehead, yelling 'I ain't mad at you, baby'." Gatemouth tells the following story regarding "Did You Ever Love A Woman" which he also remakes on this album: "Well, my wife wasn't home when I came back to Memphis from a trip, so I went down on Beale Street to look for her. A fellow said, 'Yeah, she’s upstairs.' I'm mad now. The band leader saw me. 'Sing something, Gate,' he said. I was looking for my wife, and I told him to turn up all the lights. I shouted out singing: 'My wife is here with another man/and I swear we’re going to fight.' That song came from me looking for Willa Mae. She got outta there too." Many have covered this song but no one sang it better than Gatemouth and here he delivers a vigorous, impassioned remake that has all the power of the original cut thirty tears previously. Those famous lines still resonate: "Did you ever love a woman/And love her with all your might/When all the time you knew she wasn't treating you right." Backed by Johnny Otis' sparkling vibes, "My Mother Thinks I'm Something" is a marvelous update of "Something I'm Gonna Be" originally cut for King in 1947. It's another great story song:

My mother thought I was something
You know folks something I gotta be
I tried so hard to make fame, so I could let my dear mother see
I tried so hard to make fame, so I could let dear Georgia see
See my mother thinks I'm something, and I declare something I gotta be

"Gate's Christmas Blues" is a silky remake of of his 1946 number "Christmas Blues" again featuring terrific vibes from Otis. 1945's "It Ain't None of Me" is remade in glorious fashion as "Somebody Got To Go" as Gatemouth bellows out the blues with that great opening line : "Say Mr. Jones, turn up all them lights/My baby's in the house with another man and I swear we gonna a fight." Newer material includes the deeply soulful blues of "Everybody Has Their Turn" which has more updated sound, the rocking "Boogie Woogie Papa" (I wonder what the congregation thought about this one?!) and a gorgeous interpretation of "Goin' Down Slow" sporting some sympathetic guitar work from Shuggie and piano from Johnny.

The album's masterpiece is "Beale Street Ain't Beale Street No More" an impassioned six minute lament on the destruction of Gatemouth's old stomping grounds. According to the liner notes this was done off-the-cuff which would make it all the more remarkable. Like many, Gatemouth cut his teeth singing the blues at the Beale Street clubs and for almost a hundred years it was the center of black urban life in Memphis. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History: "In 1969 the city undertook urban renewal projects, including Beale Street I and Beale Street II, which erased the area's housing, demolished 474 buildings, and placed a block-wide barrier of empty lots and parking spaces between African Americans and Beale Street. This project left a thin commercial (blue light) district between Second and Fourth Avenues, where African American businesses were forced out through condemnation of buildings and high property resale prices. The Memphis Press-Scimitar (June 10, 1979) declared "Urban renewal destroyed Beale Street." This is the backdrop of Gatemouth's passionate, bitter insider's recounting of the old street as he recalls the street in better days: "My mind run back/When it was a fast track/The old Street was jumping."He nostalgically recalls now shuttered joints like the One Minute, Pee Wee's and the Palace ("where I learned to sing the blues") and to the street's characters like Robert Henry, Little Mickey, Brother Moss, Lieutenant Lee and Memphis Ma Rainey. The song slowly builds up steam to rousing finish as he sadly concludes: "Beale Street ain't Beale Street no more/My street is gone, gone to come back no more."

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Show Notes:

A typically wide ranging show show today spanning from 1927 to 1977. We kick things off with a set featuring the brilliant boogie-woogie pianist Pete Johnson. All these tracks come from the fascinating Document collection Pete Johnson Radio Broadcasts, Film Soundtracks, Alternate Takes 1939 – c.1947. I always play some classic piano blues and we also play some great tracks by Peanut The Kidnapper, Blind Pete JohnsonJohn Davis and Lazy Bill Lucas. James Sherrill, under the name Peanut The Kidnapper, cut 4 sides for ARC in 1937 in backed by fine pianist Robert McCoy. McCoy hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, a good piano town that also boasted such players as Jabbo Williams, Walter Roland and Cow Cow Davenport. In the 30's he also accompanied Guitar Slim and Jaybird Coleman. McCoy cut two rare LP's in the early 60s' on the Vulcan label (reissued on Delmark with many previously unissued tracks as Bye Bye Blues) , his first as leader. "Walkin' and Talkin'" is a fine number Blind John Davis cut at a 1947 session. Davis backed scores of artist during the '30's and '40's including Tampa Red, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Bill Broonzy, and others. He was the first pianist to do a European blues tour (with Broonzy in 1952), returning to the continent frequently as a solo act during the '70's and '80's and recordings several albums over there as well. Lazy Bill Lucas first cut "She Got Me Walkin'" for Chance in 1953 but the version we play today comes from the excellent self titled LP he cut for Philo in 1974. After moving to Minneapolis, Lucas mounted a comeback making some recordings in the late 60's and early 70's. The Philo LP is long out of print and finds him in excellent form. The LP includes a really nice insert written by blues scholar Jeff Todd Titon. I have the two LP's he cut for Wild in 1969 and 1970 and will spotlight these in future shows.

King Solomon Hill AdAs usual there's plenty of country blues on tap including a set featuring Blind Blake. I've had Blake on the brain after hearing the news that a long lost Blake record had just been discovered. Blake plays guitar on Gus Cannon's "My Money Never Runs Out", cuts loose with Charlie Spand on "Hastings St." ("You always tellin' me about Brady Street … wonder what is on Brady … must be something there very marvelous, mm, mm, mm…") and the playful "Righteous Blues" from 1930. One of the most haunting pre-war bluesmen was the mysterious King Solomon Hill. His "The Gone Dead Train" is a masterpiece, a stunning marriage of his eerie high pitched vocals and immaculate slide playing, it's one of those songs that sticks with you long after you've heard it. Born Joe Holmes circa 1897 in McComb, Mississippi he is rumored to have roamed the south playing alongside Sam Collins, Ramblin' Thomas, Oscar Woods and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Hill signed to the Paramount label in 1932, soon traveling to Grafton, Wisconsin to record six tracks. After this lone session, Hill returned to the juke joint circuit, dying in Sibley, Louisiana in 1949. Another slide player of note, perhaps more accurately bottleneck, was the popular Kokomo Arnold who shows off his prodigious skills on the tour-de-force "Back To The Woods." We close the program with a number of artists who give us a glimpse of what the blues sounded like before it was called blues; Papa Harvey Hull, Henry Thomas, Bogus Ben Covington are musicians from an earlier era with Thomas born in 1874, making him one of the oldest artists to record a significant body of work.

We also delve into some later country blues by Scrapper Blackwell, Roy Dunn and Jim Brewer. Blackwell's "Life Of A Millionaire" is a beautiful, poignant version of "Nobody Knows You when You're Down And Out." This track comes from Document's Scrapper Blackwell, Vol. 2 (1934-1958) which features four cuts from the outset of his comeback. There's something very compelling about his latter day recordings; his playing isn't as crisp as his early work and his voice has hoarsened, yet his blues come across as somehow deeper, and more moving than his earlier work. His best rediscovery work can be found on Mr. Scrapper's Blues cut for Bluesville in 1961 a year before he was murdered.  Jim Brewer performed regularly on Maxwell Street singing both blues and religious songs. He recorded sides on a number of anthologies and cut two full length albums; Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983), neither of which is available on CD.

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Just a quick note that in addition to hosting Big Road Blues I will also be hosting Doc's Juke Joint this week. The program airs every Sunday night from 7-10pm. Doc’s Juke Joint is a continuing tradition on WGMC started over 15 years ago by Dave Moskal, originally called Muskie’s Juke Joint. In February 2008, Greg "Doc" Lefebre took over the program and renamed it Doc’s Juke Joint.

Also just a reminder that our Spring 2008 pledge drive is underway. If you enjoy listening to the five hours of blues programming on Jazz90.1 please show your support. Jazz90.1 has set a goal of $50,000 for the drive, which runs through March 12th. We have some great blues "thank you" gifts this year. Those interested can make pledges by calling (585) 966-5299, 1-800-790-0415, or pledge securely on line at www.jazz901.org, where you can listen live any time, anywhere.

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