Richard Hadlock didn’t witness the birth of jazz in the early years of the 20th century. But he interviewed and befriended, studied and performed with some of the emerging idiom’s foundational artists, and it’s no exaggeration to say that he worked with pioneering New Orleans musicians who consorted with legendary trumpeter Buddy Bolden.
The longtime Berkeley resident has contributed to the jazz scene over the decades as a saxophonist, publisher, historian, educator and disc jockey who brings uncommon depth and free-ranging curiosity to all his undertakings, especially his long-running Sunday night KCSM show Annals of Jazz. An essential presence on the Bay Area airwaves since 1959, Hadlock was named Monday by the Jazz Journalists Association as recipient of the McPartland-Conover Award for Lifetime Achievement in Broadcasting (full disclosure, I’m on the JJA’s board of directors).
Hadlock had recently moved from New York City to San Francisco to play clarinet in trombonist Turk Murphy’s traditional New Orleans-style jazz band when he introduced his show on the San Francisco station KJAZ. After nearly 20 years at KQED he brought Annals of Jazz to KCSM, where more than three decades later he continues to broadcast on Sundays 7-8 p.m., always opening with the theme “Pagin’ the Devil” by Lester Young and the Kansas City Six.
As a player and writer Hadlock has often focused on musicians dedicated to pre-bebop styles from ragtime to swing, though he can also tell stories about comparing notes on soprano saxophones with the iconic 1960s searcher John Coltrane, and hanging out with trumpet star Miles Davis. Hadlock had taken lessons in the 1940s with jazz’s first soprano sax master, Sidney Bechet, and the instrument had almost disappeared from jazz before Coltrane brought it back into the fold. Years later he studied with the brilliant modern jazz altoist Lee Konitz (who died last month at 92 from coronavirus complications).
As a journalist Hadlock acquired and published the jazz magazine The Record Changer during the last years of its storied tenure from 1942-57, and he contributed reviews and profiles to Downbeat, Metronome, and the San Francisco Examiner. Among the dozen of albums for which he wrote liner notes is a Time Life box set focusing on Chicago pianist Joe Sullivan, who died in relative obscurity in San Francisco in 1971 (the essay earned Hadlock a Grammy Award nomination).
He’s probably best known as the author of the seminal book of biographical sketches Jazz Masters of the 20s (Da Capo), which has been an oft-cited reference since it was first published in 1965. The book helped shine a spotlight on several still-formidable musicians whose marquee status had faded, like piano great Earl “Fatha” Hines. Unassuming, deeply informed and unideological, Hadlock had a gift for coaxing musicians to talk about their craft (check out this wonderful interview with Louis Armstrong he conducted at the Fairmont Hotel in 1962).
“There are a lot of musicians who were very forthcoming with me,” says Hadlock, 92. “Doing the Time Life notes for the Joe Sullivan album the pianist Jess Stacy was beautiful to talk to. Pops Foster talking about the ragtime era had a different point of view from most ragtime people. I guess what motivated me, what’s certainly a motive in my radio shows, is trying to bring out musicians who’ve been overlooked or underrated. The theme I use for the radio show is called ‘Pagin’ the Devil,’ and I’ve been a devil’s advocate.”
Part of what makes Hadlock such a rewarding presence on the page, airwaves and bandstand is that his taste is unusually catholic. Unlike many of his contemporaries he never staked out a position that rejected developments in jazz as antithetical to the art form. When he came of age as a writer and player in the 1940s and 50s jazz critics occupied bitterly riven camps with bebop supporters trading critical brickbats with modern jazz-despising writers and fans (who were derided as “moldy figs”). The division grew more bitter with the rise of free jazz in the 1960s.
Berkeley guitarist John Schott, an artist with a similarly wide-ranging sensibility, got to know Hadlock while working at Pegasus Books on Solano in the early 1990s. Hadlock is abjectly under-documented as player, and Schott featured him on his fascinating 2008 album of rags, blues and early jazz Drunken Songs for Sober Times playing soprano sax on W.C. Handy’s “Chantez-Les Bas” and “Careless Love” (“His playing on ‘Careless Love’ was so pretty and perfect that I ended up not playing on the track,” Schott says). One of the few recording sessions he led was recorded in 1982 and released by Delmark as One Steady Roll in 2009 under the name of woodwind expert Garvin Bushell, whose era-spanning career encompassed recordings with Bessie Smith and Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway, and John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy.
“On the West Coast people that have that long experience are fewer and farther between, but what’s so extraordinary about Dick and made the friendship blossom is that he has such an open mind,” Schott says. “He’s perpetually curious and has never tried to protect traditional jazz from ‘mongrel’ influences, from the barbarians at the gate. He has always had an exemplary outlook that all jazz exists at the current time. Last October he had a Halloween Annals of Jazz program where he played in quick succession a track by Jimmie Lunceford, then Albert Ayler and then our own Peter Apfelbaum. That triad of early swing, the avant garde and a local focus made such an impression and really captured what he exemplifies.”
As an educator Hadlock has given jazz history courses around the region, including the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Jazzschool in Berkeley, but his longest classroom gig was teaching kindergarten for BUSD at Washington and John Muir Elementary schools from 1970-87. “Herb Wong found me teaching as a sub for the day and he barged in and said ‘Do you want to take a kindergarten class at my school?’” Hadlock recalls. Wong, a jazz aficionado and fellow disc jockey, was principal at Washington Elementary, which became ground zero for his innovative ideas about incorporating jazz into the curriculum. Hadlock was game. “I was looking for a steady job,” he says.
Hadlock’s numerous contributions to the local jazz scene were recognized in April when the Bay Area chapter of the Jazz Journalists Association, a professional organization of freelance and staff writers, photographers, broadcasters, videographers and new media practitioners covering jazz in any media, selected him for a Jazz Hero Award (an honor previously given to Berkeley vocalist/educator Faye Carol, California Jazz Conservatory founder Susan Muscarella, and Angela Wellman, founding director of the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music). Hadlock happens to have performed with all three.
The McPartland-Conover Award for Lifetime Achievement in Broadcasting, named after NPR’s Piano Jazz host Marian McPartland and Voice of America’s jazz-loving Willis Conover, comes to Hadlock at a moment when the trad jazz scene that brought him to the Bay Area is rapidly receding. In recent months we’ve lost two of his longtime comrades, trombonist/bandleader Mal Sharpe and trombonist Bob Mielke, who were also both quintessential Berkeleyans. Hadlock played with Mielke for many years in his band the New Bearcats. Vocalist Barbara Dane, who just turned 93, would occasionally sit in with Mielke’s band. She and Hadlock are two of the last major figures left from once thriving post-World War II trad scene.
“Bob was an interesting character in jazz,” Hadlock says. “I thought he was a vastly underrated soloist. He wanted to be known as a great ensemble player, which he was, and that was more interesting to him than being a soloist. We had a disagreement about that.”