Remembering Richard Hadlock, renowned jazz master and Berkeley kindergarten teacher

His weekly KCSM show, ‘The Annals of Jazz,’ ran for over 60 years, one of the longest-running single-host shows in radio.

A Berkeley resident since 1971, historian, reed player, journalist and KCSM disc jockey, died on Feb. 2. File photo: Andrew Gilbert

Richard Hadlock, a notable jazz fixture in the Bay Area, passed peacefully on Feb. 2.

Read Berkeleyside’s 2020 profile of Richard Hadlock

Richard was an accomplished musician (playing sax and clarinet), historian, writer, teacher, and radio host who led a remarkable Jazz Life during his 94 years on the bandstand — more than 60 of those years in his beloved Bay Area (51 years in Berkeley). He was also a kind gentleman who often championed the underrated and underserved.  

Born in Schenectady, New York, in 1927 to Perry and Doris Hadlock, he spent his younger years in suburban Connecticut and his teenage years in Rio de Janeiro – his father was President of RCA-Brasil, 1940-1957 – giving birth to his love of the Portuguese language and the history of Brazilian music. Returning to the states for military service, he played in the US Army Band while stationed in Arkansas, attended the University of Pennsylvania earning a degree in sociology, then hustled himself to New York City in 1951. Frequenting the jazz clubs in pursuit of his craft, he met many of his jazz idols as well as fellow jazz enthusiast Ruth Grossman (Hadlock), who became his wife, collaborator, biggest fan, and best friend for 63 years. They married in 1957.

Hadlock in the 1960s. Courtesy: Hadlock family

In New York, Richard studied with Sidney Bechet, Garvin Bushell and Lee Konitz. He played gigs while owning and publishing a jazz magazine The Record Changer, until he got a call to play clarinet with legendary Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band and moved to the West Coast. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, he continued to play gigs, but also wrote liner notes, reviews and newspaper columns, and interviewed jazz greats for side hustles with RCA, Fantasy Records, DownbeatMetronome, and the San Francisco Examiner. He also wrote a primer in jazz history, Jazz Masters of the 20’s (1965, 1988).

Credit: The Mississippi Rag

Richard was proud of and fiercely dedicated to his decades-long “day job” as an educator.  In 1963, Richard and Ruth visited the Kashaya Pomo Reservation in Sonoma County.  With a deep concern for the plight of the Native Americans of California, he and Ruth became certified as educators and moved to the teacherage on the Kashaya reservation. From 1965-69, Richard served as principal of the one-room school, Ruth started the Head Start program, and they befriended the elders of the tribe. They acquired funding for numerous educational field trips and hosted a visit by Robert Kennedy in 1968. After moving back to the Bay Area, Richard taught kindergarten in the Berkeley Unified School District from 1970-1987. He also taught jazz history courses at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Jazzschool-CJC in Berkeley. 

Richard hosted a weekly radio show, The Annals of Jazz, which had clever themes and tunes pulled from his extensive personal collection of vinyl. In his 60-plus years of broadcasting, one of the longest-running single-host shows on radio, he never repeated a theme. Richard put musicians and listeners at ease in with his quiet, unassuming, respectful, lightly inquisitive, and deeply informed interview style with notables from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane. His interviews, catalog of radio shows, and many performances dating from 1957 are archived in the Stanford University Jazz Library.

Credit: The Mississippi Rag

In the first decade of his career, Richard played with Red Onion Jazz Band, Pops Foster, Elmer Snowden, Kid Ory, Joe Sullivan, Muggsy Spanier, Ralph Sutton, Burt Bales, Amos White, Frank Goudie, Roger Bell, Dave Dallwitz, Ade Monsbourgh, Bob Helm. Later he performed and recorded with numerous Bay Area jazz bands, among them Hot Club of San Francisco, San Francisco Feetwarmers, Bob Mielke’s New Bearcats, Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz and with vocalists Maria Muldaur, Barbara Dane, and Barbara Lashley.

Richard garnered a Grammy nomination with his liner notes for a Time-Life Giants of Jazz box set. In 2020, he was honored with the Marian McPartland-Willis Conover Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Jazz Journalists Association.

Richard was a collector. He had hundreds of photos of jazz greats, thousands of carefully filed LPs, and kept whimsical collections of Mickey Mouse, the Three Stooges, models of classic Rolls Royces and Packards, and Nipper, the RCA mascot.  He also collected family memorabilia.  Preserving family history was important to him and he strived to stay in touch with far-flung family members, often connecting on trips to the St. Lawrence River community of Oak Point as his family had done for 100 years.  

Richard is survived by guardianship son Jason Wilder (Shamara Wilder); nieces Kathy Hargrave, Jennifer Ashby, Dominique Reed, Vanessa Kenney, Lily Ashby, Laurie St. Clair (Al), and Kacie Jones; nephew Scott Biondi (Linda); and numerous other grandnieces, grandnephews, and cousins.

Richard will be remembered fondly for his warm-hearted connection to family, friends, and the jazz community. His and his beloved wife’s ashes will be spread together at the St. Lawrence River.