Michael Bourne, the jazz man and longtime radio host for WBGO in Newark, died on August 21. He was 75.
My phone began ringing early that morning from the ringtone to notifications of text messages to Instagram. Finally, after getting up to take a look at all the urgency, one texted “sad news,” another “yo dude Michael died do you believe it?” Wow, that was a shocker for me––Bourne was the voice of WBGO radio from his start in 1984. He was unique, his voice was this big bellowing tone, the big roar that grabbed your attention. You mean Michael is really gone, the jazz cat, the jazz connoisseur, jazz historian, the jazzhead, who had a jazz story for every occasion is no longer in the studio, he has left earth’s airways.
When Bourne retired in early 2022, it was the end of a grand radio era. Even after his retirement, he came out to WBGO events and other jazz happenings. The station continued to use his voice for upcoming events and the like so he was still technically present. WBGO without Bourne is like superman without his cape. Everyone was so intoxicated by his vibrating vocal cords and the way he would say WBGO.O-R-G was hilarious. He put all the pronunciation on .ORG.
During the recent Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, Bourne’s name was echoed by everyone talking about his transition and how much he would be missed. Then someone said, “it seems like he was always on the air.” Yes, at one point he was working six shifts each week on Jazz 88, from 2001 to 2006. He was the host of the “Singers Unlimited” podcast by WBGO Studios. Previously, he hosted the popular “Singers Unlimited” (1985-2022) show on WBGO. He also hosted the popular “Blues Break” for several years.
He hosted WBGO’s syndicated show, “The American Jazz Radio Festival,” for five years, and he hosted or anchored 22 of WBGO’s New Year’s Eve broadcasts. Michael filled in on countless shifts at all hours until finally settling into the Afternoon Jazz shift. “Ironically, just after I’d come to WBGO, Rhonda Hamilton asked me what I wanted to do at the station, and I remember laughing and saying that I wanted her shift in the afternoons.” Bourne ended up following Hamilton’s shift on mid-days. Bourne shared all that jazz, blues, singers unlimited from Broadway to jazz and more. He was a true lover of the music and he shared it every day with the world.
Bourne may be one of the few or only jazz radio hosts with a Ph.D in Theater from Indiana University which means he gave up possible Broadway roles as King Lear or Brutus in Julius Caesar. Reflecting on his radio career, he was overjoyed he gave up his possible Broadway roles as King, to hang out with real kings [of jazz] like Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Mark Murphy (he produced four of his albums), Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and the Queens who befriended him like Shirley Horn, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Sarah Vaughan.
The Daily News asked the native of St. Louis when he turned 65 if he’d ever retire. “I said ‘From what?’ I get paid to play records and go to shows!” And I’m really happy to have gotten the chance. Jazz took me around the world. I can’t complain. That should be on my tombstone: ‘He could not complain.’”
He is survived by Elizabeth Dicker, her husband, Glenn, and children Nora and Lukas. Plans for a memorial service are forthcoming. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Actors Fund Home, actorsfundhome.org.
Joey DeFrancesco, a multi-instrumentalist, who earned his reputation as a master Hammond B3 organist, by adding his own special touch in the tradition of Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith and his idol Jimmy Smith died on August 25. He was 51.
His death was announced by his record company, Mack Avenue, which did not say where he died or cite the cause.
DeFrancesco’s most memorable performance for me was the Cape Town Jazz Festival in South Africa. He received three standing ovations after bringing smoke to the stage. It was my first time seeing him play trumpet, that could have easily been his main instrument. After the concert he said to me, “it was the audience that got me in such a groove man, they were great.”
At age 16, he signed with Columbia Records and released his debut album at 16, “All of Me.” Sometime later he joined Miles Davis on a five-week European tour at 17. Miles was so impressed he invited him to play keyboards on his 1989 Warner Bros. album “Amandla.”
DeFrancesco, like his organ predecessors, was adept in blending blues, jazz, R&B, and soul into one swinging package. He was known for his technical command of the instrument running off notes with his right hand. He was in full-command of his organ console, moving switches with its drawbars and pedal board from gospel hollers to deep blues solos.
A 2004 album of original music was called “Joey DeFrancesco Plays Sinatra His Way.” His “Never Can Say Goodbye” in 2010 paid tribute to the music of Michael Jackson. He also recorded albums with singer Van Morrison and guitarist Danny Gatton. The organist didn’t care about genres, he just wanted to play good music.
Born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, on April 10, 1971, Joey DeFrancesco lived in Arizona for many years. DeFrancesco’s father, “Papa” John DeFrancesco, has been playing jazz organ on the Philadelphia jazz scene since the 1950s, NPR reported. His grandfather and namesake, Joseph DeFrancesco, had played saxophone and clarinet during the swing era of the 1930s in upstate New York. His older brother, Johnny, is a blues guitarist, according to NPR.
DeFrancesco could also play the trumpet, saxophone, piano and synthesizer. But he built his career playing an old-school Hammond B3 organ and sometimes he took to singing.
“I love the synthesizers and play all that stuff, but you can’t beat the sound of the B3,” he told The Associated Press in 1991. “The instrument has a very warm tone. It just has all those emotions in it. It’s got little bits of every instrument in it. It’s like having a whole orchestra at your fingertips.”