Best Jazz Radio Program - 2001
China's Jazz Thing
Revered jazz DJ China Valles won't let a little pink slip keep him from spinning his magic over the airwaves. As long as his blood is pumping, the 74-year-old "Mahj" (short for Maharajah Purveyor of Swirls, as Duke Ellington named him) says he'll keep the jazz beat thumping in Miami. After 24 years playing classic bop, blues, and fusion overnight at WTMI-FM (91.3), Valles was told last summer that his show no longer fit the format of the newly acquired classical music station. Valles, however, was not ready to put his huge collection of vinyl and CDs away for good. "What am I going to do, go to the beach?" the veteran DJ chuckles. "Music is my love; it's my life." He describes the loss of his late-night date as "a kick in the pants," but it wasn't enough to keep him down. Valles approached stations Love 94 (WLVE-FM 93.9) and WLRN-FM (91.3) for a steady time slot but got no commitments. When WDNA music director Arturo Gomez-Cruz heard Miami's sagacious jazz messenger was looking for a job, he immediately included him in the station's eclectic round-the-clock programming. Valles won his Friday afternoon (2:00 to 6:00 p.m.) gig, which he gladly accepted without pay, last December. Using a well-established format, he kicks off each show with upbeat instrumentals before sliding into his "What's New at Two" segment, featuring the latest releases. He then mixes things up with a featured-artist set, a blues hour, and wraps with swinging tracks to keep listeners bopping into the evening. Valles began his musical career as the road manager for saxophonist Jean-Baptiste "Illinois" Jacquet in the Fifties. He's met and interviewed musical giants such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra. He arrived in South Florida in 1963 to head an upstart jazz station and had been on the airwaves continuously ever since, that is until WTMI showed him the door. Still the Mahj and his devotees are thrilled to hear his show resurrected on the far left side of the radio dial. Gruff voice full of whimsy and charm, Valles is a well-worn local treasure.