While our local public radio station WLRN (91.3 FM) is now mostly talk, it still provides listeners one daily dose of music. Every weeknight, from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., Tracy Fields helps Miami unwind from the long day with Evenin' Jazz. The show started 13 years ago, but Fields took over as the DJ and producer in 2010. And, according to Fields, it hasn't always been easy to keep the show on the air. "If you look back at our archives, you can see five years ago there was a real struggle to stay on the air," Fields says. "Fortunately locals really dig the show, and we dig them. It's a symbiotic relationship."
Fields came to know jazz thanks to her father's record collection. Growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, she'd often listen to Motown with her brothers, but it was her father's Count Basie records that really shaped her palate. She went on to double-major at Hampton University in Virginia, studying broadcasting and journalism. And it was her writing career that took her to Miami 20 years ago. Fields worked briefly as a copyeditor for Miami New Times before she met who she calls "the good people at WLRN." Before taking over Evenin' Jazz, she had the Sunday-morning shift.
Her hour commute to the station each way gives her time to sample new jazz on her car's CD player. She serves as the board operator for the station for the hour and a half before Evenin' Jazz starts, and during that time, she figures out what music will be played on that night's show. Each night of the week has a theme.
"Mondays are local night, where we play jazz by people from Florida or who lived here at some time," she explains. On Tuesday — AKA Two for Tuesday — she will dig up vocal and instrumental versions of the same songs.
Hump day is a sensitive issue. "I call it 'Wonderful Wednesday,'" Fields says. "Because my listeners would get upset when I call it 'Weird Wednesday.' I play outsider music. It's important for me to give people an opportunity to hear unusual things. Abbey Rader is a local drummer I like to play that night; so is the local trumpeter Stuart King."
After stretching the format to the limit, Fields reserves Thursday for straight-ahead jazz that she describes as "more acoustic and accessible, like early John Coltrane." Then Friday night is party night, when she welcomes the weekend with New Orleans drum lines and Herbie Hancock.
Fields has been steering the ship of Miami jazz radio for more than a decade, cultivating a loyal base of fans in the process. Others in Miami radio haven't been so lucky. On July 17, three classical South Florida radio stations quietly ended when the Minneapolis-based American Public Media Group reached a $20 million deal with Educational Media Foundation. Miami's WKCP 89.7 FM, West Palm Beach's WPBI 90.7 FM, and Fort Myers' WNPS 88.7 FM no longer play the classical music that the station's have been broadcasting for seven years but instead now play Christian radio.
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But Fields, for now, is going strong. And besides the CDs that labels and artists send her (the ones she devours on her daily commute), it is the live experience that keeps her enamored with the genre. "I try to go out as often as I can to hear live jazz," she says.
Events she pays particular attention to are those thrown by the Miami Jazz Society and the Monday-night Coral Gables shows put on by the Miami Jazz Cooperative.
One local artist she can't get enough of at the moment is vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, whose new album, For One to Love, blew Fields away. But with all the new music Fields is exposed to, she never loses sight of the classics — the standards that introduced so many to jazz, causing them to fall deeply in love with the great American art form. "I love the old favorites, but there's always room for something new. And if I get too far away from playing the favorites, I have listeners who will remind me to play them."