Thursday, October 21, 2021

Take 5 with DJ Tracy Fields

The region’s preeminent jazz DJ continues to expand her audience’s ears

If you’re listening to jazz radio in South Florida, chances are high that Tracy Fields is spinning it. Since 1995 on various timeslots, Fields has been jockeying jazz for WLRN, one of the tri-county area’s most resonant NPR affiliates, from its studio caddy-corner to the Adrienne Arsht Center.

On “Evenin’ Jazz,” now running from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. weeknights, Fields plays the genre’s immortals—Miles, Bird, Ella—but ascribes even more airtime to the newer voices of jazz, curating an ongoing dialogue between the past, present and future of a great American musical idiom. The station allows her “something close to complete freedom.” During the middle hour of her show, Fields plays an entire album straight through, a showcase for emerging artists that is unheard of in the traditional radio market.

Fields dates her passion for jazz to her father’s collection of 78s. “In his music collection was a version of ‘Every Day I Have the Blues’ by the Count Basie Orchestra with Joe Williams,” she recalls. “And I dug that song. I was fascinated as a kid by how fast the record spun around, and I also appreciated how happy it made my father just to hear it.”

She says she grew up “with a radio plastered to the side of my head,” and launched her budding radio career when she volunteered for the campus radio station at her alma mater, Virginia’s Hampton University. She moved to South Florida to work as an Associated Press reporter after college, and chose a fortuitous moment to assist on a WLRN pledge drive. “It turned out that Joe Cooper, who was program director there at the time, had been looking to add a woman to the staff to play jazz, and I was lucky enough to be that one.”

It’s my understanding that most music radio these days is programmed by computer. How unique is your show in this or any market?

There are fewer of us than there used to be, but we’re still out there. You tend to find jazz hosts, either on SiriusXM or the low end of the dial where I am. It’s like [former “Evenin’ Jazz” host] Len Pace used to say to me about jazz in Miami … that there was something happening jazz-wise in South Florida every night of the week if you would just look. So yeah, jazz radio’s out there. All you have to do is look and listen.

What does it take to put together a great playlist for the radio?

The songs have to fit together, and what fits together for me may not be what fits together for some other people. But apparently my friends in radioland and I have come to an understanding.

There’s something nocturnal about listening to jazz, whether it’s at home before bed with the lights off or driving down some lightly trafficked highway. What is about night listening that works so well with this music?

Perhaps it is that most jazz gives you space, and by the time the end of the day rolls around, you need a little space to process what has happened. There’s a different vibe at night, and the music generally gives you a little space to be. It doesn’t demand so much from you, usually.

When I look at your playlists [Subscribe to her playlists for free at therealtracyfields.substack.com.—Ed.], I find names I’ve never seen before. How do you discover so many new exciting names in jazz?

People send me music; it’s a wonderful thing. Both CDs and files. I like physical music best, and I guess that makes me a dinosaur. I like being able to handle something that I’m playing. But I get my share of files as well.

How is contemporary jazz different from the masters of the genre in the 40s to 50s, or the more fusion-oriented players in the ‘70s and ‘80s?

I’m not really sure that it is. I think perhaps that the music changes with the times, and what we’re hearing now is the equivalent of movements we’ve heard before. As the world grows and changes, so does the music.

This story is from the July/August 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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