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Charles Latimer is a 2024 Jazz Hero



John Bommarito 891 WEMU. It's the song break. I'm John Bommarito, and one of the things on the Song Break we've been deciding we're going to do periodically is interview folks from the music scene and talk about important things that are happening in their lives. Today, I get the pleasure of speaking with Charles Latimer, who was named the 2024 Jazz Hero as recognized by the Jazz Journalists Association. Welcome to the program, Charles.

Charles L Latimer Thank you. Thank you very much.

John Bommarito Congratulations on that recognition. That's cool.

Charles L Latimer Oh, yeah. Thank you. I think so.

John Bommarito Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and how did you get into jazz?

Charles L Latimer Well, I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and got into jazz, probably in my early 20s. I just always kind of gravitated towards the older guys in the neighborhood, and, that's what they listened to. So in order to hang with them or to be a part of their collective, you had to be into jazz and you had to be very serious about it. So I got into it that way probably. Maybe about ten years after that, I started writing about it for the Metro Times. I had an opportunity to go in at a time where they wanted to cover jazz. I was invited to write for them, and it just kind of just took off from there. That was sort of my introduction to guys in the neighborhood.

John Bommarito Well, you're speaking their language if you're listening to their music. That's a great common denominator for sure.

Charles L Latimer Yeah. Indeed. Indeed.

John Bommarito What can you tell me about the Jazz Journalists Association who have bestowed this great honor upon you? I don't know much about them myself.

Charles L Latimer Well, I think it's a national organization, and they've been around, now, I think going on like three decades. And this is an annual award that they give to, I like to call it jazz advocates, jazz people that are behind the scenes that never really get a lot of recognition and recognition. Like, jazz journalists, radio personalities, publicists, music execs, that sort of thing. I think it's, really remarkable that they use their platform to recognize those advocates. So I think it's a very important award. It takes a lot of parts to keep this music going. And those guys I mentioned, like the publicists and the journalists and the radio personalities are just as instrumental as the people that make the music. So, that's why I believe that it's a very important award. And I'm so happy that they chose me this time around.

John Bommarito I think every entity or organization has some sort of background heroes, like we have board operators who run the board. You never really hear them mentioned on the air, but without them, we're lost here at the station. That's the kind of people that you're referring to.

Charles L Latimer Absolutely, absolutely.

John Bommarito You're writing has been, found in your own blog, the I Dig Jazz blog. You've written for the Metro Times, Jazziz.com…who else have you written for?

Charles L Latimer I’ve done some pieces for Downbeat. But mostly, I was with Metro Time. It was, I was there for almost two decades as a “roving jazz scribe” as they used to refer to me. It wasn't my intention to stay there that long, but it just sort of happened that way. When I was first invited to do a couple of articles, I just thought that that would be it. It worked out where I end up interviewing and having been blessed enough to write about a lot of big name guys like Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, T.S. Monk, Kenny Garrett, Regina Carter. So, it just kind of ballooned into something that I didn't expect, but I was very glad that I could be a part of. What I'm most proud of during my tenure there was being able to write about the Detroit based jazz musicians. The Mike Malis’, the Shawn Dobbins’, and the guys that, you know, really figure to really make this scene rich and vibrant. So, although I dealt with the national guys, the big guys, I was most proud that I was able to be a conduit, a voice for these guys that keep our local scene thriving.

John Bommarito We need people like that. And I like being one of those myself. Did that lead to the publishing of your book “Behind the Swing, A Glimpse Into Some of the World's Finest Jazz Musicians” that you put out in 2017. Was that all part of the landscape, getting to interview all those folks and then, “hey, I should make a book out of that. “

Charles L Latimer Yeah. Well, that's interesting. Because when I first started writing about jazz, the initial aspiration was to write a book. I was talking to my mentor, Bill Harris, playwright, Kresge Fellow Eminent Artist Fellow, about that. He was saying “you’re kind of at the stage in your writing where that's too ambitious of a project for you. So you need to kind of temper your goals or your whatever your aspirations are right now until you get to the point where you know you're able to do a book.” So he suggested that I try to just interview some local jazz guys and just try to sell articles to some local newspapers. That ended up happening. Then I did end up getting in with the Metro Times, so I sort of forgot about that my initial impetus was to do a book. 16 years later, I kind of look up and I was like, “well, I have enough material to compile in a book.” And it's also a tradition of what music journalists do and journalists outside of music did. At some point they compile a collection of their articles or their columns and put it into book form. As it relates to me, I looked up, some 16 years later and I had enough material to put into a book. So, I scraped up the money and I published it independently, and it did very well. It was to my surprise! I only hoped to sell maybe 50 copies and give the rest away to family and friends. People got wind of it and I was being invited to do signings and it was, nominated for an award. It was the only self-published book that year that was nominated.

John Bommarito That's great.

Charles L Latimer It far exceeded my expectations. We sold about 2000 copies.

John Bommarito Fantastic! My guest today on the song break on WEMU is author Charles Latimer. Charles, I've done a few interviews in my life. What's your methodology when preparing to interview an artist? What do you do in advance?

Charles L Latimer My methodology is to not overprepare. And I had to learn that, because when I first started out I would just do so much research that I knew everything about the person that I was interviewing before I sat down to Interview them. Which kind of negates the purpose of doing an interview, because you kind of want to discover these things about these people. But I used to be just really, really overprepared. Then I kind of backed away from that and just started to just get the basic information about them, because there was always something in an interview that would open up and really kind of lead to other questions and lead to a bunch of really interesting stories. So I always tried to keep the interviews conversational. Not very formal, conversational, where I'm talking. Just talking, you know, like we're talking now. Or I'm talking to one of my homeboys, I'm talking to my sister. That light bulb kind of clicked once when I had the opportunity to interview Regina Carter. I just asked her one question and she just ran with it, and it was just a very casual and informal interview. And again, it felt like I was talking to a friend or family member. So, from that point forward, I started to just make it a point to kind of keep things very loose and casual. And because I always had a tendency early on, when I was a newbie or I was a rookie, to try to force the story to be what I wanted it to be. Sometimes you know what you want the story to be when you go into the interview, but when you sit down to actually start talking to the person, the story changes. You find a story somewhere else. So that's pretty much has been my process for years. This kind of keeps things loose and casual and informal as possible.

John Bommarito I like those casual interviews myself, so I'm glad to hear that it works for you. Do people ever turn down a chance to speak to you for any reason?

Charles L Latimer I think I've only had it once, and I may have turned it down. I was really a big fan of Ahmad Jamal, the great pianist. And I reached out to his people for an interview, and they had all these conditions. All these things that I couldn't ask. And they wanted me to sign some kind of waiver or that kind of thing. So, I just I just backed away from that. I was like, “no that’s ok.” I couldn't ask about his faith. I couldn't ask about his relationship with Leonard Feather. I couldn't ask about certain things that I think that makes the story interesting. So that was one of the ones that I turned down. But for the most part, no, everybody's really been, pretty much, open to being interviewed. And it's really easy when they have something to promote. When they have a new album that's out or they have a series of concerts coming up. So it's relatively easy to get to the national guys, the Sonny Rollins, the Wayne Shorter's, The Kenny Garretts’, James Carter and those types of…those level of musicians. And, our regional guys. I just kind of track those guys down through their social media. Again, they're always very open to sitting down and talking with me.

John Bommarito You named a couple of artists earlier that you've chatted with. Who've been some of your favorite people to interview overall?

Charles L Latimer Oh, wow. Well, that’s a great one. Probably my favorite was… probably Regina Carter. Regina is just such a smart and wonderful person, and she was just so warm. And it just really felt like I was talking to my sister. She's a talker. I mean, you don't you don't have to ask her a lot of questions. So probably Regina Carter is definitely, probably my favorite. Robbie Coltrane, I had an opportunity to talk to him. That was a good one. Probably the one I was most intimidated by was Horace Silver. I actually hung the phone up on him! When I called him and I was so shocked. I was just calling just to get consent to do an interview with him that he wanted to do it right on the spot. I was so intimidated. I just kind of nervous and hung the phone up. But he was understanding and kind to me. It was also intimidating interviewing Sonny Rollins. I said some things that didn't necessarily fit well with him. And he straightened me out really nicely. In a nice very professional and grandfatherly way. But those were some of my favorite ones and some of the ones that I was really, really intimidated by. But I got through them.

John Bommarito Those are some pretty cool experiences though for sure.

Charles L Latimer Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely.

John Bommarito I see how many records come through our mail room for review and for potential airplay. What are a couple of records that you're really excited about right now? I imagine you get a few to review.

Charles L Latimer Well, you know I blog. I've been doing my blog, I Dig Jazz, since 2007, and I used to get about 300-400 albums or CDs a year. That's just stopped drastically. Well, I just get press releases and digitally now. But right now, I listen to the old stuff. I'm listening to my collection of older stuff. So, I'm not.…I probably should be ashamed to say this, but I'm not really too hip on what's happening right now. You know, I have a young lady that I've been mentoring, Veronica Johnson. I've been mentoring her for years. She writes for Downbeat and Jazz Times, and I go to her when I want to know who the hip people are. She's turned me To Samara Joy and Brandee Younger and some of the other young folks that are out now who have made names for themselves. So, I rely on the young folks, the younger jazz journals, to let me know what's happening because I'm stuck in… I was still listening to Sonny Simmons the other day, and Jimmy Forrest, those kind of guys.

John Bommarito Veronica was a guest on the program a couple weeks ago, and she's actually the way we connected. So I'm grateful to her. How about some of your “can't miss” live performers. A couple that you would, if they're in town, you HAVE to go see.

Charles L Latimer Oh, Branford Marsalis. He was here a couple weeks ago. And he… man, he tore it up. And we’ve got Kenny Barron on tap. So, when Kenny Barron is in town I have to hear Kenny Barron. When Orrin Evans is in town, I have to go see him. Sheila Jordan. Sheila Jordan comes in and whoever they have at Jazz Fest every year. So there's always a list of people that I just have to go and see no matter what. If I have a surgery scheduled or something, I’ve got to postpone it.

John Bommarito I get it.

Charles L Latimer I gotta see those guys. That's what serious jazz people do.

John Bommarito I plan my life around concerts sometimes too.

Charles L Latimer Let me just add this too: how important WEMU has been in my development. When I first really got into listening to this music, really seriously, that was the station that I would go to listen to every day. I mean, you guys at one point had jazz all the time. Morning jazz, afternoon jazz, evening jazz, weekend jazz. It was just.. there wasn't a moment in a day that you could not turn to that channel and listen to some great music. So WEMU was really instrumental in me just hearing some and getting this music in my system and keeping this music in my system and in my blood. Michael Jewett, Linda Yohn, when she was there, and George Klein and some of the others. Michael G Nastos and some of the other great radio personalities there. So, you know, your station's really been important to what's happening in jazz in Michigan. So, kudos to you guys.

John Bommarito Thank you for those kind words. That's really nice, Charles. Final question because I saw some reference to this in the research I did on you. Smooth jazz versus “jazz.” What are your thoughts on the two things? People seem to think they're different things.

Charles L Latimer I don't know if I think they're different. And again, this is one of the things that I learned talking with Regina Carter. I may have posed that question to her in maybe a different sort of way. And she was like, “Charles, it's all, at the end of the day, it's all music, whether it's smooth jazz or hip hop or techno. At the end of the day, it's all music.” And so that's kind of been my feelings about that or my mindset when it comes to getting into all that jazz. The smooth jazz stuff is not really my cup of tea. I don't listen to it a lot, and I just think that maybe those guys… I would really like to interview Kenny G one of these days. You know, he always gets beat up for not being a jazz artist. And I had an opportunity to interview Alexander Zonjic for a piece in the Metro Times. He's in that smooth jazz vein. He kind of set me straight. He was like “sometimes those musicians probably can play the music that Trane played and Bird and all those, big name guys, but they just decide not to.” You know, this is the music that gets them, that they have an affinity for. So, they just have to go that route and they have an audience for it. Again, it's not my cup of tea, but at the end of the day, I had to agree with Regina that it's all music.

John Bommarito As long as there's been performers of any kind, whether it's acting or musicians, there's been critics. So, I mean, people are going to have opinions no matter what. Right? They all play it with the same kinds of instruments. How can you really dismiss it as a viable music? But anyway, thank you. I was curious what your thoughts were on that. Well, thank you, my guest, Charles Latimer, the 2024 Jazz Hero as recognized by the Jazz Journalists Association. I'm really grateful for your time today, Charles, and thanks for chatting with me today.

Charles L Latimer Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today and I appreciate it. And thank you for acknowledging the award. I've always been a big fan of WEMU. Continue to swing. I really, really enjoy and respect what you guys do.

John Bommarito Thank you very much. And congratulations once again.

Charles L Latimer Thank you.


2024 Jazz Heroes

2024 Jazz Heroes: Charles Latimer

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My background is almost entirely music industry related. I have worked record retail, record wholesale, radio and been a mobile disc jockey as the four primary jobs I've held since 1985. Sure, there were a few other things in there - an assistant to a financial advisor, management level banker (hired during the pandemic with no banking experience), I cleaned a tennis club and couple of banks. The true version of myself is involved in music somehow. Since I don't play any instruments, my best outlet is to play other people's music and maybe inspire you to support that artist.
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