"I get young people at (Showcase) matinees, and they said they really dug the music — and they didn't even know what it's about."
In part, that's because they haven't had much chance to catch it on the airwaves, where musical culture can be disseminated widely and instantaneously.
But now WBEZ stands at a turning point. The station is launching a national search for a new CEO, with Chicago Public Media's chief operating officer Alison Scholly serving in the interim.
So WBEZ can continue airing freeze-dried broadcasts overnight from the BBC or it can create original music programming made in Chicago, for Chicago, as it did in its heyday. It can lace its weekend hours with more BBC imports or it can let Chicagoans hear music of Ramsey Lewis, Patricia Barber, Matt Ulery, Dee Alexander and uncounted other gifted Chicago artists heard around the world but rarely on the airwaves of their hometown.
Or all the above. There's plenty of room in WBEZ's schedule of live and canned programming for the station to champion one of the world's great jazz capitals: Chicago.
But if WBEZ does decide to reconnect with this music and with its own broadcast history, one word of advice: Play the music and minimize the talk.
There's already plenty of that to go around.
To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.