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Surfing Jazz Radio

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

by David Basse

How the Berman Music Foundation Changed the Face of Kansas City Jazz

As folks self-quarantine during the pandemic, the search for programming of every sort continues to grow. Some people say Content is King these days. With television and movie companies out of production—the backlog of reruns is getting sort of thin.

There has to be something to satisfy our collective desire to be entertained. Fortunately, jazz artists seem to be releasing new content at a close to normal level of output and jazz radio is thriving.

On a recent drive north, I discovered the radio programming of a freelance writer named Tom Ineck. You may not have thought to look in Nebraska for exciting jazz content. Tom continues to conduct engaging interviews with jazz artists. He’ll write the occasional review and he focuses on jazz features for the NET, which provides PBS and NPR for the entire state of Nebraska.

Tom has hosted a weekly jazz program on KZUM, the community radio station in Lincoln, since 1993. He hosts The Afternoon Groove on Thursday and he’s on NET Radio Saturday night from 7pm to 9pm.

Tom spent many years writing jazz concert reviews and travel stories for publications like the Lincoln Journal Star. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Journalism and minors in English, History and Anthropology.

Tom has written about many of Kansas City’s most popular artists and he continues to keep abreast of the up-to-the-minute goings on in jazz.

Beginning in 1993, Tom became writer, editor and webmaster for the Berman Music Foundation. This association afforded Tom and his wife the ability to travel on a regular basis.

The experience changed his life.

“Being a newspaper man,” said Tom, “I was unaccustomed to this sort of lavish treatment.” Butch Berman would tell him, “You need to get down to Kansas City and cover the jazz festival, I’ve booked you and your wife a room for the week.”

Butch Berman became the Director of the Topeka Jazz Festival in its final year. From 1993–2008 Butch was very active in the production and promotion of several jazz artists from Kansas City and the surrounding area.

He was the Executive Producer for one of percussionist Norman Hedman’s recordings. Norman played on dozens of important recordings, including pianist Alicia Keys’ sensational debut album.

“Norman, Alaadeen and Butch were tight.” said Alaadeen’s widow, Victoria Fanny Alaadeen. “When Butch and Grace married, Alaadeen wrote and recorded the song Grace that appears on Alaadeen’s album New Africa Suite.”

The saxophonist presented the newly married couple with a copy of the sheet music for Grace at their wedding. Ahmad Alaadeen was flown to New York by the Berman Foundation to perform a single track of Norman’s album.

In 1998 Butch co-hosted an event at the Mutual Musicians Foundation that introduced Grammy CEO Mike Greene to pianist Eldar Djangirov. Following a short solo performance by the young pianist, Greene quipped, “I don’t know whether to burp him or applaud.” Eldar was subsequently invited to perform on the 2000 Grammy Telecast. He was about to turn 13-years-old.

Tom documented the flamboyant lifestyle of Butch and his Berman Music Foundation for their website and in a monthly newsletter. The newsletter, record reviews, Butch’s monthly column Pres Says and documentation of the activities of the foundation can still be found on the site. It’s a fascinating jazz time capsule.

Bassist Gerald Spaits remembers Berman Music Foundation.

“When I played in Russ Long’s trio,” said Gerald, “we had heard that Butch was helping musicians record. “We set a meeting, drove to Lincoln and met with Butch and his attorney.”

“We didn’t think we were getting too far with the negotiation,” said Gerald, “the two of them kept telling us how much money the foundation had been spending to work with other musicians.”

Then, as the meeting seemed to be just about over Butch asked the trio how much money they actually needed. Gerald said, “Once they heard the amount, the lawyer wrote the check on the spot!”

This gave Gerald - a wonderful record producer - the chance to record Russ’s brilliant original compositions. Time to Go was recorded at Soundtrek in Kansas City. The album features pianist Russ Long performing with a seven-piece band.

Hearing of the project, guitarist Pat Metheny recorded a solo version of one of Russ’s compositions. Pat remembered that he was still in high school when Russ Long taught him to play the song.

Pat’s solo version was added to the project.

“I was able to bring the first project in on budget,” said Gerald, “that led us to the creation of a much larger production. Time to Go, which I am so glad we recorded, became Russ Long’s final album.”

They finished Time to Go in October of 2006. Russ Long passed away less than 3 months later on New Year’s Eve, 2007.

“Butch Berman loved music,” said Tom Ineck. “We met at KZUM back when both of us hosted radio shows there.

He was so supportive. Butch would do anything for the musicians. His love for music began with rock and roll. Then he loved the blues band featuring Charlie Burton and Bill Dye.”

Once he had the foundation it was jazz.

Butch Berman was the sole heir to his family’s clothing business. He did what he could for the musicians he loved. His home became a haven for traveling musicians; a huge record collection, instruments to play, and a musical basement man cave said to be beyond compare.

Butch was broadcasting 2 days after Conway Twitty’s passing. Board member, Dan DeMuth remembers meeting Butch after calling him that day at KZUM about the radio tribute.

Dan recalls, “I asked him if he realized Twitty had a career in rock & roll long before his country music recordings.” Butch said, “We got to talk.”

They met a few days later in the basement. This was the beginning of a very long friendship.

All this content lives on.

On Easter Sunday, 2008 the Berman Music Foundation held a Celebration of Life at the passing of Butch Berman. The musical performances included tributes by saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen, vocalist Karrin Allyson, pianist Joe Cartwright, bassist Gerald Spaits and many other grateful musicians.

The event, in a downtown hotel ballroom, ended a significant chapter of support for jazz music in and around Lincoln, Nebraska. The memories have been kept intact on the website created by Tom Ineck, who continues to document jazz from his home in Nebraska.

“Butch didn’t write,” said Tom, “ we would sit down once a month and he would dictate his Pres Says column to me.”

Bored with television reruns and movies you’ve seen a zillion times? This could be the content you’ve been looking for.

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