John on Twin Peaks over-looking San Francisco —- August 13, 1977 —- photo by Mark Weber
MEMORIAL FOR A JAZZMAN
REST IN PEACE
July 29, 1952 – January 20, 2020
What makes a jazzman? And how does a jazzman learn about the music? (Especially in a culture where it is hidden.) You could take a college course in jazz history. You could read Martin Williams the way I did (but it took Stanley Crouch to tell me to). But, how does the music take hold and lead you on this life-long quest? Music is a trail of bread crumbs, one crumb leads to the next. My generation grew up on 60s rock & roll and AM radio, and in that, if you listen close, it’s like reading Beowulf, you sense this larger background mythology lurking in the shadows. Stories told late at night around the fire. Stories you hear on late-night radio. Rock & roll implied all this mystery, you sensed something behind it, like, WHERE did it come from? We know now, but we didn’t then. It arose out of Black American cultural musics, and the culture thereof. In segregated America it’s quite a leap for a white boy to jump. They say curiosity is a sign of intelligence and I say the defining characteristic of homo sapiens is cleverness.
My dear friend John Breckow got away from us last Monday (on MLK Day as it were, appropriately). This quest takes determination, you have to search for it, but it’s not a white-knuckle-determination, you’ve had a spell cast over you, all the while you have to sense out what you need from it, personally, and whittle down your preferences. First time I ever heard the name Bucky Pizzarelli was on John’s late-night KPFK Los Angeles radio show, and now all these years later I must own 50 Bucky Pizzarelli records and caught him half dozen times in performance (if he came west more often it would have been more) and I even had him as a guest on my own radio show. But, it was John who pointed the way on that one, and many others. John was born one year before me but he seemed about 3 or 4 years older, he was much further along in the Quest. Consequently, he was usually the leader of our little troupe, it was he who’d often influence our peregrinations around the great city of Los Angeles. Like the time we all gather’d at John’s one Sunday around noon (L.A. being a 9-5 working town has a tradition of Sunday afternoon jazz, to wind down for the coming Monday) the idea was to go see Barney Bigard but John says he’s heard about this Black store-front preacher who plays lap steel & bass drum at the same time he delivers these crazed preachments. This was catnip to John. He had glee over such bizarre things. And it was a giant culture leap for a bunch of white kids from the white suburbs, we knew nothing of the Holiness Church, let alone the AME. (Going straight to the Holiness Church without the tempering effect of the AME first is like jumping from Dixieland straight into the avant-garde, but what did we know?) I’m not even sure this lap player was Holiness, I think he was rogue. He was certainly a character. Well, I had my heart set on catching Duke Ellington’s clarinet player but John was fairly convincing in his curiosity. (I never did catch up with Barney Bigard, alas.) We’d pile into one or two cars and head out into the unknown.
That preacher was Reverend Lonnie Farris. More on that at a later time. Whew.
Back then, John was a devoted reader of Stanley Dance’s great column Lightly & Politely in THE JAZZ JOURNAL. Those columns should be gathered up into a book. Some of them are on-line.
By his teens John was a free-range kid, his parents were indisposed, his father worked as an engineer at Lockheed in Glendale where they lived and in the evenings sat with his bottle and TV.
His mother had been taken to Camarillo State Hospital. He had an older sister who was ensconced in the scene around Sunset Blvd (she dated John Kay of Steppenwolf, for instance). John was on his own. His mother had bought him his first record player, a fold-down turntable with two speakers that opened like doors and were detachable. “That’s when I discovered what stereo was.” And boy could he talk about the wonders of Southern California radio back then. (In later years he always reminded me when I was being critical over boring radio hosts, he’d say how they hadn’t been lucky to grow up in the era when disk jockeys were all wild men and characters and had personalities.) Home was Glendale, which means he was in the same town as Ray Avery’s great record store. But, even Ray Avery was asking John’s advice. When I first met John I thought he was a rich kid. I had to go into the factories while I was still in high school, and John went north to the college town of Isla Vista, I don’t know how enrolled in college he was but he had his first radio show there at UC Santa Barbara, the show called The Masked Clam, blues and jazz. And in those years he was the founder of the blues magazine WHISKY, WOMEN AND. John’s father would give John a twenty almost every day, if I have the story right. And $20 was a lot of bread back then. No wonder he had all the good smoke and so many records. It took me a few years to find out John did not come up with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father also gave him the graduation gift of a trip to England. Of course, John being John he went straight to Ronnie Scott’s and caught Ben Webster! I’m not sure if it was this trip but somewhere along the line he also caught the Tubby Hayes bug (his email address was > jazz.courier@xxxxxx —— the Jazz Couriers being Tubby’s late 50s quintet).
John went on to work in record stores all around L.A., the first I remember was the blues specialty store J&S on Lake in Pasadena. Did he ever work at PooBah? (Terry Cannon mentions this on FaceBook). He eventually worked as the jazz buyer for Rhino. And it was for Rhino that he was hired to compile an as-yet-to-be-released comprehensive late-career compilation of Paul Butterfield, of whom he was hoping to be his biographer, but Paul was off & on about the idea.
You pronounce Breckow not with a “cow” but with an O. John Breck-O. His father was several generations back an immigrant from Russia. His mother was of the very last Jewish family that got out of the Polish Bloc before Hitler took over. John was a hipster. He always seemed a character of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. And he was easily in the top ten in the world with jazz history and jazz ears, he had great ears. He loved to do the Blindfold Test just to see where you were. Many is the time he tried to stump me, and many is the time I’d say, listening to some odd trumpet styling more or less baffled, “Well, I can tell you who it isn’t.” That’s how I wiggled out of that one, and stayed in John’s good graces. He was born for radio. He was smart & funny & a true individualist. An audiophile, record producer, art collector (he and Dory’s collection of unknown artists who fell through the cracks is stunning), and a collector of old Ace hardboiled paperbacks. He even has a poster of James Cotton’s first album framed on his wall in his record library, Cotton’s first album was a favorite he often went into raptures about.
In fact, my last emails from him were over this new Paul Butterfield documentary HORN FROM THE HEART. He was still a bluesman.
In all his various rental pads he had we’d hang out all night, grab a couple bags of Bill’s Chicken back when Bill was still there up on Washington in Pasadena. You know, it was John who found the huge 18-inch platters that were the original Tiffany Transcriptions of mid-40s indispensable Bob Wills Texas Playboys. He found them at a swap-meet in Bakersfield! (John for years got up early Sunday mornings to comb the Rose Bowl swap-meet.)
Oh, there’s so much to tell. I hope everyone else who knew John or listened to his radio shows will add their stories to the Comments. Here’s a funny one: We were out for a Sunday afternoon in the late-70s to catch Art Pepper at the John Anson Ford Theater (outdoor amphitheater, amazingly beautiful surroundings in Cahuenga Pass, Hollywood Hills) where the cars are all stack parked. Our gang is walking up the ramp when someone tells us that Art is not well and won’t be there that day, that this band Yellowjackets was filling in. Our hair stood on end. We hated the Yellowjackets, and if we don’t get back to the car in a hurry it’s going to be irretrievable and we’ll be stuck there. There’s nothing else to do around the John Anson Ford, not unless you want to go down and watch the cars on the Hollywood Freeway. Luckily, my brother Brian was with us and between me & him we were popping door locks and pushing cars out of the way. To John this was semi-criminal behavior and he loved it. Saved the day. I forget where we repaired to, I’m sure it was musical.
John didn’t die of anything like heart attack or cancer (at least, it was not overtly apparent, but his white blood cells were elevated and they never figured out why). His body just gave out after almost 3 weeks in hospital. Dory thinks it started back in October, but John wasn’t saying anything. Initially it was prostate issues, then pneumonia, mixed in with low-level diabetes and a few other things, getting his lungs drained, the discovery of A-Fib, etcetera. I saw him the day before and he had the fight still in him. When we left and he held my handshake, looking eye to eye, I said “Don’t go anywhere.” He had a hard time speaking with his lungs so weak, said, “We’re not done.” And I added, “We still have our book to write.” But, by the next day he was assigned a hospice. Health is so tenuous. We’re not done my old friend.
John Breckow at the KPFK controls January 14, 1977 —- photo by Mark Weber
May 27, 1979 was a Sunday but I think this is extremely late on a Saturday night —- John’s radio show Smoke Rings on KPFK during a live broadcast with Dave Frishberg, a frequent guest on his show —- Los Angeles —- photo by Mark Weber —- Donte’s was just down the street and around the corner from KPFK so if I happen’d to be at Donte’s I’d jump over to John’s show, I remember this night was Prez Conference at Donte’s —– Dave played magnificently, and had his own joints that were rolled with papers that were unconventionally much longer than the standard Zig Zags and it was his own homegrown he called Ventura Silver <grin>
Bobby Bradford being interviewed by Paul Vangelisti and John Breckow —- KPFK January 14, 1977 —- photo by Mark Weber
As long as we were driving up (from L.A.) to see the San Francisco Blues Festival John scored a little job from NPR to interview the musicians (you see he’s holding a mike) — That’s him with Albert Collins when the Festival used to be held in the magnificent hilltop classical amphitheater in McLaren Park —- August 14, 1977 photo by MW
You can’t talk about John Breckow and not talk about his love of Warne Marsh in the 70s, we bonded over Warne Marsh and checked him out around town as much as possible ———- That’s Monty Budwig (bass) and Art Pepper and Warne at Donte’s January 26, 1977 photo by Mark Weber ————- John used to call Art “Lightening in a bottle”
Blues guitarist Mississippi Smokey Wilson and John Breckow —— It was John that heard rumors of this club down on Vermont & 88th Street in South Central LA, of this amazing post-war electric blues happening there, so we investigated, and returned many times thereafter ———– photo by Mark Weber January 4, 1978
The Bobby Bradford Extet live broadcast on John Breckow’s KPFK Friday night radio show Goodbye Porkpie Hat April 2, 1977 released in 2008 as MIDNIGHT PACIFIC AIRWAVES (Entropy Records, Detroit) —– James Newton(flute), BB(flugelhorn, which is odd, this shot must have been at soundcheck as Bobby played cornet throughout the broadcast), Richard Rehwald(bass), George Goldsmith(drums & percussion) —- photo by Mark Weber
Of course, leave it to John to know who Bob Geddins was (I didn’t) and to buttonhole him for an interview at the San Francisco Blues Festival August 13 & 14, 1977 —– Geddins was an Oakland auto mechanic who started his own record label releasing blues 45s of locals for the jukebox market, only now has his accomplishments been recognized —————– photo by Mark Weber
John would get a laugh out of this —- Zaven Jambazian’s van parked out front of the duplex he shared with John (they had separate units) on Sierra Madre Blvd, Pasadena ————- Zaven was an Armenian, of whom many reside in L.A. area, and a blues harmonica player —- photo by Mark Weber January 1978
John doing the monster crawl mugging for the camera on his Friday afternoon radio show at KUNM with guests Kazzrie Jaxen and Virg Dzurinko —- a great informative interview discussing Lennie Tristano and their own music, too — May 6, 2o16 Albuquerque —- photo by Mark Weber
That’s the tip of Bill Payne talking with Charley Krachy with John staring at the camera here at 725, a little party we had for the visiting New Yorkers and Las Vegans May 4, 2016 —– Everybody in town for the INTERLACE concerts at Outpost I produced and John was an assist & advisor – photo by Mark Weber
Dory & John created a good life for themselves in the little New Mexico village of Corrales —– That’s the casita in the rear of their ranch house where John’s unbelievable stereo system was and his record collection, and that’s his beloved dog Laddie, a border collie —— We’d have listening sessions that always blew my gourd, and John had such a love of music, he turned me around one day playing me the REAL recordings of Silvestre Revueltas, of which up till then I’d been getting milquetoast versions: check out conductor Carlos Surinach’s run in the 50s with this amazing music ——— photo by Mark Weber February 11, 2015 —— They moved from Valley Village, San Fernando Valley, to Corrales in July 2o13
John’s audiophile system —- December 25, 2016 ——- photo by MW
After I got back on my feet after hernia surgery John took me out to lunch at his favorite steak house Monte Carlo, hard by the Rio Grande on Central —– April 2, 2019 Albuquerque —- We couldn’t resist this tableau for a photo
John Breckow & Mark Weber —- April 2, 2o19 Albuquerque USA snapped by Janet on our patio
John told me that when he had Bob the Bear Hite and other members of Canned Heat on his radio show that they had weed but nobody had rolling papers, so, the Bear showed them how to roll a joint using toilet paper —- Yeh!—-where there’s a will there’s a way
As always a beautiful photo story. Just fantastic my friend. Love Sheila.
When I opened the Espresso Bar on So. Raymond (Pasadena) in early 80, I found a wonderful old (1956) AMI juke, and the most utterly generous John Breckow offered me free range to choose 45s from his collection. I filled it with the most amazing records, nothing later than 1960. It was a real education, courtesy of this angel… Thank you for your rich article. What a darling guy!
I have always wondered how you managed to be such a remarkably knowledgeable Jazz aficionado. You & your friend John are true Jazzmen. Thank you for sharing his brilliant Legacy. He will definitely be missed.
“Music is a trail of bread crumbs, one crumb leads to the next. . . . [I]f if you listen closely oh, it’s like reading Beowulf, you can sense this larger background mythology lurking in the shadows. Stories told late at night around the fire. Stories you hear on late night radio. . . . [Y]ou sensed something behind it, like WHERE did it come from?” Mark Weber, Jan. 22, 2020 on the role of late night curated radio in our lives.
Modern stories around the campfire – that’s pretty freak’in profound there Weber. – Kurt
Dear Mark, my CONDOLENCES to U & ALL BRECKOW LOVE ONES/FAMILY!!
COMMISERATIONS + PATHOS From a JAZZMAN/BEBOPPER
Rest in peace. John. I hung out with John regularly for a number of years, and he lived with me for around 6 months at my place on Beverly Glen. He was a terrific fellow and I was saddened when we lost touch. By the way, not a swap meet where he got the Tiffany Transcriptions, although that is how he might have told the tale. I was there, but a story for another time.
Mark….I will say more tomorrow, but I drove John to Bakersfield to get the Tiffany Transcriptions. They sat on the back seat of my VW Bug the entire trip back to Santa Barbara. He kept saying “Tom be careful”. I chuckled a couple times. I recognize your name. Any chance you had a lot of film footage?
more details about John’s music life & history:
1) His radio show The Masked Clam began in 1970 at KCSB Santa Barbara —- I don’t know for how many years, I’d guess 2 or 3 at most —- also, during his years in SB he was founding member of the Santa Barbara Blues Society
2) Somewhere in the early-70s he formed in Pasadena, with Dr Paul Hoffman, The Charlie Parker Laboratory of Comparative Ethnomusicology
Very sorry to hear this. It’s very hard to lose a friend like that, I hope you are doing ok. John’s KPFK shows were required listening for all of us when we were coming up. A really sweet man with a deep knowledge about the music.
Hey, Vinnie! Helen from Santa Barbara, now Santa Fe. I was so sad to see John died. We worked together in the early 70’s at KCSB. One of the best people ever.
Sorry to hear this. I got to know John when he worked at Rhino Records and he would occasionally call me when something he thought would interest me (and he was invariably right) came in. I learned a lot from this gentle and knowledgeable guy. Mark, I posted your tribute on my website, http://belairjazz.org/index.html
So much to say about John; I don’t know where to begin, Mark. I too spent a fair amount of time with him. It seemed like I was at Rhino Records every week in the 1980s and ’90s, and John was the cat for jazz and blues info. All you needed was the itch and John would steer you onto artists and their best recorded work. He worked there five days a week, then did his two-hour KPFK show on Friday nights, “Smoke Rings.” Sundays were the midnight-to-dawn show,, “The Big Sleep,” with the first hour an uninterrupted string of music programmed until 1 a.m. That’s when he back-announced everything he’d just played, and with commentary. Then there were the biannual ‘Birdathons”–six hours of Charlie Parker…
I was lucky enough to guest with John a couple of times, and it was instructive to see how focused and professional John was at his craft. He approached the music and the people who make it with knowledge, study, respect and eager curiosity. After Will Thornbury, John was the best jazz programmer I ever heard. As John Wayne noted elsewhere: I’d hate to have to live off the difference.
i worked with john at rhino for a few years in the early ’80s. his knowledge of jazz & blues was certainly boundless, but so was his knowledge of old l.a. — restaurants, writers, films and style. he turned all of his co-workers onto loads of great stuff. except for the guys he hated! ha! thanks for the great piece.
Mark, thank you so much for this remembrance. I loved talking to John when he was the jazz buyer at Rhino Records I was a sales rep back then. He knew pretty much exactly what would fit in those shiny new Rhino bins.Then I lost track of him except for the radio show (or was it still on?) I learned quite a bit about ‘’jazz talk’’ from him, the way one would refer to a jazz person, place, or thing in the jazz world. And his laugh. I could not get enough of. And his comments from across the store when they had nothing to do with him, yet he was paying attention and would chime in about their wrongness. Small store.
One day he hugged me that almost broke my back for giving him gratis a Anyway, what a guy … he will be missed. He lives on in the record store employee lore from the early 80’s onwards….
Thanks again, Mark!
Thank you for this…. I went to Tal Junior high school with Jon in 66 or 67. We both had PE together with a teacher named Mr. Trump. We were always in trouble with Mr. Trump, so he had us do laps around the track of which we walked. He was always talking about the blues and blues artist. It was the mid 60s and I still hadn’t known what the blues was. John educated me.
One weekend his mother drove us to old town Pasadena and dropped us off in an area that kind of scared me, being a white boy. He knew right where to go, down an alley and then down the stairs with bars on the window! Inside we found the owner a very large black man chewing on a cigar.
It was there that John introduced me to the blues music of Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell, Fred MacDowl and a guy named “ McKinley Morganfield.“
John’s musical influence on me changed my life. After junior high school, I lost track of him, he disappeared, until now.
Thank you John Breckow,
I knew John in jr high and high school. He was a funny guy and played a hot wash board in our jug band called the Artificial Persperation Cruz Band and the Invisible Choir.
Really sorry to hear this. I’ve known John since 1967- we were 15…
Mark & All.
Mark thank you so much for your writing above, deeply appreciated since I lost touch with JB around 1983. There will be a few minor corrections to that which was written above (****) will mark the corrections.
First met John when he moved to Santa Barbara to manage The Sound Experience Record Store. I believe this was 1970. Some on FB have said he owned the store, that is not correct. He gave me grief for buying “shit”, said “come to my house will turn you on to some good music”. I went, in fact I went about 2-3 nights a week, we smoked a ton of weed, and I was turned on to great blues, soul, black gospel, western swing, rockabilly, country and jazz. I often took a reel-to-reel tape with me. (100 times+) I worked for the store off n on, more or less as a fill-in, as did Jay, who later moved to New York & became drummer for the Patti Smith Group. I had no idea he was a drummer. John worked for the Sound Experience before moving to SB, he would later to to work for J & F Southern Records, after returning to LA. Rhino also. He also worked for a record store in Isle Vista for awhile, after the Sound Experience closed it’s door. Can’t recall the name, but it was not Morning Glory.
John & I went to LA about 30 times for shows; Wolf, Muddy, Jimmy Rodgers, Warne Marsh, Clifton Chenier first wave of white guys, we were treated like kings that was 1970-72. Also to one off gigs Pee Crayton, Phillip Walker, and a trip to see Rev Lonnie Farris, god were we stoned for that. Went to the SF Blues Festival for 2 yrs in a row. Our friend Kim Wilson went with us to see Big Walter Horton at the Ashgrove.
It was mentioned that John was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Blues society; not totally correct (****). There was no organization, no non profit status, no Board etc etc. We used that term to put on shows, I served as John’s right hand guy. Later there would become an organized SB Blues Society; I can’t recall who was the driving force, but if I heard his name, I’d say “oh yeah”.
At one time he had a couple radio shows on KCSB. There was a Masked Clam Show, I believe it was changed to Blue Monday (there certainly was his Blue Monday show) I went often, guested on show from time to time. We always smoked weed in the studio. One night we had an “oh shit” moment, we were smoking, talking about how good the weed was, John had left the mic on, the phones started to ring, we were alerted.
Got a call from John one day, Tom can we go to Bakersfield, I am buying a complete set of the Tiffany Transcriptions, I had no idea who, what he was talking about until he mentioned Bob Wills. On the way home, they sat on the back seat, he worried like a bad back seat driver. I had a VW bug. When we got back to his house, which was a log cabin, we listened till about 4 in the morning. An eight hour listening session. The sound was amazing, truly mint-.
Mark Cantor above mentions “not swap meet prices” as I recall $200. A lot of money in those days. JB would later release a Western Swing LP, a Dr Ross EP on Masked Clam Record, and the first of what was going to be a series of the Bob Wills material. (I have all 3). John was sued, he showed me the cease & desist letter). As part of the settlement he gave up his copies of the Tiffany Transcriptions. Our hearts were broken!!!!!
As JB was moving full blown into jazz, I bought a lot of soul & blues records from him. The prize was the Explosive Ike & Tina Turner LP on Sue records, for $3. Speaking of jazz, we once had an all day Charlie Parker listening session. John pulled out an album, told me “you ain’t gonna like this” (he started to chuckle). It was that god awful Parker with strings LP, which I hate to this day. John laughed ever harder as the needle hit the record. I said “that is god awful crap take it off” He laughed even more, I went over to the turntable, took it off, and broke it over my leg. 45 yrs later I still hate that LP.
John was writing for Whiskey, Wimmen,,,,and (not sure he was a founder per say, was there from the start). We went to Bakersfield to co-write an article on Bakersfield Blues, we were looking for the Cotton Club, while in a rural ghetto, we saw some older guys, pulled the car up to them, asked a few questions. A young fellow came up to us, grabbed my glasses off my face, smashed them. I asked him “now why the hell did you do that”. He went for a gun, back came the gun (John later said, let’s not mention the gun part). He kept telling me “let’s get the hell our of here”, I floored my VW bug. He may or may not have ever mentioned a gun.
John loved basketball as did I. We often played one-on-one. He weighed about 275, I about 150. He backed my skinny ass down. I got smart, at 5’11 could dunk a softball, I let him get past me then would block his shots, he would laugh.
An Epic dinner with Harmonica Frank Floyd. Sitting down to dinner, 6 of us, Frank was at the other end of the table. His smell was AWFUL. One of the 2 ladies said “Frank, I’m doing some laundry tonight, what would you like me to wash for you. Frank replied “no need, I did my laundry 3 weeks ago before I left”. He only had the clothes, socks etc that he had on him for a long trip. I doubt he washed or showered the entire trip. Whatever he brought with him was in an old worn out brown paper bag. The next day I drove Frank to KCSB for an interview, he would later play an outdoor gig, I know Gus Jenkins was on the bill, not sure who else. Not a roll down the window day, but I had no choice, the smell sadly was making me sick. I had to air out my car that night. BTW Frank loved my Lonesome Sundown 8 track playing in my car.
The interview as I recall was by Greg Drust. During the interview Floyd played with 2 harmonica’s in his mouth (no or few teeth) and joked about using 3. A can of air spray was used inside the studio after he left. I know, after walking Floyd to a nearby outdoor gig, I returned with that can. We finished the show, then went to the gig. The studio had a fresh orange smell for the next DJ.
Nobody and I do mean NOBODY turned me on to great music, like John did, not even close, not on the same playing field.
John moved to LA, think he was in Santa Barbara for 2.5 yrs. No more than 3. I missed him then, I miss him now. JB nicked named me “Uncle Tom” laughing every time he said it. I smile right now, as I hear that laugh. With that I will sign off with his nick name he gave me.
“Uncle Tom” Wilt
Thanks for sharing your wonderful recollections of John. He was truly one of a kind. I just learned this morning of his passing from a friend who forwarded an email from another friend. I probably met John at the Sound Experience record store on Anapamu also. We had many long conversations – and arguments – at the store. He introduced me to so much great blues music there and in late night visits at his log cabin. I”m listening as I write this to the singular reel to reel tape that he made for me during one of those visits. Three hours of John’s desert island blues favorites which probably took five hours to produce. And boy were we stoned, there’s dead-air gaps between some of the cuts, false starts and some noisy needle-drop beginnings to songs.
Our disagreements were always over musicians outside of the blues that I felt were worthy. I’ll always remember trying to convince him that Ray Manzarek was a bona-fide keyboard-player. Nope. John’s favorite term of dismissal – dildo – came up numerous times in the debate. I never convinced him once. Opinionated he was and there were no doubts in his being.
But boy did I learn from him. His passion and encyclopedic knowledge of the blues was boundless. His willingness to spend countless hours sharing music was limitless and generous. He truly enjoyed sharing. And he had such a great sense of humor. Just a fun guy to be around.
John came to one of the rehearsals of our band, Mississippi Mud back in the day. After sitting through the rehearsal he pronounced that we “had potential”. We took that as a positive.
I had hoped to see you Tom at our 50th high school reunion last September. It was a lot of fun. Two of our classmates attended for the first time: Gary Atkins and Sam Cunningham. You came up in conversation with someone whose name I don’t recall, but he said he stays in touch with you and lives in your same town in the northwest. I haven’t seen you since our 20th reunion, so it’s been 30 years. It’d be great to catch up with you, let me know how we can connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have many fond memories of times you & I spent together. Driving from SB to LA to see music in your VW bug. Did we see Muddy Waters at the Whiskey together? Jr. Walker & the All-Stars? Elvin Bishop the night he fired the Pointer Sisters as his back-up singers & talked with us about it on the Whiskey balcony? Or Elvin at the Golden Bear when Cheech & Chong were the unknown opening act?
My favorite Tom Wilt story was one I was not in but Brekow may have been. You were browsing the record bins in the front of the Ash Grove when they were still selling records. You & some skinny guy with an English accent started talking about various records you’d picked up. It was a few minutes into the conversation before you realized it was Mick Jagger. I’ve told that story dozens of times over the years.
Anyway, it’s a sad day for me to learn of John’s passing. May he rest in peace & have lots of fun chats with his heroes on the other side.
I don’t know Mark Weber but want to thank him for providing this space for him to share his recollections of John and for us to share ours.
I went to junior high and high school with John. John scared me a little back then. I would go over to his house with other friends to listen to music. If his mother was home, he’d yell and swear at her, which, as a sheltered Glendale kid, was shocking to me. Knowing now that his mom was mentally ill makes it a little easier to understand.
But John’s love of music was the most important thing, and he loved to share it. He turned me on to great blues music, I loved listening to the stuff John put on the record player. He opened my ears at a critical time.
I reconnected with John sometime in the ’80s when he was working at Rhino in Westwood: we had a meal or two, and I would often go into Rhino and ask John for recommendations. He was a lot like another friend, Eddie Gorodetsky, who is now a successful comedy writer, but was and is one of the most knowledgeable people about old jazz, blues, and R ‘n’ B, with a record collection that boggles the mind. John’s radio show was amazing, and a unique part of LA’s history.
I lost contact with John, like many have said. I’m grateful for the history you wrote here, Mark. It’s good to know about his life post-LA. He loved music even more than most of us who have spent our careers playing and writing it. He will be greatly missed.
Thank you, Mark Weber, for your beautiful memorial to John Breckow. Deepest sympathy to you and his family. This happened so fast and far too soon.
I was proud to consider myself a friend of John. I met him in 1970 when his radio show on KCSB from UC Santa Barbara “The Masked Clam Blues Show” immediately preceded my program “The Hot Jazz Hour.” Later, as a fan, I followed his work for Pacifica Radio KPFK 90.7 FM on his program “Smoke Rings” on Sunday nights from midnight to 6:00 AM. Lost a lot of sleep because of that fantastic program. “Smoke Rings” is reported to have aired weekly for 23 years.
On “Smoke Rings,” John often played jazz from all ages and mixed them up together to show the connections few had perceived before. He also sometimes played 6-hour marathons of recordings of the jazz greats . . . sometimes on their birthdays . . . like Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Parker, etc. John was absolutely independent in his thinking about blues, jazz and radio broadcasting. Only stations like KPFK and the college stations could handle him. He was a virtuoso jazz broadcaster.
Late last year, John began correspondence with the English jazz journalist and biographer Derek Coller as an advisor on Coller’s upcoming bio-discography of Big Joe Turner. John’s contributions were exceptionally well-grounded because of his encyclopedic knowledge of blues, having known Turner personally and also having written liner notes for Turner LPs and CDs such as those for Norman Granz and Pablo Records. It is a big loss to the world of jazz and blues that Mr. Coller will no longer be able to consult with John as this important book approaches publication.
John Breckow will be sorely missed, but forever loved and remembered.
Thank you again, Mark.
Thank you for the beautiful remembrance and the great photos. I met John in high school and had some of the best times of my life hanging out with him over the course of a dozen years. In addition to his incredible knowledge of and passion for jazz and blues, I have to mention his enthusiasm for hard-boiled crime fiction, 1950s and 1960s horror movies, and the coolest places to eat in LA. I never got to meet Dory, but after my last couple of conversations with John I knew that he had found the perfect soul mate. Nice to know that they made such a good life for themselves in Albuquerque.
In 2018 John and Dory came to visit San Antonio. Of course we went to record stores and John found some Spanish cds he had never seen. His was a life well lived. Joyous is the term, I believe.
The Smoke Rings Memorial Jazz Radio Show
February 27, 2020 — KUNM Albuquerque
*Many of these records today from the collection of John Breckow
Host MARK WEBER
1. Wild Bill Davison & His Commodores “I’m Coming Virginia” —-4jan46 from the COMPLETE COMMODORE RECORDINGS (Mosaic)
2. Joe Maini Sextet “Allen’s Alley” – 19nov62 LA w/ Richie Kamuca (tenor), Victor Feldman (vibes), Buddy Clark (bass), Lou Levy (piano), Mel Lewis (drums), Joe Maini (alto) Lp JOE MAINI MEMORIAL (Fresh Sound)
3. “Blooz” 1st take —- as previous
4. Jack Montrose-Art Pepper Quintet “Nutmeg” —-25aug53 w. Art (alto), Claude Williamson (piano), Monty Budwig (bass), Paul Valerina (drums), Jack (tenor)——-Cd THE DISCOVERY SESSIONS
5. Toshiko Akiyoshi Quintet “Kelo”(JJ Johnson)(tune first recorded 1953 by Miles Davis for Blue Note) Rare Lp JUST BE-BOP (Discomate, Japan) w/ Charles McPherson (alto), Steven Huffsteter (trpt), Gene Cherico (bass), Ron McCurdy (drums), Toshiko (piano)
6. Tubby Hayes Quartet “Half a Sawbuck” – May 1962 London w/ Jimmy Deuchar (trpt) Lp LATE SPOT AT RONNIE SCOTT’S (Fontana)
7. “Angel Eyes” as previous —- Tubby on vibes (tenor on previous track)
8. Mills Brothers “Smoke Rings” — 25jan33—- the theme for John’s radio show for 26 years at KPFK
9. Scott Hamilton & Bucky Pizzarelli duet “It had to be you” – 1995 album THE RED DOOR —- I can never hear that tune without thinking of the Bukowski story where he tells how this was one of the songs he and his ladyfriend Jane and he used to sing in those L.A. skid row rooming houses they lived in and after a separation he finds out she is dying in the hospital of too much drink and when he walks in she says “I knew It Had to Be You”
10. Art Pepper Quartet “Holiday Flight” –4march52 w/ Hampton Hawes (piano), Joe Mondragon (bass), Larry Bunker drums) ibid.
11. Warne Marsh IN NORWAY “Sax of a Kind” – May 1983
12. Warne & Linda Chen, tenor & piano duet “I wish I knew” – 24dec85 cd BALLAD FOR YOU
13. Dave Frishberg “The Underdog” cd LET’S EAT HOME (Concord) Aug.1989
14. Shelly Manne Trio title track from Lp FINGERING (Atlas) w/ Monty Alexander (piano), Ray Brown (bass) – 1981
15. Mildred Anderson “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” –26sept60 cd NO MORE IN LIFE (Prestige) quintet w/ Al Sears (tenor)
I heard the news of John’s passing from Sam at Atomic recently. We hung out back in the day, with Marc Cantor. Went to his concerts at the Wilshire Ebell with the Ellington All-Stars(and films from Marc), and Warne Marsh at Cal Tech (w/ “Jammin’ the blues”). I spent six months in 1980 sharing 6 hours with him from midnight-6am on KPFK. Also have some pics of Bobby Branford’s group I took on one of his appearances on one of John’s shows there. RIP John.
John worked at Poobah Records in Pasadena when it was in the old house on the corner of Wilson and Walnut. We both had worked on a free newspaper called Gosh in the late seventies. He always wore the same thing – a rumpled blue work shirt and saggy jeans. I loved his show on KPFK, and from this he assumed I was a jazz fan, I guess. One day he asked me why I liked punk and all the other weirdo strains of music that the store did traffic in. I told him because you could go and see those bands play right now, as in tonight. He considered my answer thoughtfully, and excepted that as a suitable reply. He was a truly great guy.
I am just learning of John’s passing. My dear friend, Tim Owens, had learned the news from a reference in Mark Cantor’s newsletter. Tim has relayed the news to a few of John’s old friends and colleagues from Santa Barbara days. We were close for a few years (but that was close to 50 years ago), I had lost touch with John and didn’t really know much of his later life. John and Tim and I at different times lived with our friends Don and Cay in a beautiful home near the Mission in Santa Barbara and were all in radio at KCSB.
Mark, I so appreciate your heartfelt tribute and memorial for John. Means a lot. Glad to know he had a friend like you.
I had last heard of John when our mutual friend and radio colleague, Helen, living now in Santa Fe, chanced upon him on the radio out of Albuquerque a few years back. This was after many, many years had gone by since I personally had contact with John. And that would have been when he was doing his Smoke Rings show on KPFK. I had moved to northern California but would sometimes reach him at the station when I was visiting in Los Angeles. He was always gracious. His radio shows were deep,
I had spent a few sessions with John and the Caltech prof Paul at the “Charlie Parker Institute” which doubled as their apartment. It always brought a smile to knock on the apartment door from which hung the chrome nameplate announcing the “institute.” Hanging with John always was memorable for all the great music that poured out of the sound system. Sometimes interactive but oft times John on a theme to explore. I remember Warne Marsh but even more so, I think I remember the many times we went to hear and hang out with Johnny Guarnieri at a club in the valley. Might have been “Tail of the Cock” in Studio City. We would go with one of John’s friends (Jim Turner?) who was studying swing/stride piano with Mr. Guarnieri and it provided, I think, a kind of ease for Johnny to relay some anecdotes. The phenomenon of hanging out with a big chunk of living history was a new one for me, particularly as my orientation had been more towards contemporary jazz. I think some of that motivated me strongly to pursue more knowledge of the broad history of jazz and appreciation for the founders and giants. Also, John Carter, the clarinetist ( who was the father of a close high school friend), became a personal friend of mine when I was older. He had a close connection, music and life history-wise, with Bobby Bradford. Breckow became friends with Bobby and helped to increase his visibility as a musician.
Most of my memories of John date back to Santa Barbara, late 60’s, early 70. I can vividly remember the first time I set foot in the Clam’s Cove (home of the Masked Clam) in the garage at Don and Cay’s house. I was a minor record collector by then but John’s collection was an eye opener. And, of course, that was a time where he was most noted for his blues orientation and expertise. I never would have thought at that time that I would later live in that same beautiful home with Cay and Don when Bo was just a baby for a couple of wonderful years. I remember John bringing Mance Lipscomb up to there to APS where Mance performed an impromptu concert for the half dozen of us as he sat on the window seat with the harbor behind him. John was a profound musical influence in introducing me to the deep blues (as was another friend, John Tanner). He would spin some rare, wonderful discs that would mesmerize me. I would sometimes return the favor by later turning him on to some particular jazz recording. Later on, we did some radio shows together. I’m not sure but I may have been some tiny factor as his focus morphed from blues to jazz. He certainly opened some major pathways for me in blues, jazz, western swing, zydeco and more. His knowledge and taste were superb. I can’t remember exactly but I think I met Marl Cantor through him around that time. Decades later I was able to make contact with Mark again and helped connect him with the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. I’ve been away from HJF and Jessica for a long time now but I think that Mark might still be involved.
And what a funny guy John was. Had a silly laugh that was easily triggered, often as we shared a joint or three. He had a robust sense of humor. He did love to get high back then. I can recall a memorable all night show in which we alternated spinning discs while under the influence of some psychedelic substance. It was fun.
Other than for a very short time, I wasn’t really in his close circle. It always seemed that over time, John wanted to stay under the radar in his personal life. I heard tangentially vague references to a marriage and some type of work but I didn’t really have much of sense of John’s life after we lost contact. I would ask after him occasionally over the years but, for me, he seemed to have disappeared. I had no idea he had moved at some point to New Mexico and was surprised and delighted to hear from Helen that she heard him on the radio and had talked with him.
Just reminiscing here and realizing that for those few years when we were close, he opened my ears to not just absolutely great music, but also to a way of listening and approaching recorded music that I internalized and utilized the rest of my life. That was almost 50 years ago but I can still conjure up a fresh picture of him in those times. And I can readily acknowledge that he influenced me greatly.
I am, again, sorry to hear of his death. John Breckow, Rest In Peace.
[This is introductory note John wrote to the Audition Committee at KUNM when he was looking into being a music host —- Dory found it on John’s computer—-MW]
The radio was always on at my house . . . .
The Mysterious nightly “Gas Company” Classical broadcasts on KFAC that captivated my father. The music serious and complicated, the voices behind it warm and soothing booming through his huge Hi Fi. My mother’s table radio that filled the afternoons with cheery popular vocals and sublime showtunes. The announcers with a smile in their voice.
My sister’s transistor radio, clearly a weapon in the wrong hands, spewing forth the menace of Bobby Rydell. The mindless, non-stop chatter that led to the next piece of Pop drivel. I was certain if this was music I wanted nothing to do with it. Then I heard Roy Orbison singing “Candy Man” and something clicked. This was a voice that was full of confidence and swagger, the music pumped along with a cocky beat. It sounded dangerous and interesting and it rose above the rest of the sugar-coated top 40 fare. There was hope!
In 1964 the Beatles came along and everything changed. Top 40 soon exploded into a weird blitz of Rock, Pop, Soul, inane instrumentals, movie themes. All this fueled by the fastest mouths in the West grinding the music into your DNA with vampire-like tenacity. At 12 I was confused, but curious, and got my own transistor radio, and that is really where my passion for radio began.
Each night I turned that dial like Aladdin rubbing his lamp, and the first thing I heard was a booming wolf call, it was Wolfman Jack on XERB 50,000 watts. It was Blues and Rhythm and Blues, old records, new records all dealt by the Wolfman with the warning, “Baby, you are going to have to change your pink panties after this one.” The radio god had finally spoken, with a whole lot of echo on his voice. There were other discoveries, hip hot soul bubbling under the top 40 from the inner city on KGFJ. They told you to get on down to “Mr Jim’s BBQ on Adams Blvd. where, you need no teeth to eat my beef.” This was life changing radio, every night I rode the dial like a magic carpet.
As the years went by I discovered the switch on the radio that said “FM”. My first stop was KBCA, “The world’s first 24 hour a day Jazz station” and this was a whole new kind of cool. The infinite world of “adult” music with DJ’S caressing the music like it was there own universe. Plushy velvet voices, musicians so hip only there first names were needed. Miles and Wes. Some known only by nicknames like Bird and Hawk.
This was the ultimate coolness, these names were used like some secret password as Jammin’ Jai Rich welcomed you into the “Lions den” promising the next tune was “going out to all the Scorpios.” Not sure what that meant, but I dug the instrumental genius and made a note to find out. By 1967 there was a big change in the air and on the airwaves. Free-form FM had drifted down the coast from San Francisco and KPPC emerged. It was both an evolution and revolution. KPFK PACIFICA had already blazed a path with their non-commercial, non-conforming, out of your head, all- night shows that caught my ear. KPPC quickly took hold and prospered, with it’s format of each DJ determining where the music would go. The music banged off the wall from Acid Rock to Blues to Folk to Jazz, every inch of the musical vernacular was thrown into the mix. The “disc jockey” became a “personality” and the mold for a new commercial FM was set.
They called it “underground radio” and it reigned for several years before it rode off into the sunset and died by the road in the early 70’s.
This is where I came in . . . . . . . .
MY RADIO JOURNEY . . .
Begins in 1970 when at the age of 18, I moved from Glendale to Santa Barbara to open a record store. I decided to buy some ads on a local radio show. The DJ suggested I come on down to the station and bring some records we had on sale, and talk about the store. Yes, I could do THAT, but what I would rather do is bring down some great Blues records nobody has ever heard, and talk about THEM.
KDB was the oldest radio station in Santa Barbara and their FM signal was known as KTYD and it was located in an old hotel on the beach. At night the DJ would open the door and the sounds of the crashing surf could be heard over the microphone. This was my first time on the radio and it felt good!
A customer heard me on the air and suggested I should get a show at the UCSB radio station, KCSB. In 1971 I hosted my first radio show. The “Masked Clam Blues radio show and Collector’s Corner” began airing Monday nights at 9pm to midnight, and was the first show of it’s kind in the area. This quickly evolved into a show that supported the local visiting Blues musicians and soon I had started the “Santa Barbara Blues Society.”
Not only did I interview the musicians on the radio, but I produced all the concerts and put them up at my house. It was an honor to have worked with and known some of the great Blues musicians like Mance Lipscomb, Furry Lewis, Johnny Shines and many others. I produced lots of live music on the air at KCSB and several live, free outdoor concert broadcasts. I set the foundation for the Blues Society that is still active today. My Monday night broadcasts soon found a companion on Tuesday night, “The All night Blue and Boogie show” ran from midnight to 6am. This show featured a wider variety of music besides Blues. Jazz, vintage Country, Cajun, Rockabilly, Gospel and roots music. This was the first time I started combining all these different musics into one broadcast vision.
My period at KCSB ran from 1971 to 1975.
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO……….
In 1973 and 1974 I was a part of a trio of reporters who covered the Monterey Jazz Festival for NPR. Tim Owens (who later became executive producer for the long running show “Jazz Alive”) myself and another producer conducted interviews to be used in the NPR festival broadcast. We interviewed scores of musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Milt Jackson and Gerry Mulligan to name a few. We also produced “Yardbird Suite — A Tribute to Charlie Parker” from those interviews. That broadcast ran nationally. In 1977 I was again contracted by NPR to cover the San Francisco Blues Festival. I provided interviews with Albert Collins and host of Blues performers. These were used in the broadcast on the NPR “Folk Festival U.S.A.” series.
In 1975 I returned to Los Angeles, and in early 1977 I began producing radio shows on KPFK-FM PACIFICA RADIO. I started filling in at 1am on some weeknights, as the station had no overnight programming. I continued with my “Blue and Boogie” show concept and then turned to Jazz as there was almost no Jazz on the station. I was soon offered the Friday night 2am to 6am slot and that show became “The Big Sleep” and was a strictly Jazz broadcast. That show was very well received. I was soon offered Sunday night, Midnight to 6am. That show became “Smoke Rings” and that show lasted over 20 years. Half way through it’s run the hour was moved up to 11pm to make it a 7 hour radio show. “Smoke Rings” was the longest running Jazz show in the history of Los Angeles radio.
“Smoke Rings” was, as I announced, was “A continuing audio history of the great art of Jazz and improvisation with your amiable commentator and curator of the archives.” I surveyed the vast history of the music from its inception to it’s most current achievements. I produced seven hour tributes to most of the major, and many of the minor masters of the music. Twice a year I celebrated the music of Charlie Parker with the “Birdathon.” A typical show might include a guest musician for an interview (sometimes performing live) a guest record collector, writer or musicologist. I was privileged to have the great Dexter Gordon as a guest the night before the academy awards honored him as an nominee for best actor for the film “Round Midnight.” “Smoke Rings” was the most popular listening destination for music lovers from 17 to 77. I think it was Jazz radio at its best.
In 1978 KPFK offered me the opportunity to move Jazz into the early evening 8-10pm slot and I added “Le Jazz Hot and Cool” to my weekly broadcasts. At this time I was producing well over 450 hours a year of on air music. This slot gave me more access to engineers for live broadcasts and I produced several live performance series in our huge upstairs loft “Studio Z.” This allowed me to produce a live concert/broadcast/benefit with the group Los Lobos that was a huge success. “Le Jazz” featured tightly focused Jazz radio documentaries that were known as “audio portraits,” the range of guest interviews ran from Eubie Blake to Don Cherry, embracing the entire history of the music.
That show ran about 6 years.
In 2000 I decided I needed a break and ended my association with Pacifica radio.
A little over two years ago my wife and I relocated to Corrales. It has always been my desire to return to radio, I just wanted to be 100% committed to return to sharing my knowledge, my collection and my passion for the music I cherish. It is a gift to be able to make this great music come alive over the radio. That gift should be shared.
I have to thank my friend of 40 years, Mark Weber, for opening up his show to include me as a guest, and encouraging me to co-host with him on a substitute edition of the “Home of Happy Feet.” I was inspired by these shows. I found, as it has always been, it is the passion for the music that drives my desire to return to the radio. ON AIR SOUND . . . . I have always strived for clean, professional sounding broadcasts, in a non-commercial medium. I have always strived for clarity in breaking the music in and out of scheduled announcements.
TECHNICAL . . . . I was born of the two turntable “combo ” engineer era in radio. I did my own engineer board shifts for my shows. I am totally focused on the broadcast at hand. I am anxious to fully acquaint myself with any computer related issues as they interface with on air broadcasts.
FUNDRAISING . . . . I have extensive fundraising experience and the “on air pitch.” I understand this is a crucial time for the host to work seamlessly with the fund drive segment producer. I have always strived to make the fundraising experience a positive one, as we turn the passive listener into the active supporter and contributor.
THE ROLE OF THE SUBSTITUTE PROGRAMMER . . . .
I would welcome substitute spots at KUNM. Barry and Karl of the “Home of Happy Feet” have already welcomed my participation. I understand their programming/music values for that broadcast slot, and find it a delightful challenge. Time/schedule permitting I would be open to a variety of substitute roles. My music background and collection would allow me to flourish in not only Jazz, but Blues, Bluegrass and a variety of music.
———————John Breckow, 0ctober 4 2015
[John’s last show at KUNM was Friday January 19, 2018]
The surprise here is that John had to audition for a job in radio. No one has ever done it better.
Damn damn damn damn. Another good one leaves us too soon.
I first met John at Rhino in the late ‘70’s (was that 40 years ago? Arghhh….) I ended up being a pledge drive volunteer at KPFK for him for “Smoke Rings” several years in a row; I’d come in for Mary Katherine Aldin’s show, grab dinner during “IMRU“, and start back in at midnight with John. Don’t recall that I ever made it all the way to 6:00 am. Some times, as we wound on to 2 or 3 am, John, the engineer, and I were the only folks in the building.
I remember an even-slower-than-usual wee-hours-of-Monday moment when John materialized an album from some c-list hair metal band, cued it up, and announced on air: “This stays on until we get some pledge calls. Then we’ll go back to Lee Morgan…”
I’ve been looking for John for years. After I mustered out of the Navy in 1970, I settled into Santa Barbara. John worked at the local record shop and we became friends. Afternoons I would visit him and hold up records to see if they met his approval. I have all those records still…Chess Records and collector records with German labels on them…Bob Church and The Blue Ridge Ramblers and Indiana Hoedown. He was a big fan of Elvis and told me that he would swing through the south and check out the honky tonks there. He would look at jukeboxes and take down the number of the owner and give him a call. He would always ask if the owner had any jukeboxes that were “offline” and if they had any records in them. He would go the storage facility and go through the abandoned jukeboxes, Pulling out records for which there was but one copy, a unique copy. He lived in a log cabin that had once been a realtor’s office on one of the one way streets that alternate throughout Santa Barbara..It was a modest but spectacular place and the walls were lined with 10,000.s of records. I relied on him to help me construct an intelligent, thoughtful music collection that to this day, I resort to whenever I cam manage to focus on when I shut off the tube. Looking for years John…Months too late. I wanted to tell you how it turned out. It turned out great and you were a big part of it…Miss ya man…
Thank you John for a life well-lived and a truly rare musical knowledge selflessly shared with so many over the decades. All of the comments here are testament to just how much your spirit will be missed, Thank you Mark for your loving and nuanced remembrance – the photographs are the icing on the cake. And my profound condolences to Dory, though I know John’s presence will always be with you.