Sunday, October 21, 2007

Willis Conover tells his story

Video: Willis Conover
All credits go to the Voice of America. You can find high-resolution photos here. The Willis Conover page can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Delighted to find mention of Willis Conover by an Indian blogger. His was a voice I listened to for years on my little transistor. In December 95, when I felt he didn't sound too well, I sent him a Christmas card telling him that I thought he sounded unwell and wishing him well.
But alas...

Anonymous said...

What a pleasure it is for me to hear Willis Conover's voice - gently nasal, with that rumble that only a fellow smoker will recognize, and there is the tell-tale cough midway through the audio post. I haven't heard his voice since 1968 when I left India. That was the year I arrived at U.Mass. and dicovered that Jazz was dead - it took me two more years before I met and befriended American Jazz enthusiasts. Nobody had heard of Willis. The memory of his voice and his VOA programs stayed hidden in my subconscious.

Thirty years later, I was at my friend Ted's house in a suburb of DC. I knew little about the reach of the Internet and Ted was tutoring me. "Give me a name and I'll find the person for you", said Ted. After fooling around with this a bit, I had an inspiration and challenged him to find Willis Conover for me. Sure enough, there was a W.Conover in MD. Before I could think any further Ted was busy dialing his number. A man answered; he sounded about the right age. He was very gracious. No, he wasn't Willis - he often got calls from strangers for Willis - he knew of him -- Willis had recently passed away.

What an ungrateful fool I had been all those years for not trying to get in touch and thank him for all the music he brought to my life. Short-wave crackling and all, it was my America two continents away. From time to time I seek him out on the Internet. I am gratified to find more about him now than in earlier attempts. Still, he is a forgotten icon of American culture. There ought to be a monument to this giant.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time since 1961 that I was able to hear Willis Conover voice. The memories were there, I recognized it right away. When as a youngster I used to listen to him on my old man's old RCA short wave radio the introduction and ending of his famous Music USA program on VOA with Duke Ellington's Take the A Train to Harlem to whom he was very attached, in fact Willis explained in detail one day the circuitous route taken by Duke's coffin procession around Harlem and other places in Manhattan before his burial. I am not too sure but I think that Duke took Willis to live in his apartment for a while.

A.G. Gonzalez, Quito, Ecuador

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of Willis Conover because my friends and I always tried to listen to his Jazz Hour each evening on the VOA.

We started listening in the late Fifties and I was still listening, though not every night, probably into the early Seventies.

I always loved to here the theme music to the two hour nightly show. The first hour was introduced by Neal Hefti's 'Coral Reef' recorded in 1951 and the first session that the newly formed Coral records did in New York. It's available on the Spanish Ocium label (OCM 0027): 'Neal Hefti Sure Thing'. The jazz hour theme was Duke Ellington's 'Take the A Train' from 'Ellington Uptown' on a Columbia CD (CK 40836)but for those listeners who remember it Take the A Train started with a thud from a bass drum, this was taken from a Dave Brubecck version and you can here it on Dave Brubeck: 'Jazz Goes to College', Columbia CD 4656822. Why Willis took this drum beat and addded it to the start of the Ellington version I'll never know.

Robin Benson, Southampton, UK.