In my first book Stolen Moments: Conversations with Contemporary Musicians (1988), the frontispiece included this quote by Nietzsche: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” It’s about as blunt and direct a truth about the power of music as any I can think of. As I shared last week, music has been a big part of my life ever since I was a child. I cannot begin to imagine what my life would have been like without music. So this week, I offer another extended playlist with more of the music I have loved over the years—across all genres and geographical boundaries. I hope you enjoy it.
As my weekly posts on Rhythm Planet come to a close, I want to express thanks and remember some of the wonderful experiences I had as a radio host and producer. Thinking back through 43 years at the station, the special moments that I’ll always remember with pleasure include interviewing Ravi Shankar, who was my first guest as the new host of Morning Becomes Eclectic way back in the summer of 1979. I was nervous as I put the fresh flowers out, scrubbed the middle school classroom clean, and waited for my famous guest to arrive. Hear me reminisce about this experience here.
I was asked to interview Giuseppe di Stefano, the famous lyric tenor and partner of Maria Callas, and I said yes, even though I’d never heard of him. You have to learn quickly sometimes. He apparently chose to sing opera after winning a card game with his pals. Same thing with tango master Astor Piazzolla (click here to hear my 1988 interview with him) and his fellow Argentine Mercedes Sosa. I became a big fan of both of these musical stars after our interviews, and enjoyed promoting their beautiful music for decades.
I witnessed Nicolas Slonimsky, the famous classical music historian and lexicographer of the Grove Dictionary of Music, play Chopin with his back facing the piano and playing other classical pieces holding oranges. Click here to listen to my 1994 tribute for Slonimsky’s 100th birthday.
I watched Nina Simone break down in tears during my first interview with this tempestuous diva. Click here to listen to a special compilation of my interviews with Simone from 1985 and 1987.
I’ll never forget when John Cage visited the station during the 1987 L.A. Festival. We performed an I Ching chance operation, throwing yarrow sticks and playing vinyl from three large stacks on three turntables simultaneously, creating a new musical work. Cage would call out numbers from the sticks and I would pull LP’s from the stacks and hand them to the turntable operators. You can listen to that amazing event here.
I have been lucky to meet and interview many of my musical heroes. In no particular order, the list below gives a small sampling of some of the over 450 interviews and live sessions I’ve done over the years. There are stories to tell for each and they have given me memories to last a lifetime. I taped most of my interviews in case I ever wanted to write another book, and I hope to do something with this archive one day.
Jazz: Mose Allison, Steve Lacy, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Michel Petrucciani
Classical: Kiri te Kanawa, Astor Piazzolla, Gavin Bryars, Nicolas Slonimsky, John Cage
Popular Music: Eartha Kitt, Paul Simon, Brian Eno, David Byrne, Robert Fripp
Tropical Latin: Tito Puente, Ibrahim Ferrer, Manny Oquendo, Mongo Santamaria, Vocal Sampling
Brazilian: Dori Caymmi, Raphael Rebello, Djavan, Astrud Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil
World Music: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar, Cesaria Evora, Manu Dibango, Ali Akbar Khan
Other (Authors, photographers, actors, dancers, etc.): Steve Allen, Victor Borge, Gregory Hines, Ian McKellen, Herman Leonard
I’m grateful to the many production assistants I’ve worked with over the years. I always demanded a little more from my P.A.’s. Someone once printed a small manual on “How to be a good Tom Schnabel volunteer.” It made me look like an impossible ogre, but people have reported that I was fun to work with. I want to give a special shout out to my longtime P.A. Bob Werne, who worked my weekend shows for over 20 years. I also have to say thanks to my Rhythm Planet editors, including Mary Falcone and Camellia Tse, for making my posts better in every possible way.
I have missed being on-air and doing interviews, hanging out with my P.A.’s. Over the past seven years, however, I’ve also enjoyed writing the Rhythm Planet posts, and there are over a thousand to enjoy at last count. I started my career as a music writer and so this had been a nice return to that. I’m grateful to KCRW that my posts and online shows for Rhythm Planet will remain on the website, since much of the content is evergreen. I believe I’ve offered a unique perspective and enhanced the station’s musical identify over the years. My thanks to KCRW President Jennifer Ferro for trusting me and giving me the freedom to write what I’ve wanted to all this time.
There’s so much more to say. I feel satisfaction in building the KCRW music library from the beginning. It is now one of the most comprehensive music libraries anywhere. I hope that when the pandemic is over that the deejays will go back and sample its treasures. There’s a lot of history and magic there.
I want to thank Ruth Seymour for hiring me back in 1979 and never letting me leave the station entirely. To Anne Litt and Ariana Morgenstern, I’m grateful for your support. Ariana worked alongside me as the Assistant Music Director during my eleven years as host of MBE, and she brought so much to those years. I have to thank Jennifer Ferro again and wish her the best in steering KCRW through these difficult times.
Last but not least, thank you to all my listeners and readers over the years. I may be retiring from regular contributions, but I still plan to share and promote music that I like via my accounts on Spotify and Facebook. I have a life-long love of and curiosity for good music from all genres, and that part of me will never retire!