Remembering Bo Leibowitz, 1945-2019

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KCRW just lost a hero and benefactor of the jazz genre. I hired Bo Leibowitz to produce Strictly Jazz way back in 1979, the year I came to KCRW as music director. It was a time when jazz was changing. The local jazz station and other radio stations were featuring Smooth Jazz to try to increase listenership.

KCRW needed to do something of better quality. Bo was the right man for the job. Bo never compromised, preferring to showcase classic music that has stood the test of time. He treated jazz with the respect that the artform has always gotten in Europe and Japan.

Fortunately, with the coming of the internet, Bo’s 3-6 a.m. Saturday Strictly Jazz show started to became popular in Europe and Japan, where people could listen at more comfortable hours. Jazz lovers in Germany, England, Scandinavia and France tuned in at 11 a.m. Saturday morning for Bo’s three hour jazz voyage. For jazz lovers in Japan, the show went live at 7 p.m. Saturday nights, a perfect time to start the musical evening.

Bo played nothing but the top musicians in jazz music: his three-hour tributes to Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald offered the most complete radio portraits ever heard on radio. Bo was uncompromising in his taste, a true jazz purist. His knowledge of the genre was encyclopedic. Whenever I went to him with a question, he had the answer. I never ceased to be impressed by him.

Bo would come to KCRW during the week to check out any new jazz releases, as well as pulling rare vinyl and cd’s from the treasure trove that is KCRW’s large jazz library. He always did his homework and Strictly Jazz proved it.

Mostly, I prize the fact that he presented the immortals, not the ephemera. When labels like Blue Note got sold and changed or tried to boost sales through crossover albums, when newspapers stopped covering jazz, Bo Leibowitz was unwavering in his commitment to the artform and devoted 40 years to honoring it. KCRW and the rest of us out in the jazz universe are better for it.

Listen below to some of his masterful shows and tributes to jazz legends.