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Night Music (1989-90)

The recent passing of David Sanborn (it happened back in May) recently got me thinking about the TV show he cohosted with Jools Holland back when I was a teenager. It was called Night Music. Well, apparently, the show was originally titled Sunday Night, and I’m not sure when the name changed, or whether I caught any episodes of it back when it was called that. I do vividly remember tuning in to watch Night Music, though.

For a music kid like me, it was amazing that this show exist: a major network TV show that featured jazz music? Sure, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bootsy Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Leonard Cohen all played the show… but they could get on TV anytime, and often were. Where else, though, could you see Sonny Rollins, or Miles Davis, or Carla Bley, or the other jazz folks who played the show? Where else could you see Sonny Rollins sit in with Leonard Cohen, for example? Where else could you see a black and white clip of Count Basie’s big band or Coleman Hawkins or a young Sonny Rollins on network TV back then? (When can you now, for that matter—on network TV, that is?)

I also vividly remember seeing Kenny Garrett playing his “straight alto” sax in Miles Davis’ band—in their rendition of “Mr. Pastorius”—and wondering what the hell kind of sax it was. You can see at the section starting about 36 minutes into this clip:

It wouldn’t be very long before Miles was gone, too. This was the closest a kid like me, out on the Canadian prairie, would get to seeing the man play live, and it meant a lot to me. And that’s just one of many acts I first saw on Night Music. What’s wild is that I kind of took for granted that the show existed, until it was gone. Then, there was nothing else like it. 

There probably will never again be anything like Night Music, either. I suppose we don’t need it as badly, now: we can see as much live and archival jazz on screens as we want, right? There’s already a lifetime’s worth on Youtube, and more getting uploaded everyday. We can even see crazy collaborations, sometimes, on Youtube these days, though not as regularly as we could when Night Music was airing. 

Back in the 1980s, Night Music was a kind of oasis for kids like me. I’ve always been grateful to have had the show to watch for as long as we did. I cannot see mainstream network TV airing anything like this at anytime, so the show really was a sort of miracle. (Actually, it took some finagling. Sanborn mentioned in some interview how, just to get unusual artists booked, they had to get described as having a “Phil Collins” type sound, even when that was really not to the case. The suits were, even as the show aired 

If you missed out on it—or if you’re a bit younger than me—some of the non-jazz acts might strike you as strange. (I don’t know if anyone now remembers bands like Was (Not Was) or The Roches; I sure didn’t till I rewatched some episodes.) In some ways, the show would be a weird time capsule, capturing an eclectic bunch of musicians and styles that were current in the late 80s and early 90s, if it were available on DVD. I’d have a copy if it were, but it’s not, and it apparently never will be: people have asked the rights owners, and they seem to have no interest in releasing it. But if you’re interested in checking it out, there’s a couple of caches of the show that are easy to find: one’s on The Internet Archive, and the other is, of course, on Youtube

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