Obituaries

OBITUARY

Steve Schwartz, 74, longtime WGBH radio jazz host

Mr. Schwartz, who hosted “Jazz from Studio Four” on WGBH radio, had many fans.

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Mr. Schwartz, who hosted “Jazz from Studio Four” on WGBH radio, had many fans.

Steve Schwartz began his last radio show like he had so many others, cuing up pianist Horace Parlan’s “Wadin’ ” — the song’s bass line striding purposefully out of the speakers, backed by the subtle swish of brushes on cymbals. “Good evening and welcome to jazz on WGBH,” he said as the song’s last notes faded.

For jazz fans throughout Greater Boston and beyond, there was a hint of sadness in every tune he played during “Jazz from Studio Four” on July 6, 2012, as he edged closer to signing off a couple of minutes past midnight.

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“As you may or may not have heard, this is my last program for WGBH radio — starting here back in 1985 and working my way towards bringing you jazz on a Friday night. And this will wind it up,” Mr. Schwartz said, before turning to the business at hand: more than three hours of carefully chosen music.

“The gentleness of his voice made his show easy to listen to, but he wasn’t just a great voice. He was knowledgeable about the music, too,” said Eric Jackson, a longtime colleague and host of WGBH-FM’s “Eric in the Evening” jazz show. “He knew the music. There are some announcers I’ve heard who I thought were abrasive, arrogant. Steve was this warm presence who invited you in when he was on the air with the sound of his voice and the music he played.”

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Mr. Schwartz, whose tastes in jazz were first shaped by an interlude he spent in California as a teenager, died in Seasons Hospice in Milton March 25 of multiple myeloma. He was 74 and had lived in Jamaica Plain.

“My father wanted to make a change, so when I was 15 we moved to Los Angeles,” Mr. Schwartz said in an interview published on The Arts Fuse website. “It was there that I first heard jazz on the radio, and I was hooked.”

During those years, Mr. Schwartz “heard different musicians, Charlie Mingus, Chet Baker — people who really moved him,” said his wife, Constance Bigony.

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Indeed, when Mr. Schwartz began hosting jazz radio programs after returning to Boston, “he advertised his show, especially in the earlier years, as ‘acoustic jazz,’ which says a lot about his musical tastes,” Jackson said.

“In later years, he would surprise me when I’d hear something with a little electric piano in it,” Jackson added with a laugh. “I’d think, ‘Wow, he’s playing that.’ ”

In 2012, WGBH eliminated Mr. Schwartz’s Friday show. Jackson, who had been on weeknights, is now on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

After the public radio station announced the changes to make room for more news and information programming, jazz fans were so upset that they protested and held a jazz funeral.

“It wasn’t a total surprise, but it is a loss,” Mr. Schwartz told the Globe a couple of weeks before his final show. Boston’s jazz community, he added, “is losing an important venue for musicians to promote their events.”

In a February 2014 video interview that is posted on YouTube, Mr. Schwartz said that “to me the best part of doing radio was being able to promote the local jazz scene: Who’s coming into Scullers? Who’s coming into the Regattabar? Who’s got a new CD out? Local talent, playing here and there. Online, you know, it’s — I hate to say the word — just jazz.”

Of all the perks of hosting a radio show for nearly three decades, he added, “I just want to say that promoting the local jazz scene one night a week was most, most gratifying.”

The younger of two brothers, Stephen Schwartz grew up in Dorchester, on Blue Hill Avenue not far from G&G Delicatessen. His father, Joseph, was in the locksmith business. His mother, the former Estelle Annis, was a homemaker.

Though Mr. Schwartz was in Los Angeles only for a few years before his family returned to Dorchester, the experience was formative. He even had an unusual encounter with the jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

“He’d listen to Gerry Mulligan in the record shop and one day Gerry Mulligan walks by,” Mr. Schwartz’s wife said. “Steve held up the record album and Mulligan gave him a thumbs-up.”

After moving back to Boston, Mr. Schwartz worked a while in his family’s locksmith shop in Dorchester’s Codman Square. “He never was encouraged to go to college by his family,” his wife said, but Mr. Schwartz took classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. “He was quite good with drawing and photography.”

He previously was married to Phyllis Schwartz, with whom he had three children. That marriage ended in divorce and for a time, Mr. Schwartz was a bicycle mechanic, but jazz radio was his destination.

“I got to know a guy named Bo Leibowitz, who ran a record store in Cambridge and had jazz shows on WBUR and on MIT’s radio station,” Mr. Schwartz told Arts Fuse, adding that Leibowitz “wanted to cut back on his radio gigs so he’d have time to write a book. So he asked me if I’d take over some of his shows for him.”

Some years later, WGBH hired Mr. Schwartz to run the equipment for a taped overnight blues show. Then he suggested launching a jazz show to fill the time between the end of the blues program and the beginning of Robert J. Lurtsema’s “Morning pro musica.” Mr. Schwartz eventually was hired as program manager, and also was the engineer for live jazz broadcasts at WGBH.

In 1989, he met Constance Bigony, an artist who at the time was waiting tables at Ryles Jazz Club in Inman Square, and was a fan of his radio show. They married six years later, in 1995.

“His reputation preceded him, so when I finally met him, I was like, ‘Wow, this is the Steve Schwartz,’ ” she recalled. “I was really impressed. I thought, ‘This guy is really cool.’ I was enthralled.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Schwartz leaves two sons, Eric of Dallas and Peter of Boca Raton, Fla.; a daughter, Jamie of Newton; a stepdaughter, Abigail Yablonsky of San Diego; and six grandchildren.

A jazz memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. May 30 in the Ryles Jazz Club in Inman Square.

For Mr. Schwartz’s many fans, his last show was a eulogy of sorts — played out in favorite jazz tunes — though no one could have guessed he would be diagnosed with multiple myeloma only a few months later. He ended with a set of songs sung by Karrin Allyson. Ever the professional, he signed off as if it were any show, not his last.

“Thank you for your phone calls earlier tonight. They do mean a lot to me and it’s great to hear from you,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Have a good weekend. Thank you for listening.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.
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