Letter to the Editor

In 1998 while we were preparing to open in our new location, I was visited by Betsy Harman from WBEZ. She requested that we host/sponsor a party for Dick Buckley and Larry Smith, who were celebrating 50 years in broadcasting. She requested that we donate the party for 200 people and provide all the liquor and other costs associated with hosting the event. As we estimated our costs to be several thousand dollars for the event and as a nonprofit organization we were in no financial position to subsidize these costs, we declined.

Subsequently, we have sent press releases to the station for a variety of our jazz, world music, and other culturally relevant events. Michelle Uting, who is responsible for publicizing events at HotHouse, has left numerous messages for Chris Heim over the months, in attempts to understand the grudge that she apparently has against our organization. This grudge has been confirmed by many of our friends who work at the station, including Mark Ruffin, who informed us last summer that after playing a Jane Bunnett song on the radio and announcing her upcoming appearance at HotHouse, Chris called him into her office and adamantly informed him that HotHouse events were not to be announced on the radio.

Whatever Chris Heim perceives to be the injury that she has suffered at the hands of our organization, it is no excuse to create a policy at a public radio station that in effect punishes the hundreds of artists performing at HotHouse. Ironically, most of the artists on the Passport top-ten list performed at HotHouse last year. Artists like Ricardo Lemvo, Cubanismo, Susana Baca, all play to capacity audiences at HotHouse. Similarly there is a vibrant and growing audience of young people that regularly perform at and patronize venues like ours, the Empty Bottle, and the Velvet Lounge that are completely off the radar screen at WBEZ.

What Peter Margasak (and Lloyd Sachs) confirmed is that there are many, many people out here in the jazz community who have been repeatedly dissed by Chris Heim and the policies at WBEZ. We hope that the recent exposes are seen as more than attacks on Chris Heim’s personality, or that we are just opinionated malcontents–this in our mind is irrelevant. The point is that this involves many people’s livelihoods. We hope that Torey Malatia will get the message that we are people who put our lives on the line to perpetuate jazz and other relevant contemporary cultural expressions. This is not about personalities, it’s about principles. It’s about building audiences and providing musicians a living wage and a modicum of dignity. As Valerie Wilmer as written, it is “as serious as your life.”

It is not a reactionary posture, one that assumes the most retrograde of artistic definitions or creates “playlists” that reflect 1 percent of the current trends in this music. It shouldn’t be up to one person to create the definition of an art form or to determine the public tastes. We suggest that WBEZ convene a roundtable of interested parties in the near future to help adjust the direction of their music programming. That event we would be happy to host for free.

Marguerite Horberg

Executive Director

Michelle Uting

Program Director