On Monday the Current delivered a surprising announcement from radio personality Sean McPherson: The Radio-Free Current host and trivia don was leaving to take over as Program Director at Jazz88 KBEM. Nabbing McPherson—or Twinkie Jiggles to many in the music community who know him through his bass playing with live hip-hop band Hieruspecs—is a very exciting prospect for the under-appreciated Minneapolis Jazz-focused radio station. The move also brings with it a world of possibilities for Sean, KBEM, and music fans, so we quick checked in with McPherson on the move.
Secrets of the City: Congrats on the new gig! It’s bonkers that you were at The Current for over 7 years and hosted morning music trivia on air for twelve! Were you just getting too old for all the Beach House, Big Thief, Bleachers, Brandi Carlile, etc. and thought “Ok, time to move on”?
Sean McPherson: This KBEM opportunity is one that won’t come along too often. It’s an amazing position at a legendary station that supports a genre I’ve adored since high school. I love the music that we play on the Current. I know I’ll still be listening to get my fix of all the artists mentioned above, and more! But at KBEM I’ll have the opportunity to serve as Music Director and host 5 days a week. That’s a dream for me. The station is celebrating the renaissance of amazing jazz that I’ve been tracking and also playing the classics I grew up loving. That’s a great combination and I can’t wait to add my flavor to it.
People might not know this, but you’re a legit huge jazz fan. How did that start? Which artists and/or styles are we talking about?
My brother went to Wesleyan University in ’94 and he came back at Thanksgiving telling me about the Roots. When he came back at Christmas he had fallen in love with Blue Note. Suddenly my dad, who had spent our entire childhood sheepishly trying to get us to listen to his Miles Davis tapes to no avail, was suddenly bombarded with Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Pete LaRoca and more. I fell in love with it because my brother loved it. I got to St. Paul and started shopping at Cheapo and the Fetus, buying tons of jazz, listening to KBEM and playing with the Walker-West Jazz Ensemble. The first time Slug from Atmosphere saw Heiruspecs play live he came up to me and said “i did not expect the kid who bought all those jazz CDs from me at the Fetus to be playing in a hip-hop band”. I lost the jazz thread in my early 20s with my only real connection being DeVon Gray and Muad’dib from Heiruspecs who played a lot in the van. I spent a couple years taking every gig I could get when playing bass was my living, so I did a bunch of jazz gigs and fell back in love with the music. Since then jazz, and jazz radio from KBEM and other stations, has been a regular part of my listening.
Also most every parent will have an instrumental music renaissance. When you have a four and a half year old who talks for every waking hour, the allure of a muted trumpet increases.
We know how high we’d rate the jazz scene in MPLS + STPL, but what’s your take? How much will the hometown factor into your new tenure on Jazz88?
I’ve known for years that the jazz scene here is elite. There are so many world class players working from every generation. The nights I’ve spent seeing Nachito Herrera on the piano, Kevin Washington behind the kit, or Omar Abdulkarim speaking through his trumpet or catching Zacc Harris on the guitar with one of his many groups. It’s been humbling to see the cross-pollination that happens in the music world. The most compelling players and vocalists I’ve seen from our jazz scene deliver in so many additional genres and I can’t wait to celebrate all of that.
I believe radio is at its best when it celebrates local music with the same reverence and discipline it gives to international artists. I have been introduced to some of the great players in our city first through KBEMJazz88 and I want to continue that process. I am also thankful that KBEM has a fully dedicated local stream. . . MN Jazz Tracks. That’s 24 hours a day of Minnesota artists and it is a testament to our scene how awesome it is to listen to.
Current listeners might not know that you helped to get the Purple Current channel going and co-hosted the fantastic program The Message—are you going to be developing new programs for Jazz88?
I believe that everything is on the table. In my preliminary discussions with KBEM (I don’t start until Mid-March) it sounds like there will be plenty of opportunities to create new programming while also supporting the great programs we are already featuring.
So how much airtime on Jazz88 does this mean for your other side hustle, Trivia Mafia? Are we going to hear extremely niche jazz trivia during drive time?
I do the payroll poorly for Trivia Mafia (alongside a professional accountant), provide some ideas during brainstorming sessions and am a proud ambassador for the company. It’s really Chuck and Brenna and the rest of our team who are running their show. I’m the pretty face who messes up the payroll, and I think they’ll keep me in that role.
I hope to do jazz trivia on the air, but don’t expect that on day one. I want to get comfortable with the music and with solid banter between me and my traffic partner Bob Jurek, who I’ve never met, but I feel like best friends with after hearing his traffic summaries for so many years.