Press enter after choosing selection

Wemu's Linda Yohn

Wemu's Linda Yohn image
Parent Issue
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

Linda Iets her six-toed cat out the back door as the teapot begins to boil. "This is a creaky old house; it's full of funny things." We're standing in an oldfashioned kitchen with ten-foot ceilings. The woodwork is southern pine. There are many dozens of cookbooks. Along the uppermost shelves stand at least eighteen toasters, representing "the tip of the iceberg," as Linda explains it; her husband Bill collects them. "Radios we collect. And boudoir lamps! There are probably between three and four hundred boudoir lamps in this residence in various stages of repair." Then there are the ichotkes - Japanese salt-and-pepper shakers - ceramic, painted with very bright colors, red and green predominant. The original set, a pair of tomatoes, date from around 1 939; they belonged to her mother, who got them from Aunt Pud in West Virginia, and so the stories come tumbling out from this vibrant, vigorously happy woman. The tchotkes have pretty well taken over the windowsill and much of the shelving. The effect is somewhere between Gumby 's Garden Patch and Day of the Trffids. There' s a Claes Oldenburg quality in Linda and Bill's space. The Toaster, we find ourselves agreeing, is an Icon. And there' s something reassuring about so many hot sauce bottles. "They 're part of the work." Linda Yohn always reminds me of Annie Ross, the female element in Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Catch their vocalese treatment of Duke Ellington's "Main Stem" - Annie has this endless refrain of "blinkin' and winkin' and twinkin' and blinkin' and ..." - that's part of Linda right there. Rambunctiousness ! The woman' s got a little bit of Babs Gonzales and maybe even Pigmeat Markham in her often boisterous, clowning chutzpah dynamic. Many years of listening to live Jazz performances and dishing out the recorded evidence over the airwaves has resulted in a galvanizedbraidofpersonalitytextures; the wild child walks in step with the seasoned professional and the solid lady with radio chops. She's the hardest working woman in Jazz promotion in this part of the country, hands down. Working alongside Michael G. Nastos and Michael Jewett, Linda has developed WEMU (89. 1 FM) into the strongest radio advocate for Jazz, Blues and World Music for miles around. The job of overseeing musical programming, promoting live events, maintaining good relations with the listening public while staying in touch with the record companies (the incoming flow of reissues and new releases greatly enriches the overall character of WEMU's airsound) - is all-consuming, and Linda works at it exhaustively. Linda spoke pragmatically about the administrative core of WEMU; general manager Art Timko, marketing and development director Mary Motherwell, news director Clark Smith and chief engineer Ray Cryderman. "We're working as hard as we can to make WEMU as good of a radio station as we can. And we are getting good support from Eastem Michigan University. They allow this to proliferate, and it doesn't always happen that way. We're very fortúnate in that the University trusts Art Timko to allow his staff to experiment and try things. And I'm blessed, I really am blessed . . . "We're fortúnate on account of the listenere. The people who respond. People whogive. People who ask questions. The people who write the letters, both negative and positive. You know, every bad letter that comes in, even if it comes without any return address, gets addressed in my heart, gets addressed in my soul. And I deal with it, as painful as it is. All the listeners, whether they're upset with us or thrilled with us, they're all important. I want to listen to them." Linda is a dedicated listener. And like all seasoned Jazzheads, she loves to discuss the ways in which the music has made herlife so very interesting. Bittersweet Bill Evans. Brilliant, intense Emily Remler. Bessie Smith, Big Bill Broonzy and Donald Byrd. Duke Ellington, who frames all that we live. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, on his "Bright Moments" album, performed a funky romp on the nose flute which he called "The Fly Town Nose Blues." Linda heard him perform it live in Columbus, Ohio in 1971. And she used to live in the funky Fly Town district of Columbus. Her eyes sparkle as she describes the rowhouses, the industries, and the mostly African-American population in Fly Town. Like Rahsaan, Linda was bom in Columbus. Her father, a virologist who pioneered the field in the 195Os, helped develop the oral sugar-cube polio vaccine. She's quite reflective about her ancestors. Knew hergreat-grandparents. Learned from her grandpa how to assemble her own crystal radio set. Feels her people with her all the time. Linda started working overnight radio shifts in 1977; WBBY "broadcasting out of a brick shack off the side of a cow pasture in Sunbury , Ohio." Subbed at WNOP in Covington, Kentucky. WKSU in Kent. Then around 1987 she tried out the hardball atmosphere of New York City, where she worked as a publicist. "I represented some great clients: Joanne Brackeen, The Village Vanguard, Monty Alexander, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Billy Tay lor, George Shearing. And it was real interesting work but it wasn't the same as being on the air, acting as a conduit for the music. New York wasn't the happiest experience . . . I lost about five-thousand dollars trying to live there. "I was in an area called Riverdale, and there was this little path you could take through a women's Catholic college, and I would walk there past the shrines and go down to the river and over the rai lroad tracks where there was this little grassy area that looked over to the Pallisades in New Jersey, and if you looked down the river you'd see Manhattan with all of the big structures. And I used to sit out there and medítate and breathe clean air. So one day I'm sitting there and a flock of Canada geese flew over and I looked at them and said 'I think I need to go where you're going.' So I put a whole bunch of energy on the Canada geese and guess what li ves on golf courses in Ann Arbor? Canada geese.1" Linda releases her bubbling giggle-which-chortles-into-abelly-laugh. Her husband Bill has come home from work, padding into the living room wearing enormous bright red thermal socks which have come off half way when he removed his boots. Bill smiles and explains he just got done digging 1 3 post holes in cold clay ground. Putting upsigns. "Just get a post-hole digger and go at it; it's kind of a physical thing, feels good." He retires for a shower. Later he emerged dressed for a Chamber of Commerce meeting, looking like a million bucks, wearing a perfectly tailored suit and the necktie he wore when they got married. Bill is very practical and grounded. "He's 100% Polish. Born in Germany, just after the war. His family came to the States in '5 1 . That colore his existence a little bit; he's cautious ... Bill's support has allowed me to shine. I'm there for him and he's there for me. He listens, and I listen to him." We discussed the Art of Listening, of learning how to put things across succinctly. "My role model is Charlie Parker. What he could say in 64 or 72 bars in a bailad; it's incredible." Linda is planning once again to augment her regular Mon. thru Fri. lOam - 1 pm programming with theoutstandingcontributions of Blues and Jazz women during March which is Women's History Month. She reflects on how when she first started in radio there weren't very many women on the air. "I was a bit of a trailblazer." And the feminist in her carefully explains how she goes through the new Blues releases making sure that we' re not airing anything which advocates domestic violence. 'That' s part of the Blues but it's not my part. This is 1 998, and I don' t wanna go there, you know? The music needs to be a place where we all leam how to work together. It' s a healing and a li vely force."


Old News