Smitty: Well, it is my pleasure to welcome to Jazz Monthly one of the hardest working guys in the business. When you talk about a rich history of Smooth Jazz, you must include my next guest. He’s the pride of all England, one of my closest friends in the business; everything he touches turns to platinum. He has a great radio show that I listen to on a regular basis; it’s called Fusion Flavours. Please welcome Mr. Fusion Flavours himself, Mr. Steve Quirk. Steve, how are you doing?
Steve Quirk (SQ): I’m doing well, Smitty. I don’t know what to say. Can I bottle and keep that intro? That was fantastic! That was wonderful! You make me sound special (both laughing).
Smitty: Well, you are indeed, my friend.
SQ: Ah, well, we’re all battling for the same side. We all love this music, what we call Smooth Jazz.
Smitty: Yes, indeed. For your fans and those that we’re introducing you to around the world, talk about how you first got into the radio business. I know you got some breaks, but talk a little about how you got started in the radio business.
SQ: Wow, well, I could be here for hours, you know? You’re never gonna get rid of me Smitty (both laughing). Well, let’s begin at an early age. I’ve always had a passion and a love for music ever since the teenage years and then….I always go back to significant times in my life of music. I always remember music in the mid-seventies.….and I loved the Carpenters at the time, Karen Carpenter, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, I wanted to marry Karen Carpenter, but I missed out on that. But that was the first album my parents ever bought me and, again, it was just such a silky voice and how I loved her music. The first single I ever bought was the Isley Brothers, which was “That Lady” and I’ve always had a love for soul music.
And from the late seventies….I used to be into soccer bigtime. That used to be my main strength and forte, and I nearly played for a football team in Manchester, a very successful football team in Manchester, but my path went a different way and music took over my life. I’d say from the mid-seventies, definitely, and again, not like the average guy that was growing up, I always used to think deeper than the average charts. Whereas people were listening to all the current pop charts that was going on there, I used to like what’s being played in America, and I used to be influenced by that. I used to buy Billboard Magazine at a very early age in the early eighties. And I always used to be fascinated by what was coming out of America. For example, you know, people like Boz Scaggs, people like Toto, people like even the more obscure artists on the West Coast like Bill Labounty and Michael Ruff. As well as digging deeper into that, I also discovered and was turned on to instrumental music from Grover Washington Jr. and also people like Bob James. And I found myself leaning more to the instrumental music more and more.
And as I got deeper and deeper into soul music, my local record store in Manchester used to buy a lot of imports and I was discovering albums from Richard Elliot, from the Rippingtons, and George Howard. A wonderful label was the old TBA label where George Howard started his career. I used to buy all the TBA albums, and guitarist Frank Potenza. It had a wealth of great musicians and different small independent things that you couldn’t get anywhere else. And I was more attracted to that than anything. I was buying Billboard Magazine and I discovered the Contemporary Jazz chart, I discovered New Age music, and it just grew from there for me.
And from that, I had a couple of good friends who were in radio that knew that I knew a lot about radio and that’s how I got into radio from the strength of a radio presenter called Mike Shaft, who played a big part in my early career. He loved the music I played. I sent my Top 10 into his radio show in the mid-eighties and he phoned me up that night and he played my Top 10, and he said, “This is the best Top 10 I’ve ever had.” We stayed friends from that. Three years later he said “I’m going get a radio station. I’d love for you to work for me.” I thought he was just being polite. Three years later he did get that radio station and I was working for Sunset Radio as a librarian for twelve months and from there I started doing a doubleheader show and Fusion Flavours was born in 1989.
Smitty: Yes, and you were with Jazz FM and…..
SQ: Yes, from Sunset Radio, my first radio show and I remember it as though it was yesterday; it was Good Friday, Easter weekend, 1990. My boss, Mike Shaft, said to me, “I want you to play that instrumental music that you play, for four hours on Good Friday in the afternoon. No vocals, just all instrumentals.” And I was playing stuff like Dave Grusin’s “Mountain Dance,” Bob James’ “Westchester Lady,” Spyro Gyra “Shaker Song,” I was playing Grover Washington Jr. “Mercy Mercy Me,” I was playing Don Grusin “Outback Oasis,” Kenny G “What Does it Take to Win Your Love,” the “Duo Tones” album was heavy back then. And that was a busy weekend for me. Because on Friday I did that show, and then on the Monday I did my first interview and it happened to be with Kenny G. I was invited to London to the Dominion Theatre. I interviewed Kenny G and we hit it off. He knew that I knew a lot about him, he knew that It wasn’t just an ordinary reading of a one-page bio, he knew I was passionate, I took all the albums down there, and we hit it off. And what should have been a ten-minute interview was 60 minutes of conversation and he invited me to the show afterwards, and he said, “Do you want to watch the sound check?” I sat in the Dominion Theatre, halfway down the Dominion Theatre and he played “Songbird.” He jumped off stage, walked up the aisle, and sat in front of me playing “Songbird.” This is at the Dominion Theatre with just the sound engineer, the guys in the band, and me. I just wish I had a camcorder back in 1989. It was just amazing!
It’s been a journey like that for me forever. Sunset Radio was great. I worked for them for four years and then the company went into liquidation. I was what you’d say was “resting,” or unemployed for twelve months. But then all of a sudden Jazz FM got the license to the Northwest (Northwest England) and I was invited to do a weekly show for Jazz FM in…. I think it was September of ’94, and it was… I think my Fusion Flavours program from ten o’clock til midnight, and then extended from ten o’clock til two in the morning, and across both stations in London and the Northwest in Manchester, where I’m based, so it went across London as well. Jazz FM had moved in so many different musical directions over the years, and they decided to move into the Smooth Jazz genre. My boss, John Basche knew that I knew a lot about the Smooth Jazz genre and he hired me as head of music or, as you guys in America say, musical director. And that’s what I did and straight away from day one I changed the sound of the station and people say to me, “What typifies the music you love and enjoy if you were to play one track?” And I’d still go back to that track today, even though I’m a sax maniac and I love saxophone, I would still say Fourplay “101 Eastbound.”
Smitty: That’s a great track and a fitting description.
SQ: That typifies the whole genre of Smooth Jazz or Contemporary Jazz as I view it personally, so if you’ve got to tie me down to one track which typifies this music we all have a passion for and a love, it’s Fourplay, a Nathan East composition, “101 Eastbound.” And that’s what I did from day one. I put ten tracks on, including “101 Eastbound,” and extended the play list even more. The station, when I took over, had 250,000 listeners. By the time I left in December of 2002, we had 1.2 million listeners.
SQ: It was well at that, I compiled the CD’s; many of them have gone on to sell in excess of between 10,000 and 20,000 copies. Now for a jazz record to sell that many copies in the U.K. is quite phenomenal. Unless you’re Diana Krall or Jamie Cullum, there are not many jazz albums that sell that many. And I used to compile the double CD’s of those and we used to have one little three-CD series of “Dreamin,” “Breezin,” then we did some ones called “Pacific Coast Highway” and those were hugely successful, and there were double albums which I compiled, we licensed the tracks. We did exceptionally well because we’d increase the listenership, the people were passionate about the music, they wanted the live shows, they wanted the CD’s, and it’s a whole lifestyle thing which America does so well. And we were beginning to do it in the U.K. We could sell out 3,000 seat arenas in London, 2,000 in the Northwest, Robbie Vincent would host the ones in London, I would host the ones in the Northwest. We’d do two shows with whoever we’d bring in; we had Guitars & Saxes, we did shows with Peter White, Steve Cole, Acoustic Alchemy, Richard Elliot, Rick Braun, Boney James, Dave Koz, and I’ll always remember one of the highlights for us; we did a Guitars & Saxes with Dave Koz, Steve Cole, Marc Antoine, and Peter White. They were going home on the Sunday. We did a show on Saturday and we sold out completely. What we did was add a midnight special. They did a show for midnight and did a second show, and that was utterly amazing and I’ll always remember Peter White saying to the audience, “Gee, you guys, haven’t you got a home to go to? It’s 3 a.m.” (Both laughing) We realized that we’d created something, you know, and I could see that going into HMV or Tower Records or Virgin, and it was nice to see in the stores, Smooth Jazz sections, and it was all down to what we were doing. Yes a lot of it was down to me, but it was a team effort and I always appreciate that.