One of NUVO's longtime voices died over the weekend. Jazz columnist Chuck Workman passed away over the weekend in his Indianapolis home.
Workman was host of two jazz radio shows for WICR-FM 88.7 and was a contributing writer, most notably penning his jazz column Jazz Notes, at NUVO since 1993.
Jazz guitarist Bill Lancton simply called Workman "the best."
"When I did my first CD, the first person who got one was Chuck. The following Sunday, he opened up his Sunday show with a song from my CD and it was 'Wow, Chuck liked it.' It was very cool. He was a great supporter, a selfless supporter of local musicians. We all loved him and were pleased when he enjoyed our performances. He will be a big void in the local scene," Lancton said.
Workman grew up in Lockefield Gardens and graduated from Cathedral High School in 1950. He was able to witness the Indiana Avenue jazz scene and got to know such scene staples as Wes Montgomery and David Baker. Baker, now Chair of the Department of Jazz Studies at Indiana University, still remembers his first encounter with Workman.
"He was expressing interest in being a DJ. He read all the books and talked Wes Montgomery and Freddie Hubbard. He was able to accomplish that by embracing the Indianapolis scene. He went to bat for us. He was able to get us on the air and to get us work in Indianapolis and to keep jazz alive," Baker said.
His first radio job was in the inaugural year of WTLC-FM in 1967, the first radio station in town that was African-American owned. He was the station's music director until he left in 1968 and joined WTTV in 1969 to be the state's first African-American sports director. While at WTTV, Workman joined WIAN-FM in 1970 as a producer and jazz host. He stayed with WIAN until 1990, while at the same time working at WTPI from 1985-2005.
He joined WICR in 2006, where he hosted the Saturday Evening Jazz Show and the Sunday Morning Jazz Show.
"This is such a huge loss to the community and just in jazz. The way he worked for our students he encouraged them," said Doug Housemeyer, director of underwriting for WICR. "The man himself was credibility. He had it."
The last few years at the Labor Day Street Fair at the Jazz Kitchen, Workman was selling portions of his jazz CD collection with the proceeds benefitting the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation. One of his final public appearances was at The Jazz Kitchen as emcee for an album release party for Wes Montgomery's Echoes of Indiana Avenue and celebration of Montgomery's birthday on March 6.
David Allee, owner of The Jazz Kitchen, one of Workman's "second offices," said Workman was a champion of all things jazz.
"He was always supportive of everything. A champion of all styles of jazz. Big band, smooth, Latin, it didn't matter. I rarely heard him say a bad word about a performer. All he wanted to do was promote jazz to everybody in the city with his radio shows and his writing. He was very concerned about the scene in Indianapolis and in general," Allee said.
The last few years of Indy Jazz Fest saw Workman conduct on-site interviews with the artists right after their performance. Even though he could chat with the likes of Yellowjackets, Rufus Reid and Al Jarreau, he also kept his eye and ear out for the lesser known acts.
"He was always interested in who was coming in [to town], and not always big stars. He was eager to see young and up-and-coming talent. He had so much jazz information, it didn't matter the style. He was around for so long and he knew it all. All that and he was just a good dude," Allee said.
Workman was inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation's Hall of Fame in 2002 along with Wes Montgomery, David Baker, and Mary Moss. He also received the Indiana Black Expo's Lynn Dean Ford Print Award in 2010. He was inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters Association's Hall of Fame this past October.
This past January, Workman wrote in NUVO that there needs to be an official Indianapolis jazz museum.
"I can't help but wonder how we can pass on a jazz legacy to future generations when we can't preserve the past to build on to. Could there be a museum devoted to jazz and our local legendary performers for the public to enjoy and future musicians and music educators to use to maintain Indy's reputation? Let's keep our legacy alive in the world jazz community," said Workman.
We agree. And this museum should have a section devoted to Chuck Workman.