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'Strictly Jazz Sounds' co-hosts to celebrate their final show after a combined 6 decades on the air

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Jane Reynolds and Steve Braunginn at Cafe Coda

Jane Reynolds and Steve Braunginn are ending their 17-year run as co-hosts of "Strictly Jazz Sounds" on WORT 89.9 FM.

On Thursday, the team of Jane Reynolds and Steve Braunginn will sign off the air one last time on WORT 89.9 FM. But first, there will be a party.

The celebration Wednesday of their long-running jazz show, “Strictly Jazz Sounds,” is expected to attract a who’s-who of the Madison jazz scene to Café CODA, 1224 Williamson St. Starting at 7 p.m., the gathering will be filled with performances by names such as Hanah Jon Taylor, Johannes Wallmann, Darren Sterud, Nick Moran and others.

“Jane and Steve’s show has been indispensable for the Madison jazz scene,” said Wallmann, who is facilitating Wednesday’s show and promises “a thrilling mosaic of jazz styles” on the Café CODA stage.

Over its 17 years, “Strictly Jazz Sounds” has attracted a loyal local radio audience, as well as online listeners from as far away as Australia, Europe and South America.

And along with other shows on WORT, it’s helped to fill a jazz void on the local public radio spectrum, said Wallmann, the John and Carolyn Peterson Professor of Jazz Studies at UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, who calls “Strictly Jazz Sounds” “exemplary.”

Among the performers in the show Wednesday will be Reynolds, a jazz pianist herself, who is also marking 37 years as a volunteer show host on community radio station WORT.

In 1985, Reynolds had been studying with Madison jazz greats Joan Wildman and Richard Davis and wanted to shine a brighter light on the talent that was right here at home. With her new solo show on WORT called “Jazz Sounds,” “I had a lot of local musicians coming into the studio, not only for interviews but to perform live on the air,” said Reynolds, who turns 73 in July. “I wanted to give exposure to local musicians.”

That same year she helped found the Madison Music Collective and created a weekly community jazz calendar. Reynolds was 20 years into doing her weekly radio show when the work of researching and programming “Jazz Sounds” on her own started to feel overwhelming — and she began to think about leaving.

New partner

That’s when Braunginn, who many years earlier hosted a show on WORT called “Strictly Jazz,” came to the station and volunteered to work as an on-air sub. As Reynolds was training him in the studio, the lightbulb went off: Why not join forces and share the work of a jazz show as co-hosts?

They combined the names of their solo shows — “Jazz Sounds” and “Strictly Jazz” — into “Strictly Jazz Sounds” or “SJS,” which “is also ‘Steve and Jane’s Show,’” Reynolds said with a laugh. “We were such a good team. I’m a musician, and he has a journalism background.”

Over the years, “Strictly Jazz Sounds” grew “to be one of our most popular jazz shows and is among the most respected programs on WORT,” said Sybil Augustine, the community radio station’s music director.

The two hosts have a special “synergy” that “endears them to performers and listeners alike,” Augustine wrote in an email. “We’ve heard from many, many listeners and supporters about how much they’re going to miss them both.”

A life of jazz

A lifelong activist, Braunginn, who earned his master’s degree in the field of broadcast journalism and communications, spent a long and varied career in Madison — starting as WORT’s news director in the 1980s. (His first major interview for his solo show “Strictly Jazz” was with a young Branford Marsalis.) He went on to work as a Madison schoolteacher, served on the Dane County Board for six years in the 1990s and from 1998 to 2004 was president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison.

Braunginn, now 67, grew up with jazz on the radio, and bought his first jazz album when he was about 15. Despite health challenges through the years — he first went on the air with “Strictly Jazz Sounds” while he was still on oxygen — “what really kept me alive was jazz,” he said.

“I live with jazz,” said Braunginn, who on June 18 will conduct a free live interview at Memorial Union with Grammy-winning drummer and composer Brian Blade as part of the Madison Jazz Festival. “I listen to it every day. It helps me thrive.”

Even as a teen, “I couldn’t get enough of it,” Braunginn said. “I loved the way it felt. Jazz is about how it feels, how it moves you.”

New horizons

Later this month, Braunginn and his wife will be moving to Columbus, Ohio, to be closer to their 5-year-old granddaughter. Once settled in their new home, Braunginn expects to start a jazz podcast focused on up-and-coming musicians, also called “Strictly Jazz Sounds.”

Reynolds, who will remain in Madison, wants more time to teach and perform. And she’s confident that jazz will continue to thrive in Madison, thanks to solid institutions such as Café CODA and active jazz presenters such as Bluestem Jazz.

The 2 to 5 p.m. time slot at WORT on Thursdays will be taken over by a new jazz show hosted by Theresa Cuccia and Matt Marcus, Reynolds said.

Both Reynolds and Braunginn will host the last broadcast of “Strictly Jazz Sounds,” at 2 p.m. Thursday. Braunginn programmed the penultimate edition of the show on June 2 (available for streaming at wortfm.org until June 16) with a special salute to John Coltrane. Reynolds will program the June 9 edition (available for streaming until June 23), most likely featuring the music of Charles Mingus.

“Simply Jazz Sounds” was shaped by a love not only for the music, but for the people who wrote that music and those who played it. Interviews were marked by “the deep research” the hosts did, said Braunginn, adding, “We have had a journey that has been a hell of a ride.”

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