Gary Alderman, who earned a doctorate in microbiology from UW-Madison but spent his life as a collector and dealer of rare jazz records, died Sunday from an uncommon form of cancer. He was 76.
A jazz archivist and booster for Madison’s jazz scene, Alderman was best known to local jazz lovers as host of the Wednesday afternoon WORT/FM 89.9 show “Journeys into Jazz.” He hosted the program for 35 years.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, jazz musicians and jazz history, and was generous with his time, mentoring both musicians and non-musicians, said Chad Bartell, who is married to Alderman’s daughter, Julie.
“His weekly radio show was a veritable masterclass on jazz recordings,” said Bartell, a Madison attorney and co-founder of Panchromatic Steel, a local steel drum band.
“While he never became an accomplished musician, he would listen to jazz music much the way musicians would, and would relate to it much in that way,” Bartell said.
Alderman worked in his academic field for only about 10 years before founding, in 1972, G’s Jazz, from which he sold rare and out-of-print jazz recordings as well as literature, artwork and memorabilia. Before he ran the website gjazz.com, he operated G’s Jazz as a mail-order catalog and auction business.
Many of his sales were international, said Bartell, adding that Alderman sold mostly to wealthy Japanese collectors before the Japanese economy collapsed in the 1990s. Alderman did well enough with the business to put his son and daughter through college, Bartell said.
Alderman came to Madison in 1962 from Syracuse, New York, to go to college. He started guest hosting on “Journeys into Jazz” when Danny Kahn hosted, and Kahn picked Alderman as his successor when he left in 1984.
A 2017 story on the WORT website said Alderman had more than 60,000 jazz LPs and 8,000 jazz CDs in his collection.
“We’ve lost a jazz hero,” said June Dalton, a saxophone player and leader for the big band Ladies Must Swing. “He was such a catalog of information about all things jazz, just everything.”
Dalton called Alderman a “wonderful, caring person” who helped local musicians promote jazz as “America’s art form.”
Howard Landsman, who’s on the board of the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, said Alderman exposed jazz enthusiasts to obscure musicians they’d otherwise never know.
“I could probably say this about all of the jazz DJs on WORT, but Gary took such pleasure in bringing to his listeners’ attention musicians and music that maybe people had not ever heard before,” Landsman said.
“Gary had a passion for trying to find things that his listeners would like that they hadn’t come across before. He just loved doing his jazz show — I think largely for that reason,” Landsman said.
Alderman kept doing his radio show after getting diagnosed in late 2016 with mantle cell lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Just last month, he put together a jazz video presentation at the annual Isthmus Jazz Fest.
Madison Jazz Society president Linda Marty Schmitz called Alderman a vital part of Madison’s jazz community. “He supported live performance and jazz films and jazz on the radio. I mean, he had his fingers in every pie.”
He brought great variety as well as extensive jazz knowledge to his radio show, Marty Schmitz said. “It was informative and educational and entertaining all at the same time. There’s a big hole they’ve got to fill there. It may be difficult to find somebody with his knowledge and aptitude and ability.”
José J. Madera, a founding member of MadiSalsa, called Alderman “an iconic figure in our musical performing arts community.”
Madera said he’s grateful for Alderman’s well-researched opening remarks every time he introduced MadiSalsa — which ran from 1992 to 2016 — at the weekly series “Jazz at Five.”
“He was a great supporter of jazz in all its expressions and had a great affinity for Latin jazz as well,” Madera said.
Alderman is survived by his wife, Debby, and children, Julie and David. The family is planning a jazz jam and party to celebrate his life in late August or early September.