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Radio eclectic

WBOI’s Burnt Toast Show offers the most adventurous three hours of music on local radio

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2005-07-11


On Sunday nights, from 9 pm until midnight, WBOI 89.1 FM gets a little freaky. That’s when the Burnt Toast Show unleashes a slew of cutting-edge jazz, R&B, and “jam-band” music.

Hosted by local musicians Todd Harrold and Felix Moxter, the show is probably one of the most adventurous three hours of programming you’ll hear on local radio. There’s no such thing as a typical Burnt Toast set list. Tune in on any given Sunday night, and you might hear an obscure track from a 30+ year old Santana album, followed by a live cut from Phish, or something by Me'Shell Ndegeocello. Or you might hear a whole set of Steely Dan rarities. You might even hear something off the new Dave Matthews album (though it probably won’t be the single).

If there’s a common thread that runs through a Burnt Toast show, it’s that the music is mostly what Felix Moxter describes as “jazz derivative” — improvisational, loosely structured, with musicians really pushing their talents to create something new and different. Todd Harrold, a well-know local jazz drummer, adds: “I’ve always been proud of the fact that I was a musician, and one who tried to keep getting better everyday. I want to play things by people who are proud of the fact that they can really play.”

Harrold says that part of the inspiration behind the Burnt Toast Show is trying to tap into what he loved about radio when he started getting really into music. “In 1977, WXKE used to be an easy-listening station during the day, and at night it would be a progressive rock station. I used to call them all the time,” he says. “For a while WCMX also used to be a progressive rock station. I remember them playing whole sides of Little Feet albums, and Santana, and that always sort of stuck in my head.”

The one outlet where he could still find that type of adventurous programming was WBOI. Harrold recalls Hogie’s Jazz Corner in the late 70s, hosted by Tim Hogan, which used to veer from straight jazz into unexpected territory like Elvis Costello. The Burnt Toast Show itself has a long history. “It used to be called the Burnt Toast Fade, and then something like the Night Flight Burnt Toast,” Felix Moxter says. “It’s gone through six different hosts. Paul Seifer, Phil Seidel, Todd Jordan, just to name a few.”

Harrold and Moxter do the show live, with no planned set list beyond the first handful of tracks. “We kind of build and sculpt the show as it goes along. It can change direction after every song,” Moxter says.

Harrold says he’s constantly looking for new music to play on the show. He talks about seeing a recent concert by the Headhunters, Herbie Hancock’s old band. A chance conversation with the group’s drummer got him a disc of a live performance recorded just weeks earlier… and the perfect opener for the next Burnt Toast.

The analogy between the kind of music they love and the way each show comes together isn’t lost on the two. “It’s very analogous to performing live,” says Moxter. “You kind of bring into the show what kind of day you’ve had a work, your emotional state, how tired you are, how much coffee you’ve had, that sort of thing.”

And, as in any creative collaboration, the two co-hosts admit to at least a little bit of conflict. Not that they’re throwing punches and swearing at each other in the DJ booth, but between two people who are as serious about their music as Harrold and Moxter, there’s usually some debate about what’s “right” for the show. “Literally, they’ve (Bruce Haines, general manager, and Doug Gruber, music programmer) said ‘you guys don’t have to adhere to anything. You do whatever you want.’” Harrold says. “So any interference is strictly between me and Felix. We don’t always agree on what to play. I’m a drummer who comes out of jazz and R&B. He’s a viola player, who comes out of jam-band music and more acoustic, almost folk-oriented stuff.”

Moxter, originally from Germany, opens our conversation by asking me what’s in my CD player these days (thereby forcing Your Humble to admit his predilection for three chord melodic guitar rock in 4/4 time). He says it’s a question he asks everybody; he’s always up for hearing something new. “My personal musical spectrum is very broad,” he says. “I go to the Fort Wayne Philharmonic as often as I go to a rock concert or jazz concert. Whenever there’s something that’s happening musically that’s good in its own genre, I’m in most cases a fan.”

Moxter describes Harrold’s tastes as “probably more refined, more centralized… he was the 15-year-old kid from Churubusco who was buying Miles Davis records on vinyl.” True enough, Harrold does seem a little more opinionated about what he likes, what he doesn’t, and what he wants to hear on the show. During our conversation, the topic veers from the creative dearth in today’s jam-band scene after the break-up of Phish (“they just bail out so they could do four mediocre solo projects? What is this crap?”) to Carlos Santana’s recent return to multi-platinum status, which Harrold jokes came about from a backroom deal reminiscent of the Dan Aykroyd/Eddie Murphy movie Trading Places (“I swear Clive Davis bet some other guy a dollar that he could turn anyone into an MTV star…”).

Nevertheless, their risky approach to the Burnt Toast show pays off with interesting results, and has earned them an enthusiastic audience. Even the hosts are surprised by the range of listeners — from high school kids to jazz enthusiasts in their 60s — who tune in every Sunday. “We get very few ‘what the hell is this?’ kind of calls,” Harrold says. “I’d say 80% of the calls we get are ‘wow, it’s great you’re playing this on the radio,’ or ‘what is this and where can I get it?’ That kind of response keeps you going.”

The Burnt Toast show: Sunday nights on WBOI, 89.1 FM, from 9 PM – 12 AM.

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