Born, raised and educated in Lincoln, James Terry, 68, isn’t a lifelong jazz devotee, but long enough.
At the age many baby boomers seriously start contemplating stepping aside from their careers, Lincoln’s jazz man tapped into his entrepreneurial side and brought forward his own smooth jazz internet streaming station. Since 2009, he has been the managing director of JazzTimesSmoothRadio.com. "Retirement" is not in Terry’s personal dictionary.
That jazz history elective Terry took while pursuing his sociology degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, opened his ears. The jazz professor often took the class to hear great live jazz at Lincoln’s legendary Tony and Luigi's restaurant. Artists like Jay McShann from Kansas City, Missouri, regularly came to play.
Terry’s first real jazz aha moment was listening to a recording of Charlie Christian, a jazz guitarist.
“It was just … wow!", he said. "I go back and listen to it every so often.”
Today, his musical passion is smooth jazz.
“Jazz,” explained Terry “is a lot of things. You have ragtime like Scott Joplin. You have bebop like Charlie Parker, and cool jazz like Miles Davis. Dixieland, classic, fusion, smooth …"
There are different opinions on what smooth jazz is or isn’t, or whether it’s jazz at all. Allmusic.com describes smooth jazz as polished, “unobtrusive… where the overall sound matters more than the individual parts.”
Why a smooth jazz music station?
“Because jazz is for the whole family," Terry said. "Everybody can listen. I used to like rap, but they started doing all that cussing and sex talk. That’s not for me. That’s not what you want kids to hear.”
Internet stations aren’t bound by the same rules and regulations as traditional radio stations. Terry partners with a streaming service to deliver his content. He picks his own playlist about 15 days out. The current Top 10 smooth jazz songs regularly rotate. Once his business gets to a certain level, Terry will start paying royalties, “but that’s a ways away.”
Terry described his success as a jazz entrepreneur as “hit and miss.” Since his acceptance into the SCC Entrepreneur Program on his second try, he has learned how to promote and produce special events, and more about the business side, including writing contracts.
Terry moved his office out of his home and into a dedicated space at the SCC Entrepreneurship Center near 68th and L streets -- fewer distractions means more focus on business.
“When I first started, I thought I was doing everything right. Then I found out I was doing it all wrong,” he said, chuckling. “It was a surprising moment.”
He has two years remaining in the program.
Terry had a stroke last April. It has left him with some aphasia he’s working through with support and determination. The stroke made him aware he needs to make changes in how he takes care of himself and what he eats. He hasn’t slowed down, at least not much. He still plans to learn to play the xylophone, because he loves the sound.
Before smooth jazz
Terry is writing a book about growing up as African-American in Lincoln.
“I came from what we now call a disadvantaged family,” he said.
When he was age 11, his mother was a victim of violent crime and killed. The perpetrator remains unpunished. He attended Bancroft Elementary (Dorcas Cavett was one of his teachers), Whittier Junior High and Lincoln High Schools. While he wasn’t a kid who got into trouble, he credits staff at the Clyde Malone Center for continually pushing him in the right direction.
“My life could’ve turned out so differently,” he said.
The Malone Center has been part of his life ever since. As a kid growing up, Terry knew he wanted to work at the center. As a young man, he did. Personal experience and a favorite Sociology professor, who favored learning in the field over books, fueled Terry’s desire to help others, and the community activism that remains at his core today.
His smooth jazz station isn’t Terry’s first experience with radio. When community radio station KZUM went live 40 years ago, Terry was ready. Now a paid community specialist at the Malone Center, the community outreach show Malone Reaching Out regularly aired Fridays from noon to 4:30 p.m. on KZUM.
“We gave young minority persons interested in broadcasting a chance to develop their talents and help our cause at the same time,” said Terry in a 1979 newspaper story. Five volunteer DJs (including Terry, known on air as J.T. Soul) brought in their own vinyl records and did their own programming.
Career moves included positions at different youth facilities in Lincoln. He brought a different perspective and thought he could help the kids. There were opportunities out of state, too, though Lincoln always drew him back.
In the mid-1980s, Terry graduated from the second Leadership Lincoln class, an organization that continues to engage and prepare individuals from diverse backgrounds for community leadership roles. About that same time, Terry returned to the air on KZUM with "The JT Soul Show: Music You Never Heard." The target audience was university students, and often ran five to six hours of music minority students couldn’t find anywhere else.
“We had the black community and when our show was on, their radios were on," he said. "When we were off, their radios went off, too.”
Jazz in the city
The state of jazz in Lincoln “is good and growing,” Terry said. He credits Martha Florence and the Jazz in June committee for delivering on their vision for more than 25 years. Spencer Munson, who took over as Jazz in June coordinator a couple years ago, is equally committed and innovative.
“He continues to be instrumental in bringing great new jazz and smooth jazz to Lincoln. He knows music,” Terry said. “And, I can’t forget the Capital Jazz Society and Dean Haist -- the free Monday night jazz sessions at Blue Blood Brewing Company …”
Terry is doing what he does to bring the best in live jazz entertainment for local and regional events. JazzTimeSmoothRadio and the Downtown Lincoln Association, with support from sponsors, wanted to extend that Jazz in June-like party into July. In 2015, Tower Jazz, featuring established as well as up-and-coming local talent, took off. Last summer, the free jazz concert series at Tower Square, 13th and P streets, expanded into August featuring vibraphonist Steve Raybine and others. He’s finalizing artists for the Tower Jazz 2018, including Chad Stoner from Omaha, who is sure to be an attention-getter.
Another Terry production last summer -- with Lincoln Parks and Recreation -- was the new Union Plaza Cultural Concert Series at the amphitheater near 21st and O streets.
There have been jazz nights at the Nebraska Club and, this year, monthly Friday night jazz at the Boiler Grand Hall (in the Grand Manse at 10th and P streets). In January, the Mitch Towner Quintet played a sold out benefit for Jazz in June. Next up is Latin jazz on March 30.
All that jazz is going on in Lincoln, thank in part to Terry.