Jazz radio legend Leigh Kamman has died at 92

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Leigh Kamman hosted Jazz Image on Minnesota Public Radio from 1973 to 2007.

MPR Photo

Leigh Kamman, the former host of longtime MPR’s “The Jazz Image” and whose broadcaster career spanned more than six decades, died Friday night. He was 92 years old.

Kamman is remembered as a tireless promoter of the music he loved, an accomplished professional and a really nice guy.

Previously:
Leigh Kamman signs
Notes for Leigh
A portrait of Leigh Kamman (2011)

For over 30 years, Kamman was a Saturday night fixture on MPR, playing jazz tunes and, as MPR News’ Tom Crann described it, talking to the older ones as if they were his old friends.

His voice was as sweet as the music he was playing on the air. In 2007, Kamman said he modeled his ads on the sound of jazz.

“In tempo and time, with music,” he said. “It often generates the way I phrase it, and the dead air and the syllables tumbling down through the night.”

Kamman described his radio style to the Star Tribune in 2007. “Through imagery, I invite people to come with me to New York and we will bring you back safely,” he said. “And we’ll take the note. And we’ll take you to Jazz Standard or Blue Note in New York – or Yoshi’s in Oakland / San Francisco by the Bay.”

Born in 1922, Kamman grew into a boy fascinated by jazz in central Minnesota. After getting a job in the school newspaper at age 17, he first met Duke Ellington while tracking him down at St. Paul’s train station.

Leigh Kamman, shortly before his retirement

Leigh Kamman, shortly before his retirement in 2007.

Courtesy of Sara Rubinstein

A first job as an announcer in Duluth led to a series of others, including a stint on Armed Forces Radio. In the early 1950s, he moved to New York. There, he broadcast live on WOV station from a specially built studio in the Ballroom of the Palm Hotel in Harlem. It was a place to listen to great music and be seen.

“It could be Edward Kennedy Ellington, an unknown Quincy Jones, an actor named Sidney Poitier, or it could be Harry Belafonte,” Kamman said.

Drummer Kenny Horst, who owned and directed the Artists Quarter jazz venue for many years, remembers hearing Kamman for the first time as a teenager.

“I remember turning on the radio and listening to him and what he was playing got me so excited I knocked over the guy in front of me,” Horst said. “And I saw him just in August and he said ‘Sorry about the car’.”

After working at several stations in the Twin Cities, Kamman launched “The Jazz Image” at MPR. Tom Wilmeth was his broadcast engineer between 1980 and 1984.

“He knew how to use the microphone in a really old-fashioned professional way,” Wilmeth said. “His diction was perfect. If Leigh was on you, you would be able to understand every word. Wilmeth said it was only after working with Kamman for a while that he learned of his connections to jazz history.

“I had worked with Leigh for over three years before he even mentioned in passing that he had spoken with Duke Ellington or the fact that he had spoken to Charlie Parker on the phone – and he had a recording of it.” , Wilmeth said. “And that he had Billy Holiday in his New York apartment.”

Kamman’s funeral services will be private. Planning is underway for a community jazz celebration of his life at a later date.

KARE 11 profiled Kamman in 2007:

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