Saturdays | 7 – 10 pm
To hear an interview with John Penney, conducted by Peter Whorf, click here.
John Penney was born and raised in Ithaca, New York, and began hosting and programming weekly jazz and folk music programs on student owned commercial radio station WVBR-FM at the age of 15.
In 1967 WVBR became one of the first FM radio stations in the country to program “progressive rock.” John was instrumental in the creation of the format and became one of WVBR’s most popular on-air personalities, frequently featuring live studio performances on his show. He served as Music Director beginning in 1970, and continued to program jazz, folk, and rock programs through 1971.
In 1978, at the age of 25, John became the National Promotion Director of Amherst Records in Buffalo, New York, where he was instrumental in establishing the career of the platinum selling band Spyro Gyra. He also became the most popular jazz host on public radio WBFO, as measured by Arbitron and listener donations.
In 1984 John moved to Detroit as the Michigan Regional Representative for Action, and in 1989 was hired by Warner Elektra Atlantic as a sales rep. During his 15 year career with WEA John gained a national reputation as a creative and innovative marketer, among other things designing and executing the company’s first regional catalog promotion with Wal-Mart, which was used to leverage the first national event.
John joined the air staff of public radio WDET-FM in Detroit in 1986 as host of a music variety program. John pioneered the concept of presenting “all the varieties of music” in such a way as to demonstrate the continuity between diverse musical forms by making the connection between current and historic recordings. His program became one of the most popular on the air.
John is a popular and sought after MC for live events, and for years was a fixture on stage at the Detroit Jazz Festival in Hart Plaza. He helped to create an innovative format for radio broadcasts of the festival, and served as national co-anchor for five years. John began his association with the AMRF in 2004 when Ron Harwood asked him to MC the 6th Annual Motor City Boogie Woogie and Blues Festival. He became consultant/Director in September of 2005. John is also collaborating with Ron on a book about the life and times of classic blues singer Sippie Wallace and her siblings.
John’s Latest Playlist
JAZZFEST DETROIT 2-4-2023
Time Start Artist Title Album Label Year
Sonny Stitt Mama Don’t Allow Shangri-La Prestige 1964
Artie Shaw Frenesi Greatest Hits RCA 1940
Manhatten Transfer Until I Met You Mecca For Moderns Atlantic 1981
Buck Clayton Jam Session v3 Jazz Party Time Jazz Party Time Chiarusco 1976
Bobby Watson Mind Wine Back Home In Kansas City Smoke Sessions 2022
Carmen McRae with Ben Webster Baltimore Oriole The Complete Ralph Burns Sessions Lone Hill Jazz 1958
Rodney Whitaker Fan-O-Gram Oasis: Music of Greg Hill Origin 2022
Miles Davis Quintet If I Were A Bell Relaxin’ With Prestige 1958
Charlie Gabriel I Get Jealous “89 Sub-Pop 2022
Stanley Turrentine and CTI All Stars Sugar California Concert CTI 1971
Howard Johnson and Gravity High Priest Howard Johnson & Gravity Testimony 2017
Thelonious Monk Well You Needn’t The Best of Blue Note Blue Note 1947
Cyrus Chestnut Nippon Soul Connection My Father’s Hands High Note 2022
Terri Lyne Carrington Circling New Standards v1 Candid 2022
Chuck Loeb D.I.G. Plain N’ Simple Tweety 2011
Sonny Stitt and Barry Harris I’ll Tell You Later Burnin’ Argo 1958
Phil Ranelin Of Time Gone By The Time Is Now! Tribe 1974
Barbara Morrison featuring Houston Person Canadian Sunset A Sunday Kind Of Love Savant 2014
Planet D Nonet Blow By Blow Blues To Be There: A Salute to Ellington Eastlawn 2023
Houston Person Reminiscing At Rudy’s Reminiscing At Rudy’s High Note 2022
Heavy Hitters Silverdust Chainsaw Cellar Music 2023
Stam Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio I Want To Be Happy Stan Getz and The Oscar Peterson Trio Verve 1958
Stan Getz The Singing Song Getz Au Go-Go Verve 1964
Joe Sample Souly Creole Old Places Old Faces Warner Bros 1996
Art Pepper Surf Ride The Savoy Story Box Savoy 1952
Zmich, Edward says
Hi John, who performed the Song of India on your 12/31/22 show, a couple of songs after Ella? It would have been around 7:20pm maybe? thanks!
Hi Edward, we will check with John Penney…
Hi my name is Weldon Tony Walker I was living in Waterford Michigan with my younger sister for a while I recently moved to a Tigard Oregon that’s 12 miles south of Portland I listen to another classical station out here called at 89.9 all classical Portland they’re on the east side of Portland I love classic on music always have this is for John penny have a great day would love next time I come back to visit my sister in Waterford Michigan I hope to meet you sometime Tony Walker
Hi Toney, if you ever visit the Detroit Jazz Festival that happens every September you might come across John Penney. He often emcees and appears at our tent.
Lee Lind says
Wow. I don’t get turn the radio up loud too often, but I got a rare Saturday night to myself, and this evening is an exception. Tonight’s program (1/29/22) is absolutely stellar! Thanks for putting together a great program John. Good thing it’s winter and everyone’s window and doors are shut or i might be disturbing the peace.
Thank you Lee, it’s nice to hear you really liked it!
I would like to know if the John Penney program from April 23rd Mingus 100 will be available on a podcast or replay. It was fantastic!
Hi Margaret, glad you liked it! Unfortunately we can’t save the episodes online because they have full songs in them. Sorry! Hopefully you’ll like the next episode just as much this Tuesday at 7pm.
Scott Zanni says
Hi John, Driving home last night 12/9/21 at 800pm, enjoying the great and often new music I experience on your show. From 800 to apprx 815 there were three songs that really blew me away. I got the 1st- Dave Samuels- Sea Breeze (love latin jazz, live in Miami for 3 yrs! FUN!) Then next tune had this klunky Thelonious Monk feel to the opening , moving into tight rhythmic drum hits with some sweet bass work over this Chick Corea-esque groove and ended with a flute solo as it faded. Can you identify this song and the next, which to me sounded a lot like Nando Lauria? Those and many others send me down a spiral of musical experience. Great choices! Thanks, Scott Zanni
Hi Scott, glad you are enjoying the tunes! Here are the two songs after Sea Breeze:
ALBUM:On My Way To You
Sublimity (Bunny’s Dream)
Pete Forsythe says
It’s Saturday night, October 16, 2021, the eve of this year’s Free Press Marathon and you just finished describing the kick you get out of watching squirrels pelting various targets, maybe including people, with acorns. Then you cued up your next tune and missed the desired cut on your first three tries, but that just gave you more time to chat about squirrels, acorns, and the great music coming up. Thanks, John. I really enjoy your show.
Rodger Wolff says
I listened to the Detroit Jazz Festival 2021 and I have two comments.
First, as God transcends our religion, so God’s gift, music, transcends our tastes, our prejudices, our biases, and all our boundaries. The Festival was a sublime human continuity, together from a distance. So many persons and musicians speaking to me and us, soul to soul.
Second, the musicians offered their finest wine, with heartfelt generosity. That wine was fresh and unique, but truly aged by our times.
This was a wonderful Festival and thank you John and WRCJ for your part in bringing it to us.
Hello Rodger, thank you. John, Linda and Maxine enjoyed the Festival as well. Hopefully it came through on the air. Thanks for being a part of it!
Rodger Wolff says
If most other music radio programs are courses in music appreciation, John Penney holds court for a graduate level course, perhaps even a philosophical doctorate seminar. Your elucidation, John, of various artist’s craft, their personalities, connections, preferences, growth and artistic trajectories are presented as though you are sitting with colleagues presenting the history and significance without pretense. What comes through is your sheer love of the music and the art forms- a kind of agony and the ecstasy of the inner life of music. Thank you John Penney for your thoughts.
Thank you Rodger, that’s a kind, well written commendation. John will appreciate it.
Lee Kole says
Linda Yohn says
As first a listener, and second a co-worker I second these appreciations of John Penney’s approach to jazz radio. Sublime and totally approachable.
Christine Marchell says
Hey John, You might get an email from my nephew, Owen Marchell, a senior in high school in Ithaca. He’s into music right now during all this craziness, especially Frank Zappa. Somehow you name came up today during our long distance Christmas call. First time I haven’t been with family for the holidays in years. Hope all is well with you. I mentioned your brother Chris and it turns out he was classmates with my brother Tim, Owen’s father.
Here’s to a better 2021!
Thanks Christine, we’ll send to John.