“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Vickie Van Dyke
Smitty: Well, they say that radio personalities are all voice. If that’s true, my next guest has completely shattered the mold. Sure, she has a great voice; however, she has some seriously cool skills. She is a musician, a writer, a great lover of jazz, she has a heart of platinum, and she is drop dead gorgeous. Please welcome the amazing Ms. Vickie Van Dyke. Vickie, how are ya?
Vickie Van Dyke (VVD): Smitty, am I sending you a check for that or did you want cash? (Both laughing.) That was so nice! How do I live up to that billing? I am fine. I’m just thrilled to be talking to you.
Smitty: Oh, that’s great. Well, it’s well deserved, my friend, because you’ve done so many things that are so amazing. Because when we think about radio personalities, they’re on the air, we listen to the music, we listen to their persona, and every radio personality has their own personality. That’s why we use the term. But when we really dig deep and think about the things that you’ve done, man, you’ve had just an amazing life.
VVD: Well, the whole radio thing for me was completely unplanned, totally back door. It wasn’t like I woke up when I was 17 years old and said “Oh, my goodness, I have to be on radio.” I really wanted to be a Broadway star. That was it for me. I did a lot of musical theater, I wanted to be a Broadway star, but then I wrote songs and then I wanted to be, not a radio broadcasting star, but I wanted to be the next Carole King. That was my life’s work right there: write songs, record songs, and do Broadway at the same time. And then you get a little bit older and life changes and you start thinking about maybe having a family and settling down, and perhaps all that stardom doesn’t quite land in your lap (laughs)….to where you hoped it might, and all of a sudden somebody said to me one day, “Have you ever thought about radio? You’ve got that low voice going on and you’re sure not afraid to talk, girl.” (Both laughing.) And I thought “Oh, radio. Hmm, that could be fun.” But then I thought “Well, I’ve already got a university degree, I really don’t wanna go back to school,” so I just started hounding every radio person I knew until somebody gave me a job. I literally had one day’s training and that was it. I’ve been on the air ever since.
Smitty: Wow. It appears that you were meant to be on the air. How long have you been in radio?
VVD: I have been in radio since 1989.
Smitty: Wow. And you didn’t start out on jazz radio, did you?
VVD: Well, there was no jazz radio. And not even being aware of Smooth Jazz as a format, I didn’t even realize that I am a Smooth Jazz girl. I have a song that I wrote back in the mid-1980s that I actually had recorded with a fabulous sax solo, a total groove song. One day I’m gonna re-record it as it is, because it’s a Smooth Jazz song and I realized that’s what I was digging even back in the eighties. But great music is great music and I love all kinds of different stuff, and I worked country radio for ten years.
VVD: Believe it or not. And, I mean, I’ve sung everything myself from pop to rock to country. Obviously now I have a jazz band and that’s what I like doing the best, but yeah, I mean, you know, radio’s radio. If you like to talk and if you like to present good music, it’s all good.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. How did the band start? How did you go from being this great radio personality to putting a band together?
VVD: Well, it was really the other way around. I had a band first. When I graduated from university until I got into radio, I was on the road, I had a band, and then I got into radio and sort of gave up the live performing. I mean, people used to say to me “Do you still sing?” And I said “Absolutely. In the shower. Come on over.” (Both laughing.) That was it. I mean, I didn’t even jam around the piano. I really sort of gave it up. And then when I got into Smooth Jazz and got hired at WAVE 94.7, I started realizing how much I miss singing and I was singing along with the songs and especially the instrumentals, I’d make up words, and then I realized that I really would like to do this again now that I have an opportunity to sing the kind of music I really wanna sing.
I started off with my son’s piano teacher, who is a great piano player, and she and I started doing some gigs together, and she decided to move on to some other things and I was approached by some up and coming Canadian talent, and people quite regularly call me up, musicians, and they wanna pick my brain. What kind of music can they do? Will I listen to their demo? Is it suitable for our format? And I ended up with these two amazing musicians, guitar player Steve Manning and Stan Fomin, who was recently nominated for keyboardist of the year at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, and now I’ve got these two incredible musicians, both of whom have solo projects that we play on The WAVE, and they’re both playing with me. Yeah, I’ll just take it for as long as they wanna give it to me.
VVD: It’s a good thing.
Smitty: Well, you know, I’m a shower singer, so…
VVD: Are you?
Smitty: Yeah, I’m strictly shower. I’m waiting for someone to cut a record in the shower. I don’t know why they haven’t. (Laughs.)
VVD: And call it “The Shower Sessions.”
Smitty: Yeah, you know?
VVD: Or “Don’t Drop That Soap.”
Smitty: Yeah! ([Laughing.) Or the Ceramic Tile Quartet, you know?
VVD: Yup, that sounds good, yeah.
Smitty: (Laughs.) You know, it would be kinda cool if someone just ceramic tiled their studio and just kinda see what it does, you know? (Laughs.)
VVD: You know what? I wouldn’t be surprised if it hasn’t already been done.
VVD: Probably taken their little home studio setup into the bathroom and just let it go.
Smitty: (Laughs.) How cool is that? So, now, you’re at The WAVE 94.7, in Hamilton?
VVD: We are based out of Hamilton, Ontario, but really we are….we call ourselves Canada’s Smooth Jazz Radio Station because, of course, people can listen on-line, and we really are the only station in Canada right now….there are stations playing some Smooth Jazz, but we’re really the only game in the country in terms of being a dedicated Smooth Jazz format, and we are based in Hamilton, which is about a half an hour outside of Toronto, but our signal gets into Toronto, so we say, you know, we are Toronto’s Smooth Jazz Station, Oaksville’s Smooth Jazz Station, Mississauga’s Smooth Jazz Station, I mean, but really we are….we’re it for Canada.
Smitty: Yeah. And rightly so because you guys just hosted your the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards?
VVD: The Second Annual and, of course, that is for all of Canada, but it was something that we put together to give more of a profile to the genre of music itself. See, we’ve been on the air now for five and a half years and so many people still don’t even understand what Smooth Jazz is and we’re continually trying to come up with a definition for it and differentiate between Smooth Jazz and Traditional Jazz, and so I think it becomes necessary in order to promote the music to create a star system in our country. I mean, obviously we play all the American greats and we’ve got our own Canadian greats who’ve made good in America, people like Warren Hill and Alexander Zonjic, but we really need to give our Canadians a bit of that star treatment to bump them up to the next level, and I think that’s the purpose of creating the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards and, I mean, the first year, 2005, considering, the way it all came together and pretty much on a volunteer basis, it was pretty darn spectacular, and then this year it just got bumped up times ten where we were having top names in the format phoning up afterwards saying “I wanna be on your show next year.”
VVD: This year we had Paul Brown, Steve Oliver, Warren Hill finally made it this year, last year he got snowed in Denver and couldn’t make it….Alexander Zonjic hosting again, we had Bob James receiving the George Benson Lifetime Achievement Award ….of course, last year it was George Benson and he was there….so a lot of American star power showing up to help us out, and then it’s just really great to see the Canadians getting a chance to be up there on the stage with the American talent and being with them shoulder-to-shoulder in terms of talent. I mean, we’ve got some great stuff going on up here.
Smitty: Yeah. Well, I, like those top names in the format. I wanna be there next year too.
VVD: Right and next year you should be. Of course, D.J. [Fazio] from your site was with us this year and we were just thrilled to have her and, yeah, I mean, we just want you guys down there to start having your award show again.
Smitty: Yeah, well, perhaps you guys are the spark to make that happen because you’re absolutely right, we did that for four or five years and it was amazing what took place at those award shows, it was just such a great vibe with all the musicians there and we just had such a party.
VVD: It’s so great for your fan base to really….to see what Smooth Jazz is and, I mean, I get people, they go “Oh yeah, Smooth Jazz…elevator music.” Well, you know what? Come on out to the award show. You know, you will never call Smooth Jazz elevator music again when you see Warren Hill strut across a stage in his tight leather pants (both laugh) playing that saxophone, and then Jeff Golub comes out and joins him on the guitar. You are never gonna call that elevator music ever again.
Smitty: Yeah, that elevator would be rockin’, wouldn’t it? (Laughs.)
VVD: Uh, yes, absolutely, yeah, and we were just thrilled, we’re already making plans for next year’s show.
Smitty: Yes, and before we continue, I want to seriously congratulate Doug and Mary. They did such a wonderful job with this. You know, I’ve talked with D.J., I’ve seen some clips….you guys know how to put on a show!
VVD: Well, I will certainly pass along your congratulations to Doug and Mary. Without those two wonderful people, there would be no Smooth Jazz in Canada. It was their dream. They know the format very well. They spend quite a bit of time in Florida. They know the format and it was their dream to bring this format to Canada and launching a new radio station is tough enough. Launching a new radio station with a new format? Whoa, it’s virtually impossible. You know, if you wanna make some money, you just go with the tried and true, but not Doug and Mary. They just said “No, we want this format in Canada and we are in it for the long haul. We are in it to give Canadians a chance to learn about Smooth Jazz and embrace this music,” and that’s what’s happened. I mean, it was a tough go the first two years and now our ratings are really leaping and bounding and you can’t thank Doug and Mary enough, and Mary particularly for the award show, she is tireless in her efforts to get that show put together and not only put together but put together in a first class way. She’s an amazing woman.
Smitty: Yes. Well, I’ve talked with some of the musicians that were there. Of course, I talked to D.J. and she just made me completely jealous that I wasn’t there.
Smitty: And, I’ll tell you, in fact, in D.J.’s description, after her long description, she said “Smitty, it was just a gala.”
VVD: Ah, nice.
Smitty: And it’s like “Oh my Gosh, I gotta go!” So that is a wonderful thing what you guys have put together up there and, once again, I can’t say enough about both of them, Mary and Doug, what they’ve done to make that such a wonderful event, and you couldn’t have had a better host in Al Zonjic. What a personality.
VVD: Well, you know what? That is one funny man. I mean, you know it, and last year for the first ever Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards in 2005, of course, lucky for us they do have a broadcaster of the year award, so Alexander was nominated and I was nominated, and I used to do, you know, part of my spiel on the radio was to say “You know what? It’s just not fair. I mean, the guy is a fantastic musician, he is a fantastic morning man at the Detroit radio station, and he’s funny!”
VVD: I mean, he is just one of the funniest people I know and this year even better. Not only was he hilarious this year, but then he put together a beautiful and amusing but also very heartfelt tribute to Bob James. And we are blessed to have someone like him and proud to call him a Canadian, and to have him hosting the show was truly incredible.
Smitty: Absolutely. Well, just keep doing your thing because I think the musicians really love it, the fans certainly enjoyed it, and it’s something to look forward to every year.
Smitty: So you’ve raised the bar as to what we will see next year.
VVD: I hope so. I think you have to keep raising the bar with everything you do. You always want to get better and better, and as I said, with the show ten times better this year, so next year’s gonna be a hundred times better.
Smitty: Yes indeed. So, now, getting back to Ms. Vickie Van Dyke.
Smitty: You’ve been in theater?
VVD: I have done theater, it really was my first love, musical theater, and so many of the great jazz standards come from musical theater: Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, I mean, Harold Arlen, so much of that stuff. So I think it all ties in with how I realized that jazz was my music. Whether it’s Smooth Jazz or even some of the more classic jazz or the classic jazz put a Smooth Jazz spin on it, whatever it is, it all goes back to my roots and that really was Broadway shows.
Smitty: Yes, and you did some writing in that regard too, haven’t you?
VVD: Well, I put together two of my favorite composers: Rodgers & Hart. I mean, some of the wonderful songs they’ve written like “My Funny Valentine,” “The Lady Is A Tramp,” there are so many great songs from the two of them, so what I did was I put together a little cabaret-style show featuring their music and really with a fluffy plot, just an excuse to get from one great show to the next and it’s the kind of show that you would come out and sit in a cabaret-style venue enjoying your cocktail while you watch the show and hear all this great music. That is one of my dreams, I’ve got many, and one of them is to see that show mounted and I wrote the show so of course I wrote a part for myself. (Both laughing.) Yeah, so I would certainly love to do that.
Smitty: Very cool. Well, we certainly hope that it happens.
Smitty: Yeah. do you guys take calls (requests) at the radio station?
VVD: With the way it is right now, it’s so much more e-mail. Everybody’s on-line, everybody’s doing e-mail and you can access your e-mail just about all the time so we do take live phone calls, we take a lotta e-mails too. I think that’s what I really enjoy. I always tell people I am the e-mail queen.
VVD: You know, if you e-mail me, I guarantee you will get a response.
Smitty: Very cool. And you have become such a popular icon in Canada as far as Smooth Jazz because you were the “Broadcaster Of The Year” last year, if I recall.
VVD: Well, I’m gonna tell you, Smitty, for me that was a real thrill to win that award for broadcaster of the year, particularly the first year that we had the awards, and it was a funny situation because I actually write the scripts for the Smooth Jazz Awards, and I was so caught up with the script on the day and the night of the show. I had written this whole bit for Warren Hill to do with Alexander Zonjic at the top, Warren got snowed in, we had to change it all around, change who was gonna do it…I was just up to my eyeballs in scripts and backstage and getting everything sorted out, and then I had to go out and sit in the audience for the second half when my award was gonna be announced, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. At that point, I really wanted to see how my script was being presented and then all of a sudden I thought “Holy…I’m nominated for an award and what the heck am I gonna say if I win?” And then I had been talking to Cameron Smith backstage and Cameron was nominated, and Cameron had said, you know, “Alexander’s gonna win because he’s got this huge fan base in Detroit and these awards, the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, are based entirely on fan voting, on-line fan voting.”
VVD: And so I thought, “Yeah, you know, Cameron’s right. Don’t even worry about it, Vickie,” and then when they called my name, I just was like “Huh?”
VVD: And I’ll tell ya, it was one of the highlights of my life. It’s one of those things you dream about when you’re a kid and you watch the award shows on television, and for me to actually go up on stage and be able to thank Doug and Mary and the fans and my fellow broadcasters and the tremendous musicians. It was just a golden, golden night for me. It was my fans. I mean, it was the most votes and I got the most votes and that’s because I’ve got the best fans, and that’s really what it comes down to.
Smitty: There you go. I like that. That’s very cool. What happens for Vickie now? I mean, what would you like to do that you haven’t accomplished? Because you’ve accomplished a lot.
VVD: I would love to record. I’ve done some demos with Stan Fomin, my piano player, and I would actually like to get into the studio and….I have sort of three dream albums that I would like to do before I die. I would like to do one album of original music, just some stuff that I’ve written in the last five or six years that I would love to get recorded; I would like to do one album of standards, you know, just pick my 15 favorites and get them on a CD; and I would love to do an album of Christmas music. Oh, I love Christmas. I am a Christmas girl. And I love so many Christmas songs, you can put a really great jazzy spin on them, so that’s something that I would still very much like to do. I would like to perform out more often live.
Right now my band, we work maybe four or five times a month and we do a lot of intimate venues, restaurants, we do some festivals, we do some corporate kind of stuff. I would love to get on a big stage in front of a whole lotta people and perform. That’s something that is in my dream back pockets. Other than that, I love my radio gig, I don’t ever wanna give it up. I just love being on the air talking about the music and I love helping out other artists, and I think that’s the one thing that I am known for in Canada is that the Canadian talent, they know that whatever I can do to help them, I’m there. We do something on our Web site with The WAVE which is called The WAVE Save and the DJ’s take turns reviewing an album, and I’ll tell ya, if I get a chance, I will review a Canadian every time because you guys down there in The States, you’re just that much further ahead of us and you’re gonna get lots of press anyway. I want to help out the Canadians as much as I can, so that’s something that I really enjoy doing. Writing…I do love to write as I mentioned. I mean, I’ve written my little show, I’ve written the script for the Smooth Jazz Awards, and I’m always up for writing. If you give me a project that involves writing, I’m at it ‘cause that’s something I love to do.
Smitty: Yeah. Very cool.
VVD: Someday perhaps my autobiographical novel. (Both laughing.) Something like that.
Smitty: Oh, would that be something! Vickie, I must say that I’ve enjoyed talking with you and really admire you for all that you’ve accomplished and what you’re doing there at WAVE 94.7 and would say to continue doing what you’re doing and keep pushing the great music out there because I think regardless of where we hear it, it’s always great music and it’s always great to see the advocates and those great passionate people that are certainly keeping the music in the face of the fans, which is where we want it.
VVD: Well, that’s what I figure. That’s my responsibility, is to fly that Smooth Jazz flag, you know?
VVD: I meet so many people and I will mention the radio station, mention where I work, and the next time I see them they’ll say “Oh my God, I have fallen in love with your station, there’s nothing else on my car radio, nothing else on my home radio, nothing else I listen to on-line.” So many people, once they realize what this music is, they become, true blue lifelong fans, and that’s my gig, is to let them know what we do and I’m always happy to do that.
Smitty: Nice! What musical request do you get the most? I mean, what are some of the requests you get that are distinctive and amusing?
VVD: You know what I am very thrilled about is the number of requests that we get to feature our Canadians. We’ve got some of my favorites. Mark Jordan, he’s a tremendous songwriter. He wrote the song “Rhythm of My Heart,” which was a huge hit for Rod Stewart. Well, you should hear Mark Jordan’s version because he sings it the way it should’ve been sung, the way he wrote it, which is much more Smooth Jazz. And what I find really intelligent about our listeners, and that is one thing that I do credit Smooth Jazz listeners with having is superior intelligence, and I mean that quite honestly because there really is a sophistication and a knowledge of the music; a willingness to learn about the music and learn about the artists and learn about the writers. So what I really appreciate is the e-mails and the calls I get saying “Play more Mark Jordan”, ‘play more Carol Welsman.” Even, for instance, my piano player, Stan Fomin, and here he is, he’s from Moscow, he’s been in Canada now since, I believe, 1998, he really is a tremendous talent. I think at our Smooth Jazz Awards, Bob James was actually quite blown away by Stan and invited Stan into the final jam of the night when everybody came on stage to jam with Bob James. Bob James got up from the grand piano and offered it to Stan Fomin.
Smitty: Oh wow.
VVD: And, I mean, talk about a gentleman, Bob James is a doll….but Stan is also a doll and a year ago no one in Canada even knew this Russian boy existed, and when I say Russian I mean Russian-Canadian because he is Canadian now, and now people know who Stan Fomin is and that’s what I love. I love getting those kind of requests.
Smitty: Yep, you’ve got some great artists up there. I remember talking with Nura.
VVD: Oh, Nura, she is an absolute beautiful girl and a great songwriter and singer and musician and working on new stuff right now, and we’re hoping to have it on The WAVE very soon.
Smitty: Yes, very cool, and I certainly enjoy working with D.J. (Fazio), our reviewer. She’s quite popular around the world. She’s nonpareil.
VVD: Yes. There’s a lot of talented Canadian blondes. (Both laughing.) Yeah.
Smitty: I had not looked at it that way, but yes. Vickie, I must say that you have really cast a very bright light on Smooth Jazz along with WAVE 94.7 with Mary and Doug, and I take my hat off to all of you for what you’ve done, and it’s fascinating what you’ve accomplished not just in radio but in other areas of your life, which is super cool.
VVD: Well, I like to be a Renaissance woman, you know?
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. I will certainly look forward to next year’s award show and hopefully we will see that novel out there where we can actually view it. We’d certainly like to see some of that stuff come to fruition.
VVD: Oh, well, thank you, Smitty. One day.
Smitty: All right. We’ve been talking with the fabulous and amazing Ms. Vickie Van Dyke. Check her out at WAVE 94.7 and the Web site is…
VVD: It’s www.wave947.fm or I have my own personal Web site, www.vickievandyke.com.
Smitty: Yes indeed. And you will get the 411 on a lotta things that we did not even mention.
VVD: And don’t forget to e-mail me because I will e-mail back. I always do.
Smitty: There you go, all right. Well, Vickie, best of everything in 2006 and I hope to see you before the year’s over.
VVD: Thanks, Smitty. I’m coming to Houston, so put on the ribs, okay?
Smitty: There you go, girl! (Laughing.) You know my flava!
VVD: Thanks again, Smitty
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.vickievandyke.com or www.wave947.fm.
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