Microphone Maestro

Jazz DJ Chuck Niles: Stone cold and straight-ahead

A half-century and many radio stations later, Niles is enjoying his peak as a disc jockey at KLON. Before that, he was at KKGO-FM out of LA, until that station abandoned its jazz format in favor of classical music. "The owner [of KKGO] arranged for me to go to KLON under the same terms I had with his station," explains Niles, whose bottomless knowledge of the artists, heritage and theoretical aspects of jazz has made him one of the most respected personalities in the SoCal music community.

These days, jazz has become a broad, loosely used term, and when the music leaves the structured form that's characteristic of bop, Niles isn't much of a fan. You'll never hear such avant-garde players as John McLaughlin or any long, freeform, fusionistic solos during his time slot. "I think avant-garde, frankly, is a little too liberal, when you instead have the opportunity to base what you want to say through a structured means like straight-ahead—where it doesn't become terribly self-aggrandizing or overly subjective," he says.

Two years after receiving his Walk of Fame star, the DJ remains puzzled about the honor. "To this day, I really don't know how it all happened, and it's been bugging me. I've got to thank somebody one of these days," Niles says. "At the induction ceremony, Kenny Burrell came up, and Horace Silver and Gerald Wilson said a few things. . . . I'll obviously never forget that as long as I live. When I got up to speak, I said, 'This is for American music,' and I really meant it. That star was for the movement, baby."

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