Hassan And Martin: Top of the Dial
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006; C01
Their radio audiences know their voices. The measured baritone of
Rusty Hassan, the scholarly host of "Jazz & More." The crisp rhythms
of Von Martin, who distributes the sounds and news of "Caribbeana."
For more than three decades, both Hassan and Martin have
introduced novices to bebop and calypso, and along the way engaged
the hard-core fans. Tonight the two radio hosts are being saluted at
the 21st annual Mayor's Arts Awards for their steadfast
entertainment and instruction of local audiences.
"As I drive around listening to the radio, I was struck by their
integrity over the years," says Tony Gittens, the executive director
of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. "Von's commitment
to the music and the community, he is their voice. And Rusty has
been unwavering. When the music gets trendy, he doesn't bother with
that. He talks about the history, the sidemen."
Martin, 62, says the award is another acknowledgment of
Washington's patchwork of cultures and tastes. "Washington, D.C., is
not simply a local town but a global village. You can live here and
call it home and yet you are living away from home," says Martin, a
native of Trinidad who has resided here since 1967. His "Caribbeana"
is heard Saturday nights on WPFW-FM.
Hassan, 60, says his jazz program has been a constant presence
even though it is often hard to define Washington's jazz audience.
"You have a large African American audience for the music here
because of the population. But it is also a music that wouldn't
survive in the clubs unless there was a white audience. But it is
mostly an aging audience, but I also help pull in the younger
audience through my classes," says Hassan. "Jazz & More" is part of
WPFW's Tuesday lineup, and Hassan has taught at American University,
Georgetown University and Trinity University.
In their way the men are cultural librarians, but ones with
examples as well as knowledge at their fingertips.
After earning a degree in computer science from the old Federal
City College, Martin joined the team at WHUR-FM and then moved to
the fledging WPFW before it went on the air. Since 1977 he has been
on the air every Saturday. "I think the show has changed in terms of
its diversity. It just doesn't significantly appeal to a Caribbean
audience. My goal is to educate, entertain and enlighten," says
Martin. During the week he is a broadcaster at the Organization of
One feature that has broadened Martin's audience is taking a
familiar American song and showing how several Caribbean musicians
have interpreted the melody -- say, "Amazing Grace" or "Ain't No
Stoppin' Us Now." "The Americans will say that is our song. But it
is done in a Caribbean flavor. It will show the American influence
on the Caribbean," he says. "Mostly I have stayed traditional. I
haven't gone much into dancehall or hip-hop."
Another signature of Martin's show is the news segments and
interviews, voices and events from the region that are scarcely
mentioned in the American media. "I want to give [the audience] news
about what is going on at home. Some things that are important there
are very critical to their lives and families here," says Martin.
Gittens agrees and is a fan of the news briefs. "Even if you are not
from Trinidad, it is fascinating to find out what is important to
the community," he says.
Hassan has peppered his shows on WAMU-FM, the old WDCU-FM and now
WPFW with interviews and stories. He has interviewed Max Roach, Sun
Ra, Lionel Hampton, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Woody Herman and
Count Basie, among many others. And that's pretty heady for someone
who stumbled into radio. But he didn't stumble into jazz. "I was
born on the day Charlie Parker recorded 'Now's the Time' and 'Koko.'
I found that out when I was a teen and getting into Charlie Parker,"
He grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and attended Georgetown
University, where he earned a degree in English literature. One day
in his junior year he was having a beer in Teehan's, a well-known
campus hangout, when a guy walked by with some jazz records under
his arm. The man said he was looking for a replacement host for his
show on the university station. Hassan took up the challenge and
kept on going and spinning.
The jazz audience, as shows and clubs disappeared and reappeared,
has had its peaks and valleys, says Hassan, who for 27 years has
been the national representative for the American Federation of
Government Employees. "You can see a huge turnout for James Moody
and then the next week there are only a couple of people in the
clubs," Hassan says, adding that the scene is improving.
As his audiences change, Hassan says he has altered his own
tastes. "In the '60s and '70s I was into the avant-garde. But I
learned to program for a broader audience. I have learned to play
cutting-edge artists. Yet through the teaching I have gained an
appreciation for Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton," says
With the Mighty Sparrow and Dizzy Gillespie, the two have
provided a "soundtrack" for the city, says Gittens.
Source: The Washington Post Company