Arts, Entertainment, Living
Abraham holding a blue Decca 78, Plaskett holding one from RCA.
October 17 is officially Rhythm, Sweet and Hot day in the State of Pennsylvania, commemorating the show's nearly 35 years on local airwaves.
The Saturday night (6-8 PM) WESA-FM big band show hosted by Mike Plaskett and Dale Abraham was honored with an official proclamation last Saturday night. State Representative Joe Petrarca (D-Vandergrift) visited the studios during the broadcast to advise them of the honor, House Resolution 497.
RS&H, as it's known, was the only music show that survived the transition from WDUQ to WESA when new management shifted jazz programming to their HD channel (a still-controversial move). It focuses on the Big Band Era of the 1920's through the 1940's with occasional forays into later eras. It's described as music that "can't be found at the local mall," an archaic characterization in an age when few physical record stores exist anywhere.
The Big Band Era, which peaked from roughly the 1930's until the years just after World War II, may be far in the past, but on RS&H it thrives. Plaskett and Abraham, longtime collectors of vintage 78 rpm recordings, play a broader mix of jazz, swing and sweet music from the 20's through the 50's. For the record, "sweet" refers to what were once called Sweet Bands, softer, more mellow and commercial than Benny Goodman or Count Basie (think Freddy Martin or Guy Lombardo). What's not in Plaskett's or Abraham's own 78 collections, they get from vinyl LP or CD reissues. That includes material from transcriptions (pre-recorded music for radio broadcast) radio airchecks and live recordings. Onstage, many bands played hotter than they did in a sterile recording studio.
Actually, the show is more diverse than big bands alone. They also feature a good bit of small-group swing, with and without vocalists. Unlike music programming that features song after song with just bits of talk in between as background music. RS&H is meant to be a listened to. It's a weekly conversation between Plaskett and Abraham as they discuss the music just played or the tunes they're about to play. Plaskett is more oriented to the "hot," while Abraham has a deep knowledge of "sweet" bands, who were more commercial and whose music was less jazzy. Even so, both have broad enough tastes to work both sides of the fence. Plaskett can laud a sweet band and Abraham can present some driving swing, some of it recorded by bands normally considered "sweet."
Their rapport is entertaining, and Abraham's witty, irreverent remarks can plunge Plaskett into hysterics. Overall, it's s a far cry from the tiresome and campy big band "nostalgia" programs that self-consciously try to re-create the era. Plaskett and Abraham see this music as still worth hearing as music, not some voyage "back to the good old days." That may be why the show's fan base includes more younger listeners than many might assume..
RS&H began in 1981 as a joint effort of veteran Big Band record collector Ken Crawford (1925-2006), whose collection was legendary for its depth and scope, and Plaskett, who worked in promotion at KDKA and WJAS. They did the show at WQED-FM for a year before moving to WDUQ, where they stayed until the 2011 sale of the station. Abraham stepped into the co-host role after Crawford died in 2006. Concerns the show would end were quickly squelched when the new owners retained it, though they cut it from three hours to two.
An indepth profile of the show, written when Plaskett and Crawford co-hosted and Abraham produced can be found here.
In a town that rightly considers its few remaining record stores cultural treasures, especially Jerry's, Whistlin' Willie's, the Attic, Dave's Music Mine and Sound Cat Records, it only makes sense RS&H thrives here, just as it makes equal sense to honor something that's lasted this long.