For Zia Tammami, the decades he has spent broadcasting jazz, blues and classic rock ’n’ roll from the LSU radio station don’t feel like 40 years.
“Not at all,” Tammami said. “The beauty of it is I’m not worried about ratings. I’m not worried about criticism.”
Tammami’s large and loyal audience grants him autonomy. His Sunday programs are a weekend tradition for thousands. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tammami broadcasts “Spontaneous Combustion” from 91.1 KLSU-FM. From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., his “Jazz on the Half Shell” and “Dinner Jazz” programs originate from 90.3 WBRH-FM.
In honor of his 40 years hosting "Spontaneous Combustion," Tammami will receive on Wednesday the newly established Alvin Batiste Hall of Distinction Award at the Manship Theatre. The Batiste family will also be honored. Batiste — the New Orleans-born modern-jazz clarinetist, composer and pedagogue who taught at Southern University for decades — and Tammami were dear friends.
Linked to the awards ceremony is a concert featuring jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Victor Goines, presented by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and River City Jazz Coalition. The latter is an organization Tammami co-founded in 2007.
The Voice of America broadcasts Tammami heard when he was a child in his native Iran inspired his volunteer radio career. Willis Conover, a legendary jazz broadcaster heard by millions during the Cold War, was among Tammami’s favorite VOA personalities.
When Tammami’s on the radio, he plays only what he wants to play. His programming is eclectic.
“People say, ‘This is smooth jazz. That’s fusion jazz. That’s classic jazz. That’s bop. That’s post-bop,’ ” he said. “But I don’t dig boxes. Duke Ellington said there are two kinds of music: 'Good and bad. That’s it.' ”
Tammami named his “Spontaneous Combustion” show after a Cannonball Adderly composition.
“It fits, because I improvise,” he said. “I don’t believe in playlists. And there are so many segments within the four hours. I created this monster, but everybody likes it.”
During weekdays, Tammami, a hydrogeologist with degrees in geology and international economics from LSU, runs his company Belle Terre Consultants LLC. Sundays are his musical refuge.
In the studio one recent Sunday, Tammami reveled in his noon segment, “Sinatra and Friends,” and succeeding sets of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz and Delta blues.
Tammami’s wife of 38 years and fellow music lover, Charlotte, doesn’t see the eight hours he spends on the radio every weekend as a sacrifice.
“My wife puts it this way: ‘Zia, you don’t fish, you don’t golf. So, on Sundays, I know where you are and you’re enjoying it.’
“I treat it like I’m performing on stage,” he added. “When I introduce a segment, I say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Miles Davis.’ I’ve got my own style, and that’s how it should be. You’ve got to have a signature.”
RIVER CITY JAZZ MASTERS PRESENTS VICTOR GOINES/HALL OF DISTINCTION RECEPTION
WHEN: Wednesday. Reception starts at 6 p.m., followed by the concert at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge. Reception takes place on the fourth floor of the Shaw Center for the Arts.
COST: $25-45, plus fees and tax