Jean Gunn may be the newest addition to the station’s Morning Jazz programming, but if her voice sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. A longtime Fresno radio personality and music educator in Fresno Unified, Jean can now be heard Monday mornings from 9:00 am till noon on 90.7 KFSR.
A native of Indiana, Jean has spent most of her adult life in California, having lived in both Orange County and the Bay Area, before moving to Fresno in the late 1970â€™s. Jean’s father was a jazz musician, and that early exposure to the music followed her into college. In college I was a music major, and in the wind ensemble, and jazz was it back then. We used to get together and hang out in each other’s basements, and play a game we called ˜guess that riff” where we would try to guess who was playing on the turntable, says Jean.
After graduating with a degree in Piano Performance from Butler University and a MM from USC in Music History and Literature, in 1980, Jean got a job teaching music in the elementary schools of Fresno Unified. An active member of the Fresno Musical Club, Jean first became record librarian, and eventually an evening jazz host for KVPR in the 1980s. In 1990, Jean took her talents to the Fresno based latino public radio network Radio Biling (KSJV), doing both jazz and world music programming. Today she is a part of a team of hosts who produce the program Carnaval, where she can be heard on the first and third Sundays of the month from 7:00 pm-9:45 pm.
As both an educator and a radio host, Jean has played an important role in exposing both students and adults to music, especially jazz. As an elementary music educator, Jean knows the important role music can play in the lives of young people. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs over the years in music education. When I came to Fresno Unified in 1980, they were re-constituting their music programs. Two years ago, when the district decided to cut elementary music, it was very tough. Luckily Jake Jarvis, who was a music major at Fresno State, was my principal at Hidalgo Elementary School, and he understood how valuable music is to kids, and he found the funding to keep my job at Hidalgo at fifty percent. Later on that year, we even collaborated on some arrangements of Peter Gabriel songs for our Spring Concerts, Mr. Jarvis backing us up on keyboards and synthesizers,â€ says Jean.
Due to the funding cuts, Jean eventually transferred to McLane High School. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did, Jean says. â€œThe kids were just great, my favorite classes of all were my piano classes at McLane and the jazz band there. When I came to McLane, there was no jazz program any longer, though they used to have an excellent big band. So I got some charts together, and said we’re going to do this, and the kids came. We had a combo of about eight kids, and they came in after school to rehearse and had a great time. I believe that kids are natural jazz musicians, although they don’t realize it. Their sense of improvisation is phenomenal as their natural creative process unfolds using the vehicle of music. We should be encouraging this and nurturing it fully,â€ says Jean. Earlier this year, Jean retired from teaching music in Fresno Unified, and now spends part of her free time at KFSR, broadcasting Morning Jazz.
Jean says her favorite jazz musicians today are Brad Mehldau, Diana Krall, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, and Billy Childs. â€œI think the reason I like them so much is because they’re so well grounded in their art. Each of these musicians can knock your socks off with a rendition of a basic jazz ballad, and yet, each likes to take the harmonies, rhythms a little further, pushing the envelope, and pushing the listener to experience new ways of hearing jazz,â€ says Jean. This whole creative process, be it playing or listening to jazz, or painting on a canvas, or taking the perfect photograph, or performing Shakespeare with a new twist, is something that must be nurtured and supported. Each of us has the responsibility to help keep the creative fires burning, especially in these times!
When not listening to jazz and classical music, she loves practicing piano, hiking, kayaking, or doing road trips. Jean’s current mission in life is to become fluent in Spanish. She hopes to live in Costa Rica or Venezuela some day.