Carroll’s ‘Jazz Brunch’ to end Nov. 3 after 18 yearsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
On the wall of Suzanne Carroll’s home office in Maumee is a framed saying: “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
“I love that,” said the 57-year-old host and producer of “The Jazz Brunch” on 101.5 The River.
For 18 years, the Sunday morning show has served as “music therapy” for Carroll, offering a weekly respite from her decades-long battle with the health complications of multiple sclerosis (MS).
“It helped me fight through so much,” Carroll said. “It helped carry me through these years of dealing with this stinking lousy disease, it really did.”
But the “dust” of Carroll’s everyday life — in the form of some serious new health issues — has built up too much for even “The Jazz Brunch” to wash away. On Oct. 13, she announced to her listeners that Nov. 3 would be her last show.
“I have been dragging myself through these months,” said Carroll, who spends 35-40 hours a week working on the show and chooses each song from her personal library of more than 6,000 jazz CDs. “Trying to keep working, trying to maintain my business, trying to stay on the air, trying to maintain the level of professionalism that I’ve set for myself and it has been extremely difficult for me to maintain those levels.”
‘Eye of the storm’
Late last year, Carroll announced a five-month hiatus from “The Jazz Brunch” for health reasons, but vowed to return. She resumed the show March 17, feeling better than she had in decades.
“I went back on the air with such a light heart and with such joy and hope in my whole spirit and attitude and soul. I can’t even describe to you what an amazing feeling it was,” Carroll said. “I had so much energy and I was so euphoric. I didn’t think I was cured by any measure, but I really thought they had unlocked a secret to my health that was going to allow me to move forward with that level of recovery.”
The feeling was short-lived, however, and she now refers to that period as “the eye of the storm.”
“The week between the third and the fourth shows, things changed dramatically,” Carroll said. “I started to have dramatic symptoms that were frightening, symptoms that I had not had before, new problems that arose very quickly. Since that week, I have been back on the slow slide to hell. The MS is now taking me into scary places that I didn’t even know MS could take people.”
In recent months, Carroll and her doctors have been grappling to understand and treat a rare immunodeficiency condition that has arisen. Her weakened immune system leaves her at risk of developing cancer.
“This is way beyond the scope of MS at this point,” she said. “This is into the life-threatening category at this point.”
She is currently being evaluated to see if she is a candidate for a bone marrow transplant.
“This is a tsunami that has come into my life,” Carroll said. “I feel like a sitting duck. It’s a very frightening situation.”
Since the announcement, listeners across the country have come forward in an outpouring of support.
“I was completely overwhelmed,” Carroll said. “I still am. I’m having a hard time responding, not because I don’t have a desire to, but because I haven’t found the emotional footing to yet.
“It was very difficult to face the fact that it was time to let this go. I’m not willing to say the disease won. I’m not willing to say that. I’m just willing to say the priorities have changed and it’s game on. It’s crunch time and it’s game on. The disease now needs my full attention.”
Born in Cleveland, Carroll moved to Northwest Ohio during junior high and graduated from Maumee High School. Although she grew up listening to her mother’s jazz and big-band albums, she credits her sister with introducing her to modern jazz.
“She gave me my first jazz album, a Keith Jarrett album, when I was just getting out of high school,” Carroll said. “It really kind of blew my mind. I was like, ‘Wow, what is this?’ and then it evolved from there.”
In the mid-1980s, Carroll was newly divorced with three young children to raise. She moved back to Toledo and started working as a cocktail waitress at a jazz club, Digby’s Pub at the Boody House.
“My entire world changed from the very first night,” Carroll said. “I was totally swept into the Toledo jazz scene. It was just wonderful. I found an instant home there.”
At Digby’s, Carroll met some local radio executives who helped her land her first sales job. In 1989, after several years in radio and television, she founded her own ad agency, Creative Media Productions.
In 1994, an opportunity came up to work on “The Jazz Brunch” on Smooth Jazz 97.3 WJZE. She soon took over the show, which bounced among several stations in its early years and went off air for a year before finding a home at The River 13 years ago.
Kellie Holeman-Szenderski, Clear Channel’s regional market manager, said a replacement show for Carroll’s time slot has not yet been chosen.
“Suzanne is a very warm, caring and giving individual who refers to herself as the ‘jazzy entrepreneur,’” Holeman-Szenderski wrote in an email. “She is very passionate about her jazz music and the show has been very well-received on 101.5 The River by listeners, advertisers and the community. We are working hard to find a show that will resonate well with our Sunday morning listeners, just as Suzanne’s has. We congratulate Suzanne on her retirement and wish her all the best.”
Carroll has been involved with MS advocacy events, college jazz programs and jazz festivals, like the Sunset Jazz & Art Festival in Grand Rapids, Ohio.
“Although I’m not a big celebrity by any means, [the show has] given me a measure of celebrity to call attention to important things in our community about MS and really be an advocate,” Carroll said. “Having that platform elevated me and allowed me to open doors and walk through doors and help people make changes that I never would have been able to do otherwise.”
Carroll’s husband, Dennis Witherell, said he’s proud of her.
“The most amazing thing to me is how many of Suzanne’s fans who haven’t even met her have a profound personal attachment to her and what she stands for,” Witherell said in an email. “I’m one of many who will greatly miss the show, but I’m very happy to have her home on Sunday mornings.”
Next, Carroll plans to focus on writing. She is currently penning her life story, “Endurance,” as well as a children’s book series. The first book will be called “A Dragonfly at the Jazz Festival: The Adventures of Dee Dee the Dragonfly.”
Carroll said she “can barely breathe” when she thinks about the last show.
“It’s going to be dreadful,” Carroll said. “I don’t even know how I’m going to be able to handle it.”
However, she wants it to be a celebration, not a time of mourning.
“I started doing this show not all that long after I was diagnosed with MS and I really didn’t have any idea where any of this was going to take me,” Carroll said. “Trust me, I’m more upset than anyone. But I really feel like this needs to be a celebration of what can be accomplished in the face of a horrible disease like MS.”
Leaving the listeners is the hardest part, she said.
“I’ve shared their hearts and their souls with them, their good times and their bad, their losses, their joys,” Carroll said, fighting back tears. “They’ve always been there for me even in my darkest hour and they are continuing to be there for me right up until the very end.
“It’s harder than facing down my own mortality — and trust me, facing down my own mortality is a real pickle,” Carroll said. “I’m abundantly grateful that I have ‘met’ each and every one of them because although I haven’t actually met each and every one, I have absolutely spiritually and soulfully met every single solitary one of them. And I am grateful to know them all.
“I’ve always told them and I have continued to tell them throughout the years, they are the best radio listening audience in the entire nation and I will hold that as a truism until I draw my last breath.”
“The Jazz Brunch” airs 8 a.m. to noon Sundays on 101.5 The River. Listeners outside the Toledo area can tune in via the iHeartRadio app or at www.thejazzbrunch.com.
Tags: 101.5, Boody House, Clear Channel, Cleveland, Creative Media Productions, Digby's Pub, Grand Rapids, iHeartRadio app, Jazz 97.3 WJZE, Kellie Holeman-Szenderski, Maumee, multiple sclerosis (MS), northwest ohio, Sunset Jazz & Art Festival, Suzanne Carroll, The Jazz Brunch, The River