Popular UT jazz radio host taking show on the roadWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A local jazz enthusiast and radio DJ is hoping to help revitalize Toledo’s once-thriving jazz community.
Hugh Ross hosts the jazz radio show “The H-Factor” on the University of Toledo’s student station, WXUT. The show airs 2-6 p.m. Saturdays and 4-6 p.m. Sundays.
“The H-Factor” offers an eclectic mix of jazz and according to Ross, all subgenres are represented in one way or another.
“Jazz has too many genres to limit it. There are 27 types of jazz, and I try to play every last one of them. I like to introduce people to different types, so I try to weave it all together,” he said.
“A lot of people think jazz is for old folks, like myself, but I want to introduce young people of all diversities to all types of jazz, and let them make the decision whether they like it or not.”
In addition to his radio show, Ross is working to line up more public appearances to expose jazz to people of all ages, and will begin a weekly DJ session at Forrester’s on the River on Wednesdays in March.
Ross has loved music all his life. He made the varsity marching band as a freshman at Central Catholic High School, but he was also a talented football player, which forced him to make a difficult choice.
“I remember going to the varsity band leader and asking him if I could be in the band and still play football, and he said no. I had to make a decision. Music was always in my heart, but I decided to go with football.”
At the time, Ross had been listening to a lot of rock ’n’ roll, but when he was 16 years old, his sister turned him on to “California Dreaming,” an album by jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery.
“From that point on, I liked jazz, and I’ve been liking it ever since.”
Back to school
Ross enrolled at UT in the 1970s on a full scholarship, but left school to attend to family matters. It was a decision that would stay with him for years.
“Every time I passed by the university, I’d get this feeling in my gut, like I didn’t finish something,” he said.
He made a promise to his ailing father that he would return to complete the college education he started.
In 2012, Ross made good on that promise, and headed back to UT to work toward a bachelor’s degree in human resource management.
While enrolled in a radio production class, a professor took note.
“He said he liked my voice, and [said] I ought to go over to WXUT,” Ross said.
Ross recalled how, in the 1970s at UT, he would bring his record player to the student union and play music for people.
“That became my passion.”
His passion has now attracted a dedicated following of Toledo jazz enthusiasts, which Ross noted is a result of supply not meeting demand.
“There’s an undercurrent of jazz lovers in Toledo, but there are not any top stations playing it,” he said.
“[‘H-Factor’] has become so popular, I don’t even know what to think of it — it’s bigger than me. These people are really gravitating toward what I play on the weekends.”
Ross said the variety of music he offers and his on-air improvisation motivates him to keep going, as well as feedback from his listeners.
“One lady, she said I almost got her in trouble with her husband, because she went out for groceries, and she was listening to my show in her car. She said she sat in her car for an hour, because I was jamming so good.
“She asked me to take it easy on her, so she wouldn’t sit in her car at the grocery store for so long.”
At the request of many listeners wanting to meet Ross in person, he decided to pursue something more public, outside of the radio booth.
“I’m a private person, but I realize that once something takes off like this, your privacy has to kind of take a back seat.”
Forrester’s on the River
He approached Forrester’s on the River about setting up a weekly DJ gig. Ross and the restaurant owners came up with a fitting time slot, during Forrester’s “Wine Down Wednesdays,” held 5-9 p.m. every Wednesday.
Forrester’s owner Joy McQueary said she and her husband, John, had been running a special on Wednesdays already, and recognized that Ross could add some flavor to the evening.
“In the bar area, we do half-price appetizers, and half-off glasses and bottles of wine [on Wednesdays],” McQueary said. “We’ve been doing it throughout the winter, and [Ross] came in and approached us, and we thought, ‘Well, why not tie it in together? We’ll do Wine Down Wednesdays and play a little jazz.’”
Ross is eager to see what kind of response the collaboration will receive.
“I love the ambience. I’m going to play some cool jazz.”
McQueary said if things go well during the initial run in March, Forrester’s will continue to book Ross into the spring and summer.
In addition to the Forrester’s gig, Ross said he will continue to seek out new possibilities and venue to serve jazz to Downtown Toledo. He acknowledged some of Toledo’s suburbs have venues that offer quality jazz music, but said that the backdrop of Downtown Toledo could revive interest in hosting a jazz fest there, much like the popular, but now defunct Art Tatum Jazz Festival.
“I want to bring that back, if I can generate the buzz,” Ross said. “Someday, that’s my dream.”
Jazz in Toledo
The Toledo jazz community has suffered a series of blows during the past few years. Jazz club Murphy’s Place closed in May 2011 after the death of co-owner Joan Russell. Famed jazz pianist Claude Black, a Murphy’s Place regular, died in January 2013. In November, health issues forced Suzanne Carroll to end “The Jazz Brunch,” her Sunday jazz show on 101.5 The River, after 18 years on the air.
The Art Tatum Jazz Heritage Society still hosts “Jazz on the Maumee” Wednesday evenings at the Grand Plaza Hotel Downtown.
When asked about the appeal of jazz, Ross enthusiastically cited its versatility.
“You can dance to it, you can party to it and you can make love to it,” he said. “You can do anything to the jams I’m playing.”