It was 11 years ago today when my mother called me from Milwaukee and told me Ron Cuzner had died that day at 64. I was stunned into a Cuzner-like pregnant-pause silence. I had moved to Madison in 1989, so I lost my close connection to Ron in those pre-radio streaming years.
He had spun his last Ellington "Solitude" intro and uttered his last golden catch-phrase. He and his jazz program "The Dark Side" had finally moved on to the light.
Cuzner was the one-of-a-kind disk jockey who exposed countless nocturnal Milwaukeeans to his beloved music on various radio venues, starting in the early 1970s with an "underground radio" station (along with WUWM's Bob Reitman). His longest tenure was at the otherwise-classical music WFMR. Cuzner’s preferred time slot was midnight to sunrise. Hardly a vampire, he also emceed high-profile jazz concerts and ran a small jazz record store downtown.
Long-time Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel media critic Duane Dudek deemed him probably "the most singular stylist in Milwaukee radio history," who "took a slow drawl, meticulous diction and an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz to almost every radio station in the city."
His on-air silences involved exquisite timing between words or phrases, inserting languid grace into his delivery – the opposite of Top 40 DJ hyper-prattle. And sometimes, after the silence, the concluding phrase would be in a slightly lower, softer register ("With a song … in my heart"). He knew how such a deflation of tone could convey emotion and sometimes pathos.
This guy from Racine would quote a humbling lyric: "They’re playing songs of love, but not for me." He faithfully carried the torch for jazz but also another flame, for all the lonely people listening to him. Yes, his music kept him company through all those long, dark nights. But back then, he never knew really who or how many people were actually listening.
Cuzner surely spent countless nights utterly alone until sunrise, feeling sometimes like the …Read more...